Showing posts with label George Washington. Show all posts
Showing posts with label George Washington. Show all posts

George Washington's Attack on Christmas Pies

Losing a battle never tasted so good.  
Most people know the story of George Washington crossing the icy Delaware River on Christmas night to launch a surprise attack at the Battle of Trenton. It was the first and best American Christmas story (until Die Hard) and an instant legend, changing the narrative of the war.

What most people don’t know is that ten years later, George Washington led another, less successful, Christmas attack.

Madison's Bad Blood with Washington Part IV: Die Hard

Part 1       Part 2       Part 3       Part 4 

The rise and fall of a founding friendship.

Two presidential terms were more than enough for George Washington. In 1796 he published his Farewell Address, a letter announcing his retirement and imparting his final words of wisdom and warning to the American people.

The address covered political parties, foreign policy and religion, but one underlying message ran throughout – James Madison was a weaselly turd.

The Farewell Address

Washington, who made a career of retiring, tried to get out of his presidential gig once before. Four years earlier, he asked his trusted adviser Madison to ghostwrite a farewell letter, unaware at the time that Madison was running the opposition party. Madison delivered a draft, but Washington stuck around for another term because everyone (Madison included) convinced him the Union was too fragile to survive his departure. Nobody wanted to mutiny on a sinking ship.

When partisan politics exploded during his second term, Washington decided he really couldn’t take anymore.

The Story of George Washington ©Candy Cane Press
"Stop waving and get in the damn carriage, George."
Barely on speaking terms with Madison after the Jay Treaty fiasco, Washington asked his new Ghostwriter-in-Chief, Alexander Hamilton, to prepare another farewell address – and to include Madison’s earlier draft at the beginning. On one hand Washington wanted to honor his former friend's work, and on the other he wanted to get Madison's attention so he wouldn't miss what came next - a thinly veiled attack on the political monster he had become.

Washington (in Hamilton’s sexy words) warned that parties could become “potent engines, by which cunning, ambitious, and unprincipled men will be enabled to subvert the power of the people and to usurp for themselves the reins of government.” The appeal of parties was “a fire not to be quenched…lest, instead of warming, it should consume.”

Those burning hot unprincipled men Hamilton wrote about weren’t hypothetical – they were James Madison and Thomas Jefferson. Washington was finally piecing together the treasonable actions they took to advance their party, including conspiring to create an anti-government newspaper funded by the government.

The editor they recruited for The National Gazette was Madison’s college friend, Philip Freneau. “Recruited” might not be the right word for Freneau – he was unleashed. A Princeton-educated poet, Freneau was captured and confined on a British prison ship for six tortuous weeks during the war, making him the perfect weapon for Jefferson and Madison to sic on the Federalist Party. He was Rambo with a quill.
Philip Freneau (pictured) sent George Washington three copies of The National Gazette every day. Because he was a monster.
Freneau portrayed Washington as a tyrannical king, and even wrote a pamphlet describing Washington being executed by guillotine. Washington was so infuriated with "that rascal Freneau" that he decided to awkwardly call him out in his Farewell Address: some of the Gazettes of the United States have teemed with all the Invective that disappointment, ignorance of facts, and malicious falsehoods could invent, to misrepresent my politics and affections; to wound my reputation and feelings; and to weaken, if not entirely destroy the confidence you had been pleased to repose in me; it might be expected at the parting scene of my public life that I should take some notice of such virulent abuse. But, as heretofore, I shall pass them over in utter silence.
Maybe Washington really was going senile, because he doesn't seem to realize that whining about something at length is not the same as passing it over in utter silence. Hamilton wisely convinced Washington to cut that section out – his address needed to be a John Philip Sousa march, not an Alanis Morissette song.

Washington's feelings still resonate throughout the address, especially in passages like this about parties gaining power by misrepresenting their opponents:
You cannot shield yourselves too much against the jealousies and heartburnings which spring from these misrepresentations; they tend to render alien to each other those who ought to be bound together by fraternal affection.
By the end of Washington's presidency, James Madison had rendered himself completely alien to him – a heartburning reversal from 1789 when Washington signed his letters to Madison with a love he reserved for few:
With the most sincere & perfect friendship, I remain, My dear Sir Your Affectionate,
G. Washington 

Die Hard with a Grudge

Washington never got over Madison’s betrayal. In fact, some of the last words he ever spoke were about Little Jemmy, and they were probably obscene.

On December 13, 1799, Washington’s voice was hoarse from a cold so his secretary Tobias Lear read the newspaper aloud to him. When Lear got to news about James Madison endorsing fellow Democratic-Republican James Monroe as Virginia’s next governor, Washington “appeared much affected and spoke with some degree of asperity on the subject.”

Thank you, Kindle dictionary. (Don't tell my dusty Oxford English Dictionary.)
I don't know Washington's exact words about Madison that night, but I know one of his officers said he "swore like an angel" and could dish out profanities “till the leaves shook on the trees.” Based on that, and my leisurely study of actual slang terms from the 1811 Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue, I believe Washington’s final raspy breaths were probably spent calling James Madison a damned Frenchified dunghill, or maybe Thomas Jefferson’s fart catcher. Perhaps even a chicken-hearted cock robin, and almost definitely a weasel-faced shit sack.

As Washington hissed some or all of these asperities, his blood pressure must have skyrocketed. Maybe the very thought of Madison was enough to make his blood careen from his veins during the four bleedings his doctors performed on his final day, removing an estimated total of 80 ounces or 40% of the blood in his body.

On his deathbed (and woozy from the blood loss) Washington said, "Doctor, I die hard, but I am not afraid to go." It's probably best that he missed out on the 19th century and didn't get to see the presidency dominated for 24 straight years by the top three names on his shit list – Jefferson, Madison, and Monroe.

If Washington had lived ten more years, he would have seen his Federalist policies systematically dismantled with disastrous consequences. The Democratic-Republicans decimated the military, shuttered the National Bank, failed to renew the Jay Treaty, and banned trade with Britain (and everyone else) causing a depression-causing embargo. These actions seemed part of a self-fulfilling prophesy where they hated Britain so much that they goaded her into The War of 1812 to make everyone else hate her too.

