Saturday, July 7, 2012

Lessons from 1787 - The Constitutional Convention

I believe we live in a most remarkable country - The United States.  While we may be suffering a great divide in politics and struggling to enact solutions to problems - even unable to agree what the problems really are - it is a great country.
I find it interesting to look back in our history to try to gain perspective about what is happening today.  Curiosity about the political current during the drafting of the constitution led me to the National Archives where I discovered this article,  That summer in 1787 brought together a group of men who were vastly different in their views concerning this young nation's governance.  They put their lives on hold and stayed in Philadelphia for months on end until the convention reached it's conclusion - The first draft of the United States Constitution.  And at the end - in the final vote - despite all their differences, name calling, differing philosophies - that draft passed by unanimous vote.
The work did not end there.  This draft had to go before every state legislature for ratification.  That draft had no Bill of Rights.  States demanded those amendments.
Prior to the Constitution's passage, we had a loose confederation of states acting largely autonomously.  The federal government had little power and little money.  It's interesting to see what the issues were at the time that led these men to come together.  Massive inflation - $100 for a pound of tea - debtors imprisoned, people loosing family farms due to excessive taxation....
What I find remarkable is the determination to create a solution.  They argued and fought, debated, with name calling and maneuvering but they did not stop working toward a solution.  They didn't end the process and walk away.  They listened to each other - not always patiently - but they listened throughout the entire process and concerns from each side were considered and added.
At the end of the day, we wound up with a Constitution that wasn't perfect (it's been carefully amended over time) but it has served us well for more than 200 years.  To me, one big message about the process was that there was great effort to balance power - between the branches of federal government, between the federal government and states and between these institutions and individual rights.  There has been a tug of war ever since with a pushing and pulling of power.
In 1787, there was much concern about the emergence of an aristocracy.  Some even thought it would be necessary to create order.  Instead these leaders created a Republic. I believe they could not have created a successful government if they had not incorporated a fully collective input.  Balance cannot come from one perspective.
My concern for this country now is about balance and polarization.  No matter what side of issues you may stand, we need to hear each other.  And we need to stay with one another long enough to come up with collective solutions.  It's easy to do nothing and blame someone else for it.  It's easy to look at what someone else has done and criticize it.  The greatest things - the things that will stand the test of time - are those things we create together.  It takes much more work, but it's worth it.

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