Category Archives: Education

George Washington Opposed Presidential Term Limitations?

As a Professor of History and Education in New York University’s Steinhardt School, Jonathan Zimmerman [4][5] should be much more honest and transparent in his treatment of the historical record regarding President George Washington’s imaginary opposition toward limiting the number of years a person might serve usefully and rightfully in the office of President. In his op-ed piece [2] of November 28, 2013 (revised on November 29, 2013), Professor Zimmerman quotes from a letter [1] written by the future President to the Marquis de Lafayette as follows:

I can see no propriety in precluding ourselves from the service of any man who, in some great emergency, shall be deemed universally most capable of serving the public.

For his reasons alone, the professor chose to omit the surrounding context from the quotation, which is as follows:

There are other points on which opinions would be more likely to vary. As for instance, on the ineligibility of the same person for President, after he should have served a certain course of years. Guarded so effectually as the proposed Constitution is, in respect to the prevention of bribery and undue influence in the choice of President: I confess, I differ widely myself from Mr. Jefferson and you, as to the necessity or expediency of rotation in that appointment. The matter was fairly discussed in the Convention, and to my full convictions; though I cannot have time or room to sum up the argument in this letter. There cannot, in my judgment, be the least danger that the President will by any practicable intrigue ever be able to continue himself one moment in office, much less perpetuate himself in it; but in the last stage of corrupted morals and political depravity: and even then there is as much danger that any other species of domination would prevail. Though, when a people shall have become incapable of governing themselves and fit for a master, it is of little consequence from what quarter he comes. Under an extended view of this part of the subject, I can see no propriety in precluding ourselves from the services of any man, who on some great emergency shall be deemed universally, most capable of serving the Public.

Please read that quotation much more closely than you might have. Please notice that George Washington, more than a year before he became President of the United States of America under the Constitution of 1787, expressed certain far-reaching qualifications toward his alleged opposition to Presidential term limitations. The most telling of those qualifications seems to be that Washington considered it impossible, under the conditions he desired, and possibly expected, to obtain, for a person to “continue himself one moment in office,…” He is explicit in describing the conditions he definitely desires not to prevail:

…but in the last stage of corrupted morals and political depravity.

Furthermore, at such a passage of events, he declares:

…any other species of domination would prevail.

To make the point in greater depth, he then adds:

…when a people shall have become incapable of governing themselves and fit for a master,

Then Washington caps his remarks with:

…it is of little consequence from what quarter he [the master: Ed.] comes.

First, please observe again that George Washington feared the last stage.

Please further observe that George Washington, when he uses the words “a master”, is most definitely and explicitly not referring to some person who would serve as President; to think of a President as a “master” rather than a servant would have been anathema to him. No, he refers instead to the would-be slave holder who holds in her or his hands the possibility of giving to someone, in Washington’s future, the unparalleled office of President of the United States of America, for the purposes of base gain, political motivation, and power over an entire population, its treasure, and its future in a time characterized by him as of “corrupted morals and political depravity”.

Does one not see that Washington is not referring here to the one who desires to be a slave “owner” whose morals are certainly corrupted and whose politics are depraved, but rather to a populace, and in particular to a populace having the inestimable privilege of suffrage, a populace largely consumed by material gain and power over their brethren in the body politick? The one who would be the master of other humans is already morally corrupt and politically depraved! But a populace which has become so is only a collection of “useful idiots” capable of transferring that power and gain to the actual slave holder through the elected puppet. But that populace derives from the slave owner the same corruption and depravity.

In President George Washington’s Farewell Address to the Nation [3], he spoke a most serious warning:

To the efficacy and permanency of your Union, a government for the whole is indispensable. No alliance, however strict, between the parts can be an adequate substitute; they must inevitably experience the infractions and interruptions which all alliances in all times have experienced. Sensible of this momentous truth, you have improved upon your first essay, by the adoption of a constitution of government better calculated than your former for an intimate union, and for the efficacious management of your common concerns. This government, the offspring of our own choice, uninfluenced and unawed, adopted upon full investigation and mature deliberation, completely free in its principles, in the distribution of its powers, uniting security with energy, and containing within itself a provision for its own amendment, has a just claim to your confidence and your support. Respect for its authority, compliance with its laws, acquiescence in its measures, are duties enjoined by the fundamental maxims of true liberty. The basis of our political systems is the right of the people to make and to alter their constitutions of government. But the Constitution which at any time exists, till changed by an explicit and authentic act of the whole people, is sacredly obligatory upon all. The very idea of the power and the right of the people to establish government presupposes the duty of every individual to obey the established government.

All obstructions to the execution of the laws, all combinations and associations, under whatever plausible character, with the real design to direct, control, counteract, or awe the regular deliberation and action of the constituted authorities, are destructive of this fundamental principle, and of fatal tendency. They serve to organize faction, to give it an artificial and extraordinary force; 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 of the community; and, according to the alternate triumphs of different parties, to make the public administration the mirror of the ill-concerted and incongruous projects of faction, rather than the organ of consistent and wholesome plans digested by common counsels and modified by mutual interests.

However combinations or associations of the above description 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.

Now: Right now. Without waiting, please ask yourself if this body politick has not become the matter of the very worst of Washington’s nightmares, a populace which wants only material gain, and to that end will exercise political power to realize it. It is a very serious question, and an honest answer will require soul-searching and more. Ignore the question at the peril, not only of yourself, but of this once great Republic and of all who live here.

The question will not disappear.

May God Almighty bless the United States of America.