Wednesday, February 07, 2007

The Modern Jacksonian - Chapter 4 - The Perfection of Imperfection

The United States has a founding upon two things: The Declaration of Independence and The Constitution. The first is a Preceptual Guideline on what man, as individuals, get in life and what their empowerment means for Government. Those Guidelines lead to the understanding that Government is not handed down from on high, but instituted amongst men, by men so as to address the actual world of mankind. To safeguard the Rights of Man, Governments are instituted by the consent of the Governed thus leading to a society that does not seek its rights *from* Government but, instead, grants minimal rights *to* Government to fulfill its responsibilities to the Governed. When such Governments no longer abide by that, it is the just and due Right of the People to change or abolish such Government and formulate new governance.

Between the Declaration and the Constitution came the Articles of Confederation, which only loosely associated the States and provided no centrality of understanding amongst them. Each State had major burdens and very little basis to actually uphold those burdens and the People were impoverished by that formulation. Those five long years between the formal end of the Revolution and the standing up of the New Nation were rife with rebellion, protest and repression via imprisonment and seizures of land. Those same founders that agreed to the Declaration of Independence and then agreed that the time was upon them to form new governance so that a more Just and Equitable system could be established.

To more clearly state these things: the Founders of the United States had tried and *failed* in their first attempt to form a New Nation. They had wanted this loose association to work, so as to let States have wide freedom and leeway and not put a repressive Government in place. Instead they had created something that impoverished the People, concentrated authority to the few in the State seats of power, and the system was giving rise to the possibility of a Second Revolution. Every single signer of the Declaration who then went on to sign the Constitution recognized that they, personally, had failed in outlook and creation and must try to make something that would actually uphold their ideals and yet not repress the People. The United States was formed on a look to perfect goals, but the imperfection of man led to first time failure.

The outlook stated in the Declaration would not allow for long-term failure as, to do that, the very foundation of Liberty and Freedom for Individuals would be *lost*. A Second Revolution would most likely turn reactionary towards the original Revolutionaries and the society to be born out of that would be harsh, authoritarian and repressive. As many of the Founders had worked the land or been huntsmen and woodsmen, trekking through uncharted wilderness, they recognized an ancient axiom of survival: Don't Stop.

When lost in the wilderness, with only the most basic of bearings or even an *idea* of what the right way to go actually is, you follow up on that grimly and with determination. You do not 'stop to think it through' as that leads to doubt and wavering of willpower to survive. A brief respite to continue on is one thing, but to sit and stop and try to think if you are 'doing the right thing' is deadly, as it leads to the idea that one can, in actuality, think their way out of the wilderness. Soon long minutes turn into hours, and then night approaches and you have done *nothing* to find shelter or build a fire or find food. You are starving using your energy to think instead of move onwards. In the modern era, if there is any hope that anyone will remember where you went and you came in a vehicle, it is usually safer to stay with that vehicle than go onwards until all other options run out. When confronted by no outside help and dangerous animals roaming, one moves to stay alive so as to be hard to track while you work slowly, continually towards a *goal*. When you plan for rest, you *plan* for it, and ensure that you have found shelter, succor and sustenance. Then at first light you are up and moving once more.

By having had