Upton Sinclair on psychic exploration

May 16, 2007

7:40 AM. Somebody described yesterday’s exchange as “author to author” which is a different way to think of it! Not one that had occurred to me, or would have occurred to me. I suppose it is true enough from one point of view.

All right, Mr. Sinclair, shall we talk about Spiritualism and where we (our society, and the human race in fact) go from here?

The prime difficulty today will be your usual nervousness around facts, regardless of whether you really know the fact or are painfully aware that you don’t know, or are firmly convinced of something that didn’t happen, or in some way isn’t true. It is so easy to tie yourself into knots over all this – easy enough at best, without adding difficulties. So if you will just let it come, good bad and indifferent and will let each person sort out for himself or herself what is believable, and useful, you will get along easier. This is what they will do anyway, of course!

Well, how about if we do this as a sort of Q. and A.? That might make it easier for me.

Certainly. You will have bite sized information that way, and will retain control, and it will contain your anxiety.

All right. First question. [Blank pause.]

I am smiling over here. You could see that your first question involves an essay on your part – which would require so much work that you wouldn’t be able to do this as well. If I may make a suggestion – do the fast Q. and A. and fill in later, with extensive interpolations if needed. The bracketed material will stitch it all together, but can be done at a less keyed up state.

Now I’m smiling. You’ve done this before. “Once or twice,” as we say.

Many, many times, and without tape recorders, or Hemi-Sync training wheels or social support except the kind that is sometimes as much constriction as support. The scientific environment couldn’t have been less supportive; the social environment alternated ridicule with superstitious fear. Our best friends otherwise regarded us as cracked for taking this seriously.

In other words our situation is a pale shadow of yours. I know that, of course.

Not everyone who reads this will. Imagine experimenting with telepathy in go-ahead America before J.B. Rhine or Carl Jung or quantum physics as a support. Imagine having to do so when the only available lens to look through was half-religious leftover. In any case, proceed.

First question. You worked through “controls” even though you didn’t really believe in them. Why, and was that your only option?

That is two questions. Three, actually, and I’ll try to deal with them separately.

I had come upon undoubted phenomena. It isn’t that something had happened to me; such an event carries great conviction, but there are too many possible individual factors that might make it only a quirk not worth investigating except as a problem in individual psychology. But when it was something that had happened not just in my neighborhood but around the world, and was continuing to happen every day, that made it sound worth investigating. And the fact that it was happening and being widely reported in certain circles and resolutely ignored by society at large – “official” society – why, that made it all the more important. There was the society, there were the mediums, there was the procedure and the printed record and the circle of people open-minded enough to allow you to go on. So that is the answer to your first, implied, question.

Was it my only option? Let’s say it was the only option ready to hand. I was an explorer who had heard of wonders in darkest Africa. I could wander in on my own – perhaps unwittingly prey to lions and snakes and other things totally beyond my experience – or I could travel in an expedition at least until I had enough experience to know the jungle from the savannah. Your expedition was the Monroe Institute and Hemi-Sync tapes. Where was I to find the equivalent, 100 years ago? And if you are with an expedition, you conform to the expedition’s rules and expectations as best you can, for several reasons. For one, there might be a good reason for them! For another, your going your own way on something that seemed trivial might get you lost. For a third, you incur a certain responsibility when you join an expedition not to unnecessarily disrupt it, lest others lose their labors.

Your third question really asks – well, you ask it.

Well, tell me about working through a “control” – in the light of my experience. I guess what I thought of first was having you reevaluate your experience in light of what you know now.

Remember though that contrary to what you thought, we don’t know everything just because we are on the other side, no longer bounded by bodies and held in consciousness of one bit of time-space “at a time.” It is true, we have access to all knowledge, but we don’t necessarily focus on it without a specific stimulus. So your question to me, or to Joseph, or to anyone, will often stimulate sudden awarenesses on our side. The potential knowledge was always there, but we didn’t necessarily actively connect to it before then. If you have a calculator, as long as the battery is in it, you have potential access to every mathematical operation that exists in it. Potentially you know the square root of every number. But until you key in a specific request so that the calculator provides a specific immediate focused access, you may not know 7 x 15.

Vivid analogy, and I do see it. All right, then, since I am punching the proper keys, what do you see?

