The Capitol: What would the founding father’s think of our violent history?
The January 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol was wrong. The vandalizing of the Capitol, left a police officer and a citizen dead. Many more injured. But this was not the first assault on the Capitol. Violence erupted inside the halls in 1971 when the Weathermen, a radical Marxist faction of the Students for a Democratic Society (SDS), set a bomb off inside the Capitol causing $300,000 worth of damage, but hurting no one. (Bomb explodes in Capitol building).
Assaulting one of our most important symbols of American democracy.
This is not the first time Washington D.C. has erupted in violence over a Presidential election.
Riots flashed following the inaugurations of both President Trump and President Bush.
What would the Founding Fathers think of such an insurrection, such an assault on democratic government itself?
They would be sad to see such a barbaric effort to interrupt the Congressional vote to certify the 2020 election. But they would not be surprised. They feared that the limits they placed on government power, the checks and balances they wrote into the Constitution, might not work.
There are seventy-five million Americans who do not feel that they worked. That points to the mounting evidence of alleged Election Fraud proving those checks and balances failed.
There are an equal number of Americans who feel the election was free and fair. That Joe Biden is the elected President.
So with an America divided, it is important to remember the fears our founders felt about whether a free society could endure into the future.
They were careful students of those ancient examples of such societies in Athens and the Roman Republic.
“James Madison traveled to Philadelphia in 1787,” notes The Atlantic, “with Athens on his mind. He had spent the year before the Constitutional Convention reading two trunks of books on the history of failed democracies, sent to him from Paris by Thomas Jefferson. Madison was determined, in drafting the Constitution, to avoid the fate of those ‘ancient and modern confederacies,’ which he believed had succumbed to rule by demagogues and mobs.”
From the beginning of history, philosophers predicted that democratic governments would not last very long.
Plato, Aristotle and, more recently, De Tocqueville, Lord Bryce and Macaulay, predicted that men and women would give away their freedom voluntarily for what they perceived as greater security
Thomas Babington Macaulay lamented in 1857 that,
“I have long been convinced that institutions purely democratic must, sooner or later, destroy liberty or civilization or both. In Europe, where the population is dense, the effect of such institutions would be almost instantaneous…Either the poor would plunder the rich, and civilization would perish, or order and prosperity would be saved by a strong military government and Liberty would perish.”
Seeming prophetic as we view recent events, Macaulay, looking to America, declared that,
“Either some Caesar or Napoleon will seize the reins of government with a strong hand; or your republic will be as fearfully plundered and laid waste by barbarians in the 20th century as the Roman Empire was in the Fifth—-with this difference —that your Huns and Vandals will have been engendered within your own country by your institutions.”
More than 200 years ago, the British historian Alexander Tytler wrote that,
“A democracy cannot exist as a permanent form of government. It can only exist until the voters discover they can vote themselves largess out of the public treasury. From that moment on, the majority always votes for the candidates promising the most benefits from the public treasury—-with the result that democracy collapses over a loose fiscal policy, always to be followed by a dictatorship.”
Rather than viewing man and government in positive terms, the framers of the Constitution had almost precisely the opposite view. John Adams put it this way:
“Whoever would found a state and make proper laws for the government of it must presume that all men are bad by nature…We may appeal to every page of history we have hitherto turned over, for proofs irrefragable, that the people, when they have been unchecked, have been as unjust, tyrannical, brutal, barbarous, and cruel as any king or senate possessed of uncontrollable power…All projects of government, formed upon a supposition of continued vigilance, sagacity, and virtue, firmness of the people when possessed of the exercise of supreme power, are cheats and delusions…The fundamental article of my political creed is that despotism, or unlimited sovereignty, or absolute power, is the same in a majority of a popular assembly, an aristocratic council, an oligarchical junto, and a single emperor. Equally bloody, arbitrary, cruel, and in every respect diabolical.”
The Founding Fathers would be disappointed with the growth of demagoguery in political life but this would hardly surprise them. It is something they feared. George Washington, in his Farewell Address in 1796, declared:
“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 afterward the very engines which have lifted them to unjust dominion.”
The polarization of Congress, reflecting the electorate that has not been this divided since the time of the Civil War. This has led to ideological warfare between parties that channel the passions of the most extreme constituents and donors.
Precisely the type of factionalism the founders found most objectionable. And, as The Atlantic points out,
“The executive branch meanwhile has been transformed by the spectacle of tweeting presidents, though the presidency had broken from its constitutional restraints long before the advent of social media.”
But social media would be something the Founding Fathers did not anticipate. That such a means of bringing together extremists from throughout the country would exist.
When he was asked what kind of government the new Constitution had created, Benjamin Franklin replied,
“A Republic if you can keep it.”
Americans have kept the Republic for more than two hundred years.
Thus making ours the oldest form of government in the world today.
But it is now being threatened by internal enemies, as the January 6 attack upon the Capitol made clear. The Founding Fathers would be saddened by this, but they would not be surprised. They knew how fragile free and democratic societies are. The system they created in the Constitution hold firm, but the Deep State, both Republican and Democrat, are likely to be with us for some time.
It is essential that we strengthen our system and make certain that any future efforts to thwart the democratic will of the people are doomed to failure.
Lead Image: Video Screen Shot of ANTIFA busting Capitol Windows as MAGA crowds look on. (See video at https://video.maga.host/videos/watch/0a31f7d1-8bc0-4ece-8444-7c63f15c78af?start=2m37s&fbclid=IwAR39sCqPs2r-eBXCfWtNCg_aJ2IggbyAxRmLDgKoz32UUyi-0yhYgfa5amU)