Happy Presidents’ Day everyone! Today’s federal holiday treat is an article at History News Network by author Chris Myers Asch. He muses on how our first President has saved the United States from needing to overthrow any leaders. In light of the recent events in Egypt, Asch discusses how stepping down peacefully after two terms (and the eventual passing of the 22nd Amendment) has prevented any of our Presidents from doing what Mubarak has done. An excerpt:
No Gallup polls were conducted to determine Washington’s “popularity rating” when he left office in 1797, but evidence suggests that he could have won an overwhelming majority had he chosen to run for a third term. Indeed, it is unlikely that he even would have faced an opponent—he ran unopposed in both 1789 and 1792 and was the unanimous choice among presidential electors.
Given his popularity, Washington easily could have succumbed to the temptations of power. He could have called upon his loyal followers within the military to create a standing presidential army to enforce his will. He could have manipulated public opinion to demonize and punish potential political opposition. He could have summoned the financial and political clout of the aristocratic Society of the Cincinnati to resist democratic impulses from below. He could have inflated threats from abroad or the frontier to create an excuse to consolidate power and suppress individual liberty.
But he didn’t.
Instead, he chose to leave office and return to his farm in Mount Vernon. He did not anoint a successor or work to influence the election of 1796. He did not involve himself in the growing factional disputes between his former cabinet members, Thomas Jefferson and John Adams. He did not undermine his successor or opine about the decline of the nation due to his absence from office.
In so doing, he set our nation on a path toward a stable democracy. He set the standard for presidents peacefully transferring power to their successors, and he established the tradition of presidents serving a maximum of two terms. This precedent lasted until 1940, when Franklin Roosevelt had the temerity to run for a third term—though we quickly restored Washington’s equilibrium by passing the 22nd Amendment to the Constitution to limit all future presidents to two terms. Click to read full article at HNN.
Asch considers this, among many other contributions, to be why Washington is an under-appreciated President. So while remembering Washington this Presidents’ day (and tomorrow, too–that’s his actual birthday!), we can appreciate how the precedent he set when he retired to Mt. Vernon has kept peace and reinforced the ideals of democracy upon which America was built. Happy Birthday, George!