Sunday, June 1, 2008

The Crack in the Constitution


PHILADELPHIA’S National Constitution Center has become a symbolic protest site for demonstrators, most recently by those protesting the violations of the Constitution at the CIA prison at Guantanamo.

During the official opening ceremonies of the Constitution Center, when they pulled on a string to unveil the backdrop to main stage, the frame and support beam collapsed and fell down on top of the assembled dignitaries, which included Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Conner, Senator Arlen Specter and then Philadelphia Mayor Milton Street.

It was an inauspicious opening of the National Constitution Center which Mayor Street claimed was not an accident, but a conspiracy by the stage union to embarrass and discredit him.

The duel purpose of the center - to educate the public and promote tourism in Philadelphia, is buttressed by the conservative Republican agenda that at first attempted to exclude the fact that the authors of the United States Constitution were slave owning hypocrites. The very site of the center is now recognized as once the slave quarters of the founding fathers.

But the primary problem with the Constitution, as opposed to the Constitution Center itself, is the way it has been continuously violated over the years, without redress.

The spirit of the Constitution is broken and the democratic will of the people violated every time a president is assassinated.

Presidents Lincoln, Garfield, McKinnley, Harding and Kennedy were all murdered while in office, the truths of their deaths were left a mystery, and at least in the case of Kennedy, government records are still being withheld from the public for reasons of national security.

Though technically unbroken, the Constitution only remains officially intact because of the provisions that allow for the Vice President to assume the powers of the presidency upon the death of the President, a little-discussed, but significant trigger and legal extra-Constitutional loophole that has been successfully utilized to seize power.

While these provisions allow for the uninterrupted continuation of the functions of government, when the President is brutally murdered and the Vice President is suspiciously implicated in the crime, as we have seen with Lincoln, McKinley and Kennedy, it is, in essence, a coup d’etat, the violent take over of the government.

Because the Constitution, as amended, requires the Vice President to automatically assume the position, authority and powers of the Presidency upon the death of the President, the new President also assumes control over the government’s reaction to the murder, and the official investigations of it.

Staged photos of the swearing in of President Johnson aboard Air Force One, with the former first lady in her blood stained dress, were technically unnecessary, as LBJ automatically became President when JFK’s head was blown open, but the photo psychologically demonstrated the succession of power to the public.

Even though new laws were enacted to ensure the public of the continuity of the government, the legality of Presidential succession and the security of the Constitution, the public’s confidence in the government began to decline with the assassination of President Kennedy, and continues to do so. But it didn’t begin with Kennedy.


The conspired and premeditated murder of John F. Kennedy, the 35th President of the United States in 1963, was politically based and orchestrated on the earlier McKinley model, and in some respects, on what happened to Garfield.

As Maxim Armbruster points out in The Presidents of the United States (Horizon Press, NY, 1960, 1973), "When Chester Alan Arthur was nominated for Vice President; he was considered a nonentity, while Garfield was considered a man of statesman caliber."

Then on July 2, 1881 Garfield was shot at a Washington D.C. railroad station "by a fanatic of the Stalwart group who shouted Arthur was now President." The Stalwarts, Republicans opposed to the "Half-Breeds" who supported Garfield, were the main force behind a third term for Grant.


Twenty years later, New York governor Teddy Roosevelt was nominated to be the Vice President candidate with William McKinley, a political move by his opponents to get Roosevelt out of the limelight. But that plan backfired when McKinley was assassinated on September 6, 1901 at the Pan Am Exposition in Buffalo, New York. McKinley was shot by a "glassy eyed anarchist" who was known to be a threat to the President, but not the Constitution, which remained intact with the elevation of Roosevelt to the Presidency.

McKinley had been the Spanish Civil War hero, and as Armbruster reports, "When, after McKinley’s death, Roosevelt became President, he stated he would carry out McKinley’s policies. Before long the country realized that the only policies he was interested in were Roosevelt policies."


When Warren Harding died suspiciously after becoming sick on a train to California from Alaska, some blamed food poisoning, while others said it was a heart attack, but it effectively removed the man, tainted from the Teapot Dome scandal, from power, and elevated Calvin Coolidge to the Presidency. The Constitution remained intact.


The shooting of John F. Kennedy in broad daylight in front of hundreds of witnesses and filmed for posterity was not so much a coup d’etat as it was the coup d’grace. The real coup took place in August, 1960 in a Los Angeles hotel during the Democratic national convention when Lyndon Baines Johnson was maneuvered into the Vice President slot, against the determined efforts of Robert F. Kennedy.

Despite taking a stature of lower power and esteem than the one he already had as Speaker of the House in Congress, LBJ himself was convinced to be the candidate for Vice President by Texas governor John Connolly and Phil Graham, the publisher of the Washington Post. Johnson knew he would be too old to run for President after serving eight years as Veep, and only agreed to take the position when told one self-explanatory statistic – 20%, or one out of every five presidents have died in office. Johnson knew those odds could be improved to beyond a certainty. (See Clare Booth Luce’s version of this story).

John Kennedy’s father Joe Kennedy convinced his son to offer the Vice Presidency to LBJ, a logical choice to help win the southern states, but an offer that Johnson was expected to refuse. It was a strategic move that backfired, just as it had on Garfield and McKinley.

As Vice President, his only real responsibility was casting the tie breaking vote in the Senate, but LBJ was given many new responsibilities (ie. NASA). But it was reported (In the Dallas Morning News of November 22, 1963) that LBJ would be replaced on the ticket before the next election. This was thought to be certain after LBJ was implicated in the Bobby Baker scandal and Johnson may very well have been on the way out of power, until the President was suddenly shot and killed in broad daylight in downtown Dallas.

Suddenly the Vice President became the most powerful person in the world, with all the executive powers of the government behind him, and with LBJ, all the powers of the Presidency were in the hands of a mean, vile, vicious and power hungry man known to have had others killed.

LBJ’s crimes, other than conspiracy and murder, also include perjury and treason, perjury committed while swearing an oath of office to uphold the Constitution of the United States.


I suspect the same model was used again during the Watergate era when Vice President Agnew was replaced by Rep. Gerald Ford, with the knowledge that Agnew was found to have accepted bribes as Governor of Maryland, and thus unsuitable to assume the sinking Nixon Presidency. Once it was realized that Nixon would have to resign, Ford was put in place to be able to succeed Nixon when he was forced to resign. Then again in 1980, Vice President George Bush was ready to succeed Ronald Regan had the assassination attempt at the Hinkley assassination attempt been successful.



The Constitution may have remained technically intact with the death of the President in office, but the spirit of the nation’s democratic foundation is lost when the President is violently and publicly executed and the legal and judicial system allows the perpetrators to go unidentified and unpursued.

The only way to restore the public’s confidence in their government is to release all of the government records related to the assassination and resolve the murder of the President to a legal and moral certainly.

Our national security depends on it.

No other reason is necessary to justify the release of all the relevant records and the legal pursuit of those responsible other than it is a constitutional imperative, the laws were broken, and our national security depends on it.

"Even a man's fate held true on course, in a blinding flash rams some hidden reef; but if caution only casts the pick of the cargo - one well-balanced cast - the house will noto go down, not outright; labouring under its wealth of grief the ship of state rides on."

Aeschylus, from The Oresteia.

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