FT172: “Damn the truth, promises and the Constitution,” said the politician. “I’m trying to get reelected.” —Old Pithy

Posted by PITHOCRATES - May 31st, 2013

Fundamental Truth

The People ratified the Constitution only because George Washington would be the First President

George Washington did not want to be president.  After winning the American Revolutionary War his place in history was set.  If the first government following the Constitutional Convention failed he didn’t want history to remember him for that.  Also, Washington was an old man.  Most Washington men were already dead at his age.  Something he was very conscious of.  And he wanted to live out his remaining days, however few he had, at Mount Vernon.  With Martha.  But America’s Cincinnatus would, reluctantly, answer the call of duty again.

The new Constitution was not very popular.  The old patriots of 1776 hated it.  With a passion.  While Washington, Alexander Hamilton and others who served in the Continental Army were generally for it.  Because they saw how the weak Continental Congress had almost lost the war.  Starving the Continental Army of the supplies they needed.  Unable even to provide it with shoes and clothing during the long cold winters at Valley Forge and Morristown.  And then there was the inflation.  Worthless Continental paper dollars that forced the Army to take what they needed to survive.  Giving the people they took from IOUs for the Continental Congress to honor later.

With the British defeated the Americans lost the common enemy that held the states together.  And they were soon back to looking after their own interests.  Charging tariffs to other states.  Even sending militias to fight over disputed land.  The nation was falling apart before it even became a nation.  The Philadelphia Convention addressed these problems.  And over a long, hot, humid and horsefly invested convention they wrote a new Constitution.  Few loved it.  But understood that it was probably the best they would ever get.  Ratifying it was another brutal battle.  And all throughout this process people reluctantly got on board.  Basically because of one thing.  The first president would be someone that all the people could trust with such great powers.  The man who gave up power when he could have been king.  George Washington.  So Cincinnatus laid down his plow once more.  And went to serve his nation.  Again.

The most Important Precedent Washington set was not Exceeding the Limits of the Constitution

This is how it used to be.  When our politicians were men of the enlightenment.  Disinterested men who went out of their way NOT to profit from the offices they held.  Men who would rather have been back home.  But reluctantly served.  Because the nation needed the best leaders during that formidable time.  That’s why Washington served a second term.  Not because he wanted to.  But if he didn’t Thomas Jefferson and Alexander Hamilton would have paralyzed the government with their constant fighting and seething hatred of each other.  So Washington stayed on.  Father to these children that couldn’t get along.  And father to a nation.

Washington was never happier than when he left office.  This man who could have been king.  Sacrificing all of his wants and desires.  And putting the nation first.  This old man that was cheating death.  Living beyond his years.  Who was used to giving orders in the army and having subordinates dutifully following them.  He hated the political process.  The deal making.  The special interests.  Those things modern politicians live for.  Because it is the pathway to wealth and power.  Which is why people serve today.  Who do not understand the meaning of selfless disinterest.  For they’re in it for number one.  And when they leave office they want to have more wealth than they know what to do with it.

Whereas Washington kept true to the Constitution.  And didn’t make arguments about it being a living document.  Or questioned the intent of the Founding Fathers.  For he was one of them.  He was there in Philadelphia in 1787.  He sat in the chair with that sun on it.  The one Benjamin Franklin studied for so long while sitting in that stuffy hall.  Wondering if the sun was rising.  Or setting.  After they signed the Constitution Franklin was certain the sun was rising for the new nation.  A nation of laws.  Where no man was above the law.  And the supreme law of the land was there in the Constitution.  Washington was the first president.  Setting the precedent for all that would follow.  And the most important precedent was not exceeding the limits of the Constitution.  For he knew a strong central government was necessary for the nation to have any hopes of surviving.  But he feared that once anyone exceeded the limits of the Constitution the whole experiment in self-government would come crashing down.

Life is so Good in an Aristocracy that Politicians will do Anything it takes to Win Reelection

What Thomas Jefferson feared most was consolidation.  Fears of a strong central government turning independent states into federal districts of the new government.  With growing powers to administer these lands from afar.  Turning the people living on these lands once again into subjects of a distant ruling power.  Who are there to serve.  To be obedient.  And revere this distant power.  Giving the duly elected president king-like powers.  Who would further consolidate his power.  This was Jefferson’s fear.  A fear Alexander Hamilton did not share.  Because he assumed all men in the government would be disinterested men of the enlightenment.  Like the Founding Fathers were.  But Jefferson knew you could not trust men to refrain from using power given to them.  So it was best not to give them that power in the first place.

