Sunday, May 13, 2007

Shenanigans of the plain dressed

When I read that Thomas Jefferson as President adopted plain dress, plain manners while he always lived in the lap of luxury, makes me think of the fad that some rich campus kids adopt in attire to dress down, agrify and proletarianize their clothing,i.e., flannel shirts, ripped jeans,dirty T-shirts, John Deere regalia, etc. Hamilton, TJ's nemesis, was a flashy dresser his entire career. Having grown up poor in the West Indies, he undoubtedly didn't find any reason to don rags as an adult when he could always wear threads that were better and colorful. To put it in early 1960s English terms, Jefferson was a 'Rocker' and Hamilton was the 'Mod'. Mods and Rockers fought over clothing fashions of their day. Rockers preferred the dirtball leather look, as the Mods tried to dress to the nines. Given that many Mods came from the working-class, they didn't see any sense in looking dirty as the Rockers went out of their way to do. The Rockers retorted that the Mods were class-climbers and sell-outs to the bourgeoisie.

Here was an immigrant flashy dresser - Hamilton - having Geo. Washington's ear in the 1790s about his notions of nation-building, prompting the plain-dressed patrician Virginia planters like Jefferson to be overwrought with jealously. Certainly TJ viewed Washington as a "traitor to his class" for endorsing Hamilton's nationalist and centralizing program; at Washington's death in 1799, Vice President Jefferson didn't attend the commemoration ceremony of the Greatest American.

Another plain-dressed man who hated Alexander Hamilton with a passion was John Adams, the 2nd President. His hatred probably made Jefferson's look benign. Adams was a brilliant lawyer and played an early role in the Revolution, yet he always felt in his vanity that other people were stealing his role in history, namely Washington and Hamilton. Whilst Washington didn't want to be President and did so out of responsibility, Adams felt that he was entitled to the executive office. Even when he attained it, John Adams became increasingly paranoid about Hamilton and was prone to irrational rages. Adams believed that negotiating an end to the Quasi War with France was his finest Presidential achievement. It is more likely he sought peace based on his jealously of Hamilton, now Major General of the Army, getting glory and fame that would surpass his own. The XYZ Affair made Adams popular; without Hamilton in the Army there is little doubt that he wouldn't had made later those 'bold' peace initiatives with France. For all of Adams' deep scholarship, the 2nd President was a slave to his passions, and his chief one was hatred of Hamilton. Even following Hamilton's death in 1804, both Adams and Jefferson continued wallowing in their animosity of him, re-writing history of the struggles in the 1790s to give them both a benevolent role, whilst Hamilton was portrayed as an evil genius.Both Adams and the Sage of Monticello had the 'Old Men' snobbery and resentment of New Men, and played very loose with the truth regarding the early years of the Republic. That they both outlived Hamilton 22 years to the day, they had a free hand in writing the history of that era without any rebuttal.

Too many historians used the Jefferson-Adams correspondence as references since then.

1 comment:

Pilar said...

Well written article.