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Doris writes a weekly column for LaGaceta, the nation's only trilingual newspaper, which has pages in English, Spanish, and Italian.  Begun in 1922 for Tampa's immigrant community, it continues to thrive more than a century later.  Her column is titled "In Context," as it aims to put contemporary issues in the context of the past.

Games the Internet Plays

I’m considering writing another book on women’s right to vote. My last one devoted solely to that subject was in 1998, and doing one twenty years later sounds like a plan. Since then, I’ve become much more aware of how the battle for women’s rights really was (and remains, in the case of reproductive rights) a battle against so-called states’ rights. I want to emphasize the big differences between states when it comes to the female half of the population.

So, going in alpha order, I was as far as the state of Connecticut. You may be surprised to learn that that it not only repeatedly refused to enfranchise its women on the state level, it also failed to ratify the 19th Amendment to the US Constitution, which granted the vote to women everywhere in 1920.

The primary feminist leader in Connecticut during the late 1800s was Isabella Beecher Hooker, reportedly a beautiful woman and certainly part of high society – right-wingers today would sneer at her as “elite.” She was the sister of famed author Harriet Beecher Stowe and married into the family of Puritan clergyman Thomas Hooker, who founded Connecticut in 1636.

Connecticut voters presumably were more liberal than their government, however, as after men in other states enfranchised Connecticut women, they elected five to the legislature at the first opportunity in 1922. One of them, a Republican, was Mary M. Hooker, and I was trying to find her kinship to the famous family. When I began googling, the first thing that came up was: “Why pay hookers? We can get you a free date in Connecticut.”

More Games

Another ad popped up asking, “Should Congress have term limits?” The only possible response, however, was a big red button that said, “Vote Yes.” No opportunity for independent thought here. And certainly no useful comparison to the state legislatures that have experimented with that during the past few decades.

Tallahassee has been ruined by term limits, as the “leadership” goes straight from the fraternity house to the Florida House. About the time they begin to know what they are talking about, their eight years are up. The same people who support term limits also say that they want government run like a business, but would it be good business policy to fire someone because he’s gained experience? Yet we are supposed to unthinkingly push the “yes” button, marching in lockstep with those who want no thought, nor any real choice of which button to push. It may as well have been in the Soviet Union.

And sad to say, the internet has contributed hugely to the most embarrassing president in American history. If Donald Trump didn’t have a twitter account, we all could be saved so much grief – and real danger, when people take him seriously, especially his frequent invitations to violence. Past presidents rarely called out their political opponents by name, but he does that routinely. He issues personal insults and stirs up trouble that the victim of his missives never intended to cause. Male and female, black and white, and even his fellow Republicans.

He’s like an eighth-grade bully whose strategy is to be the center of attention and to distract from anything important. Remember when we were shocked that Richard Nixon kept an enemies list? Now, with the enabling of electronic media, Donald Trump puts his list out there for everyone to see, adds enemies daily, and gets away with it. Civility? Decorum? Please remember in November which side is led by a bad-mannered bully.

The 4th in Retrospect

Kamala Harris, who serves with Dianne Feinstein as one of California’s two US senators, sent an e-mail for the 4th of July that reminded me of something I’d forgotten: eight immigrants signed the Declaration of Independence. Citizenship was not the hurdle then that it is now, as immigrants simply came ashore and got on with their business. True, all of these eight men were ethnic cousins from England, Wales, Scotland or Ireland -- but they nonetheless helped lead the revolution against Great Britain. The relatively few German immigrants then, dubbed Pennsylvania Dutch, mostly belonged to religious sects that did not approve of war – or even government. Most refused to take loyalty oaths, which would exclude them today.

Alexander Hamilton, who has become well known since the Broadway musical about him, is not included with the eight immigrants because he was not in Philadelphia to sign the Declaration. He was in Massachusetts, busy with Washington’s army, but he was born on the Caribbean island of Nevis. Moreover, he was illegitimate. His Scottish father did not marry his French mother, and conservatives very much held this bastard status against him.

