Peer Review #4

Just My Imagination, Running Away With Me.

*Whitfield & Strong

The President fumed, crushing buttons on his cell phone, as if each tab detonated an explosion. On the big screen Wolf Blitzer, voice flat and controlled, droned on how the President continues to lag in the polls. 

“Fake news,” he muttered out of habit, and switched the channel.

Perched on the edge of an upholstered armchair, he clutched his remote in one hand, and his cellphone in the other, seething at the unfairness of the coverage.The broadcast cut to a political commercial; a carefully spliced montage of his public faux pas, ending with an endorsement from his adversary. 

“Ukraine,” he muttered, “Got to talk to Mitch and Kevin about a new Ukraine investigation.” 

“You cannot coerce them, you know.” The voice came from behind. “The people. They cannot all be manipulated, much as you may try. Most are not fools, and any goodwill must be earned by deed.”

Not accustomed to direct insolence, the President twisted around in his chair snapping, “Just who the hell are . . .,” then trailed off. A tall, painfully angular man stood near a white paneled door. Attired in a long black coat with tails, the visitor sported jawline whiskers, mid-19th style. 

“And they will never all love you. Ever. Such is the raucous nature of American democracy. Sowing divisions through fear and vitriol is not governing, and you shall fail.” The visitor stepped closer as he spoke, prompting the President to leap out of his chair, his phone and remote dropping to the carpet. 

“I recognize you . . .,” the President sputtered.

“We, all of us, sought this office fueled with purpose and ambition,” the visitor continued in a midwestern twang. “However, once under oath, the campaign is over. A president faces the duty of serving all Americans, a challenge in the best of circumstances.

From the flickering screen a news anchor admonished, “Aides have confirmed that the President knew of the virus as early as February.” 

“It’s those hacks,” the President stabbed his finger accusingly at the big screen. The press is out to. . .”

His visitor laughed without humor. “Criticism of elected officials is as natural as the sun rising, and as perpetual. ‘Baboon’ was the nicest insult slung my way . . .by a serving general, no less. Then he up and challenged me in 1864.” The visitor chuckled lightly. “Still, the truth is we are all better with free speech than without. In our differing views we find our deepest strength.”

By now the President began tuning out much of what the visitor was saying, his irritation making him bold. “You need to leave,” he snapped. “I have a busy schedule.” 

Unruffled, the unwelcome guest studied the President intently. “In my time an entire section of the nation disputed the results of my election.”

“You lost the popular vote, but won the Electoral?” The President couldn’t help but ask.

“Indeed. Eleven southern states chose the battlefield over a peaceful transfer of power.” 

“What did you do?” 

“I defended the Republic.”

His visitor continued sadly. “However the butcher’s bill for this unity came dearly; 700,000 American lives.” The visitor heaved a weary sigh. “And that delicate balance has endured through war, peace, depressions, and national crises, preserved only through considerable effort and executive leadership. A unity you undermine at every opportunity. ” 

“Wrong, wrong, wrong. My supporters all love me. You should see the crowds at my rallies.”

“And the rest of America?” The visitor peer intently at the President. “Remember Sir, we are friends, not enemies. We must not be enemies.” His voice quietly trailed off in an echo, and he was gone.

Gail Chumbley is the author of the two-part memoir, “River of January,” and “River of January: Figure Eight.” Both titles are available on Kindle.

The Play, “Clay”

This excerpt comes from my unpublished drama exploring the life of Senator Henry Clay of Kentucky. Unlike the current Senate majority leader from the Bluegrass State, Clay put our nation over the empty exercise of power.

SCENE TWO
The stage is dark. A painting of the White House on Andrew Jackson’s riotous inauguration day appears on the back curtain. The tune, “Turkey In The Hay” plays for a moment.

Clay speaks in the darkness.
CLAY
A mob dressed in homespun and broadcloth descended upon the Executive Mansion. Fighting, biting and kicking, rowdy supporters scuffled in the crush, jockeying to seize a glimpse of their man.


Clay produces a small stemmed glass, drops and crushes it underfoot.
CLAY
Delicate crystal crunched beneath rustic clogs and muddy brogans, while tributaries of hard liquor streamed over polished floors and carpets. Furniture buckled under the weight of gawkers, until the forlorn new President, nearly crushed, had to be secreted out a ground floor window. Desperate servants towed tubs of alcohol to the outside grounds and eventually cleared the residence.


Clay gestures toward the image.
CLAY
Behold, the majesty of people!


The painting and music fade.
CLAY
Home at Ashland, Lucretia and I beheld a residence in neglect and disrepair. Overgrown orchards, toppling fences, peeling white wash, collapsed wells. Our days were dedicated to mending, pruning, and scraping. Still, while I tended to my plantation, political allies faithfully kept me informed of developments in Washington City.


Clay settles in his chair, producing a corncob pipe, making ready to smoke.
CLAY
Scores of federal workers, preparing for the Jacksonian storm, quit their public offices to secure more certain employment elsewhere. This newly-minted President had warned Washington, announcing a policy he termed “rotation in office,” promising experienced employees they would be replaced. Jackson insisted that his action was a remedy to corruption and patronage. Then without a blush, he awarded those same jobs to his loyal allies. Loyalty, you see, is what he prized over all else, including honor and decency.


