Resolved: GWB as an early president would have destroyed the union

So I’m reading about how Aaron Burr, and some New York federalists, seriously considered seceding in the first decade of the 1800’s - they envisioned a country of ‘New England’ very much like the decentralized articles-of-confederation pre-constituton USA, but with only the colonies from New York north.

Obviously, it didn’t get to the point that the Civil War did, and the author’s thesis is that it’s because we got lucky with our founding fathers - outside of Burr, they were willing to set aside differences and put the success of the government above their own political desires. Even political enemies could fairly well trust each other, as men of honor, and they could always trust in their opponent’s sincerity, and good faith negotiating.

The flip side of that thesis is, of course, that someone who was a manipulatable puppet, whose advisors put party ahead of country, would have doomed the very young republic.

So, let’s play a little speculative history. Suppose our current administration, with George W. Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld, Rice et al, were one of the first ten administrations (that takes us from Washington through John Quincy Adams).

They declare a war on bad or purposefully false intelligence (say, XYZ affair leads to actual war with France). In the name of defending liberty, they pass laws to seek out and destroy piracy, but in practice watch people’s mail without warrants. They outspend the government’s treasury by worse amounts than the continental congress during the revolution.

Does the country survive?

Poor John Tyler (the actual 10’th president) hard to get any respect when they called him “His Accidency”

As for the OP, I think the country does survive, but I think it would have remained a small nation. (There goes the Louisiana purchase)

Actually we were punks then.In the war of 1812 Enland kicked our ass and burned down the capital.We didnt have those horrible French watching our back like they did in the Revolutionary War. It is not impossible that President Cheney and VP Bush wont accomplish it anyway. We are becoming pawns for Capitalism and our ability to hold the government in check is practically gone.
I suspect that people with respect to the constitution would have fought this administration very hard. The forefathers were against an imperial presidency. They had set up checks and balances to prevent this. In my opinion we have eroded our ability to defend the system.I hope the pendulum swings back.

This is an unnatural question to ask because the powers of the federal government were so much more limited then than they are now. Firstly, it would have been very hard for Dubya Quincy Adams to bust the treasury, because there were so few opportunities to spend money back then. He couldn’t have passed a Medicare Prescription Drug Bill, because there was no Medicare. He couldn’t have given away hundreds of billions in handouts to big agriculture, because there was no Ag Department. He couldn’t have used given away pork-barrel military projects when there wasn’t even a standing army.

As for war, the military situation wouldn’t have allowed it. The military was entirely volunteer. Volunteers would probably only show up to defend American territory and lives. It’s unlikely that he would have gotten any volunteers for a foreign military misadventure.

We survived the Sedition Act which sent Representative Matthew Lyon to jail for four months. Yes, we would have survived Bush too, as we will now.

We attempted and failed to invade Canada in the war of 1812. It was actually fairly pathetic and the Union survived this attempt. We did get our asses kicked regularly in the War of 1812 but we did okay as England had to transport all of the military over here. Destroying DC back then hardly crippled the fledgling government at all. The worst that England did to the US was blockade many major ports, but they could not blockade them all and we found ways to keep some trade alive.

We also were taking a toll with our merchant raiding. Fast, strong Frigates like the Constitution did very well against any ship of their size or smaller. They were fast and more resistant to cannonball shot then any vessel in the English Fleet. We built the Frigates out of Southern Live Oak. There are reports of stunned British Navy Sailors reporting Cannonballs bouncing of her sides giving her the Nickname “Old Ironsides”.

We had many Crises and muddled through them.

Corrupt, lying politicians like Cheney would quite probably of been killed in a duel. Think the equivalent of John McCain. It is unlikely that Bush would have been re-elected to a second term, John Adams was bounced out for lesser offenses. They would have had no secret service to speak of, no intelligence services, a small army and a small Navy. America did not have the resources or the power collected into the hands of the executive branch for the adventures this administration has taken us on.


I think the problem in the first paragraph is answered in the second. The military is all-voluntary now, and it would’ve been easy to blow borrowed money on maintaining a large volunteer military (in fact, it was proposed during (IIRC) Adams’ presidency).

