InAmerican political fantasy, the Founding Fathers loom large, at once historicaland mythical figures. In The Traumatic Colonel, Michael J. Drexler andEd White examine the Founders as imaginative fictions, characters in thespecifically literary sense, whose significance emerged from narrative elementsclustered around them. From the revolutionary era through the 1790s, the Founderstook shape as a significant cultural system for thinking about politics, race,and sexuality. Yet after 1800, amid the pressures of the Louisiana Purchase andthe Haitian Revolution, this system could no longer accommodate the deepanxieties about the United States as a slave nation.
Drexlerand White assert that the most emblematic of the political tensions of the timeis the figure of Aaron Burr, whose rise and fall were detailed in theliterature of his time: his electoral tie with Thomas Jefferson in 1800,the accusations of seduction, the notorious duel with Alexander Hamilton, hismachinations as the schemer of a breakaway empire, and his spectacular treasontrial. The authors venture a psychoanalytically-informed exploration of post-revolutionaryAmerica to suggest that the figure of “Burr” was fundamentally a displacedfantasy for addressing the Haitian Revolution. Drexler and White expose how thehistorical and literary fictions of the nation’s founding served to repress thelarger issue of the slave system and uncover the Burr myth as the crux of thatrepression. Exploring early American novels, such as the works of CharlesBrockden Brown and Tabitha Gilman Tenney, as well as the pamphlets, polemics,tracts, and biographies of the early republican period, the authors speculatethat this flourishing of political writing illuminates the notorious gap inU.S. literary history between 1800 and 1820.
1 The Semiotics of the Founders 15
2 Hors Monde, or the Fantasy Structure of Republicanism 42
3 Female Quixotism and the Fantasy of Region 74
4 Burr’s Formation, 1800–1804 102
5 Burr’s Deployment, 1804–1807 135
About the Authors 207
"Studies of early America should be emboldened by Drexler and White’s attempt to approach questions of racial violence from such a refreshingly idiosyncratic angle.” -American Historical Review
“In The Traumatic Colonel, Michael J. Drexler and Ed White present a series of related essays on the subject of the ‘Phantasmatic Aaron Burr’ as a prophylactic for our ill-advised attraction to what the authors call ‘Founders Chic.’”-The Journal of Southern History
"By considering how both neglected and familiar literary materials 'propose an Africanist presence as the object cause of desire,' White and Drexler expand existing notions of the contours of early American studies. In so doing, they provocatively decode the ways in which the 'Founders' functioned as a system of structuring fictions for the nascent Republic. The Traumatic Colonel is one of the most innovative interventions into our sense of early US cultural development in quite some time. It will have a major impact on the field, and profoundly shape work written in its wake."-Duncan Faherty,author of Remodeling the Nation
"The Traumatic Colonel is a significant and unique contribution to early US studies, deftly synthesizing the recent historiography on the political economy of slavery in the construction of the US hemispheric empire. Innovative and original, White and Drexler locate Aaron Burr as the symbolic pivot for the representations that emerge politically around the repression of slavery."-Dana Nelson,author of Bad for Democracy
“Not everyone will agree with Drexler and White’s take on the fantasy structure that underlies the history of the early Republic. But readers will want to reckon with the force of their analysis that unpacks the rich tangle of national semiotics. In their reevaluation of the mythologies of the Revolution, the authors prove as every bit as vexatious as the core figure of their study, the notorious Aaron Burr.”-Russ Castronovo,author of Propaganda 1776: Secrets, Leaks, and Revolutionary Communications in Early America