Why demagogues were the Founding Fathers’ greatest fearRoundup
tags: Founding Fathers, presidential history, impeachment, Trump, founders
Eli Merritt is a visiting scholar in the department of history at Vanderbilt University. Twitter: @elimerritt
There has been much talk lately among both Democrats and Republicans of the intents of the founders in the writing of the Constitution, especially involving the powers of impeachment and removal from office.
What has been sorely lacking from this conversation is an awareness of the framers’ overwhelming conviction that there was nothing more poisonous to constitutional democracies than demagogues — which to them meant a very specific kind of threat.
Less than two weeks after the start of the Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia, George Washington wrote to his friend, the Marquis de Lafayette, on June 6, 1787, explaining that his critical purpose in attending the convention was to prevent a demagogue from gaining power in the politically unstable young nation and thus destroying it.
Washington described how he was pulled out of retirement by an urgent risk to the United States. “Anarchy and confusion” were threatening the security of the American people and the rule of constitutional law. But this was only half the danger.
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