Forefathers and peers deal government insults

By Robert McGowan

Robert McGowan

Robert McGowan

A few months ago I wrote a column quoting a few insults from Nancy McPhee’s book, “The Book of Insults, Ancient and Modern.”

Well — here we go again, just once more.

In the previous column I quoted a mixture of literary, historical and political verbal abuse. But today I am going to quote only verbal abuses relating to the badness of government. Not surprisingly, there are a few, not only recent, but also ancient. That fact could make us feel better about today.

Here goes:

“The man who is the source of all the misfortune of our country.” — William Duane (1760-1835) on George Washington.

“[A]nd as to you, sir, treacherous in private friendship … and a hypocrite in public life, The world will be puzzled to decide whether you are an apostate or an imposter, whether you have abandoned good principles, or whether you ever had any.” — Tom Paine (1737-1809) on George Washington.

“The moral character of Jefferson was repulsive. Continually puling about liberty, equality and the degrading curse of slavery, he brought his own children to the hammer and made money of his debaucheries.” — Alexander Hamilton (1757-1804).

“Murder, robbery, rape, adultery and incest will be openly taught and practiced, the lair will be rent with the cries of distress, the soil soaked with blood, and the nation black with crimes. Where is the heart that can contemplate such a scene without shivering with horror?” — The New-England Courant on the election of Thomas Jefferson, 1800.

“Reader, suppose you were an idiot. And suppose you were a member of Congress. But I repeat myself.” — Mark Twain (1835-1910).

“[T]he bastard brat of a Scotch pedlar” — John Adams (1735-1826) on Alexander Hamilton.

“He is certainly the basest, meanest scoundrel that ever disgraced the image of God — nothing too mean or low for him to condescend to.” — Andrew Jackson (1767-1848) on Henry Clay.

“ [T]he most meanly and foolishly treacherous man I ever heard of. “—James Russell Lowell (1819-1891) On Daniel Webster.

“The President is nothing more than a well-meaning baboon …. I went to the White House directly after tea where I found ‘the original Gorilla’ about as intelligent as ever. What a specimen to be at the head of our affairs now!” — General George McClellan (1826-1885) on Abraham Lincoln.

“His argument is as thin as the homeopathic soup that was made by boiling the shadow of a pigeon that had been starved to death.” — Abraham Lincoln (1809-1865) on Stephen A. Douglas.

“I have been up to see Congress and they do not seem to be able to do anything, except to eat peanuts and chew tobacco while my army is starving.” — Robert W. Lee (1807-1870).

“…[A] wretched, rattle-pated boy, posing in vapid vanity and mouthing resounding rottenness.” — New York Tribunes On William JenningsBryan, 1896.

“How can they tell?” Dorothy Parker (1893-1968) on being informed that Calvin Coolidge was dead.

From one of the trendiest poets of the day: “the only man, woman, or child who wrote a simple declarative sentence with seven grammatical errors is dead.” —e.e. cummings (1894-1962) on Warren Harding.

Robert McGowan is a Bartlett resident and former professor of biology at the University of Memphis. Contact him at (901) 828-6039 or