Monday, January 10, 2011

Political discourse

I've just finished Joseph Ellis' biography of George Washington, "His Excellency." Talk about political discourse! Washington was venerated until he became president, and then his troubles began. Thomas Paine prayed that he would die. And that was just for openers. All the founding fathers loathed one another. Madison had no use for Jefferson, who hated Hamilton, John Adams essentially disliked everyone, and so it went.

When Washington was president, many of the above and others not yet mentioned suggested that the old man was senile, if not corrupt. He was accused of just about everything evil except being connected with Halliburton.

So political discourse wasn't so terribly civil in the early federal period. Moving right along down the corridors of history, in 1856 Preston S. Brooks of South Carolina attacked Senator Charles Sumner of Massachusetts on the floor of the Senate with a cane, grievously injuring him. The difference of opinion which motivated him was the issue of slavery.

If anything, political discourse has calmed down in modern times.

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