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Thomas S. Gordon

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Thomas S. Gordon
ThomasSGordon.jpg
Member of the U.S. House of Representatives
from Illinois's 8th district
In office
January 3, 1943 – January 3, 1959
Preceded byLeo Kocialkowski
Succeeded byDan Rostenkowski
Personal details
Born(1893-12-17)December 17, 1893
Chicago, Illinois
DiedJanuary 22, 1959(1959-01-22) (aged 65)
Chicago, Illinois
Political partyDemocratic

Thomas Sylvy Gordon (December 17, 1893 – January 22, 1959) was a U.S. Representative from Illinois.

Born in Chicago, Illinois, Gordon attended the parochial schools and was graduated from St. Stanislaus College, Chicago, Illinois, in 1912. He engaged in the banking business 1916-1920. Associated with a Polish-language daily newspaper 1921-1942, starting as a clerk and advancing to head cashier and office manager. He served as commissioner of Chicago West Parks 1933-1936 and of public vehicle licenses 1936-1939. He served as delegate to the Democratic National Convention in 1936. City treasurer of Chicago, Illinois from 1939 to 1942.

Gordon was elected as a Democrat to the Seventy-eighth and to the seven succeeding Congresses (January 3, 1943 – January 3, 1959). He served as chairman of the Committee on Foreign Affairs (Eighty-fifth Congress). He was not a candidate for renomination in 1958. He died in Chicago, Illinois, January 22, 1959. He was interred in St. Adalbert Cemetery (Niles), Chicago, Illinois.

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  • ✪ Gordon S. Wood: "Adams, Jefferson, and American Constitutionalism"
  • ✪ Gordon S. Wood: 2018 National Book Festival
  • ✪ Thomas Jefferson and the Burden of Slavery with Annette Gordon-Reed - Conversations with History

Transcription

[ Music ] >> David L. Boren: If I could ask you to just quietly complete your dessert. We need to start so that we can stay on schedule for this afternoon. Again, we're very glad that all of you are here, and our distinguished luncheon speaker today has, we were just talking, we can't remember if it's been five or six times that he's visited the University of Oklahoma, shared his thoughts and his insights with us. But we're the better for it, and I think he just, we feel like he's a member of the OU family. He is so familiar to all of us. He has former students of his teaching on our faculty. He's very imbedded in this place, and of course is so well respected by all of his colleagues. He's one of the leading scholars and historians in the country and continues his fine work. In fact, we were just talking, far from retiring from his scholarship, he's going to be publishing a book this year on the relationship between Adams and Jefferson. So, we know that that's bound to be a very, very interesting subject that he's going to share some of those thoughts with us at lunch. He is a Pulitzer Prize winning author and historian. Professor Gordon Wood is the author of The Radicalism of the American Revolution, which won the 1983 Pulitzer Prize for History and also the Ralph Waldo Emerson Prize. His most recent work is Empire of Liberty, a History of the Early Republic, 1789 through 1815, which was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize in 2010. It was part of the series of The Oxford University History of America and one of the volumes in that collection. He's also the author of The Creation of the American Republic, which garnered the Bancroft Prize and the John Dunning Prize, and The Americanization of Benjamin Franklin, a fascinating and insightful biography, as well as many other articles and books. He's a frequent contributor to the New York Times Review of Books and The New Republic. He taught for almost four decades at Brown University, where he serves currently as the Alva O. Way Professor Emeritus of History. He's also served on the faculties of Harvard University, Northwestern University School of Law and Cambridge University in England, among others. He earned his master and doctoral degrees from Harvard University. He's been a trustee of Tufts University, and also of Colonial Williamsburg from 1993 to 2006. He is a fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and the American Philosophical Society. No one has explained better than Gordon Wood the factors that came together to produce the wisdom and insight of the founding generation of this country, and how fortunate we are to have had those founders and those who participated in the beginning of this country in its first two or three formative decades. So, it's a real pleasure to have him back and to have him share his insights with us. Let's welcome back to the OU family, Professor Gordon Wood. Professor Wood. [ Applause ] >> Gordon S. Wood: Well thank you Mr. President. It is a second home for me academically here. I'm delighted to be back again. Now, as the president mentioned, I've just completed a book on John Adams and Thomas Jefferson that's to be published next month. So, I thought it might be appropriate, given the theme of this teach-in, to say something about the contributions of these two men to American Constitution making. Now these two are members of the group of major founders that we historians call the gang of six. You know them. The other four are Washington, Franklin, Madison and Hamilton. Now these four that I just mentioned were