The Last Word: What Would the Founding Fathers Say?

One can only imagine what those zany, crazy Founding Fathers of ours would have made of the country they started after the past three months’ shenanigans.

Aaron Burr
(Photos: Library of Congress)
General James Wilkerson

Alexandria, VA – “However [political parties] may now and then answer popular ends, they are likely in the course of time and things, to become potent engines, by which cunning, ambitious, and unprincipled men will be enabled to subvert the power of the people and to usurp for themselves the reins of government, destroying afterwards the very engines which have lifted them to unjust dominion.”

George Washington’s Farewell Address – 17 September 1796

One can only imagine what those zany, crazy Founding Fathers of ours would have made of the country they started after the past three months’ shenanigans. After the decades of pain, suffering, misery, treachery, savagery, penury, and war they endured, those heralded visionaries, were they alive today, would be shaking their collective heads at just how far off the mark the political farce we call a country has evolved since they all took the big dirt bath.

A leading member of the Founding Fathers—our own George Washington—had a few choice words about political parties (see above). It is striking just how prescient they were, based on events from the 2020 election. The “party” is now the great, omnipotent, determinator. It “selects” the candidates and then rallies the “party” around their chosen one.

You must admit, the 2019 Trump Impeachment, the 2020 election marathon, the post-election legal maneuvering, the insurrection at the Capitol, and subsequent 2021 Trump Impeachment (the sequel), would stagger the imagination of even the most ardent political historian. And the hits just keep coming.

America has always had a penchant for forgiveness. We love fallen angels who swim in the muck and mire and then, because of a “mistake,” we open the door of forgiveness to second and sometimes even third chances. We have countless examples of allowing elected officials to continue to serve in office while at-the-same-time serving time in prison (1).

Americans, because we have no royal family of our own, have had a love affair with celebrity. We frequently give our celebrities wide berth, often waving off the transgressions of our sports, entertainment, and underworld icons and we are rapidly becoming the “land of perpetual forgiveness.” Before going to federal prison for income tax evasion, Alfonso “Scarface” Capone, when asked by numerous newspapers about his alleged ties to various murders, prostitution, and other felonies, frequently replied, “I’m just a businessman.”

During the impeachment of then-President Bill Clinton, our American appetite for the ever-expanding lurid details of his amorous trysts and turns didn’t wane. Then, when cornered for lying under oath, Clinton apologized, we accepted his apology, and we did the truly American thing that has marked us for nearly two centuries — we “put it behind us and got back to the vital work for the American people.” (2)

The conspiracy trial of Aaron Burr rocked the nation but ultimately was much ado about nothing. I guess we Americans haven’t paid enough attention to our own history to pick up the hints. (Photo: National Archives)

The intent of those great Founding Fathers to protect us from a tyrannical or corrupt Chief Executive by including Article II Section 4 of the Constitution, resulted in the impeachment of three Presidents (3). But thankfully, the U.S. has never had to face the indignation or embarrassment of booting a President as has been the case in many other countries. Elsewhere in the world if you lie, cheat, assault someone, take bribes, cheat on your spouse, stage a coup, order a “hit”, or stomp opposition into brutal submission, people tend to remember that and the instigator is shown to the door, a cell, is exiled, or “meets with an unfortunate accident.” (4)

Our penchant for forgiveness even goes so far as to include those who conspired to violently overthrow the government. Aaron Burr, Vice President to Thomas Jefferson, was alleged to have even amassed a private army to attack Mexico and annex a section of the Louisiana Purchase (AKA “Texas”) and set himself up as “El Jefe.” (5) When all the dust settled, his partner-in-crime General James Wilkinson, tried to wiggle out of his involvement in the coup attempt by producing a letter showing Burr’s intentions. The letter in Wilkinson’s own handwriting proved to be less-than-convincing to the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, so Burr lit out to England.

The recent Capitol attack gave me pause to reflect on how far (or not-so-far) we had come as a republic and how sketchy our leadership is about “the Constitution” (6). During the Impeachment Trial there was much harrumphing, tons and tons of Senators and members of Congress invoking the “Constitution” in many of their statements. It made me wonder about just how poor an understanding we have of the document and how frightening it is to see our leadership of our country who don’t have a clue as to its contents or what they mean.

An example of just how weak our leaders are about the government they represent was in an Alabama Daily News interview after the 2020 Senate election in Alabama. Former football coach, now Senator Tommy Tuberville, stated, that the three branches of government were, “the House, the Senate, and the executive.”

My wife used to work at George Washington’s Mount Vernon as a historic Interpreter. One evening she came home from Mount Vernon with a classic story. That evening she led a freshman Congressman and his family through the house explaining the details of the life of the Washington family. Towards the end of the tour the Congressman asked, “How did Washington get to the White House every day to go to work? Did he ride a horse or go over the Potomac by boat?” (7)

I am no Constitutional scholar. I did, however, get an “A” in my required senior-level U.S. Government class at Fairfax High School. I remember learning about Plessy v. Ferguson, Miranda v. Arizona, Brown v. the Board of Education, who the House and Senate majority and minority whips were, what a “pocket veto” was, AND how many votes it took to overturn a Presidential veto.

I wondered just how far we had strayed as a country from this kind of basic “common knowledge”, so I did some research on civics education in the country. A June 2019 EdWeek magazine article indicated that there are some 30,000 high schools in the country. I was amazed to learn from an article titled, “The State of Civics Education,”, (8) that only 26 percent of all high school seniors could name all three branches of the U.S. government. As a result, 17 states have made it mandatory that their students pass the U.S. citizenship exam to get a high school diploma.

How could this republic, the world’s greatest champion of freedom, the powerful advocate of human rights, and the greatest economy in the world have a citizenry that knows less about its government than it does about what Beyonce wore to the Met gala or who sang at the Superbowl Halftime show?

Then it hit me. That Government class at Fairfax High School made it clear – to be a member of Congress all you had to be is 25 years old and a “citizen” for seven years and for Senate – 30 years-old and a “citizen” for nine years. No test required.

Recently, many school districts across the country have completely eliminated cursive writing from the curriculum. Why? The only use for cursive writing was thought to be to sign your name. It had become, “obsolete.”

Judging by the impeachment trials in this country’s history and their outcomes, perhaps it’s time to amend the Constitution and completely eliminate it from that document. It’s pretty clear that nothing qualifies as “high crimes and misdemeanors” and it will save us all a lot of time, money, and effort.

Perhaps a New York phrase captures best what we should do about impeachment in the future -– “Faggedabbahdit.”

(1) Boston Mayor James Michael Curley. For real. (2) It has also clarified what the definition of “is” is. I’m still confused years later but that’s not unusual for me. (3) Andrew Johnson, Bill Clinton, and Donald Trump (X2) (4) A popular phrase heard years ago in Las Vegas, Chicago, New Jersey, and today — translated from the Russian version. (5) Had he been successful Sam Houston would have remained a schoolteacher in Maryville Tennessee and no one would have heard a peep out of him again. (6) You know – that piece of paper they all swear to “support and defend against all enemies, foreign and domestic.” (7) The first occupant in the White House was John Adams. It hadn’t been built yet and George Washington along with the rest of the Federal Government was up in NYC. He hadn’t sold the property to the Federal Government yet for it to become the “District of Columbia.” (8) February 2018 – The Center for American Progress

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