FREEDOM OR ANARCHY,Campaign of Conscience.

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Sunday, March 20, 2016

U.S. CONSTITUTION: NEARLY PERFECT

U.S. CONSTITUTION: NEARLY PERFECT


But for a time, it did not appear that a constitution would even be formed. Earlier, the newly independent American States had lived under an extremely weak confederation, and Congress had little power to do much of anything. In a practical sense, the individual states under the Articles of Confederation were almost countries unto themselves, and they often conducted their own foreign affairs, concluded their own commercial treaties, coined their own money, and so forth. The newly independent nation was barely a nation, and many in Europe predicted that because of its abandonment of monarchy, it would fall into chaos and anarchy, which brought great dread to many of the Founders, perhaps foremost among them George Washington:
What a triumph for the advocates of despotism to find that we are incapable of governing ourselves, and that systems founded on the basis of equal liberty are merely ideal and fallacious! Would to God that wise measures may be taken in time to avert the consequences we have but too much reason to apprehend.
If America was unable to govern itself, the Founders feared it would prove the naysayers to be right: that man needed the strong arm of force in order to be governed rather than being capable of self-government.
A few months before the opening of the Constitutional Convention, Washington again expressed his profound apprehension concerning the very real possibility of the failure of the American experiment: “Among men of reflection, few will be found I believe who are not beginning to think that our system is better in theory than practice – and that, notwithstanding the boasted virtue of America, it is more than probable we shall exhibit the last melancholy proof that mankind are not competent to their own government without the means of coercion in the Sovereign.”
Other Founders expressed very similar and equally distressed concerns for this great experiment. This caused them to view with awe and reverence the product of the Constitutional Convention after a summer’s worth of work in 1787. Madison, traditionally labeled the “Father of the Constitution,” asserted that “the Union of so many states is, in the eyes of the world, a wonder; the harmonious establishment of a common government over them all, a miracle.” The fact that an assembly of men representing such divergent interests and concerns had come together and formed a constitution they intended to operate upon all of them was utterly remarkable. Washington called the fruit of their labors “the best fabric of human government and happiness that has ever been presented for the acceptance of mankind.” James Wilson, a fellow Convention delegate who also played an important role in bringing together the final product, declared to his constituents in Pennsylvania that he was “bold to assert that it [the Constitution] is the best form of government which has ever been offered to the world.” John Adams, the primary author of the Massachusetts Constitution and a longtime advocate of many of the principles incorporated into the new Constitution, recalled in his 1797 inaugural address that he read the Constitution “with great satisfaction, as the result of good heads prompted by good hearts, as an experiment better adapted to the genius, character, situation, and relations of this nation and country than any which had ever been proposed or suggested.”
Thomas Jefferson expressed a similar view in a letter to Adams: “A constitution has been acquired, which, though neither of us thinks happiest and the securest on whom the sun has ever shone.” In another, he articulated how he saw the Constitution within the context of history:
Never was a finer canvass presented to work on than our countrymen. All of them engaged in agriculture or the pursuits of honest industry independent in their circumstances, enlightened as to their rights and firm in their habits of order and obedience to the laws. This I hope will be the age of experiments in government, and that their basis will be founded in principles of honesty, not of mere force. We have seen no instance of this since the days of the Roman republic, nor do we read of any before that. Either force or corruption has been the principle of every modern government.
None of them believed the Constitution was perfect but that it nonetheless represented a singularly revolutionary step forward in the affairs of mankind. “The conception of such an idea,” Adams wrote, “and the deliberate union of so great and various a people in such a plan is, without all partiality or prejudice, if not the greatest exertion of human understanding, the greatest single effort of national deliberation that the world has ever seen.” Similarly, while he did not agree with everything it contained, Washington wrote that he was “convinced it approached nearer to perfection than any government hitherto instituted among men.” He continued:
You will permit me to say that a greater drama is now acting on this theater than has heretofore been brought on the American stage, or any other in the world. We exhibit at present the novel and astonishing spectacle of a whole people deliberating calmly on what form of government will be most conducive to their happiness, and deciding with an unexpected degree of unanimity in favor of a system which they conceive calculated to answer the purpose.

U.S. CONSTITUTION: NEARLY PERFECT


But for a time, it did not appear that a constitution would even be formed. Earlier, the newly independent American States had lived under an extremely weak confederation, and Congress had little power to do much of anything. In a practical sense, the individual states under the Articles of Confederation were almost countries unto themselves, and they often conducted their own foreign affairs, concluded their own commercial treaties, coined their own money, and so forth. The newly independent nation was barely a nation, and many in Europe predicted that because of its abandonment of monarchy, it would fall into chaos and anarchy, which brought great dread to many of the Founders, perhaps foremost among them George Washington:
What a triumph for the advocates of despotism to find that we are incapable of governing ourselves, and that systems founded on the basis of equal liberty are merely ideal and fallacious! Would to God that wise measures may be taken in time to avert the consequences we have but too much reason to apprehend.
If America was unable to govern itself, the Founders feared it would prove the naysayers to be right: that man needed the strong arm of force in order to be governed rather than being capable of self-government.
A few months before the opening of the Constitutional Convention, Washington again expressed his profound apprehension concerning the very real possibility of the failure of the American experiment: “Among men of reflection, few will be found I believe who are not beginning to think that our system is better in theory than practice – and that, notwithstanding the boasted virtue of America, it is more than probable we shall exhibit the last melancholy proof that mankind are not competent to their own government without the means of coercion in the Sovereign.”
Other Founders expressed very similar and equally distressed concerns for this great experiment. This caused them to view with awe and reverence the product of the Constitutional Convention after a summer’s worth of work in 1787. Madison, traditionally labeled the “Father of the Constitution,” asserted that “the Union of so many states is, in the eyes of the world, a wonder; the harmonious establishment of a common government over them all, a miracle.” The fact that an assembly of men representing such divergent interests and concerns had come together and formed a constitution they intended to operate upon all of them was utterly remarkable. Washington called the fruit of their labors “the best fabric of human government and happiness that has ever been presented for the acceptance of mankind.” James Wilson, a fellow Convention delegate who also played an important role in bringing together the final product, declared to his constituents in Pennsylvania that he was “bold to assert that it [the Constitution] is the best form of government which has ever been offered to the world.” John Adams, the primary author of the Massachusetts Constitution and a longtime advocate of many of the principles incorporated into the new Constitution, recalled in his 1797 inaugural address that he read the Constitution “with great satisfaction, as the result of good heads prompted by good hearts, as an experiment better adapted to the genius, character, situation, and relations of this nation and country than any which had ever been proposed or suggested.”
Thomas Jefferson expressed a similar view in a letter to Adams: “A constitution has been acquired, which, though neither of us thinks happiest and the securest on whom the sun has ever shone.” In another, he articulated how he saw the Constitution within the context of history:
Never was a finer canvass presented to work on than our countrymen. All of them engaged in agriculture or the pursuits of honest industry independent in their circumstances, enlightened as to their rights and firm in their habits of order and obedience to the laws. This I hope will be the age of experiments in government, and that their basis will be founded in principles of honesty, not of mere force. We have seen no instance of this since the days of the Roman republic, nor do we read of any before that. Either force or corruption has been the principle of every modern government.
None of them believed the Constitution was perfect but that it nonetheless represented a singularly revolutionary step forward in the affairs of mankind. “The conception of such an idea,” Adams wrote, “and the deliberate union of so great and various a people in such a plan is, without all partiality or prejudice, if not the greatest exertion of human understanding, the greatest single effort of national deliberation that the world has ever seen.” Similarly, while he did not agree with everything it contained, Washington wrote that he was “convinced it approached nearer to perfection than any government hitherto instituted among men.” He continued:
You will permit me to say that a greater drama is now acting on this theater than has heretofore been brought on the American stage, or any other in the world. We exhibit at present the novel and astonishing spectacle of a whole people deliberating calmly on what form of government will be most conducive to their happiness, and deciding with an unexpected degree of unanimity in favor of a system which they conceive calculated to answer the purpose.



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