Political predictions they got wrong (No23) George Washington predicts the collapse of the USA

Probably more than any of the other Founding Fathers, with the possible exception of Alexander Hamilton, George Washington spent a lot of time worrying about the future. In his speeches he was always referring to the ‘unborn millions’ and he gave a lot of thought to how might be perceived in a hundred years time.

However considering he was the undisputed father of his country he was also extremely pessimistic as to its future, a problem that got worse as he got older. The drafting of the Constitution that created the United States was a fairly difficult experience in itself and Washington commented that, ‘I almost despair of seeing a favorable issue to the proceedings of the convention, and do therefore repent having any agency in the business’. Eventually it was finished and helped rescue America from the chaos of the Articles of Confederation. Washington doubted though whether their experiment in Republican government would succeed, confiding to a friend that, ‘I do not expect the Constitution to last for more than twenty years’.

He repeated variations of this prediction as time went by, largely based on two factors. One was the growth in party factions after he was President. Washington was undoubtedly a unique figure and united the country in a way that no one since has been able to emulate. However after his Presidency the Founding Fathers split into two groups, the Federalists led by Adams and Hamilton and the Democratic-Republicans led by Jefferson and Madison. These developments so alarmed Washington that he spent a good chunk of his Farewell Address warning the nation against ‘the malignant spirit of faction’. However the problems got worse rather than better and when a friend wrote to him asking if he would stand for President again he refused arguing that, ‘Let [the Jeffersonians] set up a broomstick, and call it a true son of Liberty…and it will command their votes in toto!’.

The second factor was slavery. Unlike most of the other Founding Fathers who had slaves Washington freed his upon his death (or if you’re being picky technically on the death of his wife). Partly this was because he had developed a genuine moral disgust at the institution of slavery but also because he was concerned about his reputation as a defender of liberty. He also worried a great deal about the unspoken deal that was struck at the Constitutional Convention in 1787 not to discuss the issue of slavery. If you read the Constitution today slaves are referred to as ‘other persons’.

While many of the other Founding Fathers were content to bury their heads in the sand, Washington was very aware that this issue would one day threaten the existence of the Republic. Even Jefferson, who didn’t free his slaves, wrote that, ‘I tremble for my country when I remember that God is just; that his justice cannot sleep forever’. Of course in this, as in many things, Washington was right, as only sixty years after his death the Civil War almost tore the country apart.

Despite Washington’s predictions in his more gloomy moments that the Constitution would barely last twenty years, the United States has endured for over two hundred, and grown in a way he could not have imagined. The problem of factions is still very much with us, and if anything getting worse rather than better. That said, this is one prediction though where I’m extremely glad that Washington got it wrong.

For a full list of political predictions they got wrong please click here

About matthewashton

I'm a Politics Lecturer at Nottingham Trent University. I specialise in the fields of American, British and media politics.
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4 Responses to Political predictions they got wrong (No23) George Washington predicts the collapse of the USA

  1. brown131 says:

    I would call “the problem of factions”: Democracy. To quote Thomas Carlyle: “Democracy is cumbersome, slow and inefficient, but in due time, the voice of the people will be heard and their latent wisdom will prevail “

    • This is what the Founding Fathers spent their entire lives wrestling with. How to express the will of the people while also restraining the worst tendencies of the mob? The US Constitution does a reasonable job of this although sometimes goes too far in both directions. In my experience the public can sometimes be wise but equally can be struck by sudden bouts of rage and hysteria. Good government should be strong enough to accept one while guarding against the other even when it’s not always easy to tell the difference.

  2. Brian S says:

    Washington wasn’t WRONG, just off-date by a little bit.

    • Ratification of the Constitution took place on June 21, 1788.
    • The Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution was adopted on July 9, 1868.

    The 14th Amendment was DRAFTED by CORPORATIONS so that they could become LEGAL PEOPLE, not LAWFUL people (big difference), it was cleverly masked behind the mantra that newly-freed slaves are people, and they ARE, we’re not disputing that. But the wealthy corporate masters KNEW they could hide behind that mantra to get themselves considered LEGAL PEOPLE as well.

    That is exactly when the citizens became property of the government, the government became a corporation itself (hence the “incorporation” of state, city & local governments, cities and communities.) Don’t believe it? Research “List of cities and towns in INSERT YOUR STATE NAME HERE” and LOOK for the date of INCORPORATION. What do you think it means to be “incorporated”?

    The Founding Fathers were BRILLIANT and KNEW that this country would fall to the wealthy elite and their corporate interests, they just differed on how long it would take.

    Sad that people like you, who haven’t done their research on all levels, try to belittle and demean men who were brilliant enough to forge a Republic which gave man his inherent freedom from tyranny back, only to have those very freed men, f–k it all up and give it away.

    Who cares if it was 20, 40 or 60 years later, IT HAPPENED and they PREDICTED IT WOULD.

    • While some of the Founding Fathers were very clever men, many of them weren’t. Certainly not all who attended the drafting of the Constitution in Philadelphia were brillant ;-) Benjamin Franklin once wrote about Adams “I am persuaded, however, that he means well for his Country, is always an honest Man, often a wise one, but sometimes, and in some things, absolutely out of his senses”.

      I think you’re also making the mistake of assuming that the Founding Fathers agreed on everything. Jefferson had deep misgiving about Alexander Hamilton and his vision for the USA as a financial industrial powerhourse (and the creation of the national debt). Equally Hamilton and Adams were distrustful of Jefferson and Madison’s vision of the future. While I don’t believe in the argument put forward by Charles Beard (it doesn’t stack up against the evidence), I do wonder what figures like Robert Morris would makes of this.

      You state that these were “men who were brillant enough to forge a Republic which gave man his inherent freedom back”. However that wasn’t much use if you were any colour other than white or female. Jefferson wrote that all men are created equal yet defended his ownership of slaves (at least Washington freed his in his will – technically).

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