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  • Mike Martinez

Online Course Offered on Political Scandals: June 28 and July 5

In early April of this year, I received an email from a representative of an organization, Roundtable by the 92nd Street Y, New York, asking if I would offer an online course about political scandals based on my recent books Scoundrels: Political Scandals in American History (2023) and Libertines: American Political Sex Scandals from Alexander Hamilton to Donald Trump (2022). I said that I would love to participate. I'm a sucker for anyone who wants to talk about my books.





According to the website for 92NY, "The 92nd Street Y, New York is a world-class cultural and community center where people all over the world connect through culture, arts, entertainment and conversation. For over 140 years, we have harnessed the power of arts and ideas to enrich, enlighten and change lives, and the power of community to repair the world." The description continues: "As a proudly Jewish organization, 92NY enthusiastically welcomes and reaches out to people of all ages, races, faiths and backgrounds while embracing Jewish values like learning and self-improvement, the importance of family, the joy of life, and giving back to our wonderfully diverse and growing community, both locally and around the world. There is no other place like 92NY."


I had no idea that the organization existed. What a terrific find!


Anyway, my course has now been added to the schedule. It is called "Political Scandals that Shook American History." Live one-hour sessions will be offered online on Wednesday, June 28, at 4:00 p.m. and Wednesday, July 5, at 4:00 p.m. It costs $70.00 to listen in. For people who cannot participate in the live event, a tape recording will be available after the sessions end.


The sessions are described this way:


Session 1, June 28: Public Scandals Martinez discusses three history-making public scandals in America. (1) The trial of Aaron Burr for suspected treason in 1807 arguably was a politically motivated prosecution of a divisive public figure who may or may not have been involved in a conspiracy against the United States in cahoots with the Spanish empire. (2) After a South Carolina congressman, Preston Brooks, beat Massachusetts Senator Charles Sumner senseless with a cane on the floor of the United States Senate in 1856, the attack became one of the precipitating events of the Civil War. (3) William “Wild Bill” Langer, a North Dakota political figure from the 1930s, 1940s, and 1950s, was forced from the governor’s office for corruption, but he successfully won reelection. Langer subsequently became a United States senator, but the Senate Committee on Privileges and Elections found him guilty of “moral turpitude” and unqualified to serve. The full Senate voted to seat him, anyway.


Session 2, July 5: Private Scandals in the Public Realm How did three seemingly private concerns become national scandals, affecting American politics for decades to come? Martinez highlights the events and their impacts. (1) Secretary of the Treasury Alexander Hamilton engaged in a torrid affair with a blackmailer, Maria Reynolds, in 1791-92. After the affair became public years later, Hamilton admitted the facts and confessed to paying hush money but insisted that he had not compromised his duties as treasury secretary. (2) When Margaret “Peggy” Eaton, the wife of President Andrew Jackson’s secretary of war, was ostracized from social events by the wives of Jackson’s cabinet officers, the president sprang to her defense. In one of the strangest private scandals in American history, the “Petticoat Affair” influenced Jackson’s cabinet selections and even his choice for an heir apparent to the presidency. (3) After Congressman Daniel Sickles learned that his wife was having an affair with Francis Barton Key II, the U.S. attorney for the District of Columbia and the son of Francis Scott Key, author of “The Star-Spangled Banner,” Sickles shot and killed his wife’s paramour in full view of witnesses. At trial, the congressman successfully employed the insanity defense to win an acquittal, the first time that the novel defense was used in an American courtroom.


P.S. I was pleased to learn that my cousin, Walter Russell Mead, also offered a course for the Roundtable once upon a time. It's a small world.


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