As right-wing religious fanatics work to update the texts in our nations schools, their history focus is based on a three-pronged attack: 1) Slavery never existed; 2) Trump was the best President ever; and, 3) There is no place for Jews, Muslims or Buddhists in Jesus’ America.
Since my double major was history, I’d like to share a couple stories that have been missing from the national dialog for too long. And what better time than on the day we celebrate old glory holes.
One of them took place in the Lincoln White House. First Lady Mary Todd Lincoln’s bad press for being a whack job has obscured her many other talents. Few know she was one of the finest Constitutional scholars of the 19th Century.
Of the many insane voices competing for airtime in her frazzled mind, none were stronger than The Framers of the Constitution. Her personal hotline to the Philadelphia Convention made her an early proponent, and some say the founder, of the Strict Constructionist School of Thought.
These hallowed communications would often come to her in the middle of the night. She didn’t mind. What else did she have to do? It’s not like the rail splitter still came to bed bringing quality wood.
Lincoln recognized her gift and would often have her write his speeches. They turned out so well, rarely did he have to amend them. If he did, he proceeded with great trepidation. She did not welcome others tampering with her work.
It was on one such occaision a major row occured between them. Abe honestly didn’t know how to handle her anger. He tended to cut to the chase and get these exchanges over as quickly as possible.
“Now Bessie,” he said using a common, condescending nickname for women of the era, “what we have here is an excellent first draft. With possibly one small change. ‘Of the corporations and people, by the corporations and people and for the corporations and people’ just does not scan. It lacks the poetic timbre I’m going for. How about we drop corporations and just say people?”
Mary instinctively attacked. “Oh I see, it’s a matter of timbre. Is that one of the topics you discuss on your Body Electric retreats with that fruit, Walt Whitman? And is your mouth usually full when you have these discussions?”
There is no mention of business entities having the same rights as citizens in the Constitution, The Federalists Papers or in any of the debates of that period. Still the Strict Constructionists on the Roberts Court granted them such status. They have all the rights without any of the pesky burdens like serving in the military or paying taxes. Plus they have de facto immunity to any criminal prosecutions It’s true they can’t vote but they are free to spend as much money as they want to buy any election.
Mary championed this idea over a century ago and was not about to let her husband edit it out.. Her position was well known. Every White House guest received one of her needle point pillows that read Corporations Are People Too.
The President remained impassive, waiting the incident out. Mary tried to emulate him by quietly weighing her options. She maintained her composure for as long as she could, About three seconds. Then her fury erupted.
“You know what? Write your own damn Gettysberg Address you fucking loser.” With that she slammed her quill on the table splattering ink all over the President’s face. It was a tactic they often employed to cut down on his Just For Men Beard Dye expenses. This was the first time, however, the method had been serendipitously applied.
Mary turned and stormed out of the room. But not before getting in one last salvo. She stopped abruptly and shouted over her shoulder, “I hope you get shot!”
Another tale that has been erased from our books happened earlier that same century. It was a warm sunny afternoon at Monticello when Jefferson’s niece returned from Richmond’s farmers market. She was in an awful state. (Virginia.)
With a dazed, glassy eyed look she stood frozen in the foyer. She appeared as if she’d been through a dust storm, her hair was severely mussed and she was covered in blood. Jefferson rushed to her side and asked what had happened.
She exclaimed, “Oh Papa, it was terrible. I was bartering for some rutabagas when suddenly this crazed man pulled out a rifle and started shooting randomly. Anyone he saw. He just kept shooting and reloading,, shooting and reloading. It went on for half an hour. There must have been 40 killed, mostly women and children. It was horrid, Papa! Just horrid!”
After the former president ascertained that everyone in her party was safe and that they had, indeed, procured the rutabagas, his look of concern melted into one of slight bemusement. He pulled her close to comfort her.
“There, there Polly” he cooed, using a common, condescending nickname for women of that time. “It’s too complex to explain to a feeble woman’s mind like yours. You just have to trust me that we knew what we were doing when we drafted our Constitution. Suffice it to say that mass murders are a key and necessary component of our form of democracy.
“As Strict Constructionists, or SC’s as I like to call them–god, does my inventive mind never quit, ha! ha!–we’ve written a document that is airtight and more infallible than the Vicar of Christ. If it is followed to the letter, it is so specific and all encompassing it will last a thousand years.
“As to what you witnessed today it just reinforces what I’ve already so beautiully expressed: the tree of capitalism must be fed from time to time with the blood of the working class.
“Events like the farmer’s market are necessary to destabilize the lower echelons. I mean if you constantly worry whether your child will return home alive from elementary school, do you really care who’s running for Congress in your district? Or what Prop 17 means? Hopefully you’ll be so distracted and scared you won’t even vote.
“Suppressing votes is how a minority maintains control in an Oligarchy/Democracy. You know that was going to be our party’s name until Pinckney put a stop to it. He said in 200 years “OD” was going to take on a completely different meaning and that we’d be unmarketable. Not sure what he was talking about but I never question clairvoyance.
“SC’s see no point in extending the franchise to women and their garbanzo sized intellects. Nor do they want to interfere with the happy lives of the n-words toiling in the fields singing their lovely spirituals.”
TJ smugly paused for a moment hoping his niece would take notice of his modern jargon. She was too distraught to process anything he said. So he patted himself on the back by blurting out, “Did you hear that Polly? I said “n-word” and not that other word. That means I’m not a racist anymore. Ginni Thomas taught me that.”
Polly was almost as stunned by her uncle’s tone-deaf response as she had been by the massacre itself. But at least he was taking time to reason with her. Usually in a national crisis he’d just pack the family up and they’d head to Cancun. This day the old goat had another personal agenda item in his sights.
“Just put today’s events out of your mind, lambie-pie, they’re of no consequence. Scurry along now and get ready for this evening, the Bushes and Walkers will be joining us for dinner.
“They just wrapped up a sweetheart million dollar deal with the Canadian government for some Revolutionary War canons and a shitload of semi-automatic muskets. And I get my 15% cut for setting it all up. We’ll be in a joyous mood so the last thing we need is your namby-pamby whining about gun control.”
With a flick of his hand he dismissed her and told her to change her frock. Then he added:
“How about the blue calico? It brings out your eyes. And for Christ’s sake wash that blood off of you. Who do you think you are, Jackie Kennedy?”