Gore Vidal, Burr Quotes

“For the average American freedom of speech is simply the freedom to repeat what everyone else is saying and no more.”
― Gore Vidal, Burr

 

“Although Americans justify their self-interest in moral terms, their true interest is never itself moral.”
― Gore Vidal, Burr

 

“Eventually all things are known. And few matter.”
― Gore Vidal, Burr

 

“The public is always relieved to find that once the chief officers of state are elected they do not sincerely want change.”
― Gore Vidal, Burr

 

“…the American reader cannot bear a surprise. He knows that this is the greatest country on earth…and evidence to the contrary is not admissible. That means no inconvenient facts, no new information. If you really want the reader’s attention, you must flatter him. Make his prejudices your own. Tell him things he already knows. He will love your soundness.”
― Gore Vidal, Burr

 

“But then in all his words if not deeds Jefferson was so beautifully human, so eminently vague, so entirely dishonest but not in any meretricious way. Rather it was a passionate form of self-delusion that rendered Jefferson as president and as man (not to mention as writer of tangled sentences and lunatic metaphors) confusing even to his admirers. Proclaiming the unalienable rights of man for everyone (excepting slaves, Indians, women and those entirely without property), Jefferson tried to seize the Floridas by force, dreamed of a conquest of Cuba, and after his illegal purchase of Louisiana sent a military governor to rule New Orleans against the will of its inhabitants.”
― Gore Vidal, Burr

 

 

“It was of course Jefferson’s gift at one time or another to put with eloquence the “right” answer to every moral question. In practice, however, he seldom deviated from an opportunistic course, calculated to bring him power.”
― Gore Vidal, Burr

 

“I am afraid that as people grow old there is a tendency for them to believe that what the past *ought* to have been it was.”
― Gore Vidal, Burr

 

 

“None of this is quite true but Leggett feels that to be excitingly right in general is better than to be dully accurate in particular. That is why he is such an effective journalist.”
― Gore Vidal, Burr

 

 

“…Leggett feels that to be excitingly right in general is better than to be dully accurate in particular. That is why he is such an effective journalist.”
― Gore Vidal, Burr

 

 

“AFTER HAMILTON’S DEATH, I remained at Richmond Hill for ten days. I confess that I was not prepared for the response to our interview. Apparently no one had ever fought a duel in the whole history of the United States until Aaron Burr invented this diabolic game in order to murder the greatest American that ever lived (after George Washington, of course). Over night the arrogant, mob-detesting Hamilton was metamorphosed into a Christ-like figure with me as the Judas—no, the Caiaphas who so villainously despatched the godhead to its heavenly father (George Washington again) at Weehawk, our new Jerusalem’s most unlikely Golgotha. I”
― Gore Vidal, Burr

 

 

“Contrary to accepted legend, the Philadelphians did not at all mind the presence of the British army in their city; in fact, many of them hoped that Washington would soon be caught and hanged, putting an end to those disruptions and discomforts which had been set in motion by the ambitions of a number of greedy and vain lawyers shrewdly able to use as cover for their private designs Jefferson’s high-minded platitudes and cloudy political theorizings. Shortly”
― Gore Vidal, Burr

 

 

“We do not want to old to be sharper than we. It is bad enough that they were there first, and got the best things.”
― Gore Vidal, Burr

 

“of all this world’s creatures, the author is the vainest,”
― Gore Vidal, Burr

 

 

“I confess to not having listened to a word of the Declaration of Independence. At the time I barely knew the name of the author of this sublime document. I do remember hearing someone comment that since Mr. Jefferson had seen fit to pledge so eloquently our lives to the cause of independence, he might at least join us in the army. But wise Tom preferred the safety of Virginia and the excitement of local politics to the discomforts and dangers of war.”
― Gore Vidal, Burr

 

“In passing, I continually marvel at how different today’s lawyers and politicians are from us of the first generation. We did not possess a single orator to compare with the present crop. Jefferson and Madison were inaudible. Monroe was dull. Hamilton rambled and I was far too dry (and brief) for the popular taste. Fisher Ames was the nearest thing we had to an orator (I never heard Patrick Henry). Today, however, practically every public man is now a marvellous orator—no, actor! capable of shouting down a tempest, causing tears to flow, laughter to rise. I cannot fathom the reason for this change unless it be the influence of a generation of evangelical ministers (Clay always makes me think of a preacher a-wash in the Blood of the Lamb who, even as he calls his flock to repent, is planning to seduce the lady in the back pew); and of course today’s politician must deal with a much larger electorate than ours. We had only to enchant a caucus in a conversational tone while they must thrill the multitude with brass and cymbal.”
― Gore Vidal, Burr

 

 

“Now-a-days lower Broadway is blocked with traffic at this hour and everyone walks; even the decrepit John Jacob Astor can be seen crawling along the street like some ancient snail, his viscous track the allure of money. Instead”
― Gore Vidal, Burr

 

 

“In Broadway, I suddenly found myself face to face with William de la Touche Clancey.

