A Founder Warned Us; We Did Not Heed the Warning

By Dick Hall-Sizemore

Being retired and staying at home, I have now embarked on a long-planned project—reading the debates of the 1787 Constitutional Convention, as reported by James Madison and a few others.

I have only just started, but it is fascinating already. Many of the issues they discussed and debated are still being tossed around today, including on this blog. One speech I read recently particularly fascinated me.

The subject was whether the members of the first house of Congress should be elected directly by the people. Elbridge Gerry of Massachussetts (he of gerrymandering fame) was opposed to the direct election. Part of his argument, as reported by Madison, went this way:

“The people do not want virtue; but are the dupes of pretended patriots. In Massts. it has been fully confirmed by experience that they are daily misled into the most baneful measures and opinions by the false reports circulated by designing men, and which no one on the spot can refute.”

Elbridge Gerry was obviously a man ahead of his time; he foresaw the rise of social media and warned against it.

There are currently no comments highlighted.

31 responses to “A Founder Warned Us; We Did Not Heed the Warning

  1. yeah, this could be an interesting thread! thanks for posting!

  2. Nice post. Those debates are fascinating. Keep it coming.

    Yes, the comments in another posting with Leftists trying to make a case that their Liberal media is superior in facts and information to whatever they call right-wing suggest that designing men and women still walk the planet and write and speak. Interestingly, no one thinks he or she is duped.

  3. Looking forward to more articles as you explore t he debates!

    Social media via internet is just the latest evolution of what a planning district exec director disparagingly called, “The Coconut Telegraph.” For good or ill, it is the lifeblood of small communities: one person talking to the next. On the positive side, it reflects the caring and concern with one’s neighbors, on the negative, the rumors and gossip so easily used to mislead others.

  4. Mr. Jefferson was not at the convention, but Mr. Madison was his acolyte. Did he have a response?

    Jefferson’s view was that farmers and craftsmen could be trusted with the management of government at least at a small scale and in a local context.

    Is it the shortcoming of humankind that makes us easily misled? Or is it that we are overwhelmed with events of which we have no direct experience and must rely on the opinions of others, even if those opinions serve a specific agenda?

    • Part of it might have been that the founding fathers considered themselves educated and not so the rest of the population.

      Which if the case, makes one wonder how/why the founding fathers wanted the lesser-educated to vote… hmmm…

      I always thought that at least some versions of “The Virginia Way” meant that the educated and landed gentry knew best how to govern…and did so on behalf of those who were less able… 😉

    • Madison argued strongly for direct election. As he reported his remarks:

      “Mr. Madison considered the popular election of one branch of the national Legislature as essential to every plan of free Government.”

      George Mason also argued strongly for popular election of the larger branch, saying, “It was to be the grand depository of the democratic principle of the Govt.”

      I don’t think Gerry was speaking of any shortcomings of humankind. Hence, his comment that the “people do not want (lack) virtue.” It is as you say, most people are somewhat overwhelmed with the daily tasks of living.

  5. TomH, you nailed it.

    No one can possibly be sufficiently informed. We must depend on trusted sources. This is why as a nation we must find ways to simply not tolerate doctored videos meant to mislead, anonymous sources, materially misleading and inaccurate reporting and on and on from so-called trusted and licensed news sources as is the case today. Bias is ok and maybe even good if it is properly labelled and then an effective argument is made demonstrating an understanding of the opposite point of view combined with a cogent argument as to why it is not correct.

    Except for the activists and clubists whose side is the only side, most people want to know both sides of an issue before deciding.

    Today we have a media which is openly working without any apparent ethics or morality to smear and destroy to gain their objective, not to provide the customer with the ability to decide himself or herself.

    Leftist, Centrist,Right-Wing — wherever one finds oneself on the spectrum –we will all lose heavily if we don’t find a way to turn this tide.

    • This statement:
      Today we have a media which is openly working without any apparent ethics or morality to smear and destroy to gain their objective, not to provide the customer with the ability to decide himself or herself.
      proves Elbridge’s point.

  6. Thumbs up, Dick. Takes me back to college days where one class poured over the Federalist Papers. While the Founders were far from perfect, they took their task — creating a representative government — very seriously.

  7. Virginia’s first state constitutions limited the right to vote to white male property owners and men of wealth. By societal convention of the day large property owners and families of wealth sent their sons to be tutored and sometimes to early US colleges or overseas to learn. Against that backdrop guess almost all voters were educated. And yet the elite still wasn’t completely sold on the idea of even all members of that entitled subset voting.

