However tiresome to others, the most indefatigable orator is never tedious to himself. The sound of his own voice never loses its harmony to his own ear; and among the delusions, which self-love is ever assiduous in attempting to pass upon virtue, he fancies himself to be sounding the sweetest tones.—John Quincy Adams, “Lectures on Rhetoric and Oratory: Delivered to the Classes of Senior and Junior Sophisters in Harvard University.”
Oh, my goodness, could that man talk. And talk. And talk some more. It might amuse you to know that, in the above quote, he was referring to his fellow lawyers.
So much you can say about John Quincy Adams. Annoying, crabby, bilious, voluble. Also, one of the most remarkable men ever to occupy the Oval Office—and even more to serve in the House of Representatives. A superb diplomat, who literally began his career at his father’s elbow prior to the negotiation of the Treaty of Paris, he served four Presidents (Washington, Adams I, Madison, and Monroe) as Ministers to the Netherlands, Russia, Prussia, and the UK. He was Monroe’s Secretary of State. During the wilderness that was Thomas Jefferson’s Presidency, he spent six years in the Senate. In typical Adams manner, he managed to irritate his own Federalist Party enough for them to deny him renomination. In 1824, he won the Presidency against three strong candidates, Andrew Jackson, Henry Clay, and William Crawford. None got a majority of the Electoral College, and the race was thrown into the House. There, Clay endorsed Adams, enraging Jackson supporters (who called it a “Corrupt Bargain” when Adams picked Clay for Secretary of State).
Adams was not as deft a President as he was a diplomat, and Jackson trounced him in a rematch in 1828, sending the then-61-year-old home to his failing farm in Massachusetts. He was not thrilled to be back in the Commonwealth; he sulked and became even more a pain until his own neighbors rescued him by sending him back to Washington as a Congressman. Read more »
Progressives, moderates, and even many conservatives are aghast at Donald Trump's populist appeal. As this cantankerous oaf flashes ever brighter in the political pan, they fret that his demagoguery might land him the Republican presidential nomination, and perhaps even carry him all the to White House.
I'm not worried about the prospect of a Hail to the Trump scenario and never have been. As far back as August, I opined on this very website that he has virtually no chance of becoming president. I still believe that. He lost to Ted Cruz in Iowa, just like I said he would. And I'm sticking with my prediction that he'll be done by the Ides of March. Should Trump actually make it to the Oval Office, I'll buy you all plane tickets to Canada, as promised.
That being said, it's certainly worth investigating the Trump phenomenon. After all, how are we to explain the dramatic success of this heinous cretin? How could this man, who is not just a walking punch line, but also thoroughly repulsive in almost every way, be so popular, not just on a silly reality TV show with a dumb catch phrase, but also in the supposedly serious world of presidential politics?
As the Republican Party begins its national convention today in Florida, I offer this brief history of political conventions and examine their relevance to modern American politics.
The generation of political leaders who initiated and executed the American Revolution and founded a new nation, believed in the concept of republican virtue. That is, they felt it the obligation of every citizen to give of themselves to the welfare of their new, shared political endeavor. That their definition of citizenship was quite narrow is very imoprtant, but another matter altogether.
The founders believed that in order for the republic to survive and be healthy, citizens must sublimate their selfish interests for the sake of the general welfare. In line with this, they imagined that the nation’s politicians would be citizen servants: men, who for a temporary period of time, sacrificed the profits and joys of their personal pursuits so that they might shoulder the responsibility of governing the nation, the states, and localities, offering their wisdom and insight for everyone’s benefit.
There was nothing of political parties in this vision. Neither the Articles of Confederation nor the U.S. Constitution made any mention of them. They are, in the strict sense of the term, extra-constitutional political organizations, and they are most decidedly not what the new nation’s architects had in mind when they fashioned this republic. Indeed, they did not even use the term “party” for the most part, instead referring to the political alliances that soon formed as “factions.” George Washington especially despised the new factionalism, even in its nascent form, and he refused to ally with any group. To this day, he is the only president listed on the roll of chief executives as Independent.
Perhaps it was näive of Washington and other purists to scoff at the emerging political gangs. Perhaps the constitution’s framers should have better anticipated this development and done something to temper it, to keep it from warping their beloved system of checks and balances. Regardless, the move towards modern parties was underway as the nation’s politicians began to lineup behind the philosophies and reputations of top leaders such as Thomas Jefferson, Alexander Hamilton, and John Adams.