Today you can see all of Jefferson’s fears come to pass.  A federal government larger and more powerful than even Alexander Hamilton could have imagined.  And a new fourth branch of government.  The IRS.  Powerful.  And fearsome.  Which appears to be helping the current administration to suppress the political opposition.  By harassing anyone espousing Jeffersonian principles.  Limited government.  States’ rights.  Constitutional limits.  Etc.  Which are also Tea Party principles.  That set of principles that launched a great grassroots movement that helped the Republicans win back the House of Representatives in 2010.  Something the Democrats were very conscious of.  And have since pilloried the Tea Party with every invective under the sun.  To delegitimize the Tea Party.  To prevent another 2010 from happening again.

President Obama is the most liberal president to ever occupy the White House.  And he won reelection.  Which isn’t easy for a liberal to do on a national stage.  Because only about 21% of the people call themselves liberal.  While 35% call themselves moderate.  And 40% call themselves conservative (see Conservatives Remain the Largest Ideological Group in U.S. posted 1/12/2012 on Gallup).  So liberals are in the minority.  Yet they hold majority power.  Which begs the question.  How do they win elections when the majority opposes their ideology?   Well, you don’t do it by acting like George Washington.  You know, with integrity.  But, instead, with rascality.  You don’t exactly tell the truth.  You make a lot of promises.  Even if you have no intention of keeping them.  And you use the awesome power of your office to attack your political enemies.  For it’s a different mindset today.  Whereas the Founding Fathers were trying to destroy an aristocracy today’s politicians are trying to build and maintain one.   And life is so good in an aristocracy that once you get in you never want to leave.  Which is why politicians will do anything it takes to win reelection.  Anything.  And if they were honest you’d hear them say so.  “Damn the truth, promises and the Constitution.  I’m trying to get reelected.”  But they’re not honest.  So you will never hear them say this.  You’ll just have to see it in their deeds.  And how unlike the Founding Fathers they are.

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2012 Endorsements: Aaron Burr

Posted by PITHOCRATES - October 23rd, 2012

2012 Election

Hamilton knew that a Republican Government needed Men of Virtue for it to Survive

Lucius Quinctius Cincinnatus left his plough to defend the Roman Republic.  Became dictator.  Defeated the enemy.  Resigned the dictatorship.  And returned to his plough.    The epitome of a republican ruler.  Voluntarily giving up absolute power to preserve the republic.  America had its own Cincinnatus.  George Washington.  Lucius Sergius Catilina (Catiline) was basically the anti-Cincinnatus.  Whereas Cincinnatus was honorable, virtuous, principled and selfless Catiline was not.  Where Cincinnatus tried to save the Roman Republic Catiline tried to overthrow it.  America had its own Catiline.  Aaron Burr.

Burr was an unprincipled opportunist.  While George Washington approached politics by asking what was best for the country Aaron Burr asked what was best for Aaron Burr.  Washington loathed politics and tried to stay above it.  Whereas for Burr politics were the only good thing about governing.  Burr entered politics at the birth of political parties in the US.  As the tensions were building up between Hamilton’s Federalists and Jefferson’s Republicans.  Burr started out as a Federalist.  But chafed in a subordinate role to Hamilton.  The titular head of the Federalist Party.  So he left the Federalist Party and became a Republican.  He accepted an appointment from Republican New York governor George Clinton as attorney general.  New York had two Federalist senators in Congress.  And Hamilton wanted to keep those seats Federalist.  He tried to appeal to Burr’s principles to get him to return to the Federalist Party.  But Burr had no principles.  And when Governor Clinton backed him for Senator he stayed Republican.  And won one of those seats.

Being Senator was nice but Burr wanted to be governor of New York.  He tried to make a deal with the Federalists.  He knew they wanted to get rid of Republican Governor Clinton and replace him with a Federalist governor.  He wanted to be that Federalist governor.  But Hamilton was a lot like Washington.  He had principles.  And put the country first.  Hamilton knew that a republican government needed men of virtue for it to survive.  And Burr had no virtue.  So he was not interested in making any deals with Burr.