George Washington had better sense and welcomed Hamilton. Washington also was eager to accept the militarily superior abilities of several foreign men, including France’s Marquis de LaFayette and Francois de Grasse, as well as Germany’s Friedrich Von Steuben and Lithuania’s Thaddeus Kosciuszko. Poland’s Casamir Pulaski gave his life for American liberty, dying in a 1779 naval battle near Savannah.

It was a complete coincidence that my friend Virginia Gregory sent a handsome book of quotes from Alexander Hamilton for the 4th of July. An investment counselor, she sends something patriotic/historical every year – but this 64-page hardback is the best yet. So, with a few punctuation changes to fit modern readers, here are some of my favorite thoughts from Alexander Hamilton – Wit and Wisdom.

• I have thought it my duty to exhibit things as they are, not as they ought to be.

• When the sword is once drawn, the passions of men observe no boundaries of moderation.

• Lies often detected and refuted are still revived and repeated in the hope…that the frequency and boldness of the accusation may supply the place of truth and proof.

• Experience teaches that men are often so much governed by what they are accustomed to…that the most obvious improvements…are adopted with hesitation, reluctance, and slow gradations.

• Civil liberty cannot possibly have any existence where the society for whom laws are made have no share in making them.

• In politics, as in religion, it is equally absurd to aim at making proselytes by fire and sword. Heresies in either can rarely be cured by persecution.

Perhaps the most interesting part of the book to me was at the end, which focuses on Hamilton’s love for his wife, Elizabeth, and the couple’s appreciation of a correspondent, Angelica Schuyler Church. I’m going to check her out.

And Another Lesson for Today

You probably know that Hamilton was killed in a duel with his longtime political enemy, Aaron Burr. It was Burr who kept up the fight, frequently stirring the pot much like Donald Trump. To remain seen as a gentleman in that era, a man had to accept a challenge to a duel, and there were rules about when, where, who, and how. The two met at dawn on July 11, 1804, in Weehauken, New Jersey. Hamilton – as he had promised in an earlier written statement – fired his first shot into the air, while Burr took direct aim. Hamilton died the next day.

Burr quickly discovered that this did not make him a hero. Instead, he fled southward and seditiously attempted to create a new nation from both Mexican and American territories. Betrayed by a co-conspirator, he was arrested in Alabama in 1807. A trial in Richmond acquitted him for lack of evidence, whereupon he went to Europe and tried to interest both the French and British governments in his scheme for an alternative to the United States. No one joined him, and he died back in New York in 1836. He may have been the first of the so-called “Silent Majority” to learn that his anti-government beliefs, in fact, made him a lonely minority.

Dueling was so much a part of male American life then that future president Andrew Jackson participated in a number of them, and killed a man in 1806. The victim, Charles Dickinson, accused Jackson of reneging on a horse racing bet -- and like others in that unfortunate era, Dickinson said that Rachel Jackson was a bigamist. Under the state laws of that era, she could not get a divorce from her abusive first husband, and Andrew Jackson frequently felt the need to defend Rachel’s reputation.

In fact, even though women never were present at duels, it was a woman at the heart of all too many. A man might be dead, but it would be women who were left to suffer in an economy in which they had virtually no opportunity. For me, the most poignant part of the Hamilton book was the letter that Alexander left for Elizabeth when he went to New Jersey that fatal morning: “I need not tell you of the pangs I feel from the idea of quitting you and exposing you to the anguish which I know you would feel. Nor could I dwell on the topic lest it should unman me…With my last idea, I shall cherish the sweet hope of meeting you in a better world. Adieu best of wives and best of Women.”

Hear it again: “Nor could I dwell on the topic lest it should unman me.” So much pain throughout history has been caused by rigid definitions of what is manly! But Americans began growing up, and most states banned dueling in the 1830s and 1840s. The analogy to today’s gun control debate should be clear: If we could ban dueling with pistols, why can we not ban mechanized guns that murder on a much greater scale?


Doris Weatherford writes a weekly column for La Gaceta, the nation's only trilingual newspaper. With pages in Spanish, Italian, and English, it has been published in Tampa since 1922.
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