If Washington had lived twenty more years, he would have seen another reversal on his policies, with the National Bank reinstated and a trained army established – all by James Madison.

The War of 1812 hit particularly close to home for Madison, as in it literally burned down his home. He was America's first wartime president, and he got to see firsthand the difficulty of fighting a war with a lack of funds and trained soldiers. That experience transformed him. It's a shame it took 15,000 American deaths for Madison to remember the federalist values he once championed, and to start putting his love for the United States ahead of politics.
I like to imagine the White House like Hogwarts School of Wizardry, with magical talking portraits of former presidents. I’d love to hear what this rescued portrait would say to Madison, in all its glorious asperity.

Tell Me Something Good

After my wife read drafts of the first three parts of this series, she asked me if there was anything good about Madison. I struggled to answer.

I could have cited his amazing contributions to the Constitution and Bill of Rights, if he hadn't turned his back on those principles. I admire his work to legislate religious freedom and separate church and state, even though Washington might disagree – he may have had Madison in mind in his Farewell Address when he said "reason and experience both forbid us to expect that national morality can prevail in exclusion of religious principle."

I don't blame a lack of religious principles for Madison's turdliness. My biggest beef with him is that he put politics before people. It's hard to look past that, especially when one of those people is John Adams, the president I've identified with most along my journey.

When Jefferson came in second place to Adams in the election of 1796 (making him vice-president under their weird-ass rules), he wrote a nice conciliatory letter to his old friend and political opponent. Madison convinced Jefferson not to send it because it would make him look weak and hurt their cause. That heartless political maneuver helped set the tone for the obstructionism we have today.

Thou shalt not reconcile!
One later act of Madison's slightly redeems him. In 1825, Jefferson asked him to suggest readings for University of Virginia students. Madison suggested Washington’s Inaugural and Farewell Addresses, saying “they may help down what might be less readily swallowed, and contain nothing which is not good.” Madison was telling Jefferson that he agreed with an address dedicated to tearing apart their actions.

Little Jemmy Madison wanted to do the same thing for those students that I set out to do in this series – provide a little light reading about how George Washington's judgment and integrity eventually prevailed, over a couple damned Frenchified shit sacks.

Part 1       Part 2       Part 3       Part 4

Sources: James Madison by Richard Brookhiser; Thomas Jefferson: The Art of Power by Jon Meacham; John Adams by David McCullough; Washington: The Indispensable Man by James Thomas Flexner; Founding Brothers: The Revolutionary Generation by Joseph Ellis; The Age of Federalism: The Early American Republic, 1788-1800 by Stanley Elkins and Eric McKitrick;;

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Madison's Bad Blood with Washington Part III: Damn John Jay!

Part 1       Part 2       Part 3       Part 4

The rise and fall of a founding friendship.
These words were chalked on a fence in Boston in 1795. They just don't make charming hateful graffiti like they used to.
The Revolutionary War ended more than a decade ago, but America and Britain were still working out the kinks of this whole "peace" thing. George Washington sent John Jay to negotiate a treaty with Britain in 1794 to prevent an all-out war with our former motherland. These were his main objectives:
  1. Stop British ships from kidnapping American sailors and impressing them into service.
  2. Make British soldiers leave their forts around the Great Lakes.
  3. Make Britain pay for American ships they stole. 
  4. Make Britain pay for American slaves they freed in Revolutionary War.
Jay succeeded in #2 and #3, totally failed in #1, and didn't even try for #4 because he couldn't care less about compensating slaveowners.
Even though the treaty was better than nothing, its terms were so favorable to Britain that Washington knew it would be extremely unpopular. He and the Senate quickly and quietly approved it, hoping maybe no one would notice.

People noticed.

When details of the treaty got out, the American people were outraged we would accept a deal so one-sided that it basically accepted the Royal Navy's God-given right to abduct American sailors whenever they wanted. John Jay said he could travel across America guided only by the light of his burning effigies. Washington’s house was surrounded by angry citizens cursing his name, and Alexander Hamilton – defending the treaty in public – was hit in the head with a rock.

Detail of a 1795 drawing of John Jay being burned in effigy. This is what angry people did before the internet.
No one was more furious with Jay's Treaty than James Madison. One of the greatest differences between his Democratic-Republican party and Washington's Federalist party was who they sided with in the ongoing war between Britain and France – Democratic-Republicans were all about that France, and the business-oriented Federalists wanted to make nice with Britain because they accounted for 75% of our trade. Not only did Jay's Treaty strongly favor Britain, but it also heavily favored the economic interests of the northern states while screwing the southern ones.

Madison was determined to take advantage of the widespread public outcry to stop the treaty and take down the Federalists. Despite the fact that the House of Representatives had no treaty-making power, he drafted a House resolution formally requesting that Washington hand over the Jay Treaty and records of the negotiations leading up to it.

Washington had zero tolerance for Madison’s shit. Having presided over the Constitutional Convention, Washington knew exactly what power the House was granted and he schooled Madison: “The nature of foreign negotiations requires caution, and their success must often depend on secrecy." The Constitution vests “the power of making treaties in the President, with the advice and consent of the Senate, the principle on which that body was formed confining it to a small number of members." (That's “small number of members.” Not “small members," Jemmy.)

Translation: Treaties are too important for you kids in the House to be messing with, son.

Then Washington brought out the big guns:
“It does not occur to me that the inspection of the papers asked for can be relative to any purpose under the cognizance of the House of Representatives, except that of an impeachment, which the resolution has not expressed.”
You don't have the brains to understand the Constitution, but do you have the balls to impeach George Washington?

Madison's cheeks must have smarted from Washington's passive-aggressive dick slap. He knew impeaching Washington would be political suicide and could literally destroy the fledgling government, so he would have to find another way to derail this treaty.

