An Enemy of the U.S. Constitution Passes

An Enemy of the U.S. Constitution Passes
By JBS President John F. McManus

After a career that saw him teaching at Williams College in Massachusetts for 40 years, Professor James MacGregor Burns entered into eternity on July 15, 2014. Widely heralded as a champion of numerous left-wing causes he never abandoned, he authored 20 books and influenced many thousands of students. Friends and admirers have always lauded his works, especially his biographies of Franklin Roosevelt, John Kennedy and Edward Kennedy. For what he wrote about FDR, including a slight slap on the President’s wrist for not tying our nation more tightly to the USSR during WWII, he was awarded a Pulitzer Prize and a National Book Award. In 1958, he won the Democratic Party nomination for a seat in the U.S. House for the First Congressional District in Massachusetts, but was soundly defeated in the Fall election.

A life-long advocate of restructuring the U.S. Constitution to steer more power to the Executive Branch, Burns issued a 1984 work entitled “The Power to Lead: The Crisis of the American Presidency.” In it, he urged a rewrite of portions of the Constitution during the forthcoming bi-centennial celebrations of the 1787 Constitutional Convention, the 1789 ratification of a new Constitution, and the 1791 addition of the Bill of Rights to the new “law of the land.”

Obituaries characterizing Burns as a forward-looking thinker mentioned his “The Power to Lead” but failed to call attention to its truly controversial (revolutionary?) plans for America. It was in this book that Burns wrote of his disdain for the American system of limited government, preferring instead creation of an imperial presidency vested with greatly enhanced powers.  He wrote:

Let us face reality. The framers [of the Constitution] have simply been too shrewd for us. They have outwitted us. They designed separate institution [branches] that cannot be unified by mechanical linkages, frail bridges, tinkering. If we are to “turn the founders upside down” – to put together what they put asunder – we must directly confront the constitutional structure they erected.

With his several proposals for restructuring the Constitution already well-known, Burns was nevertheless named co-chairman of Project ’87 calling for “appraisal of this unique document” during the period surrounding its 200th anniversary. Later, a Committee on the Constitutional System (CCS) containing 15 members of its board who held membership in the Council on Foreign Relations (out of a total of 41) relied on Burns’ suggestions for reconstructing the Constitution. Many of the CCS bigwigs even promoted the idea of a constitutional convention.

Somewhat of a realist, Burns later suggested that the constitutional changes he advocated might possibly be enacted “following a stupendous national crisis and political failure.” Later Democratic allies have similarly pointed to opportunities to enact change during a real or contrived “crisis” that could befall our nation.

Beginning in the mid-1980s, and continuing to this day, threats to the Constitution posed by Burns and others, whether radical amendments or a complete overhaul via a constitutional convention, have been successfully blocked by the efforts of The John Birch Society, its affiliated magazine The New American, and several allies. While the plans of James MacGregor Burns weren’t enacted, the fight to preserve the Constitution continues.

8 Comments on “An Enemy of the U.S. Constitution Passes”

  1. Patrick says:

    We are where we are because of folks like him! In the South, he is the classic example of a “Yankee”! I hope he burns in hell!


  2. fipplepop says:

    I learned something that had never crossed my mind: Conservatives weren’t the only ones calling for a constitutional convention. The idea is so strange that I will definitely check it. In any event, although the idea of a Constitutional convention is not new, and I have seen it touted on many, many occasions, I have NEVER seen it advocated by someone from the left. However, regardless of who espouses the idea, I have always made it a point of asking them, “What makes you so sure that the convention would result in an outcome that you like? Democrats form the largest portion of the country, so what makes you think that a convention would produce a Conservative’s idea of heaven?” It just doesn’t make sense. I happen to be a Conservative, and I would like to see a country more like what the Founding Fathers envisioned, but a Conventional Convention is not a realistic way of accomplishing that. The results would more like be something that James McGregor Burns would like (allegedly). [I will check. I still can’t believe that this idea has ever been promoted by any liberal/leftwing individual or group.]


    • Northpaw says:

      No you don’t generally hear it proposed by the left because they don’t think the constitution should be taken seriously enough to warrant the time and effort to amend. After all as their new BFF obama (King Putt) has demonstrated with a pen and phone who needs to be tied down to an old scripture no more relevant to them than the bible.


  3. Northpaw says:

    You might think it is weak and totally unresponsive but it is strong and very responsive. Be more specific next time or expect simple reactions in return.


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