present at the Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia that drew up the Constitution in 1787. Adams and Jefferson were not. They were ministers abroad. One in France and the other in Britain, and thus, they have no direct influence it seems on making the Constitution. Yet what I want to suggest in this talk, this noon time, that both Adams and Jefferson ultimately had more to do with shaping America's understanding of constitutionalism, including the new Federal Constitution, than any of the other four great founders who were present in Philadelphia. Now, their influence began with the imperial debate between the colonists and the British in the 1760s and 70s. In that debate, John Adams became the first American to deny in print the authority of Parliament over the colonists in all cases whatsoever. In January 1773, Governor Thomas Hutchinson of, the Royal Governor of Massachusetts, naively thinking that he could settle the imperial debate once and for all, lectured the people of his colony on the stark alternatives that they faced. If the colonists accepted some of Parliament's authority, which of course they had in matters of trade, they had, he said, to accept all of Parliament's authority. Or, he went on, if they denied one iota of Parliament's authority, which they had with the Stamp Act, they denied that the Stamp Act was applicable to them, then they had to deny all of Parliament's authority. There was, in other words, said Hutchinson, no middle ground. Hutchinson was invoking the doctrine of sovereignty, the 18th century doctrine. The belief that they had to be, in every state, one final, supreme, indivisible lawmaking authority. Otherwise, the government would end up with the absurdity of imperial in imperial, that is a power within a power. Hutchinson believed that the colonists, confronted with this stark alternative of accepting all or nothing of Parliament's authority, would finally cease their opposition. Like other British officials, good weak officials, they assumed that no one in his right mind, certainly no good Whig, would want to abandon Parliament and be left to confront the power of the crown naked without Parliament's protection. After all, Parliament was the august author of the Bill of Rights of 1689. It was the historical guardian of the people's property, and the eternal [inaudible] of their liberties against the encroachments of rapacious kings. That's the general English view of Parliament. Adams, writing on behalf of the Massachusetts' House of Representatives, took up Hutchinson's challenge and accepted the one alternative that the governor had least expected. If there be no line, as the governor has put it, between the supreme authority of Parliament and the total independence of the colony, said Adams. The consequence is either that the colonies are the vassals of Parliament, or they are totally independent. As it cannot be supposed, Adams went on, to have been the intention of the parties to the compact, that we should be reduced to a state of vassalage. The conclusion is, said Adams, that it was their sense that we were thus independent. Since, as Governor Hutchinson has said, having two independent legislatures in the same state was impossible, the colonists, said Adams, had to be distinct spheres, distinct states from the mother country, united and connected only through the king, in one head and common sovereign. Now, this was the first published expression of what historians came to call the dominion or commonwealth theory of the empire. And it's been called that because it anticipated the nature of the British Empire, worked out in the Statute of Westminster of 1931, that created the modern British Commonwealth, establishing the legislative independence of each of the separate dominions, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, that are held together by their common allegiance to the queen. By 1776, the widespread acceptance of this dominion theory, it soon spread in other intellectuals, including Jefferson, picked it up and repeated what Adams had said. This theory explains why Jefferson and the congress scrupulously avoided any mention of Parliament in the Declaration of Independence. When you read it, it is quite incredible. Parliament had passed all of these, most of the things that the colonists objected to, the Stamp Act, the Townshend Duties, the Coercive Acts, and yet Parliament's not mentioned in this indictment of the British Government and why the colonists should declare independence. The closest Jefferson came to acknowledging Parliament was when he said that George the Third had combined with others, with others, to subject us to a jurisdiction foreign to our constitution. Now of course, this was not a very accurate account of the colonist's history. For over a century, they had accepted Parliament's authority to regulate their trade. They had simply surrendered, and that's the only way to put it. They surrendered to the doctrine of sovereignty. It was easier than trying to convince the British to divide Parliament's power, which they had tried to do right up until 1773. Now, the realization that Parliament's power was not always benign prepared Adams and Jefferson, and other Americans I think, to think freshly about placing limits on legislative authority. Out of this fresh thinking emerged the peculiarly American conception