Book Review

Lessons from the past for our modern-day government mess

By Donna Bruno
Posted 3/26/24

‘To Rescue the Constitution: George Washington and the American Experience’ By Bret Baier

A book steeped in history, “To Rescue the Constitution” traces the development …

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Book Review

Lessons from the past for our modern-day government mess


‘To Rescue the Constitution: George Washington and the American Experience’
By Bret Baier

A book steeped in history, “To Rescue the Constitution” traces the development of our most important document, “The Declaration of Independence.” Attending the first convention in May 1787, George Washington was not optimistic about the meeting’s prospects. There seemed to be “no common ground” among the participants who would be drafting it. Sound familiar?

Although not scholarly like Thomas Jefferson nor intellectual like John Adams, Washington was even-tempered, humble, and thoughtful – the most instrumental person in the creation of our ideal of leadership. Although he had a cobbled-together education, a most important part of his education focused on being a good person, which his mother urged on him.

At the Convention, one of the central tasks was establishing a balance of power between the states and the federal government. Another was separating the branches of government – legislative, executive, and judicial. Remarkably, it took only four months to iron out these matters, although there had been disagreements from those who favored states’ rights against those who favored Congress’ veto power over those.

Ultimately the participants agreed to give the executive limited veto power, subject to override by two-thirds majority in both houses. These were prescient men. There were bitter fights over representation from larger versus smaller states, further evidence of a glaring lack of unanimity. Sound familiar?

Finally, it was decided that the number of seats in the House of Representatives would be determined in proportion to the population. Washington, writing to Lafeyette, stated that the convention’s achievement was “a little short of a miracle.”

The conflicts between the Federalists and anti-Federalists caused chaos. The most “truculent state” was Rhode Island; it had even refused to participate in the convention, leading to its epithet as “Rogue Island”; Rhode Island was also the last to ratify the Constitution.

Sometime later, Washington came close to a brush with death, A huge, deep tumor located on his buttocks was badly infected and had to be carved out without any anesthesia. As the two doctors sliced it away, the President spoke not a word, nor did he flinch; gangrene was possible. Eventually he recovered after many months.

As for the convention, the members also had to deal with how to choose one’s cabinet. There were so many new issues to be worked out. Compromise prevailed — even regarding the location of the Capitol.

Washington was approaching 60, and Martha urged him to retire, but he was elected a second time. As president, Washington cautioned about the baneful effects of parties and the dangers of excess to inflame disagreements, heighten resentments, and undermine government. Sound familiar?

Sometime later, there would be evidence of the dangers of partisanship in the heated contest between Federalist Party candidate John Adams and Democratic-Republican Party candidate Thomas Jefferson. Never again, after Washington, would the nation see a unanimously elected president. 

Throughout our history we have fought countless battles against factions. That is nothing new. Madison spoke about the perils of one side assuming too much power. Sound familiar?

The Constitution under George Washington’s leadership was based on compromise of people with different views in order to form a government. The alternative was anarchy.

Although teams came from different perspectives, they somehow came together. Just as then, unity is what we crave in the midst of our divisions. The lessons of the past can lead us there. It is the main message in this book.

Donna Bruno is a prizewinning author and poet recently recognized with four awards by National League of American Pen Women.

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