You have been recording the various fumbling stages of your own exploration. I don’t mean “fumbling” as in any way a criticism. That is what exploration is! If you already know where to go and how to get there, that isn’t exploration, it’s commuting. Your record of your failures and doubts and discouragements is probably of more value to newcomers than any record of success could be. Success proves it can be done – but fumbling proves that it doesn’t require a superman to do it! I was careful to show Lanny Budd’s discouragements and confusion and inability to settle in his mind just what he was dealing with – and where do you suppose that data came from?

I never doubted it.

I had written the book you own and haven’t read – Mental Telegraphy – and mostly people didn’t read it, or if they did they didn’t know what to do with it, so it was clear enough that I could write more books to sit on the shelves of the ASPR or the British Society – or I could insinuate the subject into a huge fictional work (though I thought at first it was going to be only two or three volumes) and see if I could get some people to listen. The thing I tried to get across, besides the fact that these things happen, is that the people exploring them weren’t nuts and frauds, and had their own puzzlements and discouragements. I thought, if I make them human enough, and don’t claim even half of what I know has happened repeatedly all around the globe, maybe I can interest a few and entertain the rest.

You were trying to crack their shells.


I’m going to take a break and enter this in the computer. It’s only 15 minutes in, but I don’t seem to have stamina as I did last year.

Not enough protein. Eat some eggs.

After a while, okay.

Upton Sinclair and five decades of the 20th century

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

(7:30 p.m.). Finished The Return of Lanny Budd, Upton Sinclair’s most vehement novel, far more vehement against the Communists as a threat than against the Nazis, perhaps because the communists had become a greater threat even than Hitler had been.

It occurred to me a while ago today, maybe talk to Upton Sinclair. Would that be of interest to you?

I know what you think of me, of course, or what you think you think of me. It comes with the territory, as you say.

“Think I think” because opinions change over time?

Because at any given moment we are aware of only those facets of a subject that meet us in that moment, and so most of anything is hidden from us. The best we can do is accumulate viewpoints and try to modify rather than redraw the total picture time after time.

When I was given A World to Win as a gift in 1994, I was astounded at how it pushed all my buttons – history, politics, warfare, ideology, culture, high life and low life, psychic matters taken seriously – it was an amazing tour de force, and as you know from dipping into my mind, I went searching in various cities between Petaluma and New York until I had all eleven, and have read them repeatedly. But this – somewhat forced – rereading has been very different.

Your views have changed.

More than that, I say – or less, I don’t know how to put it. Your perpetual sniping at the Catholic Church was just bigotry; so was your total dismissal of jazz, and of blacks except Prettyman. Your best arguments – I realized with surprise this time – were in Robbie’s mouth, though that did not make Lanny wrong exactly.

Your readers will be lost at this point.

Would you like to describe your eleven-volume World’s End series?

Having certain advantages in my background – being intimately familiar with society and yet also with the poor, I created a protagonist who had been born with the new century (or in mid-November 1899 which amounted to the same thing). The boy was precocious and lived on the Mediterranean coast of France. His society mother – well, his well-off mother, let us put it that way – and his far-off but emotionally important father between them teach him about the world from their upper-class point of view. Her brother makes him aware of the previously unsuspected existence of poverty all around him which many years later will make him into a socialist.

He is too young to enter into World War I, but his slightly older friends, one English, one German, serve and are each wounded. Lanny is taken to Connecticut when the U.S. declares war, and for the first time sees something of his native land.

Etc. etc., and by the magic wand of the author, he sees events on two continents – and eventually four – firsthand or at close secondhand, so that the reader may have it served up in melodrama.

By the time the last volume is finished, Laney is very near 50 and the reader has received an education as representative as I could make it of various forces that had shaped – or deformed – the unhappy first half of the 20th century. Fascists, Nazis, Socialists, Communists, plutocrats, democrats, monarchists, economic royalists, the military, the financiers, street brawlers, the industrialists, the leisure class, the patrons and executors of the arts – they are all portrayed, as are true psychics, frauds, astrologers, mystics and mystagogues, and all those in their orbits.

If at the end of these volumes you don’t have a better idea of what those years meant, I wasted a lot of effort and passion and study and grief and time.

True, very true. Yet – scarcely a mention of the show trials, or the moral depravity of Stalin’s rule. Nothing of the murder of three Baltic states and unnumbered minorities economic or ethnic or national or racial.

