(This post was written in two years ago today, not long after I had attended then Congressman Brian Baird’s town hall in Centralia. Like all town halls I attend, this one gave me plenty to think about. The only person I disagreed with all night was a guy in a green shirt who was very rude to the Congressman. The next fall, the guy got elected to the Centralia City Council. Go figure.)
At the town hall a few weeks ago, I listened to a lady saying we needed to go back to what our Founding Fathers wanted. Sounded nice. Sounded patriotic. It also sounded like she got her history from School House Rock. I kept wondering if she actually knew who any of them were or what they stood for. She spoke as if they were all of one voice and belief. In doing so, she may have missed the point that these men went through a rough process to accomplish all that they did. It was not done immediately and with love and grace for all. No bluebirds singing and bunny rabbits hopping. At times the debates and tone were angry. They worked hard to draft the Constitution, in spite of the fact that some had serious issues with parts of it. Some delegates went home in anger, refusing to participate. Once done, these men knew it may not be perfect, and allowed for a way to change it without bloodshed.
Map showing differing positions.
Fifty-five men collected in Philadelphia with the goal of addressing issues with the Articles of Confederation, though only 38 were there at any one time. Rhode Island didn’t send delegates. They came as individuals representing different groups, regions and economies. Our country had just won a major war for independence, but it had come at a great cost. There needed to be something done to insure safety. Each state saw itself as sovereign, not part of one big happy country. Once they decided to scrap the A of C and start from scratch, they met in secret, and, though they agreed that a change was needed, they often disagreed on the best way to form a new government. Debate was the rule and at times it got heated. They argued; they compromised; and they sometimes changed each other’s minds. We know that by the writings they left, as well as the Constitution itself. What powers should Congress have? Should there be a more national government or a more limited central government? Article 1 on the powers of Congress was debated a great deal. List them? Leave it open? Add subsection 18 (necessary and proper clause) and leave some wiggle room? Add Article 6 (supremacy of Constitution clause) and later add the 10th Amendment (states’ rights)? What to do about slavery and representation? Money? Tariffs? Rights of the people? Which people will count? All? White only? Men only? Property owners only? Is bigger better when it comes to states? Are all states equal? Will all future states be equal? These men were dealing with some big issues, calling for statesmen to look out for the good of the new country, rather than individuals looking out for their own interests. They had to balance what they wanted as individuals and what the people of their states wanted. Remember, this was a country that had just finished a bloody war and tensions were still high. Even after all these years, what was accomplished then still absolutely amazes me.
After they finished the draft, they still had to go back to the people of the states and try to sell it there. Some delegates refused to sign. Makes you wonder what kind of info they gave to their people. Think about the communication abilities back then. Paper was expensive and made from rags. Printing wasn’t cheap. People didn’t all speak English. They had lots of town hall meetings. I wonder what would have happened had they had a 24-7 cable news network and the internet? As it was, they took to doing some constitutional type “blogging” by writing a whole lot of articles to convince people of their positions. They used “screen names” to protect their identities. Among the most famous Revolutionary era “blogs” were the The Federalist Papers and their opposition, the Antifederalist Papers. Although we tend to consider them today as two opposing groups, within their own groups they also disagreed. The issue of personal rights was being debated still. It wasn’t until a Bill of Rights was promised that the Constitution was ratified.
To assume our Founding Fathers were all the same takes away the impressiveness of what they did. To say “what our Founding Fathers wanted” is confusing. Which FF and on what topic? See, at times some would agree on some issues, but not on others. History is complex. To truly understand what these men wanted, you would need to read their writings. And some of what they wrote would be very, very surprising to some people. Just sayin’.
I think I know what she meant, but I don’t think she had thought it out. If she meant she wanted us to only go with the original Constitution ratified in 1787, she wouldn’t be including the Bill of Rights. Yikes. She wouldn’t have the right to vote since the 19th Amendment wasn’t passed until 1920. We would still have slavery (abolished by the 13th Amendment in 1865.) Senators would still be selected by the House of Representatives (changed by the 17th Amendment in 1913,) The voting age would still be 21 (lowered to 18 by the 26th Amendment in 1971) and we wouldn’t have a direct income tax (16th Amendment in 1913.) Well, maybe on second thought, that last one isn’t so hot
September 17th is Constitution Day. We should be thinking about our rights and responsibilities every day, but this day is set aside by law. As you listen to people today debate health care, cap and trade, immigration and all the other issues, you are getting a closer look at what all our Founding Father types went through. They just did it with bigger words and in different formats. I think they were maybe a bit nicer, too, but not always.
Gotta wonder, though. What would an interview be like today if an Antifederalist was on a cable news show? Which show would he go on? One of the Federalists? Would they be treated with respect and asked their opinions without ridicule? If they “blogged” their writings today, would they get pages of rude comments and name calling? Would they crack some Constitutional skulls over their quotes being taken out of context and twisted to make a completely different meaning (talking to you, green shirt guy!)
And really, which men get included in the “Founding Fathers” category? Wikipedia has a slightly different list and definition with some impressive documentation. I don’t know what they were called early on, but the term “Founding Fathers” isn’t used until a speech by then Sen.Harding in 1912 in a Republican Party Convention speech.
So, Happy Constitution Day the 17th! We really do have a great deal to be thankful for. And for a bit of amusement, here is the School House Rock version of the American Revolution.
SSIP- If they FF came back (cut their hair and changed their clothes), how do you think their ideas would be received? You need to look over both the Federalist and Antifederalist links for what they stood for. If you could meet one, who would it be? Think about what you care about today. If you are a 2nd Amendment person for gun rights, for example, what would you ask some of them?