Alexander Hamilton called Aaron Burr the American Catiline

In the election of 1800 Thomas Jefferson needed New York.  And Burr had connections.  So Jefferson asked for his help.  And he delivered.  By changing the New York electors from Federalist to Republican.  Jefferson then added Burr to the Republican ticket in the 1800 election.  At that time the president was the candidate who won the most votes.  And the vice president was the candidate who won the second most votes.  Burr and Jefferson tied.  Instead of conceding the election to Jefferson (the whole point in enlisting Burr’s help was to get Jefferson elected president) he forced the House of Representatives to vote 36 times until the tie was finally broken.  Thus alienating Burr from Jefferson forever.  Knowing that Jefferson would drop him from the Republican ticket in the 1804 election he began talking to New York Federalists again.  Who wanted Burr to run for New York governor.  And he was more than willing to switch parties again as he was completely unprincipled and offered himself to the party that made it most worth his while.  It was at this time that Hamilton called Burr the American Catiline.

Also at this time there was a Federalist plot in New England.  Should Jefferson win reelection in 1804 there were plans for New England to secede from the union.  With Burr’s help New York would secede and join in a northern confederacy.  Hamilton knew of the plot.  And desperately wanted to stop it.  For it was the last thing he wanted was for the American union to dissolve.  He turned up his public attacks on Burr.  Which helped Burr lose the election in New York.  Attacks that Burr took exception to.  Challenging him to a duel to restore his honor besmirched by Hamilton’s attacks.  So on July11, 1804, Aaron Burr and Alexander Hamilton crossed the Hudson River to Weehawken, New Jersey.  And exchanged pistol shots at 10 paces.  Hamilton reportedly fired his shot harmlessly past Burr.  Not wishing to hurt him while at the same time exposing himself to danger so as not to besmirch his honor.  Burr’s shot, though, found Hamilton.  He died the following day.  Burr won the duel.  But he lost his reputation and his political future.

Burr then headed west.  Where he had planned to set himself up in an independent nation formed by parts of Mexico, Louisiana and Texas.  He may have tried to get Great Britain involved.  And he may have had plans of going to war with Spain.  The details are a little sketchy.  But he was up to something.  When President Jefferson learned of his activities he had Burr arrested and indicted for treason.  He was acquitted of treason at his trial.  But the trial destroyed whatever was left of his political career after killing Hamilton.

If Aaron Burr were Alive Today he would likely endorse the Democrat Candidates Barack Obama and Joe Biden

If Burr were alive today he would be in awe of what the federal government became.  Back in his days there were few federal jobs available.  But today?  He could live the life he always wanted.  And he wouldn’t even have to win an election.  All he would need to do is use his political connections to obtain a position in the federal bureaucracy.  A post for life.  And with an ever expanding federal government there would always be a post for life somewhere in that magnificent bureaucracy.  Where politics ruled.  Not principles.  Where government spending soars regardless of the consequences.  And class warfare creates a new aristocracy.  Not the top 10% earners who pay 70% of federal income taxes.  Or the bottom 50% who pay no federal income taxes.  No, the new aristocracy is the federal bureaucracy that sits on top of this great wealth transfer.  Like the nobility of old.  Only without the need of having a good last name.

Had Burr lived today he would have looked at the federal government and cried out, “Where have you been all my life?”  He would support anyone furthering this massive government expansion.  Especially those practitioners of class warfare.  The Democrat Party.  If Aaron Burr were alive today he would likely endorse the Democrat candidates Barack Obama and Joe Biden.

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2012 Endorsements: James Madison

Posted by PITHOCRATES - October 22nd, 2012

2012 Election

The Father of the Constitution nudged the Father of the Country out of Retirement

The Confederation Congress did not work as well as some had hoped.  Despite having won their independence from Great Britain there was still no feeling of national unity.  Sectional interests prevailed over national interests.  Greatly affecting the ability of the national government to function.  Negating the benefits of union.  And offering little respect for the young nation on the world stage.  The new nation simply was not taken seriously at home.  Or abroad.  Prompting a meeting of states delegates in Annapolis in 1786.  Twelve delegates from five states showed up.  The states just didn’t care enough.  The convention adjourned after only three days.  But not before Alexander Hamilton put a plan together for another convention in Philadelphia for the following year.

The states were happy with the way things were.  They did not want to give up any of their powers to a new central authority.  But the problem was that the states were fighting against each other.  Trying to protect their own economic interests and their own trade.  Some could extend this behavior out into the future.  And they did not like what they saw.  States with similar interests would form regional alliances.  And these alliances would ally themselves with some of the European powers who were also on the North American continent.  The northern states (having industry and commerce) would join together and ally with the industrial and commerce powerhouse Great Britain.  The agrarian southern states would join together and ally with Great Britain’s eternal enemy.  France.  And the western territories dependent on the Mississippi River to get their agricultural goods to marker would ally with the European power in control of the Mississippi River.  Spain.  Who were both eternal enemies of Great Britain.  And the centuries of warfare on the European continent would just extend to North America.  Some saw this as the American future if they didn’t unite and put the nation’s interests ahead of sectional interests.

The Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia in 1787 almost didn’t happen.  For there was as much interest in it as there was in the Annapolis Convention in 1786.  James Madison, the father of the Constitution, made the meeting in Philadelphia a reality.  By his persuasive efforts with his neighbor.  George Washington.  Father of our Country.  Then in retirement at Mount Vernon with no interest to reenter public life after resigning his commission following the Revolutionary War.  He could have been king then but declined the numerous offers to make him so.  Happy that they won their independence he just wanted to live out his years on his farm.  Like Lucius Quinctius Cincinnatus.  Who left his plough to become dictator of the Roman Republic.  To defend the Roman Republic.  He defeated the enemy.  Resigned his dictatorship.  And returned to his plough.  Earning a cherished place in our history books.  Something Washington had just done.  Only taking some 8 years instead of 16 days like Cincinnatus.  His place in history had come with a far greater price.  And he did not want to risk losing what he had earned after paying so dearly for it.  But Madison knew that it would take Washington’s presence to get the other states to send their delegates.  So Madison was persistent.   The Father of the Constitution nudged the Father of the Country out of retirement.  And made the retired general do the last thing he wanted to do.  Return to public life.  As he was already an old man who outlived the average lifespan of Washington men.

Madison didn’t believe a Bill of Rights would Stop a Majority from Imposing their Will on the Minority

It took four long, miserable months to produce the new constitution.  It was a hot and insufferable summer.  And they kept the windows of Independence Hall closed to block out the city noise.  And prevent anyone from hearing the debates.  So the delegates could speak freely.  And after those four long months the delegates signed the new document.  Not all of them.  Some hated it and refused to sign it or support it.  And would actively fight against it during the ratification process.  As they did not like to see so much power going to a new federal government.  Especially as there was no bill of rights included to help protect the people from this new government.  The document they produced was based on the Virginia Plan.  Which was drafted by James Madison.  Which is why we call him the Father of the Constitution.  So Virginia was instrumental in producing the new constitution.  And the delegates finally agreed to it because of another Virginian.  George Washington.  Making Virginian ratification of the new constitution conditional for other states to ratify it.  So all eyes were on Virginia.  For without Virginia all their efforts in Philadelphia would be for naught.  Because if Virginia did not join the union under the new Constitution that meant George Washington would be ineligible to be president.

Of course getting Virginia to ratify was another story.  Because George Washington and James Madison were not the only Virginians in politics.  There was also George Mason.  Who wrote the Virginia Declaration of Rights (1776).  Which Thomas Jefferson may have borrowed from when writing the Declaration of Independence.  And Mason also wrote the Virginia State Constitution (1776).  Mason opposed granting the new federal government so much power and refused to sign the Constitution in Philadelphia.  And then there was Patrick Henry.  Perhaps the greatest Patriot orator.  And of “Give me Liberty, or give me Death!” fame.  Which he shouted out during the Stamp Act (1765) debates.  He was also Virginia’s first governor under the new state constitution.  Mason and Henry were Patriots of the 1776 school.  The kind that hated distant central powers.  Whether they were in London.  Or in New York.  Mason wanted a bill of rights.  Henry, too.  As well as amendments transferring a lot of power from the federal government back to the states.  Or, better yet, no federal constitution at all.  Which Henry would work towards by leading a fierce ratification opposition.

Perhaps the greatest flaw of the new constitution as many saw was the lack of a bill of rights.  This was a contentious issue during the convention.  It was the reason why Mason refused to sign it.  As there was nothing to check the powers of the new government and protect the people’s liberties.  So why did they not include a bill of rights?  Because it was not necessary.  According to Madison.  Who fought against it.  Because the new federal government was a government of limited powers.  It wasn’t like the state governments.  The new federal government only did those things the states didn’t do.  Or shouldn’t do.  Like treat with other nations.  Provide a common defense.  Regulate interstate trade.  Things that expanded beyond a state’s borders.  And what powers it had were enumerated.  Limited.  It did not repeal individual rights protected by state constitutions.  And had no authority over those rights.  Whatever rights a person enjoyed in their state were untouchable by the new federal government.  Therefore, a bill of rights was not necessary.  Which actually protected rights greater than listing them.  For whatever rights they forgot to list the federal government would assume were fair to abuse.  Finally, Madison didn’t believe a bill of rights would stop a majority from imposing their will on the minority.  A tyranny of the majority.  Something he saw firsthand as a young man returning from college.  Where the state of Virginia harassed and imprisoned Baptist ministers for holding Baptist services in Anglican Virginia.  Something he didn’t forget.  Nor did the Baptists.