No, and perhaps there should have been, if only to keep people from being taken in so completely by the Soviet line. Yet in my defense, remember that I was doing what I could – I, an elderly author – to give aid and comfort and understanding to Hitler’s enemies, just as much as Churchill was.

Yes, but –

I know. I do know. But I can only plead as Churchill pled: he said something like, “Cromwell was a great man, but he placed his country in great danger by continuing to focus on Spain and underestimating the great danger represented by the growing power of France,” and then explicitly drew the comparison to himself and to Germany and Russia. If he could be blinded by the extremity of peril, I suppose I have the right to at least equal blindness.

I will harass you about it no more, for that is a convincing response. We can only do our best, and our best is none too good.

Thank you. On the other hand –

Yes. On the other hand you gave ample space to your investigation of psychic abilities and your wonder as to what they are really, and you never discredited the subject by undue credulity or forcing (trying to force) belief by bald statement or plot device.

Yet you find plenty to quarrel with in your mind. No, not “quarrel with,” you are correct, but plenty that does not or did not square with your own experience.

That’s right. Yet it turned out to be invaluable, and now I see one reason why I felt impelled to reread the eleven volumes yet again, because since the last time I read them has come my experiences starting with Joseph in December 2005, and close to 200,000 words brought down just like these.

It has been only half an hour but I am tired and will enter all this, then more later, either tonight or after. Thank you for that massive effort, Mr. Sinclair. All my reservations about it don’t wash out what is a mammoth achievement.

Thank you. The test will be to see if the volumes are revived yet again [as they were, in paperback, in the 1970s], and become seen as classics in the way that those of Balzac or Henry James are classics, or if this time they will die because those who lived in those times or learned of them as you did are mostly gone. Art is long, but from my present perspective perhaps not all that long.

Poems about departed friends

[Bob Friedman]

Bob’s Eulogies

One after another, we spoke,

And the common thread among us,

Bob’s kindness, his calm acceptance.

So many attributes besides,

Not overlooked, not forgotten,

But set in shadow, next to this,

His goodness.


[Colin Wilson]


He might have been a man aloof,

Settled in a lifetime’s success,

Knowing the value of his work,

Engaged as ever in pursuits:

Reconnecting shards into clues;

Evolving of the superman;

Always, the meaning of our lives.

He had to know his worth. Then why

The smile, the generous welcome

Into his world?


Gene Roddenberry on society and assumptions

Monday, May 14, 2007, continuing

(1:15 p.m.) Ready if you are.

[Gene Roddenberry:] You as an individual are not what your society thinks you are. It is difficult to generalize because different subsets of society have different beliefs, but most would agree that you are one unit, proceeding moment by moment along the present that still somehow keeps being the past moving into the future. (A close look would reveal the absurdity of this view of things, but there it is.) If your subset is religious or is in some way psychically connected and intellectually congruent with the connection, it will say that you extend before birth and after death, though each will differ in specifics. Meanwhile – during your life on Earth – you are seen as having a physical heredity and perhaps a spiritual heredity; and a family, and certain interests and surroundings, and a given set of gifts and liabilities.

All well and good, and as epicycles, very serviceable. As descriptions of who and what you are – pathetic. This is a cartoon view of humanity. Because it is so, societies shaped around this view become cartoons as well. But they aren’t very funny.

No one in the Star Trek crew is an individual in the sense of existing in isolation, an end and a means to himself. The idea is an absurdity, easily seen in so small a mirror of earth life. Yet societies are set up either as one great beehive (Mao’s ideal for China) or as a series of megalithic organizational units (Hitler’s or Stalin’s ideals) or as tribes or families (multiple examples around Earth past and present) or as individuals. And it is the cult of the individual that is so dangerous in your time, as the cult of the beehive or the megalith was in mine.

Who can live without trees on the earth?

A moment to re-center.

The quality of life is in the perfect interplay of millions of details. A good meal of nutritious and well prepared food doesn’t just happen. And if individualism is allowed to run far out of control, there can be a situation where it becomes impossible to have such a meal because too many necessary links have been snapped.

If the world air were to become unbreatheable, the ability to purchase canned air wouldn’t be lifesaving; it would only buy a postponement of the inevitable.

A society full of illiterates does not make possible [even] for those who can read the depth of services and knowledge offered by societies of widespread literacy – and this despite how much money one may offer for special services.