The veep shooting somebody is the only thing the two histories would have in common.

It’s not all reserves, though, as it was then. The founders didn’t like the idea of a standing army.

Nowadays our military budget is spent primarily on big-ticket items: airplanes and ships, advanced artillery systems, computer systems, intelligence capabilities, and also a lot of research. Much of it is pork. Any government watchdog group could give you a long list of ships and planes that Congress required despite the fact that the Navy and Air Force did not even request them.

In the early nineteenth century, there was no pork. There wasn’t any way to enrich the rich by giving them large military contracts. When money was spent on the military, as in the War of 1812, the primary expense was basic weaponry and pay for the soldiers.

The basis of my response rests on an understanding of what pork is. Pork is when the government takes money from the taxpayers and redistributes it to the wealthy. Almost all of it goes to major corporations, companies that operate on a nationwide or worldwide scale. In the early nineteenth century, there were no large companies, and hence no pork-barrel spending. There were corrupt politicians, but they were restricted to much more moderate acts of theft than what we see today.

It’s difficult to answer the question since the situations are so different. What we should ask is, how would an administration that behaves as this one does have gone over in 1800? How would BushCo’s secrecy, arrogance, determined ideological bent, &c. &c., have played in Virginia or Vermont? As was mentioned, some New Englanders were seriously kicking around the idea of going their own way (I find it ironic as hell that, sixty years later, their sons and grandsons were chanting, “The Union Forever!”). I can certainly image an 1800 Bush administration busting up the country; whether it would have happened, we just can’t say.

The only thing I would say with much certainty is that, if any states had seceeded in 1800, they would have gotten away with it.

Nitpick: The aim actually was to separate the West from the Atlantic states. And Burr probably intended to rule the new state as his own empire. How much do we spend. We are in deep. Will the nation survive.?Probably but when does it become something else. When the Bill of Rights and Contitution are ruined. It we respond to Bush screaming Attica,Attica oops I meant 911.Fear .It works but it is our own fault. America is changing fast,but if the election in 2006 and 8 sweep out the repubs they will quickly move to take the power from the executive.

Or were you talking about a different secessionist movement?

Yes, I was. One that involved Federalists from New York (except for Hamilton).



There’s a wiki article on the Hartford Convention. I’m not familiar with a New York secessionist movement, however New England at various times in the very early republic had some moments where they weren’t too happy with being parts of the country as a whole. The Hartford Convention and the backlash towards it pretty much ended that line of thought.

This whole scenario is honestly just too far fetched. For one, you can’t just take a guy from the 21tst century and drop him into the 19th century. He’d be so out of place culturally and socially he’d probably be locked in an insane asylum in the 19th century. So, we would have to assume then that Bush was born and raised in that time period. And, change the time period you’re raised in by hundreds of years and that will fundamentally change you as a person, so even if some of Bush’s claimed negative qualities were present in 19th century Bush they would have manifested in far different ways.

Some other points:

-We are an all volunteer military now, however we are also a far different country and it is a far different country. Joining the U.S. Army is a big deal, now. It’s not something to be done lightly, you obey orders, you do what you’re told, you go where you’re told. Not doing so has serious consequences, and it typically doesn’t even happen because you are in an organization that tries to make sure people who are likely to do that don’t get in.

In the 19th century it was very common throughout the Western world for militia forces or reserve military forces to more or less refuse to fight. Government and society in general was so less structured back then, you could as a member of a State militia refuse to go fight and unless you were one of a small handful to do so you’d get off scot free. If the entire militia refused to fight the State government in question would probably not attempt to try anyone for it.

-There was definitely dirty business relations between government and politics hundreds of years ago. The Bank of the United States was riddled with graft and corruption. The British East India Company is pretty much a clear example of the most extreme and unrealistic types of scaremongering conspiracy theorist stories you hear about bad corporations today.

-The War of 1812 has been won and lost so many times since 1815 it is sad. At a certain time period history books in the United States generally said the U.S. won that war. That was mostly jingoism at work, but just because the United States didn’t win I think it is incorrect to say we were “pathetic” or that we “lost.”