of a constitution as a written document, as a fundamental law that's circumscribed a popularly elected legislature. Now, nowadays, nearly everyone thinks of a constitution as a written document that prescribes the form of government and embodies rights that are protected from legislative tampering. Since World War II, there have been dozens upon dozens of constitutions created throughout the world, and nearly all of them have been written documents. Israel's constitution is, as unwritten is a notable exception. But this was not true in the 18th century prior to the American Revolution. Back then, a constitution was something unwritten. There was no thought that it had to be a written document, and it was really ever distinguished from the government and the government's operations. Traditionally, in English culture, a constitution referred both to the way that the government was put together, or constituted, and to the fundamental rights of government that were supposed to protect the rights of the people that the government was supposed to protect. The 18th century English Constitution was an unwritten mixture of charters, customs, principles, institutions and laws, including all Parliamentary enactments, all bundled together without any separation from government. Therefore, for Englishmen, as the great English 18th century jurist William Blackstone declared, there could be no distinction between the constitution and the system of laws. In other words, every act of Parliament was a part of the Constitution, and all law, both customary and statutory, was thus constitutional. Therefore, said William Paley, that acute summarizer of conventional 18th century thinking, the terms constitutional and unconstitutional mean legal and illegal. Now, nothing could be more strikingly different from what we Americans came to believe. Indeed, it was precisely on this distinction between legal and constitutional that the American and the English constitutional traditions diverge, separate, at the time of the revolution. During the 1760s and 70s, the colonists came to realize that, although acts of Parliament like the Stamp Act of 1765 might be legal, that is, they might be in accord with the acceptable way of making law, such an act could never thereby be constitutional. That is in accord with the basic principles of rights and justice that made the English Constitution what it was. It was true that the English Bill of Rights and the Act of Settlement of 1701 were only statues of Parliament, but surely, the colonists insisted, they were of a nature more sacred than those which established a two-pike road. By the end of the Revolutionary era, the American's idea of a constitution had become very different from that of the English. Americans came to believe that a constitution should be no part of the government at all. It had to be a written document that both prescribed the form of government and the circumstances of its operations. It was a fundamental law that was superior to all ordinary legislation. A constitution, as Thomas Payne put it in 1791, was a thing antecedent to government, and a government is only the creature of a constitution. And, said Payne, it was not a thing in name only, but in fact, it was something that could be possessed by every family and carried about like the Bible, and quoted from article to article. If 18th century Englishmen thought this American idea of a constitution was, as the British writer Arthur Young caustically suggested in 1792, as a pudding made from a recipe, the Americans had come to believe that the English had no constitution at all. Now, both Adams and Jefferson, I think, contributed mightily to this peculiar American idea of a constitution. Both men emphasized the experience that the early colonists had had with written charters. Although the 17th century charters that had initially been grants from the crown to commercial companies to carry out certain public ends, by the end of the Revolution, or by the eve of the Revolutionary period, they had become defensive documents. Or as Adams called them, contracts between the king and the people in which protection and allegiance were the considerations. These charters both set forth structures of government and protected the rights of the people from encroaching power. Consequently, in 1776, Americans were, in a sense, primed because of this experience with charters, primed to think of a constitution as a written document set apart from the government, and that somehow both ordered and limited that government. By the early spring of 1776, months before the Declaration of Independence, the colonists began already thinking of creating new constitutions in anticipation of their break from Great Britain. Constitutions that would inevitably be written documents. But what form should the new governments take? Some of the delegates knew that Adams was interested in the science of politics, and asked his advice about the structure of the new governments that they would be drawing up. After writing separate letters to several people, so many letters, that he finally decided, well I just better publish my letter. And he published it as a pamphlet, Thoughts on Government, Applicable to the Present State of the American Colonies. Published anonymously in April of 1776. It was the most important and influential work that Adams ever