Martha Washington Called a Visit From Jefferson One of the Worst Experiences of Her Life

Our founding fathers had as many beefs with one another as today's politicians do. George Washington and Thomas Jefferson, for example, would probably be horrified to know that they’re destined to spend eternity stuck side-by-side on a mountain in South Dakota. Though the first and third U.S. presidents were once friends, the relationship soured after the Revolutionary War, especially when some of Jefferson's rather unflattering, thinly veiled comments about Washington were published.

Washington himself was guarded about what he publicly said about Jefferson, but his wife was a little more forthcoming, especially after she became a widow on December 14, 1799. Losing George was the worst thing that had ever happened to her, Martha once said—but hosting Jefferson at Mount Vernon was right up there. According to a friend, Martha called Jefferson's visit the second “most painful occurrence of her life.”

Martha spent time in many of Washington’s camps, including Valley Forge, and saw the horrors of war firsthand. She was also no stranger to personal tragedy: In 1754, her 2-year-old son Daniel died. Three-year-old daughter Frances followed in 1757. Three months after Frances's death, Martha’s first husband died, leaving her widowed with her two remaining young children. Sadly, they also died before Mrs. Washington—Martha “Patsy” Parke Custis was just 17 when she died following a seizure, and 26-year-old Jacky succumbed to “camp fever” while serving at Yorktown in 1781. Despite burying so many of her loved ones, Martha apparently believed that entertaining Jefferson topped them all.

In January 1801, Jefferson, a presidential candidate, decided to visit Mount Vernon to pay his respects to the grieving widow. It probably wasn’t out of the goodness of his heart—Washington had been dead for more than a year, and the trip was highly publicized, likely with the hopes that it would help him win favor with the Federalists.

Though Martha allowed the visit, she remarked to clergyman Manasseh Cutler that she found Jefferson “one of the most detestable of mankind,” and believed that his election was the “greatest misfortune our nation has ever experienced.” It might be a good thing that the former First Lady didn’t have to witness most of the Jefferson presidency: She passed away in 1802, a little over a year into Jefferson’s eight-year reign.

Benjamin Franklin and History's Most Dangerous Musical Instrument

In 1761, Benjamin Franklin attended a London concert and heard a musician play a set of water-tuned wine glasses. A mellow tone washed over the hall, leaving Franklin enchanted—and a little dismayed. The instrument sounded beautiful but looked unwieldy. One wrong move and all the glasses would topple. Inspired to improve the design, Franklin invented an alternative: a rod of rotating glass bowls called the "glass armonica." The instrument would sweep Europe by storm; Mozart even composed music for it.

Then it started killing people.

That's what doctors said, anyway. Decades earlier, anatomists had discovered how auditory nerves worked, and they began warning that too much music—like too much coffee or tea—could affect the nerves, causing headaches, fainting spells, and other medical problems.

These fears weren't totally new. Centuries earlier, Plato suggested banning certain musical modes, arguing that "novel fashions in music … [were] endangering the whole fabric of society." The Roman rhetorician Quintilian once argued that the timbre of some instruments could "emasculate the soul of all its vigor," driving men mad. By the arrival of the 19th century, wonky science helped this musical fear-mongering go mainstream—music was blamed for hysteria, premature menstruation, homosexuality, and even death. (In 1837, the controversial Penny Satirist magazine would report that a 28-year-old woman had died from listening to too much music.)

During this burgeoning period of anti-music mania, no instrument would be feared as much as Franklin's armonica. Critics said it overstimulated the brain; performers blamed it for dizziness, hallucinations, and palsy. In 1799, doctor Anthony Willich argued that the instrument deserved to be condemned, saying it caused "a great degree of nervous weakness." In 1808, people attributed the death of armonica virtuoso Marianne Kirchgessner to the instrument's eerie tones. Some psychiatrists went so far to say it drove listeners to suicide.

To say the least, the assault was a PR nightmare. Within decades, the feared instrument was relegated to the great big concert hall in the sky.

The 'Diagrammed Declaration of Independence' Combines U.S. History With Graphic Design

Pop Chart Lab
Pop Chart Lab

The Declaration of Independence is one of the most important documents in our nation's history, but most Americans have probably never sat down and read it from beginning to end. This poster from Pop Chart Lab makes the 242-year-old document a lot less daunting.

In the Diagrammed Declaration of Independence, the text is broken down section by section. The most important phrases, like "all men are created equal," "life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness," and "let facts be submitted to a candid world," are highlighted in big, bold lettering. Arrows show how the different ideas in the document connect, and colorful pictographs illustrate various points, like the three branches of government.

Like the original Declaration, the poster starts with the preamble up top and ends with the 56 signatures at the bottom. In this version, the signing delegates have been organized by state.

The Diagrammed Declaration will be ready to ship out on Monday, October 15. You can preorder a 24-by-36-inch poster from Pop Chart Lab today for $37.

Chart of declaration of independence.
Pop Chart Lab

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