And You, Sir, Are No John Jay

The Boston Globe reports that Massachusetts’s leaders have all but agreed to change state law to allow Governor Patrick to appoint an interim senator to fill the late Ted Kennedy’s seat.

As has been noted elsewhere, this is disgusting on a number of levels. First, Kennedy was the driving force behind the current vacancy law, which was enacted in 2004 for the sole reason of denying Mitt Romney the opportunity to select a replacement for Senator Kerry, should Kerry have been elected to the presidency. Second, we are only in this current “crisis” of not having two D-MA senators during the health care fight because Kennedy stayed in office until, literally, his dying day. Third, there’s a sickening sense of entitlement among our political class that they have a right to fill this seat immediately with a chosen crony; when it comes to inter-democratic politics in Massachusetts, we citizens are just along for the ride.

On the off-chance that Governor Patrick has second thoughts about his participation in this (and on the even remoter chance that this post reaches his desk) I refer him to the fine example set by Governor John Jay of New York when he encountered a similar situation in the spring of 1800. New York Republicans had just won a startling victory over the Federalist incumbents in the in the state legislature election, largely due to the unparalleled politicking of Aaron Burr. Since the new legislature’s first job would be to choose New York’s electors for the upcoming presidential race— and since New York was the key to Vice President Jefferson’s campaign strategy — the election had incredible national ramifications.

Alexander Hamilton, New York’s leading Federalist, was horrified. He had worked as tirelessly as Burr during the election, but without the colonel’s political ingenuity or light touch. In addition to being personally humiliated by the loss to his long-time rival, Hamilton was terrified that Jefferson would ruin America’s finances and drag it into war with Great Britain.

Paranoid and desperate, Hamilton wrote Gov. Jay – his close friend and political ally – and begged him to invalidate Burr’s victory by changing the law to create a second, special election for the state’s Electoral College delegation:

[I]n times like these in which we live, it will not do to be overscupulous. It is easy to sacrifice the substantial interests of society by a strict adherence to ordinary rules…

[S]cruples of delicacy and propriety ought not to hinder the taking of a legal and constitutional step to prevent an atheist in Religion and a fanatic in politics from getting possession of the helm of state.

Though Jay shared Hamilton’s worries about Jefferson, he was disgusted by the suggestion that they change the rules mid-stream for such nakedly partisan reasons. He never responded, and simply filed the letter away with the following note:

Proposing a measure for party purposes which it would not become me to adopt.

History is watching, Governor Patrick. Take note.


Lomask, Milton. Aaron Burr: The Years from Princeton to Vice President, 1756-1805. Farrar, Straus, and Giroux, 1979. pp. 240-247

Chernow, Ron.  Alexander Hamilton, Penguin Group USA, 2004.  pp 609-610

Brookhiser, Richard. Alexander Hamilton, American.  Touchstone, 1999. pp 147-148.

Freeman, Joanne. Affairs of Honor, Yale University Press, 2001. pp 231-234

6 thoughts on “And You, Sir, Are No John Jay

  1. Geoffrey

    I like this. It is one of the most rare of internet phenomena: a well-researched historical parallel applied appropriately to modern politics.

  2. Jamie

    That’s Tom for you.

    Of course you expect this kind of intellectual elitism from an East Coast Cocktail Sipper.

    Definitely one of Federalist Paupers best posts.

  3. Vasko

    This is great, bringing historical perspective into a current controversy. There is so much we can learn from the Founders. Much of our trouble is due to the fact that we have betrayed the Constitution and their legacy.

  4. Jamie

    The founders weren’t all a bunch of lantern jawed paragons of political perfection. (see: this post, Election of 1800, history)

  5. Pingback: Scott Brown’s Stunning Victory « The Massachusetts Dennis Prager Group

  6. Stoixima

    Very informative post. You are bookmarked!. It must be my lucky day today as I have found many amazing sites. Just before I found stoixima, that is a blog about sports. Keep up good work!

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