Time to concede: The peaceful transition of power is an American tradition
Ever since the first presidential transition, from George Washington to John Adams, America’s Founding Fathers set the stage for how to peacefully transition from one administration to the next — a critical process which is necessary to maintain continuity of government and demonstrate to the world that despite our differences, we are all united as Americans. In times of war, depression, Electoral College disputes and occasional recounts, the end result has always been the same — on Jan. 20 at noon (currently), we transition seamlessly from one administration to the next.
Throughout our great history, some transitions have been bitter — as in 1801 when Adams left the city of Washington in the middle of the night so he would not have to attend the inauguration of his rival, Thomas Jefferson, the following day. Although still stinging from defeat, Adams knew that peaceful transition was best for the nation he helped found. It was Adams peaceful departure that created the precedent for every election to follow.
In 1829, despite the refusal of John Quincy Adams to attend the inauguration of his successor, Andrew Jackson peacefully assumed the presidency. The two had previously battled for the White House in 1824 and deeply personal attacks by the candidates made today’s political campaigns seem tame.
The transition from Andrew Johnson to Ulysses S. Grant, which also followed a contentious election, was less than friendly. Johnson refused to attend Grant’s swearing-in but it was nonetheless peaceful and orderly. For a country still reeling from the assassination of President Lincoln and the reconstruction of the South, this proved to be a critical show of unity to the rest of the world at a time when many foreign adversaries were closely watching.
In 1896, when Republican William McKinley defeated Democrat William Jennings Bryan, Bryan wrote to McKinley, “We have submitted the issue to the American people and their will is law.” Bryan later wrote of his concession, “We were not fighting each other, but stood as the representatives of different political ideas, between which the people were to choose.”
As our nation finishes counting all of the ballots in this year of record voter turnout, we are about to see a transition to a new administration led by Joe Biden. The president should provide the necessary assistance to the transition teams, and lead our country in coming together for the good of all its citizens. As a former ambassador and a congressman who is the ranking member of the Western Hemisphere Subcommittee of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, it is dangerous to not allow Biden access to the Presidential Daily Briefings or to any messages that the State Department is receiving for him. During this time of transition, we know from past experiences such as the Cold War dangers of the Eisenhower/Kennedy transition, Iran hostage crisis during the Carter/Reagan transition, and terrorism threats during the Clinton/Bush transition, that our newly elected president must be fully up to speed on world affairs, potential conflicts, and the status of our assets abroad. Our biggest threats in times of perceived national turmoil will come from foreign adversaries. The president also can and should instruct the Government Services Agency (GSA) to allow the Biden transition team access to information and funds necessary to ensure a smooth, thorough transition.
I am concerned that by questioning the integrity of the 2020 election without reliable proof of wrongdoing we undermine the principles of free and fair elections and leave our country distracted and exposed to our enemies. In future national elections, states should strive to adopt the Florida model for how ballots are mailed, received, counted and reported. Doing so will eliminate many of the negative perceptions that have accompanied ballot counting in Arizona, Georgia, Pennsylvania and Nevada. America has always been a beacon of hope and example to the free world. Diminishing our role will empower the forces of oppression and authoritarianism around the world.
It is therefore incumbent upon the United States to ensure to its citizens — and to demonstrate to the world — that we are on course for a peaceful transfer of power. President Trump should concede the election immediately after all long-shot court challenges have been disposed of. The best interests of our nation and our party demand that we acknowledge the winner of this vigorous contest. The American People have made their choice. It is the American way to recognize and honor that choice.
Rep. Francis Rooney represents Florida’s 19th District and previously served as U.S. Ambassador to the Holy See under President George W. Bush from 2005 to 2008.