Short but Powerful


Check out Madison on the press: “To the press alone, checkered as it is with abuses, the world is indebted for all the triumphs which have been gained by reason and humanity over error and oppression.” Rick says, “Defending the press’s abuses was as important as defending its freedom; abuses were an inescapable consequence of press freedom.” More Madison: “It is better to leave a few of its noxious branches to their luxuriant growth than, by pruning them away, to injure the vigor of those yielding the proper fruits.”

Yes. And have you noticed that those who know agriculture turn to agricultural analogies? (See the Bible.)

It was nice to meet Levi Lincoln, the attorney general under Jefferson. Old Testament first name, like Abraham — who was some distant relation of this revolutionary Lincoln.

Mr. William Duane slammed four State Department clerks as “a Hamiltonian, a nothingarian, a modest man and a nincompoop.” I smiled particularly at the word “nothingarian”: In my music criticism, I sometimes describe a performance as a “nothingburger,” which particularly amuses a fellow critic of mine, which gratifies me.

Funny about John Randolph of Roanoke: “All his life, his voice never broke and he never used a razor. He kept the world in awe with his quick tongue and quicker temper.”

Rick is interesting in this criticism of TJ: “There was a too-good-for-this-world streak in Jefferson’s character that showed itself in many ways, from his mountaintop house, to his dislike of face-to-face argument, to his pride . . .”

DeWitt Clinton “resigned a seat in the Senate to take the locally more powerful job of mayor of New York.” I thought of Ed Koch, who so loved being mayor. He ran for governor once, which was “stupid,” he told me in an interview. “I didn’t want to be governor!” The governor, Cuomo, wanted to be mayor.

Jimmy Walker is sometimes quoted as saying, “I’d rather be a lamppost in New York than mayor of Chicago.”

In Madison-era America, they had a “Non-Intercourse Act” (“which banned trade with Britain, France, and their colonies,” explains Rick). I think we’d call it something else today.

Another winning line: “Virginia Republicans, with the persistence of cicadas, accused Federalists of yearning for monarchy . . .”

Is there anything under the sun more persistent than cicadas?

Rick writes — has occasion to write — “. . . even for great minds experience can be a better, if slower, teacher than reading and reasoning.”

In his chapter called “Retirement, Death,” Rick writes, “Madison was the last framer standing. Loneliness increased his eminence, like a hill on a plain.”

Boy does Rick give it to John Adams, all through this book! “Jefferson wrote letters of advice to his protégés, Madison and Monroe, and John Adams wrote to whoever would correspond with him.” More: “Adams was so peculiar and unpopular — and so proud of his peculiarity and unpopularity — that the only politician who would actually listen to him was his own son, John Quincy Adams.”

I was interested in an early use — or what I think is an early use — of the term “political science.” Madison says that his notes on the Constitutional Convention should appeal to “all who take an interest in the progress of political science and the cause of true liberty.”

Possibly the most amazing paragraph, for me, of the whole book:

He died on June 28 [1836]. Jennings [his manservant] was with him. At breakfast he could not swallow. “What is the matter, Uncle James?” a niece asked. “Nothing more than a change of mind, my dear,” he answered. Intellectual to the end, and beyond: he was his mind, and he did not say it was ending but changing. “His head,” wrote Jennings,” “instantly dropped, and he ceased breathing as quietly as the snuff of a candle goes out.”

He did not free his slaves, the bastard.

Did he know slavery was wrong? (“I tremble for my country when I reflect that God is just, and that his justice cannot sleep forever” — Jefferson.) I don’t know.

“Dolley became a kind of Washington monument,” writes Rick.

In 1848, a year before she died, she attended the laying of the cornerstone of the actual Washington Monument, along with Alexander Hamilton’s widow, Eliza. The presence of the two old ladies on the reviewing stand represented a posthumous fusion, in honor and forgetfulness, of their husbands, friends, then enemies, and of the man they had both served [Washington].

A splendid book (natch).

To order Jay Nordlinger’s new book, Peace, They Say: A History of the Nobel Peace Prize, the Most Famous and Controversial Prize in the World, go here. To order his collection Here, There & Everywhere, go here.


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