If James Madison were Alive Today he would Likely Endorse the Republican Candidates Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan

Patrick tried hard to prevent the ratification of the constitution in Virginia.  But failed.  When it came time for the Virginian legislature to elect their federal senators Henry campaigned hard against Madison and saw him defeated.  When it came to the federal House elections Henry drew the new Congressional districts that made Madison campaign in a district full of people that mostly disagreed with him.  Which it took a change of his position on adding a bill of rights to the Constitution to overcome.  His position gradually changed from opposed to being lukewarm to being a strong supporter.  In part due to some correspondence with Thomas Jefferson then serving in France.  And the Baptists’ concerns over rights of conscience.  Something Madison had longed believed in.  Believing religious liberty was essential to a free people.  As the Constitution stood there were no safeguards specifically against the oppression like that the Anglicans imposed on the Baptists earlier.  What the Baptists wanted was a bill of rights.

Madison promised, if elected, to introduce an amendment to the Constitution addressing their concerns.  In fact, a bill of rights would be the first Constitutional amendment.  And he would introduce it and fight for it until it was ratified.  Based on this promise the Baptists threw their support behind Madison.  Got him elected to the House of Representatives.  And Madison delivered on his promise.  Championing a bill of rights through Congress.  The Father of the Constitution also became the Father of the Bill of Rights.  And then it was a knockdown drag-out fight in the Virginian legislature to get the new Bill of Rights ratified.   Where the opposition to ratification was led by none other than Patrick Henry.  But he would lose that fight, too.  And the nation would have a federal government with limited, enumerated powers.  With individual liberties protected by a bill of rights.  Providing a federal government powerful enough to do the things it needed to do like treat with other nations, provide a common defense, regulate interstate trade, etc.  Those things that expanded beyond a state’s borders.  And in the following decade we would be prosperous because of it.

None of this could have happened without Virginia’s ratification of the Constitution.  Which opened the door for George Washington to be our first president.  And helped New York ratify the Constitution.  With the ratification in Virginia.  And the letter writing campaign in support of ratification.  Which appeared in newspapers.  Articles written by James Madison and Alexander Hamilton (mostly) and John Jay.  Now published as the Federalists Papers.  Thanks to the tireless efforts of Madison and Hamilton the nation had a new form of government.  But Madison and Hamilton would soon part ways once Hamilton was Secretary of the Treasury.  And took great liberties with the necessary and proper clause of the Constitution.  Expanding the power and scope of the federal government far beyond what Madison had ever envisioned.  Which moved Madison into closer company with George Mason and Patrick Henry.  Desperately trying to hold onto states’ rights and oppose the expansion of the federal government.  Like he would oppose the great overreach of the federal government today.  The transfer of power from the states to the federal government.  And the expansion of suffrage to include those who don’t own property or pay taxes.  Leading to mob rule at times.  Populism.  And a tyranny of the majority.

Madison suffered ill health most of his life.  Stomach disorders and dysentery.  Brought on by the pressures of public service.  If he were alive today he probably wouldn’t remain alive long.  Seeing what has happened to his Constitution would probably kill him.  If he had the chance to vote today he would vote for the party that championed limited government.  The party that would stop the growth of the federal government.  And reduce its size.  The party that governed for all people and not the will of the populist mob.  The party that did NOT govern through class warfare but through sound principles.  If James Madison were alive today he would likely endorse the Republican candidates Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan.

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King George III, Lord North, John Dunning, Oliver Cromwell, New Model Army, Caesar, King Louis XVI, General Washington and Cincinnatus

Posted by PITHOCRATES - July 12th, 2012

Politics 101

Had the Time of Kings Come to an End?

The British people grew weary of the war in America.  And the cost.  Many felt that the relationship between King George III and Lord North was a little too cozy.  And a little too unconstitutional.  John Dunning entered a motion in the House of Commons in 1780.  Stating that “the power of the Crown has increased, is increasing, and ought to be diminished.”  And the surrender of Cornwallis at Yorktown in 1781 didn’t improve the political climate.  On March 20, 1782, Lord North resigned as Prime Minister.  Even King George penned a letter of abdication.  Though he never sent it.  He did go mad for awhile.  In 1788.  But he got better.

