Sometimes you must return to basics. Today we have a Chief Executive, Joe Biden, who appears compromised in mental acuity and morally, who cannot remember core elements of his job, is failing and seems morally compromised. What would our Founders say?
Interestingly, our Founders debated vigorously how to assure a Chief Executive stayed cogent, competent, honorable, and honest. They did this in the summer of 1787, and records were kept by James Madison, later our fourth president.
Madison was smart and honest. He was the one who reduced 60 amendments to the 10 we call our Bill of Rights. Like Washington and Franklin, he had good judgment.
At the time that the Constitution was being debated, some were away, including Jefferson in France, but debates were riveting, and if you go back they are helpful. Our Founding Fathers would be inclined to act, right now, to protect the Republic.
Our Founding Fathers cared deeply about the future, and why not – they had sacrificed their lives, property, families, and friends. They were deeply concerned about presidents. Cutting to the chase, look at one debate – and ponder what conclusions flow from it now.
The day was sweltering, Philadelphia, Friday, July 20, 1787. At first, interestingly, the group debated how many electors should come from each state, principles for election. That process was later modified – by the 12th, 14th, 15th, 19th, 20th, 22nd through 26th amendments.
As an aside: Why do you think anti-Trump Democrats insisted on calling the January 6th riots an “insurrection?” Why do you think they demanded that word, tagging Trump with inciting it?
Because they did not like him? Could not think of a better word? Look no further than the 14th Amendment which says no person may run for president if involved in an “insurrection.”
But let us return to July 20, 1787. Little did the Constitutional Convention, chaired by George Washington, imagine that Americans – exactly 182 years later – would walk on the moon.
Instead, they were consumed by “executive competency” – and impeachment. Here is what they had to say, per Madison. Two – Pinkney and Morris – wondered whether the republic might be endangered by impeachment. Mr. Davies hoped good behavior might flow from elections. But Mr. Wilson insisted impeachment was vital.
To this Morris noted “bribery” could be a problem. George Mason added: “No point is of more importance than…the right of impeachment,” as a president “can commit the most extensive injustice.” He must be punishable. Franklin agreed, fearing radical acts if impeachment failed.
If Franklin favored impeachment, on what grounds? “Corruption” certainly, but what else? Morris said “a few other offenses” should trigger be impeachable.
Madison piped up. “Some provision should be made for defending the community against the incapacity, negligence of perfidy” of a president, since “the limitation of…service was not a sufficient security” and “He might lose his capacity.”
Incredible but true, Madison was way ahead. Worse, a future president “might pervert his administration into a scheme of peculation (embezzlement) or oppression…He might betray his trust to foreign powers…be bribed to betray…trust.” Madison hoped not but favored “restraints.”
If a president “should be seduced,” Madison hoped “the soundness of the remaining members” of his party or Congress “would maintain the integrity and fidelity” to forcefully put him right. But two things worried Madison: “Loss of capacity or corruption” could be “fatal to the Republic.”
Wow! Does give pause, does it not? Others urged “incapacity” as a basis for impeachment, but the moment passed. Convention attendees imagined America’s leaders would be upright, honorable.
Virtually all Founding Fathers imagined high-minded, well-educated, honorable, patriotic, and sensible leaders – especially as president, deferring to our good sense and elections.
Even so, they vaguely conceived of a Biden, and shuddered. They imagined, in Mr. Randolph’s words, a president with “great opportunities of abusing his power,” “public money…in his hands.” Franklin agreed.
Morris offered a stern warning: Some president “may be bribed by a greater interest to betray his trust” and “no one would say that we ought to expose ourselves to the danger of seeing” a president “in foreign pay” – specifically, “without being able to…displace him.”
All this worried our Founders, was part of the impeachment provision, later supplemented by the 25th Amendment, which involves removal. They wanted us to be true to founding principles, and that also meant having a highly capable, competent Chief Executive.
Bottom line: We are stuck. We have a visibly fading, fickle, left-dominated, sometimes barely cogent executive, and vice more worrisome for her clear immaturity, temperament ill-fitted to executive duties.
That said, we are forced to muddle through. Attendees at the 1787 convention did what they could, set us on course, but counted on us – all parties – to see truth as it is, and act accordingly.
Our Founders would be appalled at much of what this White House is doing, but they would also count on us to show foresight, patience, and preparation for elections. They believed things do come right. We need to prove ourselves equal to their foresight. Back to basics, faith and fortitude.
Robert Charles is a former Assistant Secretary of State under Colin Powell, former Reagan and Bush 41 White House staffer, attorney, and naval intelligence officer (USNR). He wrote “Narcotics and Terrorism” (2003), “Eagles and Evergreens” (2018), and is National Spokesman for AMAC.