The Founders’ wisdom—and their warnings—are undimmed by time

In our overheated political atmosphere, short memories are everywhere. Democrats forget what they said weeks ago, even to the point of denying that they said certain things at all. And we forget that politics has always been a blood sport. We don’t need to be Julius Caesar to understand it. A brief visit to the Founding Fathers should do the trick.

Hurricane Ian knocked out my internet, so I found myself reading the Federalist Papers because my favorite political sites were out of reach. Digging into the remote recesses of those long-derided, centuries-old essays, I found myself staring Publius, in Federalist 1—yes, the very first essay in the series—says the following.

Among the most formidable of the obstacles which the new Constitution will have to encounter, may readily be distinguished the obvious interest of a certain class of men in every State to resist all changes which may hazard a diminution of the power, emolument and consequence of the offices they hold under the State-establishments–and the perverted ambition of another class of men, who will either hope to aggrandize themselves by the confusions of their country, or will flatter themselves with fairer prospects of elevation from the subdivision of the empire into several partial confederacies, than from its union under one Government.

Once we wade through the long and erudite language, we stumble across a key problem. The Constitution might not be adopted because it would run crosswise to the “perverted ambition” of a “certain class of men… [who will] resist all changes which may hazard a diminution of the power, emolument, and consequence of the offices they hold.” I think that’s spelled S-W-A-M-P. If we establish a Constitution, guess whose ox will get gored?

Image: The Federalist Essays (public domain) and Pelosi and Schumer (YouTube screen grab).

But of course, isn’t that the situation right now? If we re-establish constitutional supremacy, won’t that “certain class” find their sinecures and authorities threatened?

Bad guys in office aren’t alone.

Ambition, avarice, personal animosity, party opposition, and many other motives, not more laudable than these, are apt to operate as well upon those who support, as upon those who oppose, the right side of a question. Were there not even these inducements to moderation, nothing could be more ill-judged than that intolerant spirit, which has, at all times, characterized political parties. For, in politics as in religion, it is equally absurd to aim at making proselytes by fire and sword. Heresies in either can rarely be cured by persecution.

Both sides suffer from the same faults. But that’s the human condition, and the drafters of the Constitution understood it too well. They may, in fact, have been the rarest of humans—rational observers with truly critical minds, positioned by history to be able to constrain man’s worst impulses in government.

Our current crop of politicians can only rarely be seen as standing properly on that dais. But where the Right is often of the “just leave me alone” persuasion, the Left is rarely anything other than the “intolerant spirit” Publius decried. Now we must not think that the modern Leftist is a unique animal. Not at all.

To judge from the conduct of the opposite parties, we shall be led to conclude, that they will mutually hope to evince the justness of their opinions, and to increase the number of their converts by the loudness of their declamations, and the bitterness of their invectives.

The ads in the current political cycle mostly declaim how bad the opponent is. Democrat Val Demings insists that Republican Marco Rubio is a “no show” Senator while she was a hard-working police chief. Rubio counters her smiling uniform with clips of her calling burning cities “beautiful.” Neither side is fully truthful, but since Demings has vigorously approved every Leftist position, it seems Rubio has the better of the argument. And she is of the one party that is fully engulfed in the flames of vitriolic name-calling. That is of a part with something Publius decried in Federalist 2.

[The] Congress of 1774…recommended certain measures to their Constituents, and the event proved their wisdom; yet it is fresh in our memories how soon the Press began to teem with Pamphlets and weekly Papers against those very measures. Not only many of the Officers of Government, who obeyed the dictates of personal interest, but others, from a mistaken estimate of consequences, or the undue influence of former attachments, or whose ambition aimed at objects which did not correspond with the public good, were indefatigable in their endeavors to persuade the people to reject the advice of that Patriotic Congress.

The pursuit of private gain through public office is not new. It was rampant before the Revolutionary War. Published articles and electioneering with no connection to reality or the good of the public were also “rampant.” Isn’t it good that the passage of two centuries has elevated our political discourse to such a civil and cerebral level?

Ted Noel MD is a retired Anesthesiologist/Intensivist who podcasts and posts on social media as DoctorTed and @vidzette. His DoctorTed podcasts are available on many podcast channels.

If you experience technical problems, please write to