They questioned the very idea of monarchy.  Whether the time of kings had come to an end.  It was done before.  They got rid of the king following the English Civil War.  Even executed him.  King Charles I.  And Parliament ruled without a king.  Under Oliver Cromwell as Lord Protector.  After his New Model Army won the English Civil War for Parliament.  And the New Model Army was loyal to Cromwell.  Giving him a lot of power.  As a standing army in peacetime is wont to do.  Just like Caesar’s army crossing the Rubicon.  Allowing Caesar to declare himself Roman emperor.  Cromwell used his army to suppress the enemies of Parliament.  And the enemies of the Protestant Church.  But the government didn’t survive long after Cromwell’s death.  And Britain would soon have a king again.  Charles II.  The son of the king they beheaded.

But things settled down in Britain.  And King George remained king.  Until 1820.  Even though he lost about half of the British Empire.  Giving up his Crown only in death.  By natural causes, of course.  Unlike that of Charles I.  But things would not end well for another European monarch.  In particular the one that helped America gain their liberty from the British Crown.  The French king.  Louis XVI.  Whose country imploded under the cost of war.  The peasants suffered through famine while the monarchy and the Church lived fairly well.  Igniting the French Revolution in 1789.  And it didn’t end well for King Louis.  Or his wife Josephine.  The French Revolutionaries beheaded them both.  The time of kings had come to an end in France.  Ditto for the Catholic Church.  For awhile.  Napoleon would rise up and declare himself emperor.  Which is just like being a king.  Marching to Paris at the head of his army.  The source of his power.  But it didn’t last.  After Napoleon the French would bring back the monarchy.

History has Shown (and Continues to Show) that a Disgruntled Army is a Dangerous Army

So the American Revolution shook things up in Europe.  Causing one monarchy to tremble.  And another to fall.  But it wasn’t smooth sailing in America, either.  For winning the war was one thing.  But governing the new nation was another.  Would a new American nation arise?  Or would the states abandon their common interests now that the common enemy was no more?  Would Congress be able to keep the promises they made?  Or now that the war was over would the states cease funding the Congress?  Making it impossible to keep their promises.  Like the pensions they promised those who served in the Continental Army.  Who sacrificed so much to win America’s independence.

History has shown (and continues to show) that a disgruntled army is a dangerous army.  A wronged army with a popular leader could very well seize power.  And there was a real fear of this happening following the war.  In 1783 some officers began a movement to demand what the Congress had promised them.  Alexander Hamilton, then serving in Congress, became alarmed.  And wrote General Washington.  Asking him to advance these officers demands to prevent it from getting out of control.  Washington refused to get involved.  Then it escalated.  Some were advocating more forceful measures.  Calling for a meeting to discuss these measures.  And General Horatio Gates supported this meeting.  Gates was the general who won at Saratoga (but it was really Benedict Arnold and Daniel Morgan who won the day).  Gates was involved in the Conway Cabal, an attempt to smear the reputation of General Washington in order to replace him.  And Gates was, of course, a leading candidate to replace Washington.  And General Gates suffered one of America’s most humiliating defeats at the Battle of Camden.   Which he fled from on horseback.  Fleeing until he fled some 60 miles from the battlefield.  So Gates’ involvement spelled trouble.

An anonymous driver of the movement was urging the army to retire to the frontier if the war continued.  To abandon an ungrateful people.  Letting them meet their fate at the hands of the enemy.  Or to turn their arms on that ungrateful people.  To get what the Congress promised them.  And more.  Fearing a military coup General Washington issued an order forbidding the meeting Gates supported.  Then called a meeting of his officers to discuss their grievances.  And at this meeting General Washington once again saved the country.  By his presence.  His devotion to duty.  And his failing eyesight.  He pulled out a prepared speech and began to read.  Then paused.  He pulled out a pair of spectacles.  An officer in that meeting recorded what happened.  Major Samuel Shaw.  Washington “begged the indulgence of his audience while he put them on, observing at the same time that he had grown gray in their service, and found himself growing blind.”  There wasn’t a dry eye in the house after this.  These guys still loved Washington.  And would go to hell and back for him.  If he wanted them to support the civilian government they would support the civilian government.

General Washington Submitted his Resignation and Returned to Civilian Life like Cincinnatus 

Of course, having the army do whatever their leader asked could prove to be a problem, too.  If that leader had designs on power.  Especially when that leader had more power than any single man in the new nation.  Washington may have defused one military coup.  But a lot of people worried about his intentions.  Especially when a lot of people were asking him to be king.  Caesar may have been ancient history to some.  But Oliver Cromwell and the New Model Army were not.  Washington.  A standing army.  It made people nervous.  Even foreign powers never believed that Washington would give it all up.  Even King George.  Who said if Washington refused to be king he would be “the greatest man in the world.”