In other words, some things must be done for all if they are to be done for any.

That doesn’t sound exactly right.

No, you are right. It is hard to bound this.

You were doing fine sticking to Star Trek. Perhaps abstractions can’t really be taught except as specifics.

That is exactly what Star Trek was all about.

All right, I’ll try it that way. Star Trek kept the assumptions that past, present, future was the basic orientation. Travel into “the” past or “the” future still held on to these assumptions, but proposed exceptions to it. In the same way, travel to other dimensions, alternate probable worlds – you name it – still by implication assumes the same reality, “ordinary” reality.

What if we had made other assumptions and had been able to keep our audience with us? Suppose we had said, there is only the present (doing things one way) and it is 1/30th of a second ahead of whatever your senses report, and it is where the true magic of the world resides.

[long interruption — a couple of hours.]

(5:40 p.m.) This is the first time I can think of where I felt that the person on the other end of the line was having trouble, rather than me.

We do what we can.

I know the feeling. Can you proceed?

If Captain Kirk had been actively aware of all his other lives, active within his everyday consciousness, alive as he was, interacting continuously with him and with each other – and if he had realized that every one of them (and he himself, of course) was vitally tied to multitudes of others whose vibrations they had matched, would he have been the same man?

To look at it backwards, if he hadn’t been aware of himself as just one member of the crew, had thought of himself as the only important person, would he have been the same?

What if Kirk had been able to keep his sense of being one member of a team and had extended it internally as well? You are the captain of your extended self (from your point of view) because you are at the present, the point of application. Others in your group are too, from their point of view and in their present-point. So you have complete cooperation and complete individual free will and it all depends upon awareness of interconnection.

There it is, in a nutshell. And yes, this wasn’t so easy to bring across. We are not supermen here unless we were supermen there.

Stop, I hear you say, and I agree that this is a good thinking-place. Thanks for making that effort, and I look forward to see what tomorrow brings. Thanks, too, for Star Trek. That was a good thing you did.

TGU on karma and free will

Monday, April 15, 2019

7:10 a.m. Gentlemen, yesterday you said a phrase that struck me: “freeing his will from his karma (so to speak.”)

You don’t want to put that conversation out for everyone to see, but there isn’t any reason why you can’t quote a part of it. Quote from “We did the best we could” to “… effectiveness as a man.”


[We did the best we could, maybe.

[We weren’t criticizing then, we aren’t criticizing now. But there’s a point to be made here: Biography makes history. Personal interactions with oneself and with others spill over into what you might be tempted to think of as the “external” world. The better you deal with your own demons – or say problems, if that less dramatic phrasing suits you better – the greater the effect you may have on society.

[You can’t be saying that only the more balanced and mature and self-aware rise to the top! We have a lot of evidence to the contrary!

[No, it isn’t a matter of social position, but of effectiveness. Herman Hesse made no attempt at a political career – why on earth should he have done? – but had a much greater effect upon world thought and culture after he went into analysis with Jung than before. In freeing his will from his karma (so to speak) he vastly increased his effectiveness as a writer, which was only a side-effect of increased effectiveness as a man.]

So, although I think I know what you mean by “freeing his will from his karma,” I get the feeling there’s more to be seen. I know, I know, there is always more. But –?

Here is a simple way to put it, and let’s see how far this brings us. We’ll say “you” rather than “one,” as it will sound less formal, almost affected, but we mean, anybody, everybody, not any one person.


You are a society of other lives, in a way. That’s one way to see any individual, as a present-day personality holding, and comprising, many previous individuals, and your living your life is them getting to know each other more intimately, you might say. They are cohabiting a new structure (you) rather than being the new structure, as when they were containers themselves.

Clear to me, but I’m not sure that it will be clear to those who have to come to it only through words.

You are welcome to rephrase it, if you like.

I understand you to say that each of our strands is itself a 3D individual in another time – is in the driver’s seat there; is the ring holding together its own group of strands. So, when I die, that’s it for me being the holder of the ring; when (if) I return to 3D life, it will be as a strand in some new 3D individual.

Although that description contains a few distortions, it is close enough to be serviceable. Yes, that is what we meant to convey.

