George Washington

George Washington

On June 25, 1824, James Madison wrote to Henry Lee: “I entirely concur in the propriety of resorting to the sense in which the Constitution was accepted and ratified by the nation. In that sense alone it is the legitimate Constitution. And if that be not the guide in expounding it, there can be no security for a consistent and stable, more than for a faithful, exercise of its powers. … What a metamorphosis would be produced in the code of law if all its ancient phraseology were to be taken in its modern sense.”

Thomas Jefferson wrote to Mr. Hammond in 1821: “The germ of dissolution of our federal government is in … the federal judiciary; an irresponsible body (for impeachment is scarcely a scare-crow) working like gravity by night and by day, gaining a little today and a little tomorrow, and advancing its noiseless step like a thief, over the field of jurisdiction, until all shall be usurped from the States.”

President James Monroe stated in his first inaugural address, March 4, 1817: “Under this Constitution … the States, respectively protected by the National Government under a mild, parental system against foreign dangers, and enjoying within their separate spheres, by a wise partition of power, a just proportion of the sovereignty … are the best proofs of wholesome laws well administered. … It is only when the people become ignorant and corrupt, when they degenerate into a populace, that they are incapable of exercising the sovereignty. Usurpation is then an easy attainment, and an usurper soon found. The people themselves become the willing instruments of their own debasement and ruin.”

President William Henry Harrison stated in his inaugural address, March 4, 1841: “The danger to all well-established free governments arises from the unwillingness of the people to believe in its existence or from the influence of designing men diverting their attention from the quarter whence it approaches to a source from which it can never come. This is the old trick of those who would usurp the government of their country. In the name of democracy they speak, warning the people against the influence of wealth and the danger of aristocracy. History, ancient and modern, is full of such examples.”

President George Washington stated in his farewell address, Sept. 19, 1796: “In contemplating the causes which may disturb our Union, it occurs as matter of serious concern, that any ground should have been furnished for characterizing parties. … One of the expedients of Party to acquire influence, within particular districts, is to misrepresent the opinions and aims of other Districts. You cannot shield yourselves too much against the jealousies and heart burnings which spring from these misrepresentations. … And of fatal tendency … to put, in the place of the delegated will of the Nation, the will of a party; – often a small but artful and enterprising minority. …

“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 the themselves the reins of Government; destroying afterwards the very engines which have lifted them to unjust dominion. …”

Washington stated further: “One method of assault may be to effect, in the forms of the Constitution, alterations which will impair the energy of the system, and thus to undermine what cannot be directly overthrown. … It is indeed little else than a name, where the Government is too feeble to withstand the enterprises of faction. … I have already intimated to you the danger of Parties in the State. … Let me now take a more comprehensive view, and warn you in the most solemn manner against the baneful effects of the spirit of Party, generally.

“This spirit, unfortunately, is inseparable from our nature, having its roots in the strongest passions of the human Mind. It exists under different shapes in all Governments, more or less stifled, controlled, or repressed; but, in those of the popular form it is seen in its greatest rankness and is truly their worst enemy. … Domination of one faction over another, sharpened by the spirit of revenge natural to party dissention, which in different ages and countries has perpetrated the most horrid enormities, is itself a frightful despotism. …”

Washington continued: “But this leads at length to a more formal and permanent despotism. The disorders and miseries, which result, gradually incline the minds of men to seek security and repose in the absolute power of an Individual … (who) turns this disposition to the purposes of his own elevation, on the ruins of Public Liberty. … Ill founded jealousies and false alarms, kindles the animosity of one part against another, foments occasionally riot and insurrection.