The last of the British troops left New York on December 4, 1783.  The war was truly over.  It was time to go home.  Washington had one last meeting with his officers.  On the evening of the 22nd of December there was a ball in his honor.  He danced until every lady had a chance to dance with the general.  Then he addressed Congress on the 23rd of December.  And became the greatest man in the world.  By submitting his resignation.  And returning to civilian life.  A regular Cincinnatus.  Called to serve his country.  And after serving his country he surrendered all power to return to his farm.

The war was over.  And it ended in peace.  More the exception than the rule when it came to revolution.  Thanks to George Washington.  And the other Founding Fathers.  Benjamin Franklin.  John Adams.  Alexander Hamilton.  Thomas Jefferson.  John Jay.  And everyone else of that unique generation.  Men of exceptional character.  Who never sacrificed their principles.  Or their sacred honor.

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LESSONS LEARNED #33: “The Founding Fathers weren’t perfect but they were closer than most.” -Old Pithy

Posted by PITHOCRATES - September 30th, 2010

Anarchy Averted

Washington men didn’t live long.  And George Washington thought about that.  A lot.  He loved his Mount Vernon.  His garden.  And he longed to retire there to spend out his years in peace under his vine and fig tree.  But he gave up that dream when he accepted command of the Continental Army.  He was already at that age when a lot of Washington men died.  So when he left, no doubt he thought he may not return.

The Revolutionary War lasted 8 long years.  And Washington spent those years with the army.  In the field.  He was at Valley Forge.  He didn’t leave to go home to see Martha.  No.  His wife came to Valley Forge to see him.

Washington was a wealthy man.  He didn’t need to make these sacrifices.  A lot of wealthy men didn’t.  But he did.  And he sacrificed a lot.  Even his eyesight.  When the army officer’s wanted to mutiny over a long list of failed promises (pay, pensions, etc.), Washington pleaded with them.  To not throw away the thing they’ve fought so long and hard for.  As poorly as the Continental Army was treated, those words did not move them much.  Then Washington pulled out a letter from a congressman to read to them.  But couldn’t.  After stumbling over a couple of words, he stopped.  He then pulled out a pair of spectacles.  No one had ever seen the great George Washington in such a public display of weakness.

“Gentlemen, you must pardon me,” he said.  “I have grown gray in the service of my country, and now find myself growing blind.”

Some cried for the old man who had given so much.  When he no doubt had so few years left to live.  If their commanding general could make such sacrifices, so could they.  So there would be no Caesar.  No Cromwell.  No armies would march to the seat of power.  This republic would not collapse into anarchy as history often scripted her republics.

The Most Powerful Man in America Surrenders His Power         

But would he be king?  He could have.  Easily.  He had the power.  And the love and adoration of the people.  In fact, some were begging him to become king.  Others, though, questioned his intentions.  They looked at the army with a nervous unease.  They were, after all, a nation built primarily from English stock.  And they knew their English history.  Of Oliver Cromwell.  The New Model Army.  Just what were his intentions?

He still stayed in touch with his officers (and later would go on to be the first president of the Society of the Cincinnati).  This seemed a bit ominous to some.  This is why once the war was over, people tried to forget about and disband the army as quickly as possible.  To renege on the promises they made to these veterans.  They just wanted these soldiers to go away.  There were too many bad memories of standing armies in their midst.  Whether they wore a red coat or a rag, they just wanted them gone.

Even King George questioned his intentions.  Few give up power.  If he did, it would place him in the pantheon of greats.  But would he?  Yes.  He would.  And did.  Washington would be a Lucius Quinctius Cincinnatus, the Roman farmer who walked away from his plow to assume dictatorial powers to help save his nation.  When the threat was past, he returned power to the Senate and returned to his plow.  And so did Washington.

Answering the Call of Duty.  Again.

Then the nation called for their Cincinnatus once again.  There were problems with the Confederate Congress.  It was having difficulty governing the peace.  There were state rivalries.  Their finances were in a mess.  And there was no national identity.  There used to be.  British.  And the European nations treated with that singular entity.  Great Britain.  Now that the mother country was gone, there was no singular entity.  No unity.  Everyone was for themselves.  And the European powers had to make multiple treaties with the multiple states.  If they wanted to go through that headache.  And many did not.

