In 1861, on this day the Confederate bombardment of Fort Sumter forced the US Congress to dismiss President James Buchanan's administration less than one month after resuming office.
Pilot of the StormThe scenario that the legislative arm of government might need to fire the executive had not been foreseen by the Founding Fathers, who instead of crowning George Washington, had proclaimed that the US Constitution was King. But the decision to place their trust in a sacred, but rigid and unbending rule of law had proven as dangerous as reliance on a monarch because it required flexible intepretation by a strong-willed Chief Magistrate. And the trouble was, a weak succession of Presidents since Andrew Jackson had exposed major flaws in the American system of government.
By the mid 1850s the country was heading for Civil War, unchecked by the bold and imaginative leaders that might preserve the Union. And so Walter Bagehot was invited from England, a man of letters widely considered to be the leading expert on constitutional matters of the day. Bagehot's committee proposed a series of jaw-dropping recommendations, but the central proposal was undisputed. Because America's fixed term system surely did embed apathy in the body politic. And the scenario foreseen by Bagehot, a national crisis in which a "pilot of the calm" would need to be quickly replaced by a "pilot of the storm" arrived soon enough.