CNN Poll: 20% of Americans

December 23, 2008

Either 20% of Americans have never heard of Aaron Burr, or only 20% of Americans are paying attention.  I can’t decide which, but this CNN poll clearly points to one, or the other, depending on your view:

WASHINGTON (CNN) – A new national poll suggests that one of out of five Americans think that Dick Cheney is the worst vice president in American history.

Twenty-three percent of those questioned in a CNN-Opinion Research Corporation survey released Tuesday say that Cheney is the country’s worst vice president, when compared to his predecessors. Another 41 percent feel that Cheney is a poor vice president, with 34 percent rating him a good number two.

Only 1 percent of those polled say that Cheney is the best vice president in U.S. history.

Aaron Burr, Library of Congress image

Aaron Burr, Library of Congress image

Vice President Richard Cheney, White House photo

Vice President Richard Cheney, White House photo

Aaron Burr, you recall, is the vice president who, when the electoral college organization goofed and put him into a tie with Thomas Jefferson for president, suddenly thought he was better qualified than Jefferson and tried to take the race from him; the only vice president ever tried for treason; and the fellow whose dueling killed Alexander Hamilton, the financial genius of our nation’s early years.

20% of Americans think Cheney was worse than Aaron Burr?  Wow.  Just wow.

Aaron Burr shooting Alexander Hamilton, or Dick Cheney hunting doves in Texas?

Aaron Burr shooting Alexander Hamilton, or Dick Cheney hunting doves in Texas?

Dirty play on PUMA blogs, and election history (1800)

September 1, 2008

Oh, it’s only a little dirty, sure.  With but with Democrats like the PUMAs, sometimes you wonder why we need Karl Rove.  With Hillary supporters like a few of the PUMAs, who needs Monica Lewinsky?

At the Confluence, anything that displeases the board moderators gets edited to say something completely trivial and, the board’s moderators appear to hope, embarrassing.  Even compliments from people they don’t like get edited.  So much for robust discussion and debate.  So much for fairness.

The Ghost of Goebbels smiles.  The Ghost of Alexander Hamilton paces nervously. Hamilton, you recall, paid editors and writers to put all sorts of scandal and calumny against Thomas Jefferson into their newspapers, in 1796 and 1800.  Dumas Malone wrote in his Pulitzer Prize-winning biography of Jefferson that fully half the American electorate was convinced that Jefferson was an atheist who hated religious freedom by election day, 1800.  Still, Americans voted overwhelmingly for the Jefferson/Burr ticket.  So Hamilton’s skullduggery didn’t pay off.

Alas, prior to the 12th Amendment, electors in the electoral college all had two votes, and the rule was that the winner became president, the 2nd place person became vice president.  The electors of the Democratic Republican Party (the modern-day Democrats) each cast a vote for Jefferson for President, and a vote for Burr.  In electoral votes, there was a tie for the presidency.  The election went to the House of Representatives (see the Constitution, Article II, Section 1, Clause 3).

The new Congress had not been sworn in yet, so the old, Federalist-controlled Congress got to make the decision between the two top electoral college vote getters (same as today — the old congress decides).  A history site at the City University of New York gives the short version:

Uneasy about both men, the Federalists in the House of Representatives took five days and 35 ballots to choose Jefferson over Burr. The deadlocked election between the two allies spawned the Twelfth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution in 1804, which led to separate Electoral College ballots for president and vice-president. Jefferson called the election the “Revolution of 1800.”

35 ballots in the House of Representatives, before Jefferson was chosen on the 36th! When an election goes to the House, each state gets one vote; the Representatives and Senators must decide how to cast that state’s vote.  34 times that ballot came up inconclusive between Jefferson and Burr, both men despised by the Federalists due to the poisoned waters from the campaign.

Alexander Hamilton knew both men well.  Hamilton and Jefferson both served in Washington’s cabinet.  He had been a friend of Jefferson and guest at Jefferson’s table for the great compromise that gave us the first U.S. bank and put the capital on the Potomac.   Hamilton had worked closely with James Madison on policy and speeches in the Washington administration, an on the conspiracy to get the Constitution before that — Madison was Jefferson’s “campaign manager” in the election.  Hamilton also had crossed paths with Aaron Burr in New York, where both men practiced law.  Eventually, Hamilton persuaded a few Federalists to vote for Jefferson over Burr, and persuaded a few others to abstain from voting in their state delegations, throwing those delegations to Jefferson, too.  Jefferson was thus elected president, and Burr became vice president. Alexander Hamilton had to eat crow to keep his worst enemy, Burr, from becoming president.

Hamilton’s agonies did not end there.  After engineering Burr’s defeat in New York’s gubernatorial election in 1804, Burr claimed Hamilton had insulted Burr’s reputation.  A string of letters failed to resolve the situation, and Burr challenged Hamilton to a duel.  On July 11, 1804, Burr mortally wounded Hamilton in a dawn duel at Weehawken, New Jersey (dueling being illegal in New York).

Alexander Hamilton, hero of the American Revolution, created much of the financial underpinnings of our modern economic system, with a central bank and a view looking toward promoting trade to benefit the citizens of the nation.  He worked with Madison and Washington to created the Constitution, and worked with Jay and Madison to compose what became the Federalist Papers, originally a set of essays to persuade New Yorkers to ratify the Constitution, now a legal and history backgrounder in what the Constitution is and how it is supposed to work. Few important events in international or domestic affairs did not feature work by Hamilton, from Washington’s inauguration in 1789 to Hamilton’s death in 1804.  When his country called, Hamilton responded.

Hamilton’s death creates one of the greatest “what if” questions in American history:  What if Hamilton had lived, perhaps to serve as president himself? Opportunities lost do not knock again.


Alexander Hamiltons gravestone, in the courtyard of Trinity Church, close to the location of the former towers of the World Trade Center, New York.

Alexander Hamilton’s gravestone, in the courtyard of Trinity Church, close to the location of the former towers of the World Trade Center, New York.

Another version of the same photo, Alexander Hamilton’s grave.


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