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Is Nothing Sacred?
George Washington's Slaves, And Other things...

February 20, 1999

There are a lot of myths about George Washington. Few are true. He was an adulterer, a slave owner and one of the nation's richest men. The lifestyle at his cherished Mount Vernon would have been impossible without the 317 slaves who ran it. Incidentally, that number of slaves made our First President one of the nation's largest slaveholders. As a young man he had gone into debt to acquire them, identifying slaves as the key to wealth and power in Virginia. Sometime along the way, he stopped selling his slaves. He attempted to increase their lifestyle through better accommodations and food, some education and health care. He came to realize that the enormous inefficiency of a slave estate came from the "no chance" nature of their existence. In his will, the George Washington of lore began to appear. It stipulated that once both Washington's were dead the slaves were to be freed, and it provided for the care of the elderly and for the education of the young. Washington knew that the end of slavery at Mount Vernon would mean the end of Mount Vernon, and he did not shrink from that. As you know, he was the Father of America but had no children of his own, so he divided up the estate among many relatives, effectively destroying it and his personal fortune, one of the largest in America at that time. He knew it was the right thing to do, but he waited until after his was dead to do it.

So, like most if not all Presidents, when you hear his myths, sidestep them. When you hear his vilification, turn away. When you hear someone saying that in the end he did the right thing, but he wanted his cake and to eat it too, you know you're there at the truth. You see the point, don't you? He was, after all is said and done, human. Nice memorial.

* * * * *

New roller blades are out. They are motor-powered, with a gas tank back pack and can hit 40 m.p.h. on the straightaway.

A new patent just registered with the U.S. Patent Office makes birth easier by placing the mother on a motorized platform that spins her until the baby shoots out into a net. "Whaaa, where am I?"

"Your name is Mudd." Ever wonder where that came from? After John Wilkes Booth shot President Lincoln he jumped out of the President's balcony box and unto the stage breaking his leg. Limping on, Wilkes went to Dr. Samuel Mudd, who set the leg and helped Wilkes. He was arrested and served four years in prison for that act of kindness. His reputation was ruined, his practice was destroyed, his name was Mudd. But his descendants have fought this reputation setback ever since. Just last December, a federal judge ordered the Army to reconsider Mudd's conviction, stating that the military had violated Mudd's civil rights by trying him in its courts. But, in this case, it was over before the fat lady sang, and there's no changing that. His name is still Mudd.

Here is the list of the worst Vice Presidents in history:

1. Aaron Burr (illustration right) (1801-05) He was tired for treason and fled to Europe, plus he killed Alexander Hamilton.

2. Richard M. Johnson (1837-41) Boasted during his life that he had personally killed the Native American legend Tecumseh, although it was never proven. As Martin Van Buren's Vice President he brought scandal by having an affair with a slave, and two children by her. He announced they would be raised as free citizens and he was dropped from the ticket in 1841. He continued to campaign by himself and lost overwhelmingly.

3. William Rufus Devane King (1853) He was called, Buchanan's wife, and actually was the future President's good friend. He was nominated as Vice President with Franklin Pierce. After the ticket of Franklin/King won, he was deathly ill, and missed the inaugral while in Cuba where he was sworn n, becoming the only nationally elected official to be sworn in on foreign soil. He died a month later.

4. Hannibal Hamlin (1861-65) Switched parties over slavery, and once in office he enlisted in the Coast Guard as a private and worked for two months as a cook. Lincoln dumped him in 1864, taking on Andrew Johnson. Not two of Abe's great decisions.

5. Henry Wilson (1873-75) Before being elected his name was Jeremiah Jones Colbath, which he dropped after reading an obscure political biography of a Massachusetts politician by that name. He was the second Vice President to Ulysses S. Grant, and he died of a stroke in office.

6. Charles G. Dawes (1925-29) Instead of casting the deciding vote for Calvin Coolidge's nominee for attorney general he was discovered napping in a nearby hotel.

7. Henry A. Wallace (1941-45) FDR took him on because of his business success, but while on a foreign trip he criticized the U.S. foreign policy. When he ran for the Presidency in 1948 and his only supporters were the communists.

8. Nelson Rockefeller (1974-77) The only appointed Vice President. When the time came for nominations at the 1976 convention, Ford was nominated without Rockefeller, who in disgust during the campaign with Senator Dole, flipped his middle finger at student protesters in Binghamton, New York. He died in 1979 during a sexual episode in his office with a female assistant.

9. Dan Quayle (1989-93) Never-ending verbal screw ups and misuse of the language made him the laughing stock of the nation. When he corrected a fourth grader who had spelled potato correctly, it was over. Once he displayed a peculiar and prolonged fascination with South American wooden carving of a man with a very large penis (on national TV), and he once proclaimed to a group of starving Samoans, "You look like a bunch of happy campers to me," among many, many other embarrassing moments. He is credited in part for George Bush's failure to be reelected. He is running for President on his own in 2000 to the delight of late night talk show hosts.

10. And the worst of ALL Vice Presidents in the history of America? None other than Spiro T. Agnew (1969-73) His utterances of catchy and abusive phrases propelled him into the national spotlight. "Effete corps of impudent snobs" was how he referred to Vietnam War protesters he encountered. He resigned under a cloud of corruption from his days as Governor of Maryland. In his book he accused President Nixon's Chief of Staff, Alexander Haig, of physically threatening to beat him up if he didn't resign.

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