Now, you all know from personal experience that you are born with, and need to learn to deal with, certain contradictions within yourself. You might look at a horoscope as a chart depicting what energy patterns can emerge as individuals at any given 3D moment. That is, it describes the angles and cross-purposes and reinforcements and oppositions within you. But we don’t intend to hare off into a discussion of astrology. We use it merely to show external evidence of the fact that no one is born an empty slate. Everyone is born with patterns of inner behavior built into the structure.

I think that would be better phrased, we are born with certain automatic reaction-patterns – the equivalent of instincts, in a way, only different for each of us – and what we are born with obviously has nothing to do with anything that will happen to us (and has not yet happened) in our new life.

Now we will correct you. You mean, the pattern can’t be caused by what hasn’t yet happened.

That’s right. I meant it can’t have been caused by events and our reaction to events (our choices) that haven’t yet occurred. The pattern we bring into life is the pattern brought forth by the intermingling of whatever traits comprise us. If they all fit together harmoniously, we will have one kind of temperament. If they don’t, we’ll have a different temperament.

Yes. So in a way you could say that an individual’s karma is formed of the unfinished business of its strands, plus the interaction of its strands. This forms patterns of automatic behaviors, which interacts with events.

Maybe say, “which are triggered by otherwise neutral events”?

Not neutral in the sense people will take that to mean. Better slow down, take a breath or two, refill your coffee mug. We’ll need to go a little slower.


Remember, too, this is all “in a way.” It isn’t exact, it’s a pointer.

You are a personality, interacting with a world that you experience as “around you,” as “external.” Nothing wrong with that; that’s the design, only there isn’t any harm in seeing more deeply. That personality that expresses you is not exactly you. It is more like a ratio between you and your life in the world. It is a necessity, but it should not be mistaken for what it is not. (One use of meditation is that it helps some people to realize for the first time that they are not the personality they have always assumed themselves to be, but are distinct from it and prior to it.)

Your personality expresses your internal tendencies in various circumstances. This is one reason to choose your circumstances, including your associates, your media-driven mental environment, your aspirations. If you wish to be conscious, the way to do so is to choose rather than drift. (Drifting is not the same thing as remaining receptive to what comes, though they may appear similar.)

And choosing is done within limits. (One goal of your choice may be to widen the limits!)

Those limits are, initially, the baggage you bring into your life by who your strands were. Do you think this is understood?

I think we have said it about as clearly as possible. Presumably anyone finding it unclear will ask for more.

Well, that initial pattern may be called your karma. It is your inventory as you enter into a 3D life. It is at the same time a valuable resource and a source of difficulties, depending on what is happening. But you are not helpless, here, if you choose not to be.

Which takes us back to my initial request for clarification.

It is obvious now, surely? Herman Hesse was being driven by his inherited (call it) tendencies, conflicts, passions, contradictions, etc. In analysis, he learned how to make what was unconscious (and hence out of his control), conscious (and hence malleable). In learning who he was, he gained the freedom to choose rather than be buffeted by the winds.

And haven’t we been stressing the duty and value of choosing, from the beginning?

The more you gain control of unconscious forces within you, the wider your areas of choice; the freer you are to choose to be this rather than that. We have talked about this in terms of values, but it is at least equally true in terms of personal evolution. And your own personal evolution cannot be separated from any larger abstraction like “humanity as a whole,” or “the greater good,” or whatever. Your personal task is always conducted within the context of everything you are connected to, which, if you look at it widely enough, is everything.

Okay, thanks. I’ll put it out and see if we have cleared up anything or obscured it, or what. Till next time.


Bob Friedman’s Memorial Service

My old friend and business partner Bob Friedman died January 7, and yesterday his family held a memorial service for him at the auditorium of the Association for Research and Enlightenment (A.R.E.) in Virginia Beach. Nancy Ford and I were among those who attended.

I can’t say just how many people were there. I learned as a young news reporter to count the seats beforehand, then estimate the percentage of seats filled after people arrived, but I didn’t think to use that trick. I’d guess there were maybe 60 people in the hall, but it might easily have been more. This I know: If all his friends who live far away could have been there, the place would have been too small. If all his friends living and dead had been able to attend, we would have needed a much larger auditorium. Bob was a man who made many friends, and kept them.

