This Is a Blog: The Birth of a Nation (sans black-face)

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

The Birth of a Nation (sans black-face)

Part 1 of 12: Washington to Jefferson

Someone tried to tell me that before Washington we had a black President. Before 1789, Fourteen men held the office “President of the Continental Congress:” Peyton Randolph, Henry Middleton, John Hancock, Henry Laurens, John Jay, Samuel Huntington, Thomas McKean, John Hanson, Elias Boudinot, Thomas Mifflin, Richard Henry Lee, Nathaniel Gorham, Arthur St. Clair, and Cyrus Griffin. However, President of the Continental Congress was a lot like Student Council President. He was more the leader of the congress than the nation. But also, none of them were black. Now onto some real Presidents.

George Washington (general, no party) 1789-1797 (2 full terms) VP: John Adams; FL: wife Martha

Washington’s presidency was AWKWARD. The Constitution took this administrative job of President of the Continental Congress and gave it its own branch of government. Washington saw the job as just that, chief administrator; he was no king. Thinking his new office didn’t have all that much power, he just sat back and let Alexander Hamilton and Thomas Jefferson bicker over little things like the role of the federal government. His neutrality in the French Revolution started the U.S. on its road to Isolationism.

John Adams (VP, Federalist) 1797-1801 (1 full term) VP: Thomas Jefferson; FL: wife Abigail

I think the easiest way to understand American History is to think in terms of two great men working in opposition. During this time, it was Adams and Jefferson. Adams stood for strong federal government, while Jefferson saw the government as a body with small and limited authority. Adams built a Navy and gave them a cabinet post, and passed the Alien and Sedition Acts to try to quash support for involvement with the French. Jefferson responded maturely, launching the first major negative campaign (calling him a hermaphrodite among other things) to take down what he saw as Adams’ gross overstepping of federal powers. Since Adams was a gigantic asshole with little to no political skill, Jefferson’s Democratic-Republicans took control, but as you’ll see, Adams got to his old friend Jefferson.

Thomas Jefferson (VP, Dem-Rep) 1801-1809 (2 full terms) VP: Aaron Burr, George Clinton; FL: daughter Martha, friend Dolley Madison

In 1800, the congress basically tried to stack the presidency and failed miserably. After the disaster of having Adams and Jefferson as Pres. and VP, they decided to stack the deck and have Jefferson and Aaron Burr, both Dem-Reps, hold the offices. Well, they fucked it up, resulting in like a hundred recounts. This began the process toward the 12th Amendment, calling for a separate ballot for VP, which eventually grew into the tradition of selecting the Pres. and VP on one ticket together.

I promise not to do this often, but let me pull out my soap box for a minute. Jefferson, I think, is the model politician. His Democratic-Republican party stood for smaller government, but he had the insight to realize a political party isn’t a group of ideologies, it’s a group of men. Men are not bound by their principles, they are guided by them. He passed the first major ban on the slave trade and purchased a giant plot of land from the French. Did he stick to the Dem-Rep line of small government? No, but he took two giant steps toward a more perfect union. The next guy to make this sort of ideological flip-flop for the good of the nation was Lincoln.

Next Up – Madison to Quincy Adams: [Founding] Father Issues

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