The Ten Dollar Founding Father Without A Father

Little did I imagine, back in 2012 when I wrote Why Don’t I Ever Meet Guys Who Rap About Alexander Hamilton?, that Lin-Manuel Miranda’s musical brainchild with Ron Chernow’s Alexander Hamilton would become this Hamilton, the biggest thing on Broadway (and Twitter) since the 1960s!
I was prescient enough to know that I’d love it if it ever turned into anything, but not such a good prognosticator that I put any money into the endeavor. (Yes, hindsight is 20/20.)

2015 has been the year of Hamilton, and the nice people at The Worst Bestsellers (who say that “we read books so you don’t have to”) put together this phenomenal list (a “readers’ advisory”) of Hamilton-related books to go along with their podcast on the subject. Usually, it’s enough for me to listen to the soundtrack on Spotify or CD, or read the tweets, but this list is an embarrassment of riches, complete with category titles taken directly from the musical.

Until you get to your bookstore, your Amazon account, or your library, however, entertain yourself with the CBS Sunday Morning coverage of the musical just before it premiere on Broadway:

and then take peek at what one amazing high school is doing with the story:

Happy 2016. Read, listen, and learn. Don’t let anyone deny you your chance to dream. Tell them, “I am not throwing away my shot!”

Published in: Uncategorized on December 30, 2015 at 10:53 pm  Leave a Comment  

Presidential Hotness — Serious Ruminations on a Silly Subject

Earlier this week, the website Hottest Heads of State served up The Presidents of the United States In Order of Hotness.

It’s awful. It’s understandable, but it’s awful.

Stick with me here. As a fan of history, I could be offended by the shallowness of discussing the physical attributes of the aspirants to, and winners of, the presidency. But we’ve spent over five score and ten (that’s 110 years for the non-Lincoln fans) since the dawn of the Golden Age of Photojournalism, and we’ve had nightly television news for over 60 years. And do we really need to talk about 24-hour cable news coverage?

In an era when serious pollsters discuss whether they’d feel comfortable “going out for a beer” with a candidate for the presidency, certainly at some level, the aesthetic appeal of a presidential aspirant is an issue. Truly unphotogenic or untelegenic people probably stand a far lesser chance of attaining the presidency. Such is the shallowness of our modern republic.

This is why Scandal‘s Fitzgerald Grant is so believable as the object of the affections of Olivia Pope (and Mellie, and Paris Gellar between Liza Weill’s stints on Gilmore Girls and How To Get Away With Murder). Hell, when Buzzfeed wrote 16 Reasons We Love Fitzgerald Grant III, right at #1 was “First and foremost, he is smoking hot!” Well, duh.


Next, I could find the idea of judging anyone by physical attributes related to sexual appeal to be reprehensible. But, as a feminist, I can be tongue-in-cheek appreciative that in the case of these 43 office-holders (remember, Grover Cleveland held it twice, non-consecutively), we’re treating men as sex objects. Call me hypocritical, but I can live with that, especially since thirty-nine of them have gone on to the great beyond.

No, my issue with Hottest Heads of State’s ranking of the American presidents by hotness is that they got it so very wrong in so many ways!

  • Franklin Pierce as #1? I mean, this guy was a huge anti-abolitionist — and bigotry is not hot. Historians consider him one of the worst presidents in American history. Also not hot. But at best, how can they figure this face is the hottest of them all?


  • Meanwhile, poor, sweet Gerald Ford, who had a few nationally televised (intellectual and physical) bumbles was a perfectly nice, incredibly white bread guy, and while the blog acknowledges his youthful attractiveness, they rank him as 36th. I mean, I wouldn’t rank him in the top 5, but that close to the bottom? C’mon, does this face really make girls invent excuses to visit their sick grandmothers?


  • Ulysses S. Grant ranks 6th — whatever your political bent, can you really see this Grant ranking in hotness above our slender, faithful, six-pack-possessing, basketball-playing, perfect-teeth-smiling current world leader? Who really wishes to claim drunken, smelly, bearded Grant, pictured here in younger, pre-presidential years, as just outside the top 5?