If, in addition, we had had all the people whose lives he vitally affected, via the authors he published, a large football stadium would have been too small. (Hyperbole? Well, consider the effect on society of just three authors out of the hundreds he put into print: Mary Summer Rain, Neale Donald Walsch, and Lynn Grabhorn.) His was a momentous life.

Yesterday at 5 in the morning, it occurred to me that I ought to be ready to speak in case I was asked. After all, we were friends and adversaries and friends again over a period of 32 years. For 20 years we built Hampton Roads Publishing Co. Inc. together, and after that, when he started another publishing house (his third), he published eight of my books. It was a long many-faceted relationship, much of it invisible to others, like our periodic lunches over the years. (Bob would come to town to play tennis, usually twice a week, and every so often he’d call and ask if I wanted to meet him for brunch at The Tavern, or The Cavalier, or The Villa. Our talk might range into history or literature or metaphysics, because Bob was an educated man, not a narrow-focus specialist. And of course there was always the world of publishing to discuss, or deplore. But none of this would be obvious to others, and perhaps it was nobody’s business.)

So I wrote down a few headers and put them on a 3 x 5 file card, which would have been more helpful later if I hadn’t left the card on my desk!

In the event, there were so many people I had known, and so many I had heard of but not met, including Bob’s first wife, Donna Reese. After an invocation and a buffet meal, we all sat and heard a succession of 20 people talk about various aspects of Bob’s life as they had experienced it. Twenty speakers: It sounds deadly, but in fact it was fascinating, as it always is when people speak from the heart.

Again and again and again, we heard of Bob’s receptivity, and his kindness, and how his helpfulness to others changed their life. Again and again and again we heard first-hand testimony to – well, there’s no better word for it – his goodness.

Goodness is undervalued in this world, as you can see by looking around you, but it is certainly properly valued when encountered. And that was Bob. I knew him perhaps as well as anyone beyond his family members, and I can say that in 32 years I never saw him do a malicious thing, never even heard him express a malicious thought. This isn’t just conventional “of the dead say nothing but good” rhetoric. It’s true. Not once. Bob as a business partner could be aggravating beyond all precedent (and I’m sure he would say the same of me) but I never worried about him acting out of malice. He just didn’t.

After we heard from the speakers who were listed on the program, Matthew, Bob’s second son, who was acting as M.C., asked John Nelson and me to say something. John was Bob’s first novelist, and the two had been friends since the mid-70s. John flew in from Hawaii to be at the service, and like all of us, could have told some tales, if there had been time enough. (Everybody has at least one Bob story.) He had to content himself with just a couple of anecdotes from their early years together.

While other talked, I borrowed a pen and wrote down a few talking points (a total of nine words) hoping to say something about Bob that hadn’t already been said, and more than once. At home, on that forgotten note card, I had intended to mention his courage and audacity in business, but I forgot that in the event. I was going to mention the reach and number and duration of his friendships, but that had been said many times. But I did touch on the other points and a couple more.

In no particular order:

  • Bob’s accepting “Conversations with God” after I turned it down, and his son Jon’s part in making it the success it became.
  • Bob’s consistent lack of communication. I told of how one day Ginna Colburn, our other partner, said, “Bob, you’ve got to communicate!” and he had grumbled, in response, “People have been telling me that my whole life,” and we had said, “Well?” It got a laugh, because everybody recognized that trait in him.
  • I often said, Bob was the only person I knew whose metaphysics was not dependent upon the state of his bank account. I told of a time in our early days when I went into his office and said I was tired of us just scraping by. (I was handling the money in those days.) He said it was strange, because he always was programing for us to have enough. Then the light bulb went on and I said, maybe we should program for us to have more than enough. and shortly thereafter came Conversations with God. But the point is, Bob didn’t just give lip service to our beliefs, he relied upon their being real. Not everybody does!
  • Something I think interesting, he and I, even when we couldn’t communicate orally, could always come to an understanding by exchanging emails. It was curious how much more articulate he was (we were?) in writing than in speech, especially about feelings.
  • Others had mentioned it, but I said how touching it always was to see the open affection between him and his boys. I don’t know that I had ever seen a father kissing his grown son, or vice versa.
  • And, because others had talked mostly about his influence on their personal lives, I said a few words about his influence on the world at large, via the endless chain of consequences that follow as one person is inspired by a book and in turn goes on to inspire others.
  • Finally, I said that even we who knew him well could not really see this full stature yet. It takes time. But, he was a great man.