wrote. Adams was sure that the new American Governments had to be republics. He was certain of that, but for Adams, this was not such an innovation as it was for other Americans. A newspaper asked, as he had written in 1775, the year before, he defined a republic as a government of laws and not of men. This definition, borrowed from the 17th century theorist James Harrington, meant, he said, that the British Constitution is nothing more nor less than a republic of which the king is first magistrate. Now, the English had one kind of republic, he said, but there could be other kinds, because the powers of society, meaning in his mind, the one, the few and the many, could be combined in different ways. There was, said Adams, an inexhaustible variety of republics, including that of the British Monarchy. Now, Adams tried to explain that having a hereditary monarch did not mean that England was no less a republic, as long as the government was founded, was bound by fixed laws and the people had a role in making those laws, then it was a republic. But he was never able, never able throughout his whole life, to convince his fellow Americans that the British Monarchy, even with the House of Commons, was really a republic. And the result and confusion plagued him, plagued Adams, the rest of his life. Now, Adams was fascinated with the British Constitution to say the least. He thought it was the finest under heaven. Not only had it nixed the three simple forms of government known to the western world since antiquity, that is monarchy, aristocracy and democracy, and had balanced them in the institutions of the crown, House of Commons and the House of Lords. But it has as well, embodied the three estates of the realm. That is, as Adams called them, the powers of society, estates, social states. The powers of society, the king, the peers and the people, and had embodied them in the three political institutions of Parliament. Adams assumed that he could replicate this marvelous English Constitution, mixed and ballasted English Constitution, in the republican states of America. He thought the three powers of society, the one, the few and the many, existed in all societies. The secret was to embody them into the government institutions and balance them. So, each state constitution should contain a three part, or tricameral legislature, composed of a governor or an executive, a house of representatives and an upper house or senate. Adams thought that the governor, like the English King, could be a full participant in the legislature. Thus, the governor's approval would be required for all legislation, all lawmaking. Which meant, of course, that the executive would have an absolute veto over all laws. The legislature would also contain a house of representatives, representing the people, and an upper house containing the wisest members of the society, the aristocracy. This upper house would not be another representation of the people, instead it would be an embodiment of the social power of the few. That's how Adams thought about it. The aristocracy, in accord with the theory of mixed government. Now in his pamphlet of 1776, he assumed that this upper house would arbitrate struggles between the royal governors and the people. If the legislature, the legislative power, is wholly in one assembly, and the executive is in a single person, he wrote, these two powers will oppose and enervate upon each other until the contest shall end in war. To avoid this danger, another house in the legislature was necessary, the upper house, or the senate. That's the term that most states gave to the upper house. The upper house would act as the House of Lords did in the English Constitution, as a mediator, arbitrator, between the people and the executive. This was how Montesquieu had described the role of the House of Lords in the English Constitution. In other words, Adams conceived of the republicanized aristocracy mediating the classic struggle between monarchy and democracy that he and other Whigs assumed had gone on throughout the entire trajectory of English history. A constant struggle between people and king. Magna Carta is a contract between the two. Adams' fellow Americans paid little attention to the English theory that lay behind his recommendation. Although Americans tended to divide their society into categories of gentleman and commoners, they did not really think of their society as separated into European type estates, or social powers. But they had been used to having bicameral legislatures and single executives, or single governors, in their colonial governments, and thus they readily accepted much of Adams' advice about how their new governments should be structured. What they would not stomach, however, was his suggestion that a veto power be given to the governors, similar to what the King of England theoretically possessed. In fact, in all the state constitutions drafted in 1776, the governors were stripped of nearly all prerogative powers, including the power of appointment to offices, and in some cases, even the power to pardon. And they were given no role in legislation whatsoever. That is no veto power over lawmaking. Now it's true that the constitution makers originally assumed that the houses of representatives represented the people, and the senates supposedly embodied the wise men, or the aristocracies of their