  8. Establishment of the Public School System in Virginia
    Contributed by Marianne E. Julienne and Brent Tarter

    The first statewide system of free public schools in Virginia was established in 1870 after the ratification of a new constitution and was one of the most important and enduring accomplishments of Reconstruction. Prior to the American Civil War (1861–1865), education had been reserved mostly for elite white families; no southern states had public school systems and in Virginia the education of free and enslaved African Americans had been discouraged and, in some forms, made illegal. After the abolition of slavery, the federal Freedmen’s Bureau established the first statewide system of schools, but only for African Americans; other, biracial systems were set up, but only in Petersburg, Richmond, and Norfolk. The new constitution created a new statewide system that, in spite of protests by African American members of the General Assembly, segregated black and white students.

    • Interestingly, one Thomas J. Jackson, openly violated Virginia law by opening a Sunday School for blacks, adults and children, in Lexington, VA. I always wondered, since Jackson was just an instructor at VMI, why didn’t the forces of the law shut him down.

      • They didn’t shut him down for two reasons:

        First, because of the force and integrity of Jackson’s character and his beliefs that he fiercely and fearlessly acted on.

        Second, because Jackson had many supporters for his just and righteous cause in the Lexington community.

        These forces of hate and division, that Jackson challenged are alive and well today, only wear a different disguise.

  9. Bravo, Dick. Splendid move.

    I myself have armed, pulling from their holsters my two volume set of The Debates on the Constitution, edited by Bernard Bailyn, 2400 + pages, sans index.

    Here on BR, Let the Second Great Debate begin!

  10. Wait! Where’s Salem? Damn, he was right. Those folks’ll believe anything. Witches, Romney….

  11. As Dick reports:
    “Elbridge Gerry of Massachussetts (he of gerrymandering fame) was opposed to the direct election. Part of his argument, as reported by Madison, went this way:

    “The people do not want virtue; but are the dupes of pretended patriots. In Massts. it has been fully confirmed by experience that they are daily misled into the most baneful measures and opinions by the false reports circulated by designing men, and which no one on the spot can refute.”

    I concur wholeheartedly. For the risk if wanton voters, without care for virtue, carrying the day in elections is monumental. Recall “Z”‘s prophetic warning in his December 6, 1987 reply to Franklin’s speech concluding the constitutional convention, that:

    “Does not every man know, that nothing is more liable to be abused than power. Power without a check, in any hands, is tyranny; and such powers in the hands of even good men, so infatuating is the nature of it, will probably be wantonly, if not tyrannically exercised. The world has has experience enough of this, in every stage of it.”

  12. An admirable task, Dick. It’s a deep well of conundrums from which a small sip is deadly, but a long draught renews.

  13. Americans loved to believe the snake oil salesmen of yesteryear, and we are still the same visionary people, believing strongly there is better way…even if it is hype. We are bored by complicated truths and want to look at more exciting political-based arguments that try to grasp our support. We like that approach and feel we can sort of the truth for ourselves.

    • Earnest question, no snark: does anyone know if this stuff is taught any more? John Locke? At high school or collegiate level as core?

      • Can’t speak for high school, but the great majority of college and university students today have absolutely no clue as to who John Locke is. And this is not be chance. Liberal professors are waging a fierce war against the teaching of western civilization to the children of that civilization. The very air these students breath daily is Western Civilization, whether they know it or not, most all American students.

        So the great majority of our students in America are so ignorant they do not realize this obvious fact, namely that they live and breath and benefit from Western civilization each and every day. Nor do they know what Western civ. is.

  14. James Wyatt Whitehead V

    At school students are puzzled by the fact that I have never had a cell phone ever. 3 email addresses are the only ones I have. Never had social media either. No Spacebook, Instant Telegram, Snap Talk, Tic Tac, or any of that stuff. They marvel at my working rotary telephone and are fascinated with the record player. It’s funny to watch the teens try and play the record player. They think the needle starts near the center and plays outward.

  15. For every person saying the founders could not have envisioned where we stand today, there is something like that found in the notes that say otherwise. They were truly ahead of their time and not to be duplicated since that time.

  16. A founder did warn us. So did H. L. Mencken. With the same logic, he foretold of these last 1000 days.

  17. And Eldridge created Gerrymandering

  18. Small wonder the us is so far behind on broadband. Let’s stay stupid. It’s the Virginia Way!

Leave a Reply