  • I’m definitely no fan of the Bush dynasty, but even as a dispassionate observer, I can tell that there’s all kinds of cray-cray in saying man-child W is hotter than former CIA Director GHWB. Smart is sexy, and putting the war-mongering, pretzel-choking, malaproprist son at #10 and the flawed but stalwart war-hero father at #23 is just ridiculous. I mean, thinking of either as hot is difficult for me, but can they really believe this:


is hotter than this?:


There are many things that go into calculating the hotness of someone, notwithstanding the arguable impropriety of publicly judging someone’s sexual appeal at all. There’s physical stature and bearing, good hair and teeth, intellect and wit, ethics and valor. Unfortunately, we’ve got very little first- or even second-hand knowledge of most of these men, so we’re basing our opinions on static photos and subjectively-rendered paintings.

But Abigail Adams famously loved to romp through Cupid’s Grove with John (and don’t tell me that’s only the imaginings of 1776, because of I’ve read their letters!) and my presidential boyfriend does not deserve to be dead last! And you certainly can’t tell me that my beloved Mr. Adams deserves to be eight positions lower than Zachary Taylor!


All this aside, Hottest Heads of State is a funny blog, and I recommend people visit, if only to familiarize themselves with who the world leaders are, especially of smaller or less-known nations. Meanwhile, don’t expect me to join the Franklin Pierce fan club.

Published in: on February 23, 2015 at 10:15 am  Leave a Comment  

What if Thomas Jefferson and Abigail Adams Tweeted?

As I’ve alluded to previously, this is really just a sandbox for learning WordPress, but it’s also my way of keeping track of all the nifty things I find regarding the tiny club of 44 (really! just 44 men, if you don’t count the second Mrs. Wilson) who have led the United States. Someday, this blog won’t languish, but right now, professional endeavors persist. However, I couldn’t let this nifty venture go by without calling attention.

The National Archives has launched a beta site of Founders Online, and it’s a humdinger. At that link, you’ll find a searchable collection of almost 120,000 annotated and transcribed documents from our nations founding — actually, from the late Colonial period (1748) all the way to about twenty years past Madison’s presidency.

The collection including letters, speeches, diaries and more from the collected papers of George Washington, Benjamin Franklin, John Adams and family (which means Abigail and company, of course), Thomas Jefferson, Alexander Hamilton, and James Madison. You can search by author, recipient and era. I searched for John Adams’ letters to (then) Abigail Smith, and was charmed and amused by a letter which included the following:

I believe I could furnish a Cabinet of Letters upon these subjects which would be exceeded in Curiosity, by nothing, but by a sett describing the Characters, Diversions, Meals, Wit, Drollery, Jokes, Smutt, and Stories of the Guests at a Tavern in Plymouth where I lodge,1 when at that Court—which could be equalled by nothing excepting a minute History of Close stools and Chamber Potts, and of the Operation of Pills, Potions and Powders, in the Preparation for the small Pox.

Another little search found George Washington’s acceptance of Thomas Jefferson’s resignation as Secretary of State. The felicity of expression (as a 1776 John Adams might have described it) is impressive, and it puts social media hashtags and text-talk to shame.

Dear Sir

I yesterday received with sincere regret your resignation of the office of Secretary of State. Since it has been impossible to prevail upon you, to forego any longer the indulgence of your desire for private life; the event, however anxious I am to avert it, must be submitted to.

But I cannot suffer you to leave your Station, without assuring you, that the opinion, which I had formed, of your integrity and talents, and which dictated your original nomination, has been confirmed by the fullest experience; and that both have been eminently displayed in the discharge of your duties.

Let a conviction of my most earnest prayers for your happiness accompany you in your retirement; and while I accept with the warmest thanks your solicitude for my welfare, I beg you to believe, that I always am Dear Sir Your Sincere friend and Affecte. Hble Servant.

Go: Washington

Something tells me I’ll be noodling over this site for a while. Enjoy!

Published in: Uncategorized on September 19, 2013 at 11:31 pm  Leave a Comment  

Cinematic Presidents: Would James K. Polk Have Had a High Q Score?

