The room behind the shop

Reflecting on things I see around

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Aaron Burr by Gore Vidal

Have been (re-)reading Vidal’s historical novel over the Christmas in my sickbed.

The late Vidal brought such an iconoclastic style to his treatment of the figures of the American Revolutionary period that it makes for lively reading. No one is spared. George Washington lost every battle he fought against the British, and was a only saved by the French. Thomas Jefferson was hypocritical about slavery, devious about politics, utterly untrustworthy. Andrew Hamilton, eventually shot by Burr in a famous duel, was devious and anxious to take the United States back under the British monarchy. 

Manhattan in the late 18th century was full of cabbage-patches, Washington DC was a kip.

The Louisiana Purchase of 1803, when Jefferson bought land between New Orleans and the Rockies off Napoleon for $15 million - that is 15c an acre! - was unconstitutional. But it was daring and visionary, and doubled the landmass of the USA at a stroke, although it fed the divisions behind the impending Civil War by multiplying the number of Southern slave-owning states.


The overall impression left by the book is of the state of flux that the country was in at the turn of the 19th century… facing possible secession by various states and combinations of states, considering the possible invasion of Mexico, and the possibility of splitting along the Mississippi or the Hudson. One thing that is not clear to me at least is what unifying idea kept the whole enterprise together, in spite of the egocentricity of its various leaders and the forces that were pulling them in different directions.

Filed under Aaron Burr George Washington Thomas Jefferson Andrew Hamilton Manhattan Washington DC

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