“Well!” A long drawn-out syllable, in which fear and condescension were unpleasantly mingled. “What is the young Old Patroon about to turn his hand to next?”

“The Vauxhall Gardens, I should think.” My dislike of Clancey is almost physical. Yet I stare at him with fascination; note that his protuberant eyes are yellowish; that he scratches himself compulsively; that his tongue darts in and out of his mouth like a lizard’s catching flies.

“Of the delicious nymphs you sport with there?”

“Of the delicious fauns, too — and their goatish friends.”

“Uh-huh…” A long, drawn-out attempt at sounding amused failed of its object. “I hope you realize that your editor’s unholy passion for the Negro grows more embarrassing each day. If I were he I should beware. He might simply vanish one dark night.”

“Murdered? Or sold into slavery?” Clancey recently delighted his admirers by proposing that since the institution of slavery has been an integral part of every high civilization (and peculiarly well-adapted to those nations that follow the word as well as the spirit of Old and New Testaments), poor whites should be bought and sold as well as blacks.

“I don’t believe that poor sick Mr. Leggett would command a high price in the bazaar. Only his diseased mind would have a certain morbid interest to the special collector. You, on the other hand, ought to fetch a pretty price.”

“More than the usual two dollars you pay?” Two dollars is the current rate for a male prostitute.

“Much more! Why, just for those pink Dutch cheeks alone!” It would be nice to record that I thought to something terminal to say but in my rage I could think of absolutely nothing and so left him with the last word.”
― Gore Vidal, Burr

 

“Since a president can do wrong and since he can be named in debate, he is not an anointed king and so like any man is answerable to the law.” John Marshall then summoned President Jefferson to Richmond”
― Gore Vidal, Burr

 

 

“A red face poked through the hole in the window and bellowed, “There they are, the …” We never heard just what we were, for Mr. Davis in a swift gesture raised his cane and cracked smartly the red face. “Out, you whoreson!” rang the voice of Tammany’s one-time Grand Sachem. The red face was seen no more.”
― Gore Vidal, Burr

 

“Colonel Burr sat wreathed in smoke from a long seegar.”
― Gore Vidal, Burr

 

 

“Nelson Chase’s dull face hung in the middle distance like a jack-a-lantern.”
― Gore Vidal, Burr

 

“She could not get enough of the sights and the sounds the rest of us take for granted. The Gingerbread Man on Broadway particularly intrigued her as he ran by, coat-tails streaming in the wind, pockets bulging with gingerbread, his only food. No one knows who he is or where he lives because he never speaks, just runs, eats gingerbread, sips water at the public pumps.”
― Gore Vidal, Burr

 

“In other words, if public opinion is not unduly aroused one may safely set aside the Constitution and illegally arrest one’s enemies. Had this letter been published at the time, an excellent case might have been made for the impeachment and removal of a president who had broken that oath he had taken to defend and to protect the Constitution by conspiring to obstruct and pervert the course of justice.”
― Gore Vidal, Burr

 

“To Jefferson the Constitution was simply a convenience when it allowed him to do what he wanted to do, and a monarchical document when it stayed his hand. He regarded domestic government as the business of the states and foreign affairs as the business of the Executive, and he was naïve enough in those days to think that the two businesses could be kept separate.”
― Gore Vidal, Burr

 

“Halleck smiled. “Good. So do I. But then I am an enemy of the people, and regard the ship of state like any other ship: for the captain to sail it safely he must never ever consult the crew. That is why I am for a king, any king, the more tyrannical the better.”
― Gore Vidal, Burr

 

“breathed breakfast Madeira in my face. “Charlot, he has robbed me!” I looked at her blankly; not breathing until she removed her face from mine, and sank back onto the velvet cushions. “I have married a thief!” Madame clutched her reticule to her bosom as though I had designs on one or the other, and in a torrent of Frenchified English told me how she had owned stock in a toll-bridge near Hartford. During the first raptures of their honeymoon in the house of Governor Edwards, the Colonel persuaded her to sell the stock. So trusting, so loving, so secure in her new place as the bride of a former vice-president, Madame”
― Gore Vidal, Burr

