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Saturday, August 27, 2005

Nation Building

We tend to forget the past difficulties, the many false starts, and the painful groping. We see our past achievements as the end result of a clean forward thrust, and our present difficulties as signs of decline and decay.

Eric Hoffer (1902–1983)

It was a hot August, and the dry nature of the business being considered made it extra unpleasant. The everyday gunfire, the hatred and thinly disguised contempt of some representatives for others, made the heat and the continual sniping seem even worse.

For years, these elected representatives – the first free elections held in their nation - had worked under a loosely functioning Confederation. From the day they were first elected, the problems grew worse. There were military dangers attendant upon participating, as insurgent and counter-insurgent shot from behind every rock. Lack of representatives attending Congress, and the relocation of debates for safety purposes prevented continual debate on the Articles. The debates concerning the Articles were prolonged over questions regarding representation in the legislature, land boundaries, and apportionment of taxation. Now, the time to write a binding constitution had at last come.

The delegates debated to redress the deficiencies of the then-current government created by the elections. Many of the delegates maintained that a strong national government was needed to replace the weak central government that existed; others feared a return to the authoritarian one-man rule they had just died to overthrow. Delegates from the north and south almost spoke different languages when it came to their country. Compromises were reached that gave fewer rights and liberties to some citizens than others, based on social and religious beliefs, but unless the compromises were made, the country would fall into anarchy. A special clause even had to be added to the constitution that allowed the free passage of a citizen from one part of the country to another, without a passport or fees being needed.

In mid-September, after a final compromise was reached giving a greater proportion of representation to minorities, a vote to engross the Constitution was taken, and it was sent to the people to be ratified. Those who had lost out in the compromises promised a string of immediate amendments, and some were indeed added later.

Is this a description of Baghdad, 2005? No, of Philadelphia, 1786. And while the Founding Fathers were able to cobble together the Articles of Confederation in two years, it took from June 26, 1778 to September 17, 1786 – 8 years – to go from the adoption of the Articles of Confederation to a final Constitution to be sent to the public for ratification, with slaves counted as 2/3 of a person (as women may be treated under the new Iraqi constitution). In fact, what we think of as our 'constitutional rights' arent's actually in the Constitution, but instead are in those early amendments.

Remember that the next time you read that the process is taking too long in Iraq – it took us eight years.

Porcupine again thanks the National Archives and the National Parks Service for refreshing his memory with specific dates.

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3 Comments:

Blogger Penguin said...

Nice way to make the point. Americans seem generally to be too impatient, or to want immediate results. Remember, we had troops in conquered Japan from 1945 to 1952, and STILL have troops in Korea and Germany. The press seems uninterested in these comparisons, however.

7:57 AM  
Blogger Peter Porcupine said...

I think AMERICANS remember these things, if reminded; it is REPORTERS who do not.

1:44 PM  
Blogger guywiththefunnyname said...

Well-said! Americans know, but we need to be continually reminded. It is the duty of lovers of freedom and students of history to continually rekindle the passion of liberty in the hearts of their fellow men.

3:05 PM  

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