Madison's next tactic was to do what the House still tries to do if it doesn’t like a law – refuse to fund it. The House might not have treaty-making power, but it makes the budget decisions and could simply not allocate any funds to enforce the treaty, rendering it useless. The Latin term for this legal maneuver is dick move and it never goes out of style.

But Madison underestimated one thing: George Washington’s colossal popularity. He had entered a pissing contest with the wrong man. The sheer force of Washington's influence was too powerful for the House and Madison’s frail little jockey body. As the nation slowly warmed to the war-preventing treaty simply because Washington supported it, more and more members of the House decided to fund it.

Vice President John Adams wrote to his wife Abigail, “The Anarchical Warriours are beat out…by the Arguments of the Friends of Peace and order… Mr. Madison looks worried to death. Pale, withered, haggard.” He had gone up against Washington and suffered a humiliating loss. Recharging his feeble frame with some Mount Vernon and Chill (like he did after the exhausting Virginia Ratification Convention eight years earlier) was no longer an option – that open invitation was closed.

The last straw for Washington came when Madison wrote him a rambling embarrassment of a reply that tried to show respect for his old friend while still insinuating he was abusing or misunderstanding his executive power. “Though Madison would attend a few state dinners at the presidential mansion,” author Richard Brookhiser explained, “he and Washington exchanged no more letters, paid no more visits. The collaboration had been effectively over for years; now so was the friendship.”

According to author Joseph Ellis, Madison "experienced firsthand the cardinal principal of American politics in the 1790s: whoever went face-to-face against Washington was destined to lose."
Defeated, Madison wrote to Jefferson explaining that the House lost their battle against the Jay Treaty because the people "have thence listened to the summons ‘to follow where Washington leads.’” Washington was too damn beloved. There was no winning for the Democratic-Republicans as long as he was in the picture.

Luckily for them, Washington was about to retire – but he wasn’t about to leave the public stage without using his old ghostwriter's services one last time. Washington's Farewell Address would be both an homage to, and a scathing indictment of, Little Jemmy Madison.

NEXT: Madison’s Bad Blood with Washington Part IV: Die Hard

Part 1       Part 2       Part 3       Part 4

Sources: James Madison by Richard Brookhiser; Thomas Jefferson: The Art of Power by Jon Meacham; John Adams by David McCullough; Washington: The Indispensable Man by James Thomas Flexner; Founding Brothers: The Revolutionary Generation by Joseph Ellis; The Age of Federalism: The Early American Republic, 1788-1800 by Stanley Elkins and Eric McKitrick;

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Madison's Bad Blood with Washington Part II: The Destructors

Part 1       Part 2       Part 3       Part 4

The rise and fall of a founding friendship.
Sorry Wikipedia, but George Washington wasn't "non-partisan."
Nobody hated the idea of political parties more than George Washington, but that doesn't mean he never joined one. In fact, that's why he joined one.

He found himself firmly in the Federalist camp because he loathed the "Democratic" societies popping up and inciting insurgencies like the Whiskey Rebellion. Washington took it personally that anyone would challenge the federal government, as if they were questioning his service to his country.

Imagine his reaction when he found out one of these Democratic societies was named after his most trusted friend. Attorney General Edmund Randolph warned him:
“A society under the democratic garb has arisen in South Carolina with the name of Madisonian.”
No… Could Washington’s own protégé be plotting against the government, against Washington himself? Not Little Jemmy.

Oh yes, Little Jemmy, with his BFF Thomas Jefferson. Not only were these underhanded schemers linked to these societies, but they had covertly founded the mother of them all, the Democratic-Republican party.

What could have made Madison turn his back on Washington and go from the nation’s #1 Federalist to the #1 opponent of the Federalist Party? The answer boils down to Alexander Hamilton's big scary brain.

Pest Control 

Madison’s betrayal of Washington started in 1791 when he went on a mission with Jefferson through New England. The mission was pest control, and the supposed pest they were investigating for the American Philosophical Society was the Hessian fly, Mayetiola destructor – a wheat-eating pest farmers dreaded as “a calamity more to be dreaded than the ravages of war.”

But the real pest they wanted to control – and an even greater threat to farmers – was Alexander Hamilton.

Alexander Hamilton was pretty fly for a white guy.
Hamilton was a brilliant, hard-working visionary, and he would gladly tell you so himself. He wasn't as well-versed in governmental theory as Madison, but he was everything Madison wasn't – a world traveler, a soldier, and a shrewd businessman. It's almost as if he spent his whole life training to be a threat to James Madison and the Virginia plantation master's way of life. He was uniquely suited to bring them down.

At 13 years old, Hamilton was a poor, illegitimate orphan working at an international shipping port. At 20, George Washington promoted him to be his senior military aid because he needed someone “who can think for me, as well as execute orders.” Hamilton was practically commanding the American military at 20 years old! I can't even imagine. At 20, I could barely hold command of a cabin full of ten-year-old boys as a summer camp counselor. My definition of victory was moving them a quarter mile to the dining hall for breakfast by 8am without casualty, and victory was not assured.

Compare Hamilton's real-world experience to Little Jemmy Madison, who never fired a shot in anger, never set foot outside American borders (because “crossing the sea would be unfriendly to a singular disease of my constitution”), and whose only learnin' was book-learnin'.

It's surprising Madison and Hamilton were ever allies, but they were practically inseparable while Jefferson was in France dealing with his own affairs. During that time, Madison and Hamilton shared intensely profound bonding experiences, like co-cranking out 80 of the 85 Federalist Papers in less than a year.

And even more profoundly, they were once observed in New York to “talk together in the summer and then turn, and laugh, and play with a monkey that was climbing in a neighbor’s yard.” Granted, this is according to the eyewitness testimony of an old lady recalling a childhood memory and there are no corroborating “Touched a monkey with Alex today!” journal entries, so there's maybe a 40% chance this story is the product of one woman's demented fever dream, but I choose to believe.

