The Traumatic Colonel

The Traumatic Colonel

The Founding Fathers, Slavery, and the Phantasmatic Aaron Burr

America and the Long 19th Century

by Michael J. Drexler and Ed White

Published by: NYU Press

288 pages, 6.00 x 9.00 in

  • Paperback
  • ISBN: 9781479842537
  • Published: July 2014


  • Hardcover
  • ISBN: 9781479871674
  • Published: July 2014



American political fantasy, the Founding Fathers loom large, at once historical
and mythical figures. In The Traumatic Colonel, Michael J. Drexler and
Ed White examine the Founders as imaginative fictions, characters in the
specifically literary sense, whose significance emerged from narrative elements
clustered around them. From the revolutionary era through the 1790s, the Founders
took shape as a significant cultural system for thinking about politics, race,
and sexuality. Yet after 1800, amid the pressures of the Louisiana Purchase and
the Haitian Revolution, this system could no longer accommodate the deep
anxieties about the United States as a slave nation.

and White assert that the most emblematic of the political tensions of the time
is the figure of Aaron Burr, whose rise and fall were detailed in the
literature of his time: his electoral tie with Thomas Jefferson in 1800,
the accusations of seduction, the notorious duel with Alexander Hamilton, his
machinations as the schemer of a breakaway empire, and his spectacular treason
trial. The authors venture a psychoanalytically-informed exploration of post-revolutionary
America to suggest that the figure of “Burr” was fundamentally a displaced
fantasy for addressing the Haitian Revolution. Drexler and White expose how the
historical and literary fictions of the nation’s founding served to repress the
larger issue of the slave system and uncover the Burr myth as the crux of that
repression. Exploring early American novels, such as the works of Charles
Brockden Brown and Tabitha Gilman Tenney, as well as the pamphlets, polemics,
tracts, and biographies of the early republican period, the authors speculate
that this flourishing of political writing illuminates the notorious gap in
U.S. literary history between 1800 and 1820.