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430 pages, Paperback
First published November 1, 1973
Gore Vidal looking very dapper in 1972.
The astonishing day began when Colonel Burr came out of his office and asked me to accompany him to the City Hotel where he was to meet a friend. As usual, he was mysterious. He makes even a trip to the barber seem like a plot to overthrow the state. Walking down Broadway, he positively skipped at my side, no trace of the stroke that half paralyzed him three years ago.I came to understand the plot reference. Politics is a dirty business and we should disabuse ourselves that it is dirtier now than then.
Burr's rivalry with Hamilton began in those days. It was inevitable. Both were heroes, both were ambitious, both were lawyers. Of the two, Hamilton was considered to be more profound philosophically as well as more long-winded but with a tendency to undo his own brief by taking it past the point of advocacy. Burr was more effective in court because his mind was swifter & he never moralized unless to demonstrate a paradox. Yet juries are often grateful to a lawyer for not preaching at them.Beyond that, there is a rather humorous account of Chas. Schuyler doing some background work on the licentious life of Aaron Burr both in the U.S. & while living abroad, learning that both Burr & Hamilton had visited the same brothel, one run by a Mrs. Townsend who reads Bunyan's Pilgrims Progress and philosophy books during slow moments at the bordello. It is noted that, when a younger "working girl", she had personally serviced both Burr & Hamilton.
Neither Burr nor Hamilton were natural orators like Clay or Webster. They could not move multitudes; on the other hand they were both effective with juries & with their peers. And despite their rivalry, Burr & Hamilton sometimes worked together.
Van Buren will be nominated & he will defeat Clay or any other National Republican--no, no, Whig, I must get used to calling them that. How topsy-turvy it all is! Those of us who were for the Revolution were Whigs. Those for Britain were Tories.There is even a discussion of the freedom of the press that seems rather contemporary, with the issue raised of "false facts" vs. "true lies". And there is considerable plotting about which territories will eventually become part of the United States and the suggestion that Aaron Burr was an instigator of various unsanctioned alliances with other countries, seeking to become the emperor of some future realm of his own devising.
Then there was the fight over the federal Constitution. Governor Clinton wanted a weak federal government. So, some of the Whigs became anti-Federalists & some like Hamilton became Federalist. Then the Tory-Federalists became Republican. Now, Tory-Federalist Republicans call themselves Whig though they are anti-Whig while the anti-Federalist Republicans are now Jacksonian Democrats. Oh, names are magic here!