With all of these movies about Lincoln and FDR coming out, I sometimes stop to wonder what various presidents would think about the movies made about them. In particular, I worry that my secret presidential boyfriend, John Adams, would be thrown into apoplectic shock at the appearance of two-dimensional, larger-than-life humans projected on a wall or a box. (I like to think I’d soothe him, but perhaps we’d need a reanimated Ben Franklin nearby to convince him it just another of his own inventions and not a devilish trick.)

Anyway, to that end, the nice people of Slate have put together a list of Presidents in Movies: The All-Time Leader Board… and given their relationship, I do imagine John Adams will be disappointed to have been so soundly thrashed by Thomas Jefferson. However, I do think he’d be exceedingly pleased that this experiment in independence and democracy has survived so long, election kerfuffles notwithstanding.

Of course, this doesn’t even take into account all the asteroid- and alien-fighting imaginary presidents in films and on TV. While it would be hard to narrow my favorite fictional presidents down to just one, I can tell you they’re both from the mind of Aaron Sorkin. How can a girl choose between:


when there’s such zingy brilliance  behind those men? I’m sure John Adams would have had a second term, if only he’d had an Aaron Sorkin in his life. (Can’t you see Abigail wielding a pair of scissors and shouting, “Game on, boyfriend!”?)

Published in: Uncategorized on November 9, 2012 at 12:19 pm  Leave a Comment  

Why Don’t I Ever Meet Guys Who Rap About Alexander Hamilton?

Yes, of course I know that Alexander Hamilton was never president, but America owes a debt to his financial brilliance. I also owe him a debt — I found  Hamilton so fascinating that I got a 100% on my first essay exam for AP American History (almost three decades ago) and the information is still fresh in my mind. In case Hamilton’s history isn’t quite as memorable for you, this video should help. Just don’t blame me (too much) when you find yourself humming “Alexander…” at odd junctures throughout your day.

Learn more about Lin-Manuel Miranda.

Published in: Uncategorized on August 4, 2012 at 12:04 am  Comments (1)  

Gone, but not forgotten

I can’t say that I agree that these are 10 Presidents Nobody Remembers. I remember them. I wrote a school report in  second grade on John Tyler. I’m from Buffalo, where Millard Fillmore monuments, hospitals and the like are all over. And what fan of musical theater can ignore “We’d Like To Thank You Herbert Hoover”?

Yes, it may seem that I abandoned this blog in 2009. Due to a medical emergency within days of the last Washington post, my attentions were directed elsewhere. I may come back in the not-too-distant future — there are so many fascinating presidential biographies. Until then, I may pop in just to share small presidential treasures. 

Published in: Uncategorized on July 13, 2012 at 11:29 am  Leave a Comment  

Jack and Patcy Custis

How sharper than a serpent’s tooth it is 
To have a thankless child! Away, away!

After hitting the halfway point of Washington:  A Life, I realized the problem.  Randall  presents everything with this hurry-up-and-wait approach.  One point or factoid may be repeated ad nauseam to the point that you sometimes have to flip back a page to make sure you haven’t missed that your current paragraph is a flashback.  It’s not horrible, but it does make keeping a running mental tally of the order in which I want to share…awkward, especially as I’ve been traveling.  

It may be the weekend before I catch up with what I’d like to do, which is trace the dichotomy of the man.  The guy who copied out rules for living as a teenager truly lived by those rules as an adult; the guy who had little formal schooling really taught himself on a wide variety of subjects.  Washington was no Jeffersonian genius (even leaving aside his not figuring out that it might not be Martha’s fault they didn’t have kids together), but he impresses me with all he did learn on his own.

But today’s post is about Jack (who seems to be the ungrateful child Lear only believed his daughter to be) and Patcy Custis, George Washington’s step-children.  So far, we know little of Jack except that he’s indolent with regard to his studies, likes riding his horses, generally insensitive to anything unrelated to him and left school to marry his girlfriend, frustrating GW to no end.

