It's been two weeks since Election Day, and although the man in the Oval Office won't admit it and a significant majority of his supporters think he was jobbed, the time has come to put up or shut up. A nation can't simultaneously have two presidents any more than it can have two kings.
So, in other words, it's time. In 2000, Americans waited until Dec. 12, but that was because no one really knew who won and it took a divided U.S. Supreme Court to settle it. Exactly 200 years earlier, it took even longer. That election brought Thomas Jefferson to the White House. The man he replaced, John Adams, was the first president to lose a reelection bid. He wasn't the last. Donald J. Trump joins a list that includes failed presidents, yes, but some whose tenures have aged better with time -- along with men who were highly capable public servants but found that the presidency wasn't the best fit for their talents.
The list includes Adams' son John Quincy Adams, Martin Van Buren, Benjamin Harrison, William Howard Taft, Herbert Hoover, Gerald Ford, Jimmy Carter, George H.W. Bush. There is nothing shameful at all about being on it. Certainly, the epitaph "loser" is absurd. Having said that, it can't feel good. It's painful to come up short in an election, even for those who never came close to winning the presidency.
George McGovern, who lost 49 states to Richard Nixon in 1972, once told the story of running into fellow Democrat Walter Mondale after Mondale carried only one state against Ronald Reagan in 1984. Mondale asked McGovern: How long does it take for the pain to go away?
"I'll let you know when I get there," McGovern quipped.
On this date in 1800, a meeting was held on Capitol Hill to help John Adams "get there."
On Nov. 17, 1800, members of Congress met for the first time in the partially completed U.S. Capitol. If you think inclement weather in Washington snarls traffic today, you should have been there in 1800 when snow blanketed the East Coast.
After meeting for 10 years in Philadelphia, which was beset by a cholera epidemic, members of Congress were eager to see their new capital. But not all of them could get there in time due to the autumn storm. A planned parade was cancelled and only 15 senators answered the roll call, two short of a quorum. When a sufficient number finally arrived four days later, Senate and House leaders invited President Adams to address them.
Accepting this invitation, Adams went by carriage on Nov. 22 to the drafty, unheated, and still-unfinished Capitol. It must have felt familiar: Adams had been living in a drafty, unheated, and still-unfished White House.
Although Americans didn't yet know who their new president would be, they knew it wasn't Adams. He and his Federalist Party had lost to the anti-Federalist ticket of Thomas Jefferson and Aaron Burr. The new nation was still deciding whether Jefferson or Burr would be president, a drama that would play out into the new year. But suffice it to say that Adams, America's second chief executive and the lamest of lame ducks, acquitted himself graciously that day.
"I congratulate the people of the United States on the assembling of Congress at the permanent seat of their government, and I congratulate you, gentlemen, on the prospect of a residence not to be changed," the president said, warming to his task. "Although there is cause to apprehend that accommodations are not now so complete as might be wished, yet there is great reason to believe that this inconvenience will cease with the present session."
Before launching into a State of the Union address that would be the last one delivered in person for the next 113 years, Adams offered what might be called a brief ecumenical prayer. "It would be unbecoming the representatives of this nation to assemble for the first time in this solemn temple without looking up to the supreme ruler of the universe and imploring His blessing," he said. He then offered a supplication of his own:
"May this territory be the residence of virtue and happiness. In this city may that piety and virtue, that wisdom and magnanimity, that constancy and self-government, which adorned the great character whose name it bears, be forever held in veneration. Here and throughout our country may simple manners, pure morals, and true religion flourish forever!"
It's a vision we are still struggling to live up to. But 220 years later, as we enter the season of thanksgiving, John Adams' high hopes for this country are still worth striving for.
Carl M. Cannon is the Washington bureau chief for RealClearPolitics. Reach him on Twitter @CarlCannon.