Ostracized or Exiled


Lincoln Memorial

In the highly charged campaign-election atmosphere, Donald Trump promised to drain the D.C. swamp — starting with Hillary Clinton.  His supporters chanted throughout the campaign to “lock her up,” which sounds better than “ostracize her!”

The tone in the transition period, however, has changed dramatically from assigning a special prosecutor to look into Hillary Clinton’s improprieties from Trump’s first day in office to more of Lincoln’s Second Inaugural address were Lincoln advocated “malice towards none, with charity to all.”   President-elect Trump must have been channeling Lincoln, a president who presided over a severely divide country, when he said: “I don’t want to hurt the Clinton’s, I really don’t, she went through a lot and suffered greatly in many different ways.”

With that said, and since we are in what appears to be a wave of populism, there is one way to drain the D.C. swamp without legal prosecution but through the ancient Greek practice of ostracizing those who may have stepped out of favor with the voting public.

The Athenians practice ostracizing their leaders on an annual basis. The Greeks often sent off some of their most illustrious leaders into 10 years of exile.  In fact, Themistocles, the chief advocate and designer of Athenian naval power, who defeated the Persians at the Battle of Salamis, was sent into exile. Despite his forward thinking in preparing Athens for the upcoming struggles with the Persian Empire, he did not survive accusations of “bribery, sacrilege, and a suspicious association with a Spartan traitor.”

In the 1770s Boston was a hotbed of democratic “populism.”   It was not an unusual sight to see a Sons of Liberty inspired-crowd put the hot tar to some poor British official. After being administering the feathers, the misguided official was then regally escorted out of town on a rail. Once the Revolutionary War started, many “loyal” colonists opted for self-exile rather remain unfaithful to their king and face the possibility of mob reprisals.

The Sons of Liberty knew a thing or two about putting democracy into action. A mob can be a beautiful thing if it is controlled but, in the wrong hands extreme mischief can spiral into anarchy as when angry Massachusetts’ farmers decided to close down the courts to keep the state from reposing their property for back taxes.  When their attempt failed, one of the chief instigators, Daniel Shays, chose voluntary exile when he fled to Vermont to avoid prosecution.

Revolutionary War Army Captain Daniel Shays

These pre and post-Revolutionary War experience in inciting the people, and dealing with tyrannical Royal governors, must have given the framers some disconcerting thoughts when it came time to amend the Article of Confederation. Instead of amending a loose confederation of states they decided to create a tighter federation of states.  They created a hybrid form of government splitting governmental power between a central government and states and putting various political philosophies that incorporated checks and balances, separation of powers, (specifically in creating a separate judicial system) and a Bill of Rights into a Constitution that protected the people and the powers to be from each other.

The framers of our Constitution borrowed liberally from past political thinkers from Locke, Rousseau, and Montesquieu; but sending citizens deemed undesirable into exile was not incorporated into the Constitution. The framers also understood the difficulties the Greeks had in keeping a pure democracy from turning into a tyranny and they no doubt understand the slow fade that took the Romans from a republic to an empire ruled by a soon to be gods.


During the Civil War Clement Laird Vallandigham, a former Congressman from Ohio and an anti-war Democrat, who some believed was a member of the Knights of the Golden Circle, was banished to the Confederacy.  In the opening months of 1863 when the Civil War still hung in the balance, the Union Army issued General Order 38. The order curbed the right to express anti-government sentiments or to convey sympathy for the enemy.


Vallandigham, being the good Copperhead spoke out against Lincoln and the war in a Columbus, Ohio speech.  Union General Ambrose E. Burnside promptly had him arrested, tried by a military court, convicted and sentenced to two years in a military prison all the while avoiding a civil trial. Lincoln however, showing some charity for Vallandigham, commuted the sentence and exiled the former Ohio Congressman to the Confederacy.

The Southerners were probably no more interested in having him around sent him off to Bermuda. From there Vallandigham made his way Canada and ran unsuccessfully for governor of Ohio from Canada. Vallandigham eventually crossed the border and returned to Ohio. He returned after Lincoln had won the 1864 election. Lincoln, however, ignored his return and deemed Vallandigham’s pro South rhetoric and activities no longer a nuisance as Union armies began surrounding Richmond.

Lincoln was dealing with a divided country that some would say was in open rebellion.  Others might say they were defending their rights and homes from an over reaching federal government.

Most Americans who choose to go into exile do so to avoid criminal prosecution.  After falling out of favor for killing Alexander Hamilton, Aaron Burr slithered out West to look for new empires to create. His activities there ran him afoul with the Jefferson Administration.  Burr was later arrested and brought back East and tried for treason and found innocent. He later fled to Europe to avoid creditors. Some may say Davy Crockett went off into self-exile after losing his election for Congress by saying, “You may all go to hell and I will go to Texas.”

David Crockett

A modern day financial flight to exile was millionaire financier and Richard Nixon supporter, Robert Vesco, who some have said was the “the undisputed king of the fugitive financiers.” He fled the United States in 1973 for Costa Rica and eventually died in Cuba.  A more familiar flight from justice is Edward Snowden the Booz Allen NSA subcontractor who leaked secret NSA surveillance documents to the press. He has made Russia his home.

Lost elections, criminal charges and convictions might be one way to encourage certain evasive creatures to leave the quagmire of D.C. But any attempt to drain the D.C. Swamp of certain entrenched reptiles may be as futile as trying to lure escaped pythons and boa constrictors to leave the Everglades.


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