Political discourse on social media is disheartening. What did the nation’s Founders say and what “tweets” might they make today?
At the end of the eight-year Revolutionary War, as he fumbled for spectacles, a gray-haired George Washington calmed officers of the Continental Army considering rebellion over lack of pay, stating: “I have grown old in the service of my country and now find that I am growing blind.” Tweet today: “Grow old in the service of your country!”
Close friends in the 1770s and 1780s, John Adams and Thomas Jefferson became estranged, with Adams, our second president and a Federalist, favoring a strong central government, and Jefferson, a Republican, favoring decentralization. Early in correspondence that renewed their friendship, Adams wrote in 1812-13: “Whether you or I was right Posterity must judge.” “You and I, ought not to die, before We have explained ourselves to each other.” Adams’ tweet: “Explain yourselves to each other!”
Amazingly, Adams and Jefferson died on July 4, 1826, exactly 50 years after the Declaration of Independence that Jefferson wrote and Adams helped edit. Believing that Jefferson, who had died earlier that day, had outlived him, Adams declared just before he died: “Jefferson survives me!” Today, seeing no significant Adams monument in Washington, D.C., Adams would tweet: “Jefferson survived me after all!”
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An estranged Abigail Adams wrote to Jefferson in 1804: “(O)ne of the first acts of your administration was to liberate a wretch, who was suffering the just punishment … due to his crimes for writing … the lowest and vilest slander … against the character of your predecessor … whom you knew incapable of such … baseness.” James T. Callender, a notorious slanderer, had been jailed under President Adams for violating the Alien and Sedition Acts, but President Jefferson pardoned him. Her tweet today and actual words: “When such vipers are let loose upon Society … all respect for character is lost in an overwhelming deluge of calumny.”
As factional strife in 1801 threatened disunion, Jefferson calmed the factions, stating: “We are all Republicans, we are all Federalists.” Tweet today: “We are all Americans.”
James Madison wrote for Washington’s first inaugural address: “There is no truth more thoroughly established than there exists in the economy and course of nature an indissoluble union between virtue and happiness; between duty and advantage; between the genuine maxims of an honest and magnanimous policy and the solid rewards of public prosperity and felicity….” Tweet today: “There remains an indissoluble union between virtue and happiness, duty and advantage, and an honest policy and public prosperity.”
Known as the “Great Compromiser” for his roles in the Missouri Compromise of 1820 and the Compromise of 1850, Henry Clay, an idol of Abraham Lincoln, unsuccessfully ran for president three times. Clay was repeatedly dogged by the charge of a “Corrupt Bargain” with John Quincy Adams in 1824 for Speaker Clay to throw House votes for Adams over Jackson in return for Adams’ agreement to make Clay secretary of state. Clay said: “Of all the properties which belong to honorable men, not one is so highly prized as that of character.” His tweet: “Of all the properties which belong to honorable men and women, not one is so highly prized as that of character.”
The great black spokesman against slavery, Frederick Douglass, said, “Education … means emancipation.” Tweet today: “Education means emancipation for all.”
Lincoln said: “(T)hose white persons who argue in favor of making other people slaves, I am in favor of giving an opportunity to such white men to try it on for themselves.” Tweet today: “For those who favor discrimination based on race, I am in favor that they try discrimination against themselves based on their race.”
In 1856 Lincoln went uninvited to a meeting of newspaper editors who were forming the Illinois Republican Party. Lincoln told the story of an ugly man walking through the woods who encountered two women on horseback. One woman said, “My, you sure are ugly.” The man said, “I know but I can’t help that,” to which the woman replied, “Well you could stay home!” Lincoln’s tweet: “Don’t stay home.”
Are we not still the nation of these Founders?
Daniel O. Jamison is an attorney with Dowling Aaron Inc. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.