And that’s a good note on which to end this over-long piece. Bob was a great man, and transformed many lives, my own not least, and will be fondly remembered.


America’s Long Journey: Washington, Randolph, and Hamilton


Washington, Randolph, and Hamilton

Politics is a great disrupter of friendships. Sometimes, as in the case of Adams and Jefferson, the friendship can be re-established, but that’s rare. Mostly, a breach becomes permanent, especially when both sides feel wronged. That happened between Washington and Jefferson, as we shall see, and in 1795 it happened between Washington and Edmund Randolph, his second Secretary of State. In both cases, Alexander Hamilton was involved. When Jefferson resigned, Washington named Randolph to his post, and it was as Secretary of State that Randolph got into trouble.

Two of the four men in Washington’s initial cabinet were men of genius: Jefferson as Secretary of State and Hamilton as Secretary of the Treasury. To be his Attorney General, he choose Edmund Randolph, not a genius but a patriot of solid worth, known to Washington for many years.

Randolph, like Washington, and like Jefferson (Randolph’s second cousin), was a part of a small aristocracy. The Randolph family were extensive and influential. By the 1790s, Edmund had been one of Virginia’s representative to the Continental Congress, Governor of Virginia, and leader of Virginia’s delegation to the Annapolis Convention that created the constitution. He had served Washington as his aide-de-camp for a short while in 1775, and then handled several legal matters for him.

In short, Washington knew him, and shared his background as one of Virginia’s inner circle. So it was all the more devastating when he became convinced that Randolph had betrayed him and had, in fact, betrayed the country. But, did he?

We will go into the long duel between Jefferson and Hamilton in due course. Here we need only say that the two men were at loggerheads from first to last. Both men had Washington’s ear, and, at first, his trust. But as time went on, Washington more and more often chose Hamilton’s course over Jefferson’s, and in 1793 he accepted his Secretary of State’s resignation and named Randolph, the Attorney General, to replace him.

Randolph, like Washington, had tried to remain neutral between the two men, but as Secretary of State he found Hamilton encroaching on his duties and prerogatives, for instance in the matter of the Jay Treaty, where Hamilton devised the approach and wrote the instructions, leaving Randolph, who after all was the Secretary of State, only nominal responsibility. When in due course he got to see the treaty Jay had negotiated, he objected to provisions that would disrupt the trade of neutral countries, particularly U.S. shipping to France, and tried to get Washington to disown it. Washington was considering his advice when the British sent him some letters their navy had captured.

Written by French minister Joseph Fauchet, the dispatches accused Randolph of asking for money from France to influence the administration against Great Britain, and the letters implied that Randolph had exposed the inner debates in the cabinet to Fauchet, and told him that the Administration was hostile to France.

Upon receiving the letters, Washington decided to sign the treaty, and a few days later, in the presence of the entire cabinet, Washington handed Fauchet’s letter to Randolph and demanded that he explain it. The charge was false, but Randolph was speechless. He resigned on the spot. Because of embarrassment at having been indiscreet? Because of indignation at being accused? We don’t know, and historians don’t tell us. All we know is that he resigned, and later secured a retraction from Fauchet, and still later published A Vindication of Mr. Randolph’s Resignation. But he was out of the cabinet, and outside Washington’s circle of trusted friends and officials.

It was a sad injustice. Randolph was guilty, at most, of indiscretion. What Washington didn’t know was that Hamilton was doing exactly the thing that he accused Randolph of doing, and had earlier accused Jefferson of doing. He was divulging private discussions within the administration to one of the two European powers, only in his case it was Britain rather than France, and in his case, he didn’t get caught in his lifetime.

The dispatches of George Hammond, the British Minister to the United States, were published in the 1920s, and at that time we learned that Hamilton had told him of secret cabinet discussions over whether or not to join several European nations in a League of Armed Neutrality.

The Cabinet intended that decision to be kept secret. Instead, Hamilton gave it to the British government. It was a far grosser indiscretion than any committed by Randolph.

Hamilton, like so many great man in public life, was capable of petty and disreputable actions, and his partisanship for the British led him not only to undermine his fellow officials but to undermine his government’s policies whenever he disagreed with them.

It was fortunate for Hamilton, and unfortunate for Randolph, and, earlier, Jefferson, that Washington never knew.