But it was Patcy, whom George seemed to truly adore as much as if she were his own progeny, that broke my heart when I read last night’s section.  Patcy had what was certainly epilepsy, and literally died of a seizure right in George Washington’s arms.  The distress this caused Martha Custis Washington is palpable to the reader, even one who has only hit page 250.  But George Washington’s feelings are rarely displayed for more than a moment–we know he’s petulant when ill-appreciated and ill-rewarded by Governor Dinwiddie and later by the British government.  We know when he’s lock-stock-and-two-smoking-watermelons crazy about Sally Fairfax…which is what leads us to wonder what, other than her money, George loved about Martha…since he seems far less passionate about her.  We know he’s frustrated by Jack, and despondent about Patcy, but only in brief glimpses.

Certainly I don’t want biographers to make stuff up…but it is disappointing to not get into the nittygritty of what makes this man tick.

Nonetheless, poor Patcy.  Not only did she have to die young, but she suffered the ill effects of her mother’s famously bad spelling.  Tsk.

Published in: on January 12, 2009 at 10:26 pm  Leave a Comment  

Babies Make You Plump

I’m afraid I’m far ahead in my reading (8 days in, one-third of the way through the Randall’s Washington: A Life) but behind in my posting on that material.  Last night, I had a decent excuse, as Comcast’s web service just stopped.  Feh.

I really will have to catch up with our hero’s travails, from his spy work to the disaster at Fort Necessity to his new mentor’s demise to his truly icky illness.  But last night, something (or someone) pleasant popped up.  Enter:  Martha Dandridge Custis.  What do we learn about our first First Lady?

Like all the women of her family, Martha was small.  She measured under five feet tall when she was fully grown, nearly a foot and a half shorter than Washington.  In a primitive paining made a year before her first husband’s death, John Wollaston, the same man who painted Sally Fairfax and Lawrence Washington, gave Martha bright, almond-shaped eyes, a small pursed mouth, a high, domed forehead and a trim figure..  She radiated a clam, poised self-confidence.  The portrait does not show her perfect white teeth, a rarity at the time, her tiny delicate hands, or her gentle manner.  After giving birth four times, by the time washington met her she was plump.  She was always elegantly dressed and bejeweled.  Everything in her manner said that she had grown accustomed to wealth and was at lease with her own authority.

Earlier, we’re told she had a tiny waist.  And that George had probably previously danced with her at Tidewater parties.  And by the time she’s 25, a widow with four kids, one under the age of a year, she flirts with him when he comes to pay a courtesy shiva call (OK, not being Jewish, they probably wouldn’t have called it that), leaves his manservant standing by the horse outside (because he said he was going to be out in mere minutes) and then sleeps over all night.  Sounds more like a booty call, but whatever.  One date later, they were engaged.  

And yet he wasn’t over his crush on Sally.  Indeed, they traded (fairly encoded within allusions to Washington’s favorite play, Cato: A Tragedy) some flirty letters.  In the analogy, Washington is Juba, in love with Sally’s Marcia, practically enslaved to her father Cato (for which, read George William Fairfax, her husband).  Washington has been an embarrassment to menfolk and country (England or America…or even Virginia) all during the war, not only writing Sally mash notes, but bugging everyone they knew (save her husband, his best buddy) to act as wingman and get messages to her and prompt her to write to him.  She was well behaved (up until the aforementioned watermelon incident, but eventually she admitted, in code, that she cared for him, too, but all was for naught.  (There was no divorce in Colonial Virginia, so even if she were willing to risk the scandal, she couldn’t have been with George anyway.)

Published in: on January 8, 2009 at 11:35 pm  Leave a Comment  

I Carried a Watermelon

I know I’ve jumped ahead, but I laughed aloud when I read this bit.  

Fort Duquesne was a disaster.  Thanks to his dysentery, Washington almost didn’t make it to the battle, and when he did, it was a cluster****.  Half the men deserted, the other half killed (including Braddock), Washington was the only survivor to survive.  It was a horror, and he was still ill, traumatized and miserable.  And now broke.  He left and went back to Mount Vernon to bring in the harvest.  He was rightfully depressed, but the closer he got to home, the more he learned that the bad strategy Braddock used (which had been on Washington’s advice) earned blame for Braddock, but not for him.  Washington was being hailed a hero.  Even those old meanies, the rude British officers, were praising him.

