It May Only Be a Hill of Beans, But It’s My Hill…

This week’s reading made me stop and think long and hard about something it appears we all take for granted every day—the creation of our government.  We ALL have our opinions on why it doesn’t work, what needs to change, who is best equipped to fix it, and so on.  However, I have rarely (I mean almost never) thought about what it takes to create one… at least one that works on some level.

Author David Wootton’s The Essential Federalist and Anti-Federalist Papers, lists each side of the argument involving both the Federalists and the Anti-Federalists and their published newsletters during the creation of the United States government.  While the reading can be somewhat dense (depending on the writer), these collective works represents the true difficulties involved in creating a government designed to represent “We the people”.  In reading it, I became fascinated by both sides because of what they were ultimately trying to achieve—a functional, working, republic, and democratic government which had never truly existed.  Additionally, they firmly believed they had to develop and carefully design a written Constitution, which is something else that had never been done before.  Yes, of course, other governments existed which had constitutional monarchies (both groups note that in their writings), but none had been written down as a collective and there was still a king, after all in most instances.

While the Founders had the theories of various great philosophical minds (Plato, Aristotle, Nietzsche, Locke, etc.) in which to take ideas from, they had no REAL models for creating a government!  Although each group knew what they wanted the young government to possess, how does one go about implementing and promoting the final product when you know your collective ideas will not only exclude some, dismiss equal representation and fairness for others all together (Native Americans, slaves, women), and yet be strong  enough to last and be upheld?   This is a lot to contemplate and expect from a simple piece of parchment written by a group of highly opinionated White men.

In the final analysis, we all know and can agree that sometimes our government drives us mad with its slow-functioning, inactivity, contradictions, bad decisions, malfunctions, exclusions, corruption, and bureaucracy.  However, something has held us together for over 200 years and while maybe the Constitution and the United States Government is not the best in the world, let us not forget that other new societies and young governments have copied the ideas of our Constitution and our representative government since its inception.  Also, while it may not be the best with all of its faults, no one has yet to come up with anything better.  But have you ever noticed that even in our anger and outrage as citizens, we still respect what each of those men expressed in their writings and whether we agree or disagree with our government’s latest “debacle”, we can all stand back and believe that it may only be a hill of beans, but it is OUR hill…

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7 Responses to It May Only Be a Hill of Beans, But It’s My Hill…

  1. nicksalute says:

    I honestly found great enjoyment in this post, and I completely agree with your opinions. As a matter of fact, I was just discussing a similar idea with a friend of mine last week. We were conversing over how the founding fathers are often scrutinized, but they must have done something right to build the foundation for a system that has lasted over 200 years I cannot even begin to fathom how complex it would be to create an entire government, and how many potential factors would have to be covered. The basis that they created has definitely stood the test of time, and is now viewed as an example for other young governments.
    A democratic system such as our own is such a drastic change from the previous forms of monarchies; I’m sure that fear of failure was present. Nevertheless, it is a truly fascinating idea.
    I especially enjoy your claim that if there is a better system out there, no on has presented it yet, and until they do, we must put aside our disagreements aside and give credit where credit is due.

  2. haleyschryver says:

    Great analysis! It is quite astonishing to think of how our Constitution was one of the first real written constitutions. While it may have its faults, and it does, it is an incredible achievement especially since it has lasted this long and has kept the government relatively stable over the past 200 years.

  3. Wunderkynd says:

    After having that class, I am still stuck idea of increasing the number of federal representatives to the level of Thomas Paine’s representation formula (if we did this, there would be 64,000+ reps today). At first I thought that such a process change would be ludicrous (change is hard, and how on earth would that affect the Congress’s efficiency?), but, after consideration, I actually think it would really great if this happened. It would be a true republic democracy. It wide rid unnecessary campaign spending on unnecessary career representatives. It would encourage public participation in government, and therefore endorse the values of the American community. All voices and interests would truly be heard. And with today’s technology, I don’t see the vastness of numbers being a hindrance to efficiency. (I’m still not sure why we can’t vote online yet – or why we can’t even text help to 911 in AZ, but those are separate tech issues… )

    Also, one of the students in class mentioned wanting to see the process in action before deciding if this radical type of representation would work. It makes me wonder if there could be some way to design a political experiment on mass representation of a group. I would be curious to see the results of such an experiment, perhaps using them to justify Paine’s representative formula.

