Constitution Sunday: George Washington to Bushrod Washington

George Washington to Bushrod Washington

Mount Vernon, November 10, 1787

Following are excerpts from George Washington’s letter to Bushrod Washington:

“Dear Bushrod: In due course of Post, your letters of the 19th. and 26th. Ult. came to hand and I thank you for the communications therein; for a continuation in matters of importance, I shall be obliged to you. That the Assembly would afford the People an opportunity of deciding on the proposed Constitution I had scarcely a doubt, the only question with me was, whether it would go forth under favourable auspices, or receive the stamp of disapprobation. The opponents I expected, (for it ever has been that the adversaries to a measure are more active than its Friends) would endeavor to stamp it with unfavourable impressions, in order to bias the Judgment that is ultimately to decide on it, this is evidently the case with the writers in opposition, whose objections are better calculated to alarm the fears, than to convince the Judgment, of their readers. They build their objections upon principles that do not exist, which the Constitution does not support them in, and the existence of which has been, by an appeal to the Constitution itself flatly denied; and then, as if they were unanswerable, draw all the dreadful consequences that are necessary to alarm the apprehensions of the ignorant or unthinking. It is not the interest of the major part of those characters to be convinced; nor will their local views yield to arguments, which do not accord with their present, or future prospects.”

Washington’s letter perhaps best characterizes the arguments against the Constitution. Setting aside the substance of the arguments for a moment, the arguments against the Constitution were designed, at least in part, to generate fear and to dissuade the public from embracing the document as creating a new system of government.

Occasionally, these tactics would result in falsehoods that were susceptible to widespread dissemination in the political discourse of the time, and again, perhaps that was the intent of those propounding such arguments.

Regardless, modern Americans should recognize these same tactics, which leads to a strong conclusion: politics has always been, and will always be, an ugly sport. While modern Americans tend to view politics as becoming increasingly vitriolic and vicious, in reality, there never was a period of time where all members of the public and all politicians were ideologically in unison. Even the Constitution, and especially the Constitution, was vigorously debated, derided, and discussed. Now, to question the Constitution or undermine the Constitution would be pure folly. That is, at least in part, due to the extensive debate of the Constitution, which made it the most perfect document it could be.

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