Polluting the manly bonds that united the Republican Party
Reading from Fallen Founder.
Aaron Burr, as presented by Nancy Isenberg, was a gracious and honor bound politician, and one of the few politicians of the age who truly believed in the democratic process. The Hamilton-Burr duel was the outcome of over 20 years of political and professional conflict; mostly because Hamilton was just plain mean and lacking in any morals or scruples. He would promote his own interests over his party (Federalists) or country.
Even though some Federalists perceived him as a potential ally, most attacked Burr because his success in rallying New York Republicans challenged Federalist power on a state and national level.
Burr was also under attack by two factions of his own party, the Republicans. His New York success threatened to overturn the entrenched Republican family, the Clintons. His New York success was also a threat to the Virginian Republicans. Even though Burr's actions were in large part responsible for Jefferson's 1800 election Jefferson was more than happy to sit back and let his Vice President be demagogued.
“It was not Burr's sexual relationships with young women but his alleged attractiveness to ambitious young men that conditioned the most virulent attacks against him by men within his own party....James Cheetham...almost single-handedly, orchestrated Burr's fall from political grace....Cheetham...thanks to Burr's assistance, assumed the editorship of the American Citizen. It was the only Republican newspaper in the city at the time. But Cheetham left the Burrite fold in 1801, claiming to have become suspicious of Burr's activities.
Matthew Livingston Davis...contended that the editor's talents were up for sale to the highest bidder; in fact, he was more than willing to slander Jefferson, he told Davis, if Burr and his men agreed to pay him the tidy sum of $2,000. Whatever his motives, Cheetham soon became the indispensable tool of DeWitt Clinton, and embarked on a relentless campaign to exile Burr from the Republican Party leadership.
[The] Burrites decided to establish their own newspaper. The Morning Chronicle would be edited by Dr. Peter Irving [his younger brother, Washington Irving, would also write for the paper]. By October, Cheetham was directly mocking Irving's paper for its lack of "manliness," comparing it to a "Lady's Weekly Museum." He now called Irving a "beau," who was only capable of sputtering "effeminate attacks"; he went so far as to suggest that Irving might be a woman in disguise, whose whing editorials reminded him of one who suffered from a "female complaint."
The intemperate editor was relying on a well-established tradition of political insult. According to eighteenth-century caricature, womanish men were fickle and disloyal, while as men of fashion, dandified politicians could be expected to change party affiliation as easily as they cahnged their clothes. By comparing the Burrites to beaux, dandies, and foppish boys, he associated them with prodigal and sexual indulgence -- the twin vices of luxura and licentia, the antithesis of republican virtue.
Sexual deviance was the most scurrilous charge in Cheetham's grab-bag of insults. Burr's "precious band," as he called this unnatural faction, was "actuated by personal attachment." They idolized Burr, and were "so extremely close" that they formed an emotionally intimate, sexually uncertain alliance. The homosexual overtones were intentional. Cheetham had conjured the specter of a sodomite plot -- a theme popular in the conspiratorial satire of eighteenth-century England -- in which Cataline,, the notorious Roman traitor and seducer of young men, often figured prominently. Burr's ability to court and corrupt young men endangered the entire party system, polluting the manly bonds that united the Republican Party. The oft-manipulated image of Aaron Burr had reached an unprecedented level of exaggeration.
Skipping ahead a few pages:
“Whereas Burr's defenders portrayed him as a paragon of masculine accomplishment and public virtue, Cheetham's attacks only became more pornographic. He called the Burrites "strolling players," a euphemism for male prostitutes. Burr's home was likened to a bordello, adorned with mirrors on the bedroom walls; there, the American Citizen charged, the voyeuristic Burr and his minions indulged in the decadent pleasures of fornication and adultery. If he could be portrayed as heir to Cataline, why not take the next step: and so now, Cheetham called Burr a modern-day Sardanapalus and Heliogabalus, two classical figures with notorious reputations: the first had dressed and behaved as a woman, while the second had a taste for young men with large penises. In one pornographic poem, punning on Burr's name, the versifier made crude allusions to male penetration and sodomy. To make matters worse, the Federalists' 1801 attack handbill (featuring the story of Burr populating the city with prostitutes) was once again circulated -- this time by anti-Burr Republicans.
Cheetham could not contain himself. He accused Burr of prostituting himself to a group of black voters by inviting them to his home and supposedly offering them "elegant amusements," that is, exchanging their votes for sexual favors.
Maybe HBO could produce a new series called "Founding Fathers." It would have more profanity and nudity than any other show they've done.
For another side of the founders, read Don't Get Madison by Callimachus. After transcribing a few pages of political attacks concerning various levels of fornication, it cracked me up to read his comment:
Not least of what's impressive about the Founders is their ability to weave together such intricate and wise understandings of faith (personal), religion (public), reason (modern), virtue (classical), and law (national), and to articulate them so well, and to bring them fearlessly into the public debate. It puts to shame the way we talk about these things today.