The image of James Comey scurrying out of his meetings with President Trump to ensconce himself in a “safe place” where he could write down everything that was just said and done in his august presence, is as repulsive as it is amusing.
There are those who describe Comey’s actions as Nixonian.
What they were, actually, were Jeffersonian.
Our nation’s first Secretary of State, third President and author of the Declaration of Independence was, in fact, as undignified and as relentless a self-promoter as is James Comey. Perennially in self-perceived competition with George Washington, Jefferson was always the first to scurry out of meetings between them, often with other Founding Fathers present, in order to write down a self-aggrandizing report of what had just occurred in the meeting. Also in very Comeyesque fashion, Jefferson would make sure that this (often near fictitious) report would go directly to his media sycophants for immediate publication.
Washington, of course, was too dignified and honorable a man to even make a record of any meeting with his fellow America-creators, much less getting a self-aggrandizing rendition of it out to the press. Unlike Jefferson, Washington didn’t feel it necessary to protect nor to promote himself. This truly great man acted out of honor, and assumed that the same was true of everyone else.
Washington was to learn that in Jefferson, honor was always subsumed by ambition and self-promotion.
Our third President, nonetheless, always waxed lyrical about the importance of a free press, as he wrote in 1787:
“The basis of our government being the opinion of the people, the very first object should be to keep that right. And were it left to me to decide whether we should have a government without newspapers, or newspapers without a government, I should not hesitate a moment to prefer the latter. But I should mean that every man should receive those papers and be capable of reading them.”
This is while he had bought and paid for favorable media attention so that he could harm not only George Washington, but even more strategically, his hated direct rival, Alexander Hamilton. Philip Freneau, a self-declared poet, was hired by Jefferson as a “translator,” while he actually spent “his time editing a newspaper (the National Gazette) and roughing up Jefferson’s enemies: Adams, Hamilton and Washington, who in his mind were betraying the Revolution and bringing monarchy back.”
Washington asked Jefferson to “rein in that rascal Freneau.” Jefferson, in responding to his friend and the beloved leader of his new nation, reacted by doing what he did best: he lied. Jefferson not only refused to fire Freneau, “swearing to Washington in the presence of heaven that he had nothing to do with Freneau’s newspaper,” he encouraged Freneau at the same time to be even more vociferous in “cut(ting) Hamilton to pieces in the face of the public.”
Jefferson continued to pay journalists to write in “opposition to Washington and the Federalists” and he coincidentally pursued a whispering campaign, by letter and other surreptitious means, to spread the rumor that “Washington was feeble, senile and in the clutches of Hamilton, and that he was a monarchist bent on destroying the rule of the people.” Washington, who always thoroughly enjoyed, and had a knack for, spy craft and intelligence gathering, sought “confidential information from many sources on many issues and was fully briefed on Jefferson’s treachery.” In his last letter to Washington, Jefferson claimed, ”in the most deceitful way,” that he never had been “other than loyal and admiring.” Washington replied to this letter of Jefferson’s telling his erstwhile friend that he had the facts. The General by doing this severed their relationship.
It is no wonder that Martha Washington once refered to Jefferson, in correspondence with a member of the clergy, as “one of the most detestable of mankind.”
Jefferson himself, at the time of General Washington’s death, refused to attend memorial services for the President, saying in private that the “republican spirit” in the nation might revive now that “Washington was dead and the Federalists could no longer hide behind his heroic image.”
Jefferson, in his inaugural address, referred to George Washington as “our first and greatest revolutionary character, whose preeminent services had entitled him to the first place in his country’s love.” Martha Washington later dismissed (what she called) Jefferson’s sarcastic remarks, claiming his election was the “greatest misfortune our nation has ever experienced.”
These despicable actions of Jefferson’s became a pattern, which became even more visible in the election of 1800, when he battled John Adams for the Presidency. There are those who say that this was the filthiest political battle in the history of the United States.
At the time, Jefferson’s vaunted lofty attitude toward freedom of the press seemed to be undergoing a change, as he was quoted as having said in 1800:
“Nothing can now be believed which is seen in a newspaper.”
Could it be that Jefferson himself was receiving some criticism from a press he hadn’t been able to purchase?
He had been able to pay for the services of a Mr. James Callender, who not only wrote scurrilous pieces non-stop about Washington, Adams and Hamilton at the behest of Jefferson, he revealed rather detailed news of an affair between Hamilton and a married woman named Maria Reynolds, which unfortunately happened to be true. What wasn’t true was the financial corruption Callender (and Jefferson) alleged to have occurred at the same time, the reporting of which basically ruined Alexander Hamilton. With this destruction of his hated rival, Jefferson’s purchase of this corrupt ‘newsman” was seemingly money well spent. That is, until Jefferson refused later to succumb to Callender’s blackmail, and suffered himself when Callender, as a result of Jefferson’s refusal to continue to support his financial demands, revealed the news about Jefferson’s years-long affair with a black slave at this plantation, Monticello, and the many children who were the result of this alliance.
Those who lives by the pen, die by the pen, I suppose one could say. Jefferson’s views of America’s “free press” would begin to deteriorate significantly, as he demonstrated in various statements from 1800 on:
“It is a melancholy truth, that a suppression of the press could not more completely deprive the nation of it’s (sic) benefits, than is done by it’s (sic) abandoned prostitution to falsehood.”
“Nothing can now be believed which is seen in a newspaper. Truth itself becomes suspicious by being put into that polluted vehicle.”
“I deplore with you the putrid state into which our newspapers have passed, and the malignity, the vulgarity, and mendacious spirit of those who write for them.”
“My skepticism as to everything I see in a newspaper, makes me indifferent whether I ever see one.”
One wonders if James Comey would ever reach such a conclusion of the press he has been so successful in manipulating, or will he continue in his seditious efforts to achieve the destruction of a great and good man who wants to MAGA.
Susan Smith brings an international perspective to her writing by having lived primarily in western Europe, mainly in Paris, France, and the U.S., primarily in Washington, D.C. She authored a weekly column for Human Events on politics with historical aspects. She also served as the Staff Director of the U.S. Senate Subcommittee on Children, Family, Drugs and Alcoholism, and Special Assistant to the first Ambassador of Afghanistan following the initial fall of the Taliban. Ms. Smith is a graduate of Wheeling Jesuit University and Georgetown University, as well as the Sorbonne Nouvelle in Paris, France, where she obtained her French language certification. Ms. Smith now makes her home in McLean, Va.