“A Flaw In The Constitution Itself”

January 20th, 2017

Before President Trump took the oath of office, Senator Roy Blunt (R-MO) offered prefatory remarks. After discussing the election of 1800, he refers to the initial electoral process as a “flaw in the Constitution itself,” a flaw that was remedied by the Twelfth Amendment.

[George Washington] thought the inauguration of the second president would be more important than the inauguration of the first. Many people had taken control of the government up until then, but few people had ever turned that control willingly over to anyone else. and as important as the transfer of the first transfer of power was, many historians believe that the next election was even more important. When in 1801, one group of people arguably for the first time ever in history willingly, if not enthusiastically, gave control of the government to people they believed had a dramatically different view of what the government would, should and could do. After that election that actually discovered a flaw in the constitution itself, which was remedied by the 12th amendment. Thomas Jefferson, at that inauguration, beyond the chaos of the election that had just passed said, “we are all republicans, we are all federalists.”

The word “Constitution” was not mentioned during the inaugural address. George Will’s comments, however, capture my reaction:

Because in 1981 the inauguration ceremony for a cheerful man from the American West was moved from the Capitol’s East Portico to its West Front, Trump stood facing west, down the Mall with its stately monuments celebrating some of those who made America great — Washington, Jefferson, Lincoln. Looking out toward where the fields of the republic roll on, Trump, a Gatsby-for-our-time, said: “What truly matters is not which party controls our government but whether our government is controlled by the people.” Well.

“A dependence on the people,” James Madison wrote, “is, no doubt, the primary control on the government; but experience has taught mankind the necessity of auxiliary precautions.” He meant the checks and balances of our constitutional architecture. They are necessary because, as Madison anticipated and as the nation was reminded on Friday, “Enlightened statesmen will not always be at the helm.”