Like a rotten mackerel ...

Published by James O'Toole on .

                                                   By James M. Perry

David Brat, the right-wing economist from Randolph-Macon College in Ashland, Va., not far from Richmond, who defeated Eric Cantor, No. 2 Republican in the House in one of the greatest primary upsets in American history, will run this fall against another professor from tiny Randolph-Macon, Jack Trammell. 

Not many people know very much about 50-year-old Jack Trammell, who teaches sociology at Randolph-Macon, an old school (founded in 1830 by Methodists), but presumably he's a reasonably moderate Democrat who never actually believed he had any sort of chance to defeat Cantor and take his seat in the House. Now, he may believe he has an opening, a very slight one, against David Brat. 

It is only fitting that Brat, who is 49, teaches at Randolph-Macon, with its tiny student body of 1,300 men and women, for it is named for two of the 19th Century's most famous political cranks, John Randolph of Roanoke and Nathaniel Macon of North Carolina. They both served in the House and the Senate and supported many of the same causes that motivate tea-party Republicans, such as Brat, today.  

Randolph and Macon were both "Quids," (from the Latin, Tertium quid, meaning "a third something"), a right-wing, tea party-like faction within the Democratic-Republican party that was dedicated to shrinking the federal government. Quids believed, Randolph said, in "love of peace; hatred of offensive war; jealousy of the state government toward the general government; a dread of standing armies; a loathing of public debts, taxes, and excises; and Argus-eyed jealously of the patronage of the President."

"The old Republican Party," he said (meaning the party of Thomas Jefferson), "is already ruined, past redemption."   

He had a nasty tongue, perhaps inspired by smoking opium and guzzling corn whiskey. His opponent, Edward Livingston, he said, "shines and stinks, like a rotten mackerel by moonlight." I doubt today's demagogues could top that. 

Randolph, if nothing else, was an intriguing, eccentric character, claiming descent from the Indian princess Pocahontas.  He stipulated in his will that his slaves -- he owned hundreds of them -- should be freed upon his death, and he provided money for them to settle in Ohio. 

Macon, the sixth Speaker of the House, was a slave-owning tobacco farmer, just like Randolph, but on a much smaller scale. He would have been an almost perfect match for today's tea-party Republicans, for he didn't trust the federal government and opposed spending money to support it. One of his contemporaries said that during his years in the House Macon cast ten times the number of negative votes as his closest negative-minded colleague. "Negation was his ward and arm," one of them said. "His economy of the public money was the severest, sharpest, most stringent and constant refusal of almost any grant that could be proposed.  Not only was parsimony the best subsidy, but the only one."  

I simply can't pass up one story about Nathaniel Macon. It is said that he fell in love with Hannah Plummer, only to discover the young lady fancied another young man as well. Macon proposed the two rivals for Miss Plummer's hand play cards, the winner to take the hand of Miss Plummer. Macon, it is said, lost, but married Miss Plummer anyway. 

I feel certain that Randolph-Macon College's David Brat, heir to those two grand old cranks, would appreciate what Randolph said about John Quincy Adams. "It is my duty to leave nothing undone that I may lawfully do, to pull down this administration."   

Join the conversation:

To report inappropriate comments, abuse and/or repeat offenders, please send an email to and include a link to the article and a copy of the comment. Your report will be reviewed in a timely manner. Thank you.