Eric_W's Reviews > Inventing a Nation: Washington, Adams, Jefferson

Inventing a Nation by Gore Vidal
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Apr 14, 09

bookshelves: essays-and-misc
Read in January, 2007

If you enjoy your history with a partisan flavor and a good dose of skepticism, you will immensely enjoy Inventing A Nation, Gore Vidal's romp through early American history. Gore begins with 1786 as Washington prepares to lead the constitutional convention.

It's refreshing to go beyond the glowing myths we are fed in high school and see the great men with all their foibles, flaws that somehow make them even a little greater in my estimation. There was a lot of groping going on to find just the right mix. Democracy did not have much in the way of precedence. After the Athenian defeat by Alexander, there was really no democratic example to follow.

Ours is certainly not a democracy in the Athenian sense as Gore, in his inimitable manner makes clear: "Much of the significance of December 2000 was that the Electoral College, created to ensure that majority rule be thwarted if unacceptable to what Hamilton thought of as the proper governing elite, threw a bright spotlight on just how undemocratic our republic has become, causing one of the Supreme Court Justices (by many thought to be a visiting alien) to respond to the Gore lawyers who maintained that Florida's skewed voting machines and confused rulings by various interested courts had deprived thousands of Floridians of their vote for president. The American Constitution, said the Justice, mandibles clattering joyously, does not provide any American citizen the right to vote for president. This is absolutely true. One votes for a near-anonymous member of the Electoral College, which explains why so few Americans now bother to 'vote' for president. But then a majority don't know what the Electoral College is."

That's classic.
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Comments (showing 1-7 of 7) (7 new)

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message 1: by Joshua Nomen-Mutatio (last edited Apr 14, 2009 05:15PM) (new)

Joshua Nomen-Mutatio On the subject of this general period of U.S. history, I've heard much high praise about this book, thought you may want to give it a look see:

http://www.goodreads.com/book/show/16...

I'm interested in understanding more about the feud between Jefferson and Hamilton. I've heard that this book goes into it bit.


message 2: by Ben (last edited Apr 14, 2009 05:32PM) (new)

Ben Interesting, Josh. In one of the books I'm reading now, Adams vs. Jefferson The Tumultuous Election of 1800, (which Eric has also read), Hamilton is coming across like a real ass wipe -- like the anti-Jefferson. Looks like there may be a lot more to him...



message 3: by Joshua Nomen-Mutatio (last edited Apr 14, 2009 05:43PM) (new)

Joshua Nomen-Mutatio I found out about the Hamilton biography while taking the pro-Jefferson stance in little online conversation. The guy I was exchanging thoughts with was basically telling me how great Hamilton was in comparison. I'm skeptical about this but willing to check out the bio, especially after seeing all of the high ratings here and on amazon.

I talked to my friend's dad (a U.S. history buff) about this the other day and he just kept saying "Hamilton was a dangerous man." He didn't really get into why exactly. He also recommended this book on the infamous duel:

http://www.goodreads.com/book/show/89...


Joshua Nomen-Mutatio Apparently there was some real over the top mud-slinging going on between Jefferson and Hamilton as well. Real tabloid sleaze kind of stuff.


Eric_W MyFleshSingsOut wrote: "I found out about the Hamilton biography while taking the pro-Jefferson stance in little online conversation. The guy I was exchanging thoughts with was basically telling me how great Hamilton was..."

Hamilton probably saved the fledgling United States economically, but he was certainly a believer in a strong central government. If you want mud-slinging, try the election campaigns at the time of Andrew Jackson. They were really dirty.


message 6: by Stephen (new)

Stephen Eric, if I keep reading your reviews my already groaning bookshelves will just collapse.


message 7: by Jim (new)

Jim Eric,

You wrote:

Ours is certainly not a democracy in the Athenian sense

Thank goodness ours is instead a constutional republic with respect for rule-of-law and natural rights. In a democracy, 50.1% can suppress the other 49.9% (or 100% for that matter).

Democracies killed both Socrates and Jesus.

Vidal wrote:

the Electoral College, created to ensure that majority rule be thwarted if unacceptable to what Hamilton thought of as the proper governing elite threw a bright spotlight on just how undemocratic our republic has become, causing one of the Supreme Court Justices (by many thought to be a visiting alien) to respond to the Gore lawyers who maintained that Florida's skewed voting machines and confused rulings by various interested courts had deprived thousands of Floridians of their vote for president.

Here Vidal overstates the power of the Electoral college, which is strictly to elect a President - not to thwart "majority rule".

I wonder which SCOTUS judge he referred to? My dim recollection of the 2000 Florida fight was that the Secretary of State hewed to the law and twice certified Bush the winner, as did various of the lesser Florida judges. The Florida Supremes overturned adhering to Florida election law and the SCOTUS spanked them once and told them to do better and finally (on 7-2 and 5-4 rulings) put an end to legistlating from the bench.

As a math kid, I appreciated Ch. Krauthammer's observation that the true intent of Florida's collective voters was unknowable when the margin was less than 600 votes out of 6-million (less than 1/10,000) which is why there are election laws to begin with (try counting 10,000 of anything and get the same answer twice in a row).


The American Constitution, said the Justice, mandibles clattering joyously, does not provide any American citizen the right to vote for president. This is absolutely true. One votes for a near-anonymous member of the Electoral College, which explains why so few Americans now bother to 'vote' for president. But then a majority don't know what the Electoral College is.

Vidal is indeed adroit. But idealistic: he can't help but insert mandibles in place of grownups mouths and voices when they read the constitution to him. He's also idealistic to think that the proxy, represented by each state's electors, is what disuades voters. Again, as a math kid I realize that my own vote has primarily a psychological benefit. It's influence on actually swinging an election is vanishingly small - considered alone it's benefit is certainly much less than than it's cost.

Voters at large may not calcuate this cost/benefit imbalance but I'll bet many feel it when they elect not to vote.


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