That reversal of fortune isn’t what tickles me.  It’s this:

A harbinger of this reversal of fortune awaited him at Mount Vernon.  He instantly recognized the handwriting of Sally Fairfax [his not-so-secret crush, the two-years-his-elder, wife of his best friend] on an envelope and tore it open.  Sally was overjoyed at his return.  If he was up to it, could he come over to Belvoir the next day?  Was he up to it! The next afternoon, ignoring his debilitated condition and enlisting the help of h is faithful manservant Thomas Bishop, Washington bought some watermelons and rode as fast as he could over to Belvoir.

This is the greatest discovery of the project so far.  Washington bought some watermelons and rode as fast as he could to his hot, intriguing crush. Who would have thought George Washington was acting out the first  below-stairs scene from Dirty Dancing.  All that’s missing is hearing that he arrived at Sally’s, breathlessly dismounting his horse, wheezing “I carried a watermelon.”

Nobody puts Georgie in a corner!


Published in: on January 8, 2009 at 11:24 pm  Comments (1)  

Heading Into The Seven Years’ War

Did you remember from Social Studies that what we call maize The French and Indian War, everyone else calls the Seven Years’ War?  Well, I hit that point last night.  I’m five days into Randall’s GEORGE WASHINGTON: A LIFE, up to page 132 (slow for me, but this book really drags in places), so I’m a bit more than a quarter of the way through this 502 page tome.  

I want to say to Randall, “It’s not you, it’s me.”  It’s both of us.  But I don’t feel like he’s telling me anything i want to know about Georgie.  I’m getting a lot of “what” but not “why”.   His dad dies, and we get no sense of how he feels beyond recognizing he’s going to have to deal more often with his mom.  Lawrence, his beloved brother, dies (which, by the way, is how he ended up with Mount Vernon, because Lawrence’s widow Nancy loses her little daughter, remarries and escapes from those memories)…and we never get a sense of what this meant for him.

I get that we 21st century folks are much more pop-psych oriented, but I would trade the pages describing his dysentery for ones that gave us a clue what he felt.  There are very few primary sources (diaries, letters, etc.) that aren’t George’s own, and while he might not have said how he felt, surely some nosy nellie must have said “Damn, but that George seems like he needs less surveying and more loving!”

I’ve said little about his early years, aside from his Mommy issues, but I’ll note that when George wasn’t with his mom, he seemed perfectly adequate, a bit nerdy and also a little girlie, which I’ll chalk up to the times.  Nerdy, as he really seemed to enjoy the math and science of the surveying work, but a little busy avoiding the financial woes caused by his mother by flirting with his best friend Fairfax’s fair bride.  Sure, when he was 16 and she 18, it made sense, but in the aftermath of his defeat at Fort Necessity and as he’s heading into the Seven Years’ War, he comes off less like an 18th century stalker and more like a teenager (even at 22) than he ought.  His peeps taught him cards and dancing, but couldn’t be bothered to teach him how to talk to women?

Washington seemed to have mixed results with regard to self-esteem with men, as well as women.  On his way back from leaving Lawrence dying, George stops to curry favor with Governor Dimwiddie (hey, I didn’t make that name up), who, over multiple visits,  eventually takes George under his wing.  But Dimwiddie is a dim bulb at social niceties and ends up screwing our country’s future leader whenever it suited his pocketbook.

Tomorrow, I’ll try to catch up on George’s big success (his diplomatic spy mission), his big failure (which, given  his age, I blame on everyone but George…who sends a boy to do lead myriad untrained, badly militia men, ignores his advice and then treats him like a dog?  

I’m eager to read more about Washington’s experiences under General Braddock, his new patron.  Both Dimwiddie and Braddock have their problems, but Braddock strikes me as the more honorable and worthy mentor, so far.  We’ll see.

Published in: on January 5, 2009 at 11:12 pm  Leave a Comment  
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