Dramatic reenactment of Madison and Hamilton doing the "talk-turn-laugh monkey-dance." By the way, I have an entirely new respect for the Founding Fathers considering that they accomplished so much when they could have been playing with monkeys.
The monkey business stopped in 1789 when Hamilton shared his vision for a National Bank and economic expansion. The political-economic theory behind his plans was way too complex for the perpetually bankrupt philosopher-farmers Jefferson and Madison to understand. I can't say I blame them.

When I decided to read a biography of each president, I thought starting at the beginning of the nation’s history would help me understand every little step along the way – from how we got from four Cabinet members all the way to the DMV. But then Alexander Hamilton started talking about funded debt as capital in the hands of spectators and my eyes glazed over. I found myself yearning for something simpler like military strategy, governmental philosophy, or John Adams's recipe for manure.

Madison and Jefferson understood enough about Hamilton's economic plans to know it favored businesses and cities as the economic centers of the country. The anti-slavery Treasury Secretary's plans for growth did not require slavery to function. He was expanding the nation's economy in a way that would spell the end of their unsustainable slave labor-dependent way of life.

That was something they had to stop, by any means necessary.

Dirty Politics 

“The mutual influence of these two mighty minds upon each other is a phenomenon, like the invisible and mysterious movements of the magnet in the physical world, and in which the sagacity of the future historian may discover the solution of much of our national history not otherwise easily accountable.”   
      -John Quincy Adams describing Madison and Jefferson’s relationship
Translation: Someday the shady shit these guys pulled will finally come to light.

"Is Washington going to be okay?"
"Shh. Never let go, Jemmy."
Madison had successfully partnered with Washington and Hamilton to get a strong federal government. The problem now wasn't that the government was too strong; it was that Madison wasn't in charge of it. The best way to change that was to accuse the Federalists of abusing their power. Madison accomplished this by inventing partisan news.

He recruited a college buddy to edit a new newspaper, The National Gazette, that would serve as the mouthpiece of the Democratic-Republican party and constantly smear the Federalists. It was the 1790s version of Fox News. They also arranged for the newspaper to be paid for by the very administration it was demonizing. Jefferson hooked up its editor with a state department job as a translator, even though his French was so not très bien.

After receiving their merit badges for press manipulation and misappropriation of funds, the Democratic-Republicans moved on to fear tactics. They gained power by exploiting the fear that Federalists loved Britain and wanted to turn America into another monarchy. Washington, Adams, and Hamilton were portrayed as stuffy old kings – the other – when the power should instead be vested in the regular people, people like plain ol' Farmer Jefferson and Farmer Madison.

Somehow it didn't matter that Madison and Jefferson were born rich and privileged while Hamilton was born poor and illegitimate. It was just as true then that the very wealthy could get the support of the lower classes – even getting them to vote against their own economic self-interests – if they labeled the other party as the enemy trying to take what was theirs. That kind of argument appeals to a lot of people, whether the label is tyrant! or immigrant!

George Washington’s relationship with James Madison was never the same after he heard about the “Madisonian” society. Washington responded to the news by saying, “I should be extremely sorry therefore if [Madison] from any cause whatsoever should get entangled with them, or their politics.”

He went on to say, “My mind is so perfectly convinced, that if these self created societies cannot be destroyed discountenanced that they will destroy the government of this Country.” The way he crossed out “destroyed” makes me picture him sitting there, angry quill in hand, possibly with his new ghostwriter-in-chief Hamilton looking over his shoulder.

Alexander Hamilton: That’s too many destroyeds in one sentence, George.
George Washington
: You’re right. I’ll change the first one to “clobbered.”
Alexander Hamilton
: I like it...but I was thinking of something more high-brow.
George Washington
: What’s a high-brow word for wanting to rip their faces off their smug heads?
Alexander Hamilton: How about...discountenanced?
George Washington: Fine. I still prefer clobbered though. Sometimes I wonder why I even need ghostwriters.
Alexander Hamilton: Because you named one of your dogs Sweet Lips.
George Washington: ...
Alexander Hamilton: ...
George Washington: Have you seen that dog’s lips though?

Hearing about the “Madisonian” societies troubled Washington, but up until then there had been no confrontation between them. That was about to change.

Their ultimate falling out, and the showdown that would leave Madison publicly humiliated, was yet to come. This time the blame would fall on Madison's other Federalist Papers co-author, John Jay.

NEXT: Madison’s Bad Blood with Washington Part III: Damn John Jay!

Part 1       Part 2       Part 3       Part 4

Sources: James Madison by Richard Brookhiser; Thomas Jefferson: The Art of Power by Jon Meacham; John Adams by David McCullough; Washington: The Indispensable Man by James Thomas Flexner; Founding Brothers: The Revolutionary Generation by Joseph Ellis; The Age of Federalism: The Early American Republic, 1788-1800 by Stanley Elkins and Eric McKitrick;

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Madison's Bad Blood with Washington Part I: Inferior Endowments

Part 1       Part 2       Part 3       Part 4

 The rise and fall of a founding friendship.
They used to have Mad love.

George Washington looked down at the speech in his trembling hand, trying to make out the words. The awkward silence was a stark contrast to moments before, when he was sworn in on the balcony of New York’s Federal Hall to a 13-gun salute and the cheers of a massive crowd below.

Unlike his fellow Congressmen in the Senate chamber, James Madison did not have to strain to hear the President’s speech. He already knew what the Inaugural Address said, because he wrote it. On that day, April 30, 1789, he was Washington’s most trusted advisor.

Madison had no idea their friendship was about to go down in flames amid the birth of America’s two-party system and the first showdown between the President and the House of Representatives. But it appears that he buried the seeds for his strategic betrayal of George Washington in plain sight, in the words of that inaugural speech.

Constitutional Comrades

James Madison, or “Little Jemmy” as he was actually known, was 19 years younger, 8 inches shorter, and 100 pounds lighter than the walking monolith Washington. At 5’4” and 100 pounds, Madison was the Robin to Washington’s Batman, the Joe Pesci to his Robert De Niro – the Tobey Maguire to his Seabiscuit.