“It opens the doors to foreign influence and corruption, which find a facilitated access to the Government itself through the channels of party passions. Thus the policy and the will of one country, are subjected to the policy and will of another. … It is important, likewise, that the habits of thinking in a free Country should inspire caution in those entrusted with its administration, to confine themselves within their respective Constitutional spheres; avoiding in the exercise of the Powers of one department to encroach upon another. …”

Washington added: “The spirit of encroachment tends to consolidate the powers of all the departments in one, and thus to create, whatever the form of government, a real despotism. A just estimate of that love of power, and proneness to abuse it, which predominates the human heart is sufficient to satisfy us of the truth of this position. The necessity of reciprocal checks in the exercise of political power; by dividing and distributing it into different depositories, and constituting each the Guardian of the Public Weal against invasions by the others, has been evinced by experiments ancient and modern; some of them in our country and under our own eyes. To preserve them must be as necessary as to institute them. …”

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Washington continued his farewell address: “If in the opinion of the People, the distribution or modification of the Constitutional powers be in any way particular wrong, let it be corrected by an amendment in the way which the Constitution designates. But let there be no change by usurpation; for though this, in one instance, may be the instrument of good, it is the customary weapon by which free governments are destroyed.

“The precedent must always greatly overbalance in permanent evil any partial or transient benefit which the use can at any time yield… Avoiding likewise the accumulation of debt, not only by shunning occasions of expense, but by vigorous exertions in time of Peace to discharge the Debts which unavoidable wars may have occasioned, not ungenerously throwing upon posterity the burden which we ourselves ought to bear. …”

Washington continued: “In the execution of such a plan nothing is more essential than that permanent … attachments for other (countries) should be excluded. … The Nation, which indulges towards another … an habitual fondness, is in some degree a slave. … It makes the … Nation subservient to projects of hostility instigated by pride, ambition and other sinister and pernicious motives.

“A passionate attachment of one Nation for another produces a variety of evils. Sympathy for the favourite nation, facilitating the illusion of an imaginary common interest, in cases where no real common interest exist, and infusing into one the enmities of the other, betrays the former into a participation in the quarrels and Wars of the latter, without adequate inducement or justification:

“It leads also to concessions to the favorite Nation of privileges denied to others, which is apt doubly to injure the Nation making the concessions; by unnecessarily parting with what ought to have been retained, and by exciting jealousy, ill-will, and a disposition to retaliate, in the parties from whom equal privileges are withheld: And it gives to ambitious, corrupted, or deluded citizens … facility to betray, or sacrifice the interests of their own country, without odium, sometimes even with popularity: gilding with the appearances of a virtuous sense of obligation, a commendable deference for public opinion, or a laudable zeal for public good, the base or foolish compliances of ambition, corruption or infatuation.

“As avenues to foreign influence in innumerable ways, such attachments are particularly alarming to the truly enlightened and independent Patriot. How many opportunities do they afford to tamper with domestic factions, to practice the arts of seduction, to mislead public opinion, to influence or awe the public Councils! Such attachments of a small or weak, towards a great and powerful Nation, dooms the former to be the satellite of the latter.

“Against the insidious wiles of foreign influence, (I conjure you to believe me fellow citizens) the jealously of a free people to be constantly awake; since history and experience prove that foreign influence is one of the most baneful foes of Republican Government. …”

Washington concluded: “Real Patriots, who may resist the intriegues of the favorite, are liable to become suspected and odious; while its tools and dupes usurp the applause and confidence of the people, to surrender their interests. The Great rule of conduct for us, in regard to foreign Nations, is in extending our commercial relations to have with them as little political connection as possible. … Europe has a set of primary interests, which to us have none. … Hence therefore it must be unwise in us to implicate ourselves by artificial ties. … Why forego the advantages of so peculiar a situation? Why quit our own to stand upon foreign ground?

“Why, by interweaving our destiny with that of any part of Europe, entangle our peace and prosperity in the toils of European Ambition, Rivalship, Interest, Humour or Caprice? `Tis our true policy to steer clear of permanent Alliances with any portion of the foreign world. … (I hold the maxim no less applicable to public than private affairs, that honesty is always the best policy). … Taking care always to keep ourselves, by suitable establishments, on a respectably defensive posture. … ‘Tis folly in one Nation to look for disinterested favors from another … it must pay with a portion of its Independence for whatever it may accept. …

“There can be no greater error than to expect, or calculate upon real favours from Nation to Nation. ‘Tis an illusion which experience must cure, which a just pride ought to discard. … In offering to you, my Countrymen these counsels of an old and affectionate friend, I dare not hope they will make the strong and lasting impression, I could wish…to warn against the mischiefs of foreign Intriegue.”

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