society. Certainly, they did not think of their senates as having constituents. But many were unclear as to just what the senate stood for. It actually took us 200 years, the Supreme Court and a series of decisions in the 1960s, finally decided that the state senates were representative bodies, despite the name House of Representatives. But that, at the time there was confusion about what the senates were. When some critics began charging that the supporters of senates, or upper houses, were attempting to force a House of Lords on the American people, the Constitution makers replied, no, no, no, not at all. The upper houses were not Houses of Lords, they were just double representations of the people. That's all that would be politically correct that you could say by 1777, 78. Of course, representing the people more than once in the government not only violated the theory of mixed government and was not what Adams meant at all, but it also opened up a can of worms about just what representation meant in the American Governments. Thus, although nearly all the states followed Adams' advice, and created mixed and balanced republics with houses of representatives, senates and governors, most scarcely conceived of their new governments the way Adams intended as a balancing and mixing of social powers, or social estates. But Adams did make other recommendations that powerfully affected American Constitutionalism. He wanted each functional branch of the government, legislative, executive and judicial, set apart from one another. By forbidding members of the executive or the judiciary from simultaneously sitting in the legislature, Adams and others who followed his lead, set Americans off into decidedly different constitutional direction from that of the mother country. This separation of powers, as it came to be called, ensured that America would not, as England eventually did, develop a parliamentary system of responsible cabinet government. For, as you know, that system depends on the executive or cabinet ministers, simultaneously being members of the legislature. If one of British Cabinet loses his or her seat in the legislature, they have to get out of the cabinet. They have to be members of the legislature, either the House of Lords or the House of Commons, in order to be in the cabinet. For Adams and other Americans in 1776, this kind of dual office holding smacked of corruption, and they wanted no part of it. So he went off in an entirely different direction. Now both Adams and Jefferson realized that no constitution, however well written, and however well balanced and mixed, could long endure without sufficient moral character in the people, and this was the theme particularly of Eric's paper this morning. The listing of rights, the structure of government, these were never enough. That is why today we see states in the world that have, on paper, the same institutions that exist in the United States or in England, but which are in disarray and plagued by corruption. No republican constitution can work without sufficient virtue in the people. They said that over and over. The founders said that over and over again. Virtue being the willingness of the people to sacrifice their personal selfish interests for the sake of the public good. For this reason, the race publica [phonetic], the public things. For this reason, both Adams and Jefferson knew that republics were very fragile polities and always had been throughout history. Both thought that republics were liable to corruption and eventual decay. Although Jefferson thought that it tended to see the corruption of a society coming from the government itself, Adams believed that, more likely, inherent in human nature. But both patriots agreed that republics demanded far more morally from their citizens than monarchies did of their subjects. In monarchies, we might think of monarchies in terms of authoritarian governments, where authority flowed from the top down, each man's desire to do what was right in his own eyes could be restrained by patronage or honor, by fear or force. We can understand why some states today resort to authoritarian governments. They have an unvirtuous population. People who lack the self-restraint required of stable societies, and thus they have to be governed by fear or force. In republics however, where authority came from below from the people themselves, each citizen must somehow be persuaded to sacrifice his personal desires for the sake of the public good. In their purest form, republics had no adhesives, no bonds holding their societies together except their citizens' voluntary patriotism and willingness to obey public authority. Without virtue and self-sacrifice, republics would fall apart. Now Adams had doubts from the start that Americans had sufficient virtue to sustain their republican experiments, and his doubts only grew with time. By the mid-1780s, he had, I think, as dark a picture of American society as any American in our history has ever had. Even Jefferson at first thought that his fellow Americans might succumb to the same kinds of corruption that afflicted other nations. But after he lived in France for a few years in the mid-1780s, and saw what real luxury and corruption was, he changed his tune about America, and he became all the more positive about the American people. So confident was he in the people that