In a recent article in the Los Angeles Times written by Mary McNamara, the Times television critic. we are informed of a little known fact of history.
According to McNamara
George Washington (David Morse) so quickly tired of the infighting among his Cabinet and vagaries of public opinion that he stepped down from the presidency after a single term. (emphasis added)
Of course this “fact” is utter nonsense. George Washington served two terms from 1789-1797. He was unanimously elected to both terms by the electoral college. Only a few states held popular elections for president in either of these elections. The electoral college delegates were mostly chosen by state legislatures at the time. This was the case because the constitutional architects feared and despised direct democracy at least as much as they feared and despised monarchy. That’s why structures like the electoral college exist and why modern democrats (note small “D”) hate the electoral college.
And it is in this fact that the author displays an even wider gap in her knowledge than just the historical facts surrounding the election and terms of the first two presidents. She demonstrates that she does not understand that the United States was designed by the framers of the Constitution as a limited federal constitutional republic, not a democracy. She says about the HBO series John Adams, about the second President of the United States, the following
“John Adams,” which comes to a close Sunday night, has devoted seven beautifully shot hours to defying the often overly patriotic legends of our past with a toothache-and-all portrait of a man who helped define modern democracy, albeit grumbling every step of the way (emphasis added).
Just to be clear, the writer is referring to the same John Adams who said
Democracy… while it lasts is more bloody than either aristocracy or monarchy. Remember, democracy never lasts long. It soon wastes, exhausts, and murders itself. There is never a democracy that did not commit suicide.
Doesn’t sound like Adams was a big fan of democracy. Neither were most of the constitutional framers and founders of the nation. In fact, the design of the federal government demonstrates that the framers intended to avoid democracy. James Madison, in Federalist #10, for instance wrote
Hence it is that democracies have ever been spectacles of turbulence and contention; have ever been found incompatible with personal security or the rights of property; and in general have been as short in their lives as they have been violent in their deaths… A republic, by which I mean a government in which a scheme of representation takes place, opens a different prospect and promises the cure for which we are seeking.
The writer’s first mistake, that Washington served only one term, is inexcusable because a 45 second self-check on Google would have given her the correct facts. Also, how did a gaffe like this get past an editor, any editor worth the name? The fact that she is a TV critic speaks volumes, but serves as a very poor excuse.
Her second mistake, that John Adams was one of the architects of “modern democracy,” is inexcusable because it is virtually impossible to find a teacher or college professor who
- knows that the framers designed the United States as a republic
- understands why the framers feared democracy
- knows the difference philosophically between a republic and a democracy
- cares about the difference
A very sad commentary on our current educational system, indeed.