FT172: “Damn the truth, promises and the Constitution,” said the politician. “I’m trying to get reelected.” —Old Pithy
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.
Tags: Alexander Hamilton, American Revolutionary War, aristocracy, Cincinnatus, Constitution, Constitutional Convention, Continental Army, Continental Congress, Enlightenment, Founding Fathers, George Washington, Hamilton, Jefferson, Philadelphia, politicians, Revolutionary War, Tea Party, Thomas Jefferson, Washington