That was, firstly, a complex war, and a different war from most any we have ever fought. Militarily the United States was ill prepared for the war in the early stages and we lost several major battles. We lost the capital, however in the 19th century that effectively meant nothing (the British took Philadelphia in the Revolution and that wasn’t a big deal, nor was the taking of Boston or New York) back then major cities weren’t as important.

In the later stages of the war, the U.S. won several important battles on the border with Canada, and prevented British attempts to push south along that border from being very successful. Militarily and politically I’d say the war of 1812 was a clear stalemate on both sides. Neither side really accomplished their major objectives, nothing was really settled. One benefit for the United States may have been it helped us as a nation decide to stay out of foreign affairs for many decades to come, which was a good thing in our nation’s infancy. Another benefit for the United States would be it was sort of a stamp of approval on the revolution. We didn’t do that great in the War of 1812, but when it was over, we were still standing, and it was made apparent to all we were here to stay for a long time.

Hamilton also opposed Burr, due to his belief (still controversial) that Burr had entertained a Federalist secession movement in New York.I was unaware that it was “controversial.” The book Founding Brothers presents it as fact.

OK. Bush is raised in that time. He’s George Washington’s son.

Father Washington, while watching the bombardment of Yorktown, is struck and killed. His son is thrust into the limelight, although unlike dad, W has the same urge for power over principle as our version of the man (that’s my opinion, obviously, but this is GD, and I’m describing what I think he’d be like in the 1700’s). He’s controlled by his advisors, he’s never tasted war but thinks he knows what it’s like - he’s a chicken hawk.

I think we’d still have the constitution, he’d be made president, not know how to handle domestic crises, institute religious law, declare war on somebody, and the union would fall apart as “another failed experiment in Repbulicanism.”

Plus the vice president would still shoot somebody.

Well… I have to say, it’s an incredibly farfetched “what if” and calls for so much speculation as to be essentially unanswerable. Bush supporters and Bush haters (and I definitely count myself among the latter) can, more or less plausibly, answer it as their biases so incline them.

I don’t think Dubya has the leadership skills of most of the early presidents, Washington first and foremost (both chronologically and in ability). He, Jefferson and Jackson all had to overcome secessionist inclinations in various guises and by various names. I could see Dubya embarking on a course that would result in one or more states seceding in the early 1800s, but I don’t think that he is so uniquely incompetent that this would necessarily have happened.

Even in that scenario I disagree. The country survived Grant, and even most of the hardcore Bush bashers, in my opinion, would not say Bush is worse than Grant, assuming they actually knew something about the Grant presidency.

Bush simply would not have been able to declare random wars on people, and even if he did, he wouldn’t have the military to wage war. And considering the state of the rest of the world in the time period, they’d probably ignore the declaration with a laugh.

Domestic crises like they are today in general weren’t handled by the government back then. Economic depression? Oh well, that’s not the problem of the federal government in the early 19th century. Open rebellion and warfare? Yeah, but anybody knows how to crush a rebellion, like the Whiskey Rebellion for example.

Keep in mind there was no CIA, no FBI, no Secret Service, no significant standing army. Depending on which specific year you want to give Bush the theoretical presidency–with this new scenario it looks like you’re saying he’s the first president (markedly different from your original scenario) there may not even be any serious “political parties.”

Keep in mind that Washington, who was a fine first president, basically did VERY LITTLE, and very little was expected of the President at that time. Furthermore, Washington could have kept getting elected for life precisely because of his virtuous character, if you put Bush in his shoes, and if we assume (which I don’t, but will for these purpose) that Bush is nothing but extreme negative characteristics, he wouldn’t possess the same ability as Washington to have continued being elected. So, you’d have a one term do nothing President who offends people in high political circles and is promptly replaced by someone like Hamilton, Adams, or Jefferson who would have been acceptable.

The legislature was significantly more powerful in the early years. The idea of “President Bush” getting legislative initiatives through Congress would have been just as laughed at as John Adams was when he actually tried to take part in Senatorial proceedings as Vice President.

The electorate was also significantly smaller, someone who was obviously a power mongering president (in an age when the presidency was an institution looked upon with suspicion by many politicians) would be so politically ostracized by his peers he’d lack any meaningful way to even get elected in the first place.