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To the Founders, Congress was king

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Such a glittering celebration! Such huge crowds! All of this to honor one federal officeholder - the president. What would the Founding Fathers make of it?

George W. Bush will be sworn into office Thursday for his second term amid a one-day torrent of bands, parades, floats, fireworks, gala dances, and adulating crowds worthy of a king. The festivities, including massive security measures to protect the participants, will cost more than $50 million (much of it corporate money). Some 750,000 people are expected to line the parade route and gather for the president's speech outside the Capitol.

This impressive political festival contrasts sharply with quiet ceremonies three weeks ago that the Founding Fathers might have considered much more important. In the House of Representatives, the "people's house," 435 freshly elected members from all 50 states were sworn into office. In the Senate, 34 newly elected and reelected members took the oath. The public hardly noticed. The Washington Post plopped the story onto Page 3.

America's Founders would surely be "surprised" by this turn of events, says Carol Berkin, a professor of American history at the City College of New York and Baruch College. Dr. Berkin is the author of "A Brilliant Solution: Inventing the American Constitution."

The nation's Founders expected Congress, not the president, to be where the real action was, Berkin says. The president was supposed to be, well, more like an "errand boy" for Congress.

James Madison's wonderfully revealing notes at the Federal Convention of 1787 leave no doubt that the Founders - including George Washington, Benjamin Franklin, Gouverneur Morris of Pennsylvania, and dozens of others - envisioned a supreme legislative branch as the heart and soul of America's central government.


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