“The Filibuster Journals” The worst thing Aaron Burr did.


No, it wasn’t that he shot and killed Alexander Hamilton

Many of you have seen “Hamilton,” the breakthrough musical that elevated our most underrated Founding Father to cult status. For those of you who haven’t seen it, do. (Since no one knows when it will be performed live again, you can watch it on Disney Plus – $7.95 for one-month access; cancel after that if you desire.)

While Alexander Hamilton is the hero of the show, like in many other shows, he’s surrounded by a large cast of characters, some good and others bad.

Among the good guys are General, and then President, George Washington, the Marquis de Lafayette, John Laurens, Hamilton’s best friend and anti-Slavery, equal rights advocate, South Carolinian (are you listening, Lindsey Graham), and of course Alexander’s wife, Eliza.

Not necessarily bad guys, but certainly Hamilton antagonists, are Thomas Jefferson and James Madison.

Naturally, the most notable bad guy is…drum roll please…King George III of Great Britain and Ireland (unless you attended the London performance).

But the baddest of the bad, Hamilton’s one-time idol and mentor, is the Vice President of the United States, Aaron Burr, who challenged Hamilton to a duel and, in the process, killed him.

OK, interesting, you say. But that happened 216 years ago. Get over it, you’re thinking. Yes, Burr was a bad guy. Yes, he murdered Hamilton. But aren’t there more important issues facing us in 2021? Like the filibuster, which if not eliminated, threatens to put all the Biden administration’s progressive actions on permanent hold? Burr-Hamilton makes for a great musical, but it’s really old news.

Not so fast.

Guess who’s responsible for the filibuster?

As Craig Holman, Public Citizen’s lobbyist on ethics, lobbying and campaign finance and Lisa Gilbert, Public Citizen’s executive vice president, wrote for InsideSources.com:

There is nothing in the U.S. Constitution that provides for the filibuster. In fact, it is anathema to what the Founders envisioned for the legislative process. Noting the standstill of the legislative process under the super-majority vote requirements of the Articles of Confederation, the Founders wrote a new Constitution fundamentally based on majority rule.

Instead, the filibuster came into existence very much by mistake. Both the House and Senate rule books included the “previous question” motion, which allowed each body to cut off debate by a simple majority.

In 1805, Vice President Aaron Burr presided over the Senate and argued that the “previous question” motion was superfluous, and so the Senate deleted it from the rulebook. No one contemplated that could empower a senator to keep the floor indefinitely and prevent a vote on a motion until decades later, with the first filibuster in 1837.

Wait, what? Did they say Aaron Burr is the culprit for this procedure which was considered an “anathema to what the Founders envisioned for the legislative process?” That it was revised in the Constitution from what was written in the flawed Articles of Confederation because the Founders believed in majority rule? That it was a “mistake” perpetrated by Vice President Aaron Burr?

That Aaron Burr?

Here’s what Holman and Gilbert go on to say about Aaron Burr wrought:

Today, the filibuster has become a routine tool to derail a majority party’s legislative agenda. The startling frequency of such informal filibusters today can be measured by the number of cloture motions, debate by a supermajority vote in 1917, known as the “cloture” rule, which have gone from one or two cloture motions per session prior to the 1960s to 150 to 250 today.

But the dysfunction caused by the filibuster could strangle much of the Democratic majority agenda. And Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell has signaled that he will filibuster these democracy reforms to the death.

So next time you see “Hamilton,” you have another reason to hiss Aaron Burr. He was a real bad guy. He shot and killed Alexander Hamilton. But he was made “badder” by his fathering of the filibuster. And, as you hiss, remember, even bad boy Burr couldn’t have foreseen the baddest bad boy of all, Mitch McConnell!

Published by Ted Block

Ted Block is a veteran “Mad Man,” having spent 45+ years in the advertising industry. During his career, he was media director of several advertising agencies, including Benton & Bowles in New York and Foote, Cone and Belding in San Francisco; account management director on clients as varied as Clorox, Levi’s and the California Raisin Advisory Board (yes, Ted was responsible for the California Dancing Raisins campaign); and regional director for Asia based in Tokyo for Foote, Cone where he was also the founding president of FCB’s Japanese operations. Ted holds a Bachelor’s degree in communications from Queens College and, before starting in advertising, served on active duty as an officer on USS McCloy (DE-1038) in the U.S. Navy. Besides writing Around the Block, Ted is also a guest columnist for the Palm Beach Post.

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