 

 

“I waited alone in a cold ante-room. Aides came and went, including General Knox who bestowed on me his fish eye as he went inside.”
― Gore Vidal, Burr

 

“I suspect Cromwell was right: the man who does not know where he’s going goes farthest.”
― Gore Vidal, Burr

 

 

“The next week both small pox and the bloody flux began to go through the camp. General Washington maintained that the flux came from drinking new cider. But the cider-drinking continued, and so for that matter did the flux, which is a terrible death, the bowels emptying out one’s life in bloody spasms. I”
― Gore Vidal, Burr

 

 

“As we left the bar, we saw two men fighting at the wooden pump. One was short and stocky: he was pummelling a tall gangling creature with loose flapping arms … Edwin Forrest was giving a much deserved beating to William de la Touche Clancey, the Tory sodomite.”
― Gore Vidal, Burr

 

“None of this is quite true but Leggett feels that to be excitingly right in general is better than to be dully accurate in particular.”
― Gore Vidal, Burr

 

“We are in danger of government by professional office-holders …”
― Gore Vidal, Burr

 

 

“Safe at the opposite corner, Clancey was himself again — coolly disdainful despite dirt-smeared face, torn shirt … Clancey’s voice is like that of a furious goose, all honks and hisses.”
― Gore Vidal, Burr

 

 

“The Bowery b’hoys were delighted … to observe a pair of their favorites in league against their natural enemy, for Clancey detests our democracy, finds even the Whigs radical, the Adams family vulgar, Daniel Webster a sans-culotte. He fills the pages of his magazine America with libellous comments on all things American. Despite a rich wife and five children, he is a compulsive sodomite, forever preying on country boys new to the city.”
― Gore Vidal, Burr

 

“Dr. Bogart was about to tell me more when William de la Touche Clancey sat down next to me with an insolent crash (do I resemble a country youth because I am small?)”
― Gore Vidal, Burr

 

“I plainly lacked Wilkinson’s doggedness in pursuing those commanders who might help me up in the world.”
― Gore Vidal, Burr

 

 

“As we rounded a small pavilion, we nearly stepped into a pair of figures — who leapt apart. One was William de la Touche Clancey. The other was a well-made boy of perhaps sixteen, carefully got up to resemble a swell; only the red blunt hands betrayed the fact that he was a workie.

“So!” Clancey gave his accusing goose-like hiss.

The boy looked embarrassed, as well he should. There are some things that the poor ought not to do even for money.”
― Gore Vidal, Burr

 

“Worlds are there to be conquered.” I was light but I meant what I said. We were living at a time when for the adventurous and imaginative man anything was possible. Bonaparte had inspired, no doubt in a bad way, an entire generation.”
― Gore Vidal, Burr

 

 

“At about ten in the morning toward the end of September, I stood below the hill on which the mansion Monticello was a-building. All was confusion. A large forge manned (or rather boy-ed) by a dozen black children was turning out nails. The apostle of the agrarian life gaily admitted to now being a wholesale manufacturer. “I have no choice,” said Jefferson who greeted me at the smithy. “The crops pay for re-building the house. The nails pay for groceries. I calculate at my present rate of production I shall be out of debt in four years.” I complimented him. I too have had my nail manufactories which were to get me out of debt. But somehow the nails never do the trick.”
― Gore Vidal, Burr

 

 

“For two nights running he had slept in his clothes on the floor of my bedroom at the Golden Eagle; nor had I tried to move him. I knew from experience that when Luther Martin decided to sleep on the floor (or in a cupboard—he was unnaturally partial to cupboards), it was pointless to protest.”
― Gore Vidal, Burr

 

 

“Mrs. Todd was a pretty if coarse-looking girl with thick brows, an endearing husky laugh and rather too much flesh on her bones for my taste, which often rules me but is no tyrant.”
― Gore Vidal, Burr

 

 

“The vice-presidential carriage arrived, splattering us sternly but justly with mud.”
― Gore Vidal, Burr

 

“At first Madison was shy but Mrs. Todd soon warmed him up, filled his glass again and again with my best claret.”
― Gore Vidal, Burr

 

 

“I was passing in the street and thought I’d bring you the news straight from the port. Lafayette is dead!” “One cannot say that he was taken before his time. We must restrain our grief.”
― Gore Vidal, Burr

 

 

“And at some length Dr. Bogart spoke of a period in which skies were bluer, water purer, potatoes better-grained than now. I know the speech. It is the tirade of the old.”
― Gore Vidal, Burr

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