Seabiscuit might best describe their Constitutional partnership, as Madison was very much a jockey directing the war horse Washington to the lead. After orchestrating a convention to amend the weak sauce Articles of Confederation, Madison personally convinced Washington to attend. He knew that if there was one person who could convince the ragtag nation to adopt a centralized federal government with a powerful executive, it was George Washington. No two men were more responsible for the Constitution getting passed than Madison and Washington.

Note that James Madison is called the “father” of the Constitution and not the “author.” That’s because Gouverneur Morris (pictured) wrote most of it, but for some reason the United States didn’t want the face of the Constitution to be a peg-legged philanderer who died of internal injuries after sticking a whale bone up his urethra to cure a urinary blockage.
You could get away with crediting the Constitution to Washington, Madison, ol' Moby Dick Morris, and a host of others. Or, like Republican presidential candidate Ben Carson, you could pick someone who wasn’t there. Carson recently said he admired Thomas Jefferson for the way he crafted the Constitution, which would have been quite a feat since Jefferson was in Paris serving as minister to France at the time.

Jefferson did, however, play a crucial role in his friend Madison’s success. In 1786, he sent Madison a “literary cargo” from Paris of more than 200 books on ancient and modern history, effectively loading up his brain like Neo in The Matrix. Thanks to Thomas Jefferson, when Little Jemmy went to Philly…he knew kung fu.

And he used it to father the hell out of the Constitution. He backed up his arguments with never-ending facts like they were breadsticks at the Olive Garden – first under Washington's paternal presence at the Philadelphia Convention, then in New York where he teamed up with Alexander Hamilton to bang out The Federalist Papers (AKA “85 Essays on Why the Constitution is Awesome and You Should Totally Ratify It”), and then back home to Virginia where he out-convinced even Patrick “give me liberty or give me death” Henry.

After his successful whirlwind tour de force, Madison’s little body was spent. He turned to Washington, writing that he was “extremely feeble,” and Washington prescribed some Mount Vernon and Chill. “Moderate exercise, and books occasionally, with the mind unbent, will be your best restoratives,” Washington told him, adding that “no one will be happier in your company” than he would. Madison spent so much time at Mount Vernon that his friends sent him mail there.

The alliance between the Father of His Country and the Father of the Constitution was not just political; they were buds.

The Inaugural Address

If James Madison simply ghostwrote Washington’s historic inaugural address, that would be impressive. But Madison also wrote the House of Representatives’ official response to Washington’s address – and then he ghostwrote Washington’s response to the House’s response and Washington’s response to the Senate’s response (which somehow the Senate managed to write without Madison’s help.) He was having a conversation with himself. The first months of the U.S. government were basically an epistolary novel by James Madison.

Epistolary novels are made up entirely of letters, usually between depraved French aristocrats or young boys and their favorite authors. These are the two greatest examples ever produced and/or the only ones I've read.
These exchanges mostly boiled down to “We love you, George!” and “I’m not worthy!” But looking closer, I see hints of the political Madison already planting doubts about George Washington’s mental abilities. Look at the language Little Jemmy chose for Washington to humbly describe himself coming out of retirement to accept the presidency:
"On the one hand, I was summoned by my Country…from a retreat which I had chosen…as the asylum of my declining years: a retreat which was rendered every day more necessary…[by] frequent interruptions in my health to the gradual waste committed on it by time.

On the other hand, the magnitude and difficulty of the trust… could not but overwhelm with dispondence, one, who, inheriting inferior endowments from nature and unpractised in the duties of civil administration, ought to be peculiarly conscious of his own deficiencies.” (Emphasis mine.)
That roughly translates to I am honored you chose me as your leader, in spite of my being a decrepit old limp-dicked shit-for-brains.

In the House response, Madison addressed Washington’s age with a skillful mixture of empathy and insult. “We well know the anxieties with which you must have obeyed a summons from the repose reserved for your declining years.” We appreciate you rolling out of your deathbed to join us, George. Thanks for not going toward the light today.

Madison’s language here is important because it foreshadows the only way Washington’s future political opponents could demonize his policies without committing political suicide by attacking the most beloved man in America. How could they say Washington’s actions were tyrannical without calling him a tyrant?

By making him a victim.

In the words of Washington’s most eloquent foe:
“[Washington's] memory was already sensibly impaired by age, the firm tone of his mind, for which he had been remarkable, was beginning to relax...a desire for tranquility had crept on him, and a willingness to let others act, or even think, for him.”
With “the captain in his cabin attending to his log-book and chart, a rogue of a pilot has run them into an enemy's port.”
That ageist shit talk made sense, since Washington himself said he was wasting away in his Inaugural Address. Except those words weren’t his – they were James Madison’s, written when he was the President’s protégé, ghostwriter, and friend.

That all suddenly changed when Jemmy the jockey changed horses midstream. Madison went from betting on Washington to putting all his winnings on the eloquent foe quoted above – Thomas Jefferson.

After four years in France, Jefferson returned to save his Neo from the matrix (and serve as Washington’s Secretary of State.) Madison greeted him like Hobbes waiting to pounce on Calvin when he got home from school.

In no time, Madison teamed up with Jefferson to underhandedly attack Washington’s policies and the man responsible for them: Alexander Hamilton. Secretary of the Treasury and ten dollar founding father, Hamilton was the "rogue of a pilot" Jefferson implied was doing Washington's thinking for him. He was also Madison's Federalist Papers writing partner and friend.

What could make Madison turn his back on the two men he’d worked so closely with to pass the Constitution? I’d like to think the conversation went like this:

   Thomas Jefferson: Make any friends while I was in France?
   James Madison: A couple.
   Thomas Jefferson: Let's destroy them.
   James Madison: God I missed you.

The truth is a little more complicated and gets to the very heart of why our country is still so divided, and why appealing to the masses works – especially when your ideas are based on ignorance and fear.

