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Mr. Adams’s Bold Proposal

October 14, 2015

In the 20th and 21st centuries the U.S. Supreme Court has often interpreted the Constitution in a manner that implies there are no limits to what the Federal Government might do. In his day John Quincy Adams pushed the limits of the Constitution, but he still believed there were limits. He had known George Washington, who presided over the Constitutional Convention. James Madison, the “Father of the Constitution,” was still living when John Quincy Adams was President. Both Washington and Madison, men who were actually in attendance at the 1787 Constitutional Convention, had a broader view of Constitutional limits than did Jefferson, who was in Europe at the time. When Jefferson became President, he even violated some of his own principles in order to govern. Yet, somehow the Jeffersonian ideal and not the Jeffersonian practice became the prevailing view.

In his first annual message to Congress, Adams asked for a national observatory, a national university, and a vast network of roads and canals. Congress gave him no observatory, no university, and only a few internal improvements.

In his first annual message to Congress, Adams had written that: “…no government, in whatever form constituted, can accomplish the lawful ends of its institution but in proportion as it improves the condition of those over whom it is established.” In other words, when the government makes things better, the people will have a vested interest in the success of the government. Therefore, John Quincy Adams thought his proposed program was simply good common sense.

The Congress thought it was a dangerous unconstitutional experiment. The people, not realizing what might have been accomplished, and not caring for Mr. Adams anyway, did not re-elect him in 1828.

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