Clay scoffs, adjusting his pipe.
CLAY
The caliber of cabinet nominees proved unexceptional as well. Lackluster does not quite capture this collection of lackeys, particularly Roger Taney as Attorney General and John Eaton at War. But the official cabinet was of no consequence. If the President needed advice, a rare happenstance, he turned to personal cronies, his unofficial “Kitchen Cabinet.”

Gail Chumbley is the author of the two-part memoir, “River of January” and “River of January: Figure Eight.” Both titles available on Kindle.

gailchumbley@gmail.com

Englishman’s Foot

“The Spaniard might prove as cruel as the savages of America, and the famine and pestilence as sore here (Holland) as there, and their liberty less to look out for remedy.” William Bradford, On Plymouth Plantation

The story is a familiar one. Dissenters of the Church of England, disciples of reformer John Calvin, departed for Holland, washing their hands of English apostasy. After a time among the Dutch, these expatriates watched in horror as their children came of age in the secular world of the Continent. Alarmed, William Bradford and other Separatist leaders determined to leave Holland as well, to take their chances in the New World. 

Bradford, later explained this decision in On Plymouth Plantation, deciding it was better to lose their offspring to the tomahawk than to lose their mortal souls to God. 

You know the next part of this story. 

Pilgrims, The Mayflower, Plymouth Rock, Samoset, Squanto, Corn, Thanksgiving, shoe buckles, etc . . .

But this story concerns those already inhabiting the New World, the indigenous peoples of America. In truth, white men had been poking around the shores of early America well before the Mayflower sailed. Explorers, trappers, and fishermen had already encountered native people, trading goods, microbes, cultural practices, and language. Some indigenous folk spoke a bit of English, or French they had acquired from European adventurers.

In 1621, the Pokanoket peoples of the Wampanoag Confederacy observed the arrival of the Pilgrims to Massachusetts Bay. Their sachem, or leader, Massasoit, made the decision to cautiously receive these newcomers, rather than force them back to the sea. Dispatching an emissary, the English-speaking native, Samoset, Massasoit hoped to learn the intentions of the outsiders. His own people weakened, especially by small pox, and intermittent warfare, shaped the decision to pursue an alliance with these gun-toting English settlers; in particular the Narragansett of nearby Rhode Island. Massasoit’s peaceful reception led to an uneasy pact that permitted the Separatists to survive their “starving time” and thrive.

After Massasoit’s death in 1661, and the death his son, King Alexander, King Philip, the second son, became the new sachem of the Wampanoag.

Philip’s time as sachem witnessed a massive expansion of British New England. Ships from East Anglia seemed to arrive daily emptying thousands of settlers to the Bay Colony. Plymouth Separatists were followed by a massive influx of Puritan dissenters under John Winthrop. Consequently Massachusetts Bay Colony steadily encroached upon Indian-held lands, increasing deforestation, diminishing game, and forcing native people further inland. Philip’s compliance with English suppression reached a breaking point by 1675, and he determined to take the action his father avoided-pushing the English back into the sea, or die trying.

Eventually Philip was murdered by an informer, a converted fellow native, known as John Alderman. Philip’s corpse was mutilated, his torso drawn and quartered, and his head posted on a pike in Plymouth for good measure. His head remained on display for decades. 

In the end, and it was the end, Philip’s wife and son were sold into slavery in the Caribbean.

Englishman’s Foot is a non-native plant introduced by English settlers to the New World. The plant grew from the manure of roaming cattle. Englishman’s Foot proliferated in New England, and named by the native people.

Gail Chumbley is the author of “River of January,” and “River of January: Figure Eight,” a two-part memoir. Both titles are available on Kindle.

gailchumbley@gmail.com

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The Devil Is In The Details

In the Election of 1800 Thomas Jefferson of Virginia tied with his running mate, New Yorker Aaron Burr. The Constitution, still in its infancy, detailed that the President would be the candidate who secured the most electoral votes, while the second place winner would become Vice President.

Though these directions looked clear on paper, they failed in operation. In only America’s third presidential election the results, ironically counted by Vice President Thomas Jefferson himself (as president of the Senate), gridlocked at 73 electoral votes each. A draw.

There was no provision written for a tied vote in the “new users manual” except to move the final selection to the House of Representatives where each state cast one vote. 

35 exhausting ballots later, Alexander Hamilton finally intervened and engineered a victory for Jefferson. Though Hamilton disliked “The Sage of Monticello,” he did so from their shared history of political battles; differences that were not personal. But, this former Secretary of the Treasury also chose Jefferson because he thoroughly detested Aaron Burr, his fellow New Yorker, and rival. 

This animosity simmered deadly and personal until resolved with their famous 1804 duel. 

After his hard fought victory Jefferson kept his Vice President at an understandable distance, Burr becoming a marginalized pariah in the new administration. The new president had only picked Burr in the first place because he was from New York and could boost the ticket–not render the race more frustrating and complicated. In fact in 1804 George Clinton, also a New Yorker, became Jefferson’s more compliant second Vice President.

In 1803 the Twelfth Amendment changed how presidential elections were counted; each vote specifically cast for President, and separately for Vice President-thus avoiding any future, similar disputes.

On a personal note, remember each of our votes breathe life into this unique experiment called America. Commit yourself to flex that essential muscle of liberty on November 3, 2020.

Gail Chumbley is the author of the two-part memoir, “River of January,” and “River of January: Figure Eight.” Both titles are available on Kindle.

#VoteBlue #BidenHarris2020

gailchumbley@gmail.com