What would George Washington say about the Patriot Act?

I recently presented a paper in Chicago (get the City Pass) about the Senate and American federalism. In short, there was a commitment to republicanism on the part of all participants through “instruction,” which is documented with more than 2,000 resolutions from State legislatures from 1789-1861 and was part of the institutionalization of the committee system.

After I presented, our panel’s “discussant,” Frank T. Manheim (George Mason University), stumped me on a question: What did George Washington think about the Alien and Sedition Acts? A fair question, considering my focus on Madison’s “interposition” in the Virginia Resolves to seize the Alien and Sedition Acts as a commitment to republicanism as an ends to a means.

Washington thought that the elected representatives enacted serious legislation during fragile times, and that the legislation was constitutional.

The long explanation I found on a blog to teach about this specific topic. The original page is here (http://edsitement.neh.gov):

Students will now read Washington’s own words to determine his position on the Sedition Act. Distribute one of the following Washington letters to each of five student groups. The full text of each letter is available on the EDSITEment-reviewed website American Memory by clicking on the links below. Or, you can use the excerpts provided on the handout “George Washington on the Sedition Act” on pages 13–14 of the Master PDF. If desired, distribute the Written Document Analysis Worksheet from the EDSITEment resource Digital Classroom to aid students as they read the letters.

So, what would George Washington say about the Patriot Act, if–as seems apparent–he continued to hold the same opinion?

The Patriot Act is serious legislation for fragile times. It is designed to strengthen our people and is constitutional.

Of course, Adams lost the election of 1800 to Jefferson, who was more radical in his proposed “nullification” of the Acts. In the end, perhaps the people are still “the decider”?







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