In framing the Constitution, our Founding Fathers radically entrusted we, the people, with our own governance. In doing so, they also accepted vulnerability to mankind’s shortcomings, recognizing the American experiment was fraught with peril — that greed and corruption were inevitable features of the human condition.
From Washington to Jefferson, the Founders gave the American people a framework for success with the Constitution, while also leaving behind prophetic warnings of how the great American experiment could go awry. Here are six chilling predictions, in their own words, that are now coming to fruition:
Benjamin Franklin worried that a salaried bureaucracy could breed career politicians.
In 1787, Franklin stood before the Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia, warning against a generously salaried congress:
“Sir, there are two passions which have a powerful influence in the affairs of men. These are ambition and avarice — the love of power and the love of money… Place before the eyes of such men a post of honor, that shall, at the same time, be a place of profit, and they will move heaven and earth to obtain it.”
Franklin’s concerns were clearly not heeded. While the first members of Congress were paid $6 per day, members today receive a base salary of $174,000, placing them above 90 percent of American earners. This does not include additional annual allowances, which can run in the millions. Franklin also warned about the quality of leaders a hefty paycheck would attract:
“It will not be the wise and moderate, the lovers of peace and good order, the men fittest for trust. It will be the bold and the violent, the men of strong passions and indefatigable activity in their selfish pursuits. These will thrust themselves into your government and be your rulers. “
Indeed, political office has devolved from a civil service to a lucrative path, breeding the dreaded “career politician.” There is perhaps no better example than Joe Biden, who was once the sixth youngest senator at 30 years old, and is now the nation’s oldest President at age 78. It hasn’t been rough for the civil servant — Forbes reported that the Biden family earned $16.7 million just since leaving the Obama White House.
Thomas Jefferson dreaded the politicization of the Supreme Court.
In an 1821 letter to Nathaniel Macon, Jefferson expressed concerns about the politicization of judicial power:
“Our government is now taking so steady a course as to show by what road it will pass to destruction, to wit, by consolidation first, and then corruption…. The engine of consolidation will be the federal judiciary; the two other branches the corrupting and corrupted instruments.”
Records of congressional confirmation votes over the Court’s history reveal an abrupt politicization of the Supreme Court since Jefferson’s warning. This is a relatively recent phenomenon — in just the 1980s, appointees were frequently confirmed unanimously, including three of President Reagan’s nominations.
Confirmations have since devolved into partisan sideshows, reflecting an abandonment of appointment based on legal merit in favor of party loyalty. The latest iteration was the confirmation of Amy Coney Barrett in October 2020. Not a single Democrat voted for her, and rhetoric became so severe that she was even dubbed a “danger to the future of civilization.”
Our Founding Fathers envisioned a Supreme Court that would safeguard the Constitution, regardless of political affiliation. With only 17 percent of Americans reporting a great deal of trust in the Supreme Court in 2020, it is apparent that the institution is failing the people it was designed to protect.
James Madison warned that an unarmed people and biased press would breed tyranny.
In his 1830 autobiography, Madison outlined the preconditions necessary for tyrannical rule:
“Oppressors can tyrannize only when they achieve a standing army, an enslaved press, and a disarmed populace.”
Madison’s warning has indeed come to pass in 2020, from the blatant threats to the Second Amendment posed by the Biden administration, to the extreme partisanship demonstrated by the legacy media. Rates of positive coverage between recent presidents has fluctuated dramatically — from 5 percent positive for Trump through 42 percent positive for Obama.
Indeed, the press divides politicians between those who can do no right and those who can do no wrong. With headlines like “First Lady Jill Biden Wore a Scrunchie While Shopping and People Felt So Seen,” the pattern only seems set to continue. No wonder a record one in three Americans report no trust at all in the media.
George Washington predicted that political factions could tear the nation apart.
In his Farewell Address on September 17, 1796, George Washington left the presidency with a grim warning about a party-based political system:
“However [political factions] 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 themselves the reigns of government, destroying afterwards the very engines which have lifted them to unjust dominion.”
Indeed, American political leadership has been fractured along party lines with the chasm between Democrat and Republican camps broadening. Just as Washington predicted, politicians are operating for the betterment of their party, and thus have lost sight of their common goal: to serve the American people.
This has never been more true than in the COVID-19 era. Consistently, party leaders have insisted on cramming contentious contingencies into relief bills that run hundreds of pages long. In the process, they have deliberately held up much-needed support for citizens to fulfill partisan agendas.
As a result, rhetoric has devolved into us-versus-them, even good-versus-evil. Most of us think the worst of the other side — according to a 2020 poll, 78 percent of Democrats believe the Republican Party has been taken over by racists, while 81 percent of Republicans believe the Democratic Party has been taken over by socialists.
But political parties don’t just make us hate politicians — they make us think the worst of one another. A 2017 poll even revealed that Democrats believe 50 percent of Republicans support white nationalism. The consequences of this party warfare may be cataclysmic; an October poll found that nearly two-thirds of Americans think the nation is on the verge of another Civil War.
Benjamin Franklin warned against prioritizing safety over liberty.
In a reply to the Governor at a 1755 Pennsylvania Assembly, Franklin criticized readiness to relinquish liberties:
“Those who would give up essential Liberty, to purchase a little temporary Safety, deserve neither Liberty nor Safety.”
There is perhaps no better example of liberty being relinquished for the sake of safety than during the pandemic. Despite an evolving body of data and an extremely low fatality rate among those not at-risk, the nation is nearing a year of shutdowns with no end in sight.
Endless freedoms and civil liberties have been tossed aside for the sake of safety, from fining small establishments like Atilis Gym in New Jersey for the crime of conducting business, to restrictions in California strongly discouraging the use of wind instruments at Thanksgiving dinner. The situation became so dire that the Supreme Court even had to defend the constitutional right to freely practice religion.
Fear-mongering and a rising culture of safety-ism have led to compliance among a terrified populace. But this willingness to relinquish liberties may be predicated on misinformation — a poll from June found the average American estimates deaths from COVID-19 at 225 times the actual reported deaths.
Authorities have maximized hysteria to usurp unprecedented power under the guise of safety. And it’s not just liberties we run the risk of losing by obeying increasingly unsubstantiated and draconian lockdown orders — in the process we are destroying the health of our economy, and even irreversibly harming our children.
John Adams feared future generations would take liberty for-granted.
In a 1777 letter to his wife Abigail, Adams lamented that the sacrifices made by America’s founding generation might be forgotten by their progeny:
“Posterity! You will never know how much it cost my generation to preserve your freedom! I hope you will make good use of it. If you do not, I shall repent in Heaven, that I ever took half the pains to preserve it.”
Today, this sentiment is heartbreaking. Though we live in the freest country in history, a June 2020 poll has found a record low proportion of citizens are proud to be Americans. Perhaps because most Americans have never known a life without the liberties Adams and the Revolutionary generation fought for, we fail to fully appreciate them.
Only 18 percent of eight grade students are proficient in American history, and just 7% of Americans can name the first four presidents — including Adams, of course. So, what’s the heartbreaking response to Adam’s call to posterity 244 years later? We haven’t forgotten the sacrifices he made to secure our liberty — we didn’t even know them in the first place.
The views expressed in this piece are the author’s own and do not necessarily represent those of The Daily Wire.