he was willing to put up with a little popular rebellion now and then. What did a few lives lost every few decades matter? The tree of liberty, he said in 1787, must be refreshed from time to time by the blood of patriots and tyrants. It's its natural manure. Now Jefferson was especially concerned with maintaining the fundamental character of a constitution. In drafting their constitution in 1776, nearly all the states had relied on congresses or conventions that were usually just their legislature meeting without their royal governors. Now this presented a problem. Since the constitutions were created by the legislatures, they presumably could also be altered by the legislatures. Some of the constitution makers in 1776 realized that their constitutions were supposed to be a kind of fundamental law, different from ordinary statutes, and they sought anxiously and, I think, confusedly, to deal with this distinction. Delaware, for example, provided for a super majority, five-sevenths of the legislature is required for changing the constitution. Maryland said that its constitution could only be amended by two-thirds vote of two successive legislatures. And some, but most of them simply enacted their constitutions as if they were statutes, ordinary statutes. Everyone believed that the constitutions were special kinds of law, but no one knew quite how to make them so. Now, no one struggled with this problem of distinguishing fundamental from statutory law more persistently than Jefferson. He knew from experience that no legislature elected by the people for the ordinary purposes of legislation, could restrain the acts of succeeding legislatures. Thus, he realized that to declare his great act for religious freedom in Virginia, to be irrevocable, would be of no effect in law. Yet we are free, we are free, he wrote into his 1779 bill in frustration. We are free to declare, and do declare, that if any act shall be hereafter passed or appeal a present act, or to narrow its operation, such an act will be an infringement of natural right. In other words, all he could was place a curse, so to speak, on future legislators who might violate his act. He realized that such a paper declaration was not enough, and that something more was needed to protect natural rights and the fundamental law of the Constitution from legislative tampering. By the early 1780s, he was eager to form a real constitution for Virginia. The existing one, he said, was merely an ordinance with no higher authority than other ordinances of the same session. He wanted a constitution that would be perpetual and unalterable by other legislatures. The only way that could be done was to have the Constitution created, as he put it, by a power superior to that of the legislature. By the early 1780s, the answer had become clear to Jefferson. To render a form of government unalterable by ordinary acts of assembly, he wrote, the people must delegate persons with special powers. They have accordingly chosen special conventions to form and fix their governments. Moreover, the constitutions then had to be sent to the people directly for ratification. Massachusetts had shown the way. It had demonstrated to the country the procedure by which a constitution could be created that was unalterable by ordinary statute law. By 1779, the Massachusetts' legislature authorized the election of a special convention to draft a new constitution for the state. In order for further distinguished this constitution-making body from the regular legislature, every male inhabitant over 21 years of age was allowed to vote for the members of the convention. A much broader suffrage than existed for that of the legislature. Then the constitution, they said, had to be ratified by two-thirds of the state's free males, again, 21 years or older. Now, this thereafter became the model of how to make a constitution that was superior to mere legislation. When the Philadelphia Convention met, created this new federal constitution a few years later in 1787, it knew what to do. It couldn't just, in order to make it fundamental, it couldn't just be sent to the state legislatures for ratification. If the Constitution were to become a truly fundamental law superior to state constitutions, it had to be ratified by specially elected conventions, distinct from the state legislatures. The French followed this example a few years later with their revolutionary constitution making, and today, most framers of new constitutions follow this kind of model. Now, Adams was the principle drafter of the Massachusetts Constitution, which became the most important constitution, state constitution, of the revolutionary era. It represented his revised thinking about what society and English history, and thus the nature of a properly balanced and mixed constitution. By 1779, when he returned from abroad for a few months, to create his state's constitution, Adams had read a book by the Swiss jurist Jean Louis De Lolme entitled, in the English translation, The Constitution of England. The first English translation had been published in 1775. Adams called De Laolme's book the best defense of the political balance of three powers that was ever written. He had earlier praised Montesquieu, but De Lolme had replaced Montesquieu. And consequently, he now followed De Lolme in claiming that the principle conflict in English history