NEXT: Madison's Bad Blood with Washington Part II: The Destructors

Part 1       Part 2       Part 3       Part 4

Sources: James Madison by Richard Brookhiser; Thomas Jefferson: The Art of Power by Jon Meacham; John Adams by David McCullough; Washington: The Indispensable Man by James Thomas Flexner; Founding Brothers: The Revolutionary Generation by Joseph Ellis; The Age of Federalism: The Early American Republic, 1788-1800 by Stanley Elkins and Eric McKitrick;

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What the First 5 Presidents Taught Me About Raising My Newborn Daughter

3 presidential lessons that made fatherhood slightly less terrifying
I’m five books into my quest to read a biography of every president in chronological order. I’ve read about Washington, Adams, Jefferson, Madison, and I’m finishing up Monroe now. My already slow progress ground to a halt six weeks ago when my wife and I welcomed our first child, Emerson Paige, into the world.

Now instead of learning about the Jay Treaty and the War of 1812, I’m reading What to Expect in the First Year and asking the internet stuff like "newborn eyes roll back in head normal?" (normal).

The reading and blogging part of me must adapt as I acclimate to this new world of sleep deprivation, diapers, feedings, and a surreal sense of disbelief and awe that this beautiful creature is here to stay and my identity and priorities must shift. Forever.

Stealing moments as both daughter and mother sleep to write this, I reflected on the lessons I gleaned from the first five presidents that I’m applying to raising my newborn daughter – the do’s and don’ts of what it means to be a father of 8 pounds of an utterly dependent micro-human waiting to be shaped by my love and neuroses.

These are the 3 main lessons I’ve learned.

1. Be there.

It’s getting easy to be there when she’s making eye contact or showing early attempts to smile, or sleeping in my arms. It’s harder to be there when she’s wailing at the top of her lungs, spitting up like some kind of milk volcano, or writhing in gassy pain when we just want her to sleep. Those are the times I want to tap out and pass her to mommy or any halfway trustworthy-looking stranger nearby.

Reading about the early presidents was more of a lesson in what not to do when it came to being there for my daughter. The first presidents (except Washington and Madison who had no children of their own but both had disappointing stepsons) spent much of their pre-presidential years in Europe as ambassadors and diplomats. That meant missing out on much of the formative years of their young children's lives.

John Adams spent years in Europe away from his family. The son he took with him, John Quincy, went on to become president and lived to 80. The son he spent less time with, Charles, died of alcoholism at 30. I wonder what difference it would have made if John had been there alongside Abigail to steer Charles in the right direction. Those sons seem like extreme ends of the stick, and I’d like to think there’s a happy medium in there somewhere that will allow my daughter to be a successful social drinker.

After serving in France for years, Thomas Jefferson finally brought his 9-year-old daughter Polly over to join him and she didn’t even recognize him. The poor girl was torn from her home against her will, put on a boat for weeks, and finally delivered to a man she didn’t know. As painful as that was for her, I wonder how Jefferson felt when they reunited and he saw no love in her eyes. I understand service to one's country still separates families, but I could never handle being a stranger to my child.

I started thinking being apart from your young children was normal, essential even, if you wanted to be politically successful in the early 1800s. Then I read about James Monroe. Even though he was sent to Europe multiple times, he always brought his wife and daughter with him – where he went, they went, as a family. He gives me hope that work-life balance is achievable for my wife and I who want to be equal parents and providers.

Monroe also died penniless after a lifetime of public service and needed his children's help to support himself at the end. So the real takeaway for us might be Be there...and have a 401(k). 

2. Learn to love poop.

American farmers like George Washington, John Adams, and Thomas Jefferson were among the first to use manure as fertilizer. They knew its value, and fully understood the dung concoction was something to be studied, cultivated, and revered. John Adams even had a recipe for it in his diary. If I still lived in the Midwest with easy access to all the ingredients, I might have tried to recreate it in an attempt to copy the model of the popular Julie & Julia blog.

It involved freezing over the winter and thawing it in the spring – this recipe was serious shit.
I've recently learned the value and variety of newborn poop. The dark horror came upon us immediately, in the hospital. Most babies have one or two “meconium” stools their first day – a black, tarry substance that’s the product of swallowing amniotic fluid in the womb. My daughter had eight. Eight. Her bowels expelled enough tarry goop to trap a family of wooly mammoths for millennia. She must have passed through the vaginal canal like Pacman, gulping the whole way down.

Now I've learned to have a love-hate relationship with her poop. Once the maternity nurses showed me how, changing her diapers was one of the few times I actually knew what to do with her in those first days; my purpose was as clear as her diapers were soiled. It's actually a relief now to open those Pampers and see a big load because it means she's digesting her food and growing and thriving, and her awful gas pain has a real, solvable cause.

When George Washington was looking for a farm manager, he said he wanted “above all, Midas like, one who can convert everything he touches into manure, as the first transmutation towards Gold.” My newborn definitely has that Midas touch, but her poop doesn’t look like gold. On the best of days, it looks like basil pesto. On the worst of days, it looks like basil pesto sprayed five feet across the room. She's too young to draw pictures or make macaroni art; poop is all she has to give at this point and she's incredibly generous.

3. Read.

We may get through this biography project sooner than I thought.
The Founding Fathers weren’t born with the innate ability to lead men or found a country. Carving a successful republic out of a monarchy was a new and momentous endeavor, but they weren't flying completely blind. They were extremely well-read on the subjects of Greek, Roman, and English government and Enlightenment philosophy which guided the Constitution. They took advantage of the vast body of knowledge already out there and let it inform their decisions.

Parenting should be approached the same way.

I know (and I’ve heard a million times) that no book can prepare you for what it’s like having a baby. You don't say? I’ve had books that were so good they kept me up at night, but that was on my terms, not at random intervals for weeks straight sucking out my soul.