Some called for a revision to the Articles of Confederation.  But it was difficult to get the states on board.  A weak confederacy favored the individual states.  And the individual states liked that.  But it also limited their potential as a nation.  Some feared the inter-state rivalries would balkanize the nation.  Make the New World a repeat of the Old World.  To bring the nation together would take an extraordinary effort.  Or an extraordinary man.  George Washington.  Who agreed to attend the Philadelphia Convention in 1787. 

After a long and hot summer, the Philadelphia delegates produced a constitution.  With James Madison being the primary architect.  They then sent it to the states for ratification.  At which time James Madison and Alexander Hamilton began a writing campaign to urge its ratification.  (John Jay contributed to this campaign, too, but not as much as Madison and Hamilton).  Once ratified, it came time to populate the new government.  Some competed with each other for some positions.  But for one of the positions there was unanimity.    There was but one man the people would trust with the most powerful office in the land.  Their Cincinnatus.  George Washington.  But would he do it?  Would he leave his blissful retirement beneath his vine and fig tree?

Yes.  Not because he wanted to.  More than 10 years had passed since this old man had agreed to command the Continental Army.  He had outlived many Washington men.  The way he saw it, he was living on borrowed time as it was.  And there was another consideration.  Against the greatest of odds, he did NOT lose the Revolutionary War.  He had made mistakes in his life, but his name was safe for posterity.  But if he took a risk now he could lose the good name he built.  And if there was anything soldiers (and politicians) worry about, it’s their legacy.  (That’s why they write memoirs.)

Another Long 8 Years

When it was clear that he was, in fact, the indispensable one, he sacrificed his personal want for the public need.  Again.  And again, serving a second term as president.  He was ready (and looking forward to) retirement after one term.  But the party politics were threatening to tear apart the new nation.  The rift between Jefferson and Hamilton had grown.  It was splitting the government into two camps.  The Federalists (led by Hamilton) and the anti-Federalists (led by Jefferson).  They pleaded for Washington to serve a second term as he was the only one who could hold them together.  He consented.

That second term was particularly unpleasant for Washington.  Party attacks turned into personal attacks.  Even against Washington.  And the ugliness got really ugly over the Jay Treaty.  Many wanted war with Great Britain.  But having actually fought a war with Great Britain, Washington favored peace.  Yes, the treaty favored Great Britain.  And, yes, it tied American interests to Great Britain, not her war time ally.  France.  The Jeffersonians unleashed an unfettered vitriol on the Federalists.  Including Washington.  But Washington bet on the right horse.  Great Britain proved to be the dominant European power.  And her Royal Navy came in handy protecting U.S. trade with her.  Over a decade of peace and prosperity followed. 

After 8 years, though, there was no persuading Washington for another 4-year term.  He had grown ever older in the continued service of his country.  Now he felt it more than ever that his days were few.  Rarely did he know happiness like he felt at the inauguration of the 2nd president, his vice president, John Adams.  Adams wrote that after he took the oath of office, Washington said, “Ay! I am fairly out and you fairly in!  See which of us will be happiest!”  He may not have actually said this but he no doubt felt the sentiment.  And with that, he returned to his plow.  Cincinnatus had come home.  Where he would happily live out his remaining years.  All two of them.

Where is Our Cincinnatus?

Today it’s about money and power.  Not duty.  Today, people want to be full-time politicians.  For the money and power.  And the elitist status.  People get into Congress and they just don’t want to leave.  Should we vote them out of office, they have a tantrum.  They call their constituents stupid for not knowing who the better candidate was.  And they won’t go quietly.  Some will change parties.  Or run as an independent.  Or as a write-in candidate.  Anything to stay in Washington.  To hold on to their power.  To stay among the elite.

The nation has deviated far from the path of disinterested public service of the Founding Fathers.  The anti-Federalists would be shocked to see what became of the government they helped create.  Even the Federalists.  Even Hamilton.  Not even he, the champion of a strong federal government, would approve of the federal government today.  His mercantilist polices had the goal of making the nation rich and powerful.  Not to suck the wealth out from the private sector.  Which began in earnest with Wilson.  Then picked with FDR.  Then ramped up further with LBJ/Nixon/Ford/Carter.  Had Hamilton lived in the 20th century, he would have earnestly campaigned for Ronald Reagan.  To put an end to the public sector’s pillage of the private sector.

And now we find our nation adrift again.  But who will step in and stop it today?  Who is out there?  Willing to put down their plow for disinterested public service.  And by ‘plow’ I mean any real job.  Worked by someone who is not part of the Washington establishment.  Where is our George Washington?

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