was not, as Montesquieu had thought, between the king and people with the aristocracy acting as mediators, but instead was a conflict between the aristocracy and the democracy, with the king acting as the mediator or arbitrator. This revised theory of the basic conflict in society was reinforced, in Adams' case, by extensive reading and history, and more important by his appreciation of what was happening in his own state of Massachusetts between the rich patrician easterner creditors and the western debtor farmers. A conflict that of course would climax in Shay's Rebellion. Adams' draft of the Massachusetts Constitution reflected his new thinking. The biggest change in this constitution from those of 1776 was the immense authority he now gave to the governor. Adams' executive was much more powerful and independent than the executives in all the other states. Adams gave back to the Massachusetts' governor many of the prerogative powers, including the power of appointment, that the constitution makers in 1776 had taken away. Thinking of the governor as the embodiment of the [inaudible] element in the society, the one, Adams had always wanted the governor to be a full participant in the legislative process just as the Kling of England was, and to have an absolute veto over all lawmaking. Now, with the governor's new role as the mediator between the aristocracy and the democracy, between the few and the many, that veto power became all the more essential. But once again, the proposal was too much for his fellow, for his colleagues. They were, however, at least willing to grant the governor a limited veto power, which could be overridden by two-thirds of the legislature. This was more than any other state, governors in any other state possessed. And of course, as you know, it set the pattern that later reform of the state followed, and it set the pattern, of course, for the Federal Constitution. Over the following decade, most states granted their executives limited veto authority over their legislation. And the Philadelphia Convention in 1787 followed the model of the Massachusetts Constitution, and granted the president a limited veto power over all laws. There was nothing like it in the rest of the world. Although Adams was not present in Philadelphia, he and his Massachusetts Constitution had a profound influence on the structure of the new federal government. Jefferson, of course, was not present in Philadelphia either, which was probably a good thing. The Constitution, if he had been in Philadelphia, the Constitution would have been a very, very different thing, and his buddy James Madison, would not have dared to do what he did do in Philadelphia if Jefferson had been there. When Jefferson learned of the document, he was shocked. He told Adams he didn't think a new federal constitution was at all necessary. Three or four new articles, he said, might have been added to the good old, invariable fabric of the Articles of Confederation. Jefferson especially objected to the office of the president. It seems, he says, to be a bad addition of a Polish King who, once elected, could serve for life. Which, of course, is what Jefferson feared would happen with the American president. Instead, Jefferson wanted the president to serve only four years and be ineligible for a second term. By contrast, Adams was pleased that the Articles of Confederation had been totally scrapped. This new constitution, so much resembled the balanced government and the separation of powers of his Massachusetts Constitution, that he naturally was satisfied with much of it. Unlike Jefferson, he approved of the office of the president, and having the president chosen over and over, he said, so much the better. Since Adams favored aristocracy more than monarchy, he told Jefferson, feared aristocracy more than monarchy, he told Jefferson that he would have given much more power to the president, and much less power to the senate, especially in its role in appointments of executive officials. There were too many elected officials in the new government as it was, Adams said. Elections to office, which are great objects of ambition, Adams told Jefferson, ought to be regarded with terror. With terror, an extraordinary remark for, that demonstrated just how pessimistic Adams had become about republican government. By 1791, Adams becomes so fearful of the partisanship, the corruption, in elections, much worse than anything that we think we're experiencing, he thought. He advocated having the president and a senate serve for life. Sooner or later, he thought things would become so bad, so bad in America, that we would have to follow the English model and make the executive and the upper house hereditary. I ask you, do you think it's come to that? [ Laughter ] Thank you. [ Applause ]

References

  • United States Congress. "Thomas S. Gordon (id: G000316)". Biographical Directory of the United States Congress.

 This article incorporates public domain material from the Biographical Directory of the United States Congress website http://bioguide.congress.gov.

U.S. House of Representatives
Preceded by
Leo Kocialkowski
Member of the U.S. House of Representatives
from Illinois's 8th congressional district

1943-1959
Succeeded by
Dan Rostenkowski
This page was last edited on 16 May 2019, at 08:09
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