Obviously real-life experience is different from the advice and warnings you read about, but books have armed me and my wife with knowledge that gives us an inkling of what's normal and helped us form some kind of plan. There is no “what feels right” in the moment when everything is tortuous and you're plagued with deranged insecurity. You can go ahead and wing it, but I’m diving headfirst into Harvey Karp's 5 S's of calming a crying baby and binge-read Even if our eat-play-sleep plan is literally shit all over by our strong-willed baby, it helps us feel a little less helpless.

All the books in the world won't stop us from making our own mistakes with our poopy little nation-state, but I'd like to avoid some mistakes other people already made. I know my wife and I aren't founding a country, but we’re raising a human being and sometimes it feels like the same thing.

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John Adams vs. George Washington: The Beer Test

Who would make a better drinking buddy?

George Washington could have kept on presidentin' forever if he wanted he was extremely popular and there were no term limits yet to stop him. Instead he chose to bow out after two terms, leaving Americans with a very different character at the helm. I think I know how they felt.

When Shelley Long left Cheers after five incredible years, I was devastated. I felt betrayed, confused, and worried for my future. I was heartbroken at six years old.

This picture is to analogies as Cheers is to television shows.

I eventually warmed to Kirstie Alley, but Rebecca Howe was no Diane Chambers. And according to every historical ranking ever, John Adams was no George Washington. I'm no historical ranker (though I hold no historical rancor for those who are) so when I compare America's first two executives, it's on my own terms. 

I'm pitting Washington and Adams against each other in eight wildly different categories. I'm less interested in objective evaluations of who was the "better president" and more interested in answering one highly subjective question - who would I rather have beers with at Cheers?

Category #1: Brute Strength

I've never been to Boston, but every non-Cheers depiction of it tells me there's a 100% chance my peaceful drinks would be interrupted by a wicked awesome bar brawl, probably with Matt Damon and Ben Affleck. If that's the case, I want to be with someone who can hold their own.

Washington was a majestic 6'2" tall. Adjusting for inflation, that's like nine feet today. Nine feet of stoic elegance demanding respect. Adams was about 5'7" and portly, with a round Charlie Brown head.

Winner: I love Charlie Brown and I personally identify more with Adams's body type, but I have to give this one to Washington. He could take on Affleck, Damon, and the entire Boston Red Sox with his sheer Washingtonian might. 

Category #2: Past Experience

The best stories shared over drinks are the ones you lived firsthand. Which man would have not only the best stories, but ones I'd want to hear? That all depends on their experiences.

Before becoming president, Washington was a surveyor and a planter who moonlighted as a super famous legendary war hero. Adams wished for the glory of a soldier. When he watched Washington go off to lead the Continental Army, he wrote, “I, poor creature, worn out with scribbling for my bread and my liberty, low in spirits and weak in health, must leave others to wear the laurels.”

But let's be clear. Adams's "scribbling" was nothing to scoff at. He helped write the Declaration of Independence and most of the Massachusetts Constitution that served as a model for the national one. As a foreign diplomat he was dining at Versailles while Washington was embroiled in battle, but both efforts were essential to winning the war.

On my honeymoon, my wife and I had a great time visiting Versailles, touring the palace and renting a golf cart that automatically shut down when we went beyond the designated area. But when John Adams visited Versailles, he got to dine with Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette. He called her "an object too sublime and beautiful for my dull pen to describe." That makes me want to be there. I bet I could be really good at eating at the Court of Versailles if I practiced.

Sadly, John Adams never got to take golf cart rear view selfies at Versailles.
Adams would have fascinating stories to tell about his time in Europe, but the truth is those stories would just make me jealous. Washington, on the other hand, would have firsthand accounts of bloody battles, the ravages of war, and unforgiving wilderness filled with danger. 

Winner: I would love to hear Washington's tales for the same reason I enjoy Law & Order: Special Victims Unit but don't want to live it. For enthralling me without making me jealous, Washington takes this round.

Category #3: Conversational Skills

Having fascinating experiences doesn't matter much if you can't put them into words. I want to drink beers and break bread(ed jalapeno poppers) with someone who can keep up their end of the conversation.

Adams was such a gifted speaker that it’s almost unfair to compare these two on their ability to talk. It’s like on Jeopardy when a contestant is introduced with “Tim is a marine biologist from Miami” and one of the categories is “Manatees in Florida.” Or “Janelle is a dried flower expert from Peoria” and somehow there's a category of “Potpourri."

I'll take "Unfair Advantage" for 800, Alex.
According to David McCullough, “Once, to give a client time to retrieve a necessary record, Adams spoke for five hours, through which the court and jury sat with perfect patience. At the end he was roundly applauded because, as he related the story, he had spoken ‘in favor of justice.’” More likely they applauded because he was finally done talking. Five hours?! If justice takes that long, I might lean toward the side in favor of corruption if they kept their soliloquies under twenty minutes.

The point is, Adams had a gift for rousing people with his words. He was extremely well-read and could speak extemporaneously ad nauseam. Washington was the opposite, famous for being a man of few words. McCullough wrote that Adams himself “wished he talked less, and he had a particular regard for those, like General Washington, who somehow managed great reserve under almost any circumstance.”

Winner: For captivating captive audiences – and having the self-awareness to realize he talked too much – I'm going with Adams.

Category #4: Popularity

Popularity doesn't matter. That's what unpopular kids are told to make them feel better. In politics, popularity is everything. It's also a factor in deciding who I'd rather have drinks with. If someone is well-regarded, they might be better company. If someone is universally hated, they could make any beer taste bitter.

When it comes to popularity, it’s hard to compete with a demigod. Washington was the only president unanimously elected by electors, and perhaps the only man popular enough to convince America to ratify The Constitution. Even today, he's an essential part of our daily tasks. It's hard to do laundry, park your car, or poorly compensate a stripper without sticking George Washington's face in something.

Adams was a more divisive figure, entrenched in a time when political parties first took their foothold in American politics. In America’s first fifty years, only two presidents served a single term – John Adams, and his son.

Their nicknames were another good indicator of their popularity. George Washington was called “the father of his country,” and “His Excellency.” Adams was derisively called “His Rotundity.” Even his honorable nickname “The Colossus of Independence” sounds like a fat joke.

Winner: Washington's enormous popularity had to go to his head, right? It's not like he was only honored after his death. His nation's capital was named after him while he was still president. How does your ego even handle that?

I think I'd prefer John Adams's quasi-popularity. He had no shortage of ego himself, but enough detractors to keep it in check.

Category #5: Family

Family matters. Wow. I literally just now realized the title of that 90s sitcom could be read as a phrase and a complete sentence. "We have to discuss these family matters, Harriet, because family matters." I...I need a minute.

Family does matter, except when it comes to ratings. Then neighbors matter way more.
You know what I'm talking about, Judy.
Okay I'm back. When it comes to choosing your friends and drinking buddies, their families can be a factor. For one, because they may come up in conversation and you'd hope they'd be interesting. But also because people are shaped by their families. So whose family most appeals to me? 

Martha Washington may have been a fine woman, but she destroyed her letters with George after his death, in effect destroying most evidence of her personality and their affection. We have hundreds of letters from Abigail Adams to prove what a remarkable, brilliant, forward-thinking woman she was and how devoted and in love she was with John. She kept him grounded, emotionally and financially. Thomas Jefferson said Adams was lucky to be “under the direction of Mrs. Adams, one of the most estimable characters on earth, and the most attentive and honorable economists.”  

Washington had no children of his own, and his one surviving stepson was a disappointment. John Adams had four children who survived into adulthood. Though his son Charles died of acute alcoholism, his son John Quincy went on to become the sixth president of the United States.

John Quincy Adams, 1843. The earliest surviving photograph of a president who looks like he stole Christmas.
Wikipedia Commons, The Metropolitan Museum of Art.
Upon becoming president, one of the greatest honors Adams ever received from Washington was a letter where Washington said, "If my wishes would be of any avail they should go to you in a strong hope that you will not withhold merited promotion for Mr. John [Quincy] Adams because he is your son.”

Winner: The Adams family takes this prize.

Category #6: Religiosity

Someone's religion wouldn't stop me from having a beer with them, unless it actually forbade the consumption of alcohol. That could put a damper on things. What could sway me is someone's beliefs on the role of religion in government.

Like the only boy who could ever reach Dusty Springfield, John Adams was the son of a preacher man. He didn’t subscribe to church beliefs about Jesus’s divinity and other miracles, but he lived a righteous life. Writing about his youth, Adams said that though he was "very fond of the society of females...they were all modest and virtuous girls and always maintained their character through life... My children may be assured that no illegitimate brother or sister exists or ever existed." Washington, as a young man, didn’t let his beliefs get in the way of gambling and wenching.

What troubles me is that unlike Washington, Adams wasn't sold on the separation of church and state. If that came up in conversation I'd have to steer us to a more agreeable topic, like what a jerk Alexander Hamilton was.

At Washington's inauguration, it is said he added the words "so help me God" at the end of his oath and kissed The Bible. Detailed firsthand accounts of his inauguration never mentioned that and it wasn't reported until nearly a hundred years later, so it probably never happened. Washington's actual religious beliefs were a personal mix of deism and Protestantism, and he didn't believe government should be involved in the matter.

Winner: Adams was religious enough that he preferred not to travel on the Sabbath. Washington would cross an icy river on Christmas to murder you. Washington takes the crown for his unpredictability.

Category #7: Views on Slavery

John Adams was vehemently against slavery, and well aware of the irony of fighting for freedom when hundreds of thousands of Americans were anything but free. 

George Washington used his slaves’ teeth to make his dentures. (And some hippo ivory, but still...)

Let's tell kids they're made of wood.

Winner: I think I'm gonna go with Adams on this one.

Category #8: Sense of Humor

This is my top factor in the beer test. After a certain number of beers, I give up on learning and 100% of my intelligence is directed toward making people laugh and laughing in return. I get along best with people on the same page.

George Washington may not have been on that page. During the Constitutional Convention, Alexander Hamilton bet Gouvenor Morris a dinner that he didn’t have the nerve to approach Washington, slap him on the back, and say, “My dear general, how happy I am to see you look so well!” Morris went through with it and won the dinner, but according to author Kenneth C. Davis, “Morris would later confess that the withering look he received made this the worst moment of his life.”

George Washington made Lilith look like Patch Adams.
Whether or not that’s true, it speaks to Washington’s reputation for being too formal and having no sense of humor. Adams could come off as pompous, but in close quarters he usually won people over quickly. He could talk with anybody about anything, and he loved a good joke. When opponents spread a lie that he sent Charles Pinckney to England to get three mistresses – two for Adams and one for Pinckney – Adams responded, “If this be true, General Pinckney has kept them all for himself and cheated me out of my two.”

Winner: Maybe Washington's formality was put on, a show of what he thought the dignified ruler of America should act like. Even so, I wouldn't want to take the chance that he wouldn't let his hair down for me.

John Adams had the intelligence of Frasier Crane, the obnoxiousness of Cliff Claven, the charm of Sam Malone, the humor of Norm Peterson, and the occasional out-of-touchness of bartenders Coach and Woody. Washington was a hero and a legend, but Adams would make a much better drinking buddy.

Final Tally

Washington gets points for beating up Ben Affleck, having a wealth of grisly experiences to relate, and not imposing his personal feelings about religion onto the government. That's 3 points to Washington.

Adams takes the cake in never letting there be a lull in conversation, not being too popular, having an impressive family, hating on slavery, and being able to take a joke. That's 5 points Adams. Let's just give views on slavery double points and make that an even 6 points to Adams!

John Adams wins this arbitrary match-up 6-3! Once we figure out the logistics behind time travel and entering a sitcom, he is entitled to meet me where everybody knows your name so we can enjoy some beers named after his cousin Sam.

Sources: John Adams by David McCullough, Don't Know Much About the American Presidents by Kenneth C. Davis, Washington: The Indispensable Man by James Thomas Flexner, Recarving Rushmore by Ivan Eland.
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