    Overall, this was a great post and enjoyed your thoughts on the Federalist Papers!

  4. zoneofsubduction says:

    The practice of constitutional governance and representative democracies existed well before the United States and its founding documents were established.

    Both the Constitution of the U.S. and ‘Articles of Confederation and Perpetual Union’ were based on the earlier constitutional works of the American First Nations [comprised of Seneca, Cayuga, Onondaga, Oneida, and Mohawk nations]- entitled the ‘Ne Gayaneshagowa’ [the Great Binding Law] of the Iroquois League of Five Nations or after 1722 as the League of Six Nations when the Tuscarora petitioned for and were granted membership. This document was formed in 1451 to end inter-tribal wars and promote the confederacy of the First Nations in the representative democracy. Their culture was matriarchal based and the governance of the tribes were based in the family, flowed up through the tribe, and through the representative into the Confederation.

    In the 1750s, the League met and conferred with Pennsylvania colonists about their interest in the League and their form of governance. Even Benjamin Franklin championed the First Nations League as an ideal form of governance and the Articles of Confederation were based on it.

    The Ming dynasty in Imperial China had an early constitution that was codified under the Hongwu emperor, referred to as the ‘Ancestral Injunctions’, that lasted about 250 years after its establishment in 1375

    Prior to that, the English ‘Magna Carta’ of 1215 formed a charter between the King John and the free men [non-serfs] of England ensuring the Rights of the free men, establishing the rule of law and due process, and limiting the power of the Regent. It and the Charter of Liberties, signed by King Henry in 1100, remain as part of the British national ‘proto-constitution’ to this day.

    Prior to that, the Anglo-Saxons, the proto Germans, the Franks, and even the Islamic prophet – Mohammed had a constitution. Mohammed authored the ‘Constitution of Medina’ which promoted religious tolerance among the Muslims, the Jews, and those ‘not of the Book’, it also established taxation, governance, the sanctity of Medina as a holy place – forbidding weapons and violence, etc.

    Even Aristotle specifically spoke of a constitution and defined the theory of constitutional law in his work – ‘Constitution of Athens’

    in antiquity, there are the Code of Hammurabi, the Hittite Code, the Assyrian Code. etc.

    It may be popular to ascribe the theory, the writing of,and the implementation of a constitution to a rather pejorative term – “highly opinionated White men”, but the erstwhile truth is that a bunch of Semitic people in Asia Minor invented the concept first.

    The difference with the United States was that the American Constitution was written and implemented after the fall of Feudalism and without a Regent, establishing the primacy of individual Rights over the collectivism of the Regent and his/her landed classes.

  5. zoneofsubduction says:

    As an addendum to my earlier post. ancient Athens experienced democracy in the 6th century BC/BCE.The ancient Spartans were free to criticize, depose, and send their ‘Kings’ into exile. Tynwald on the Isle of Man has had a representative parliament since the 10th century.

    Representative democracy and pure democracy have existed prior to the founding of the United States.

    • beyers2013 says:

      Thank you so much for such a thoughtful, educational, and informative post. Definitely proves that there is always more to learn about our history.

  6. Great read and awesome points that were made. I have gotten a lot of information from class about our first steps of building our constitution and how many people are for and against it. I am for the constitution and its view on the laws and regulations that has given us a start to where we are today. People have viewed it as a strict and firm document that we live by but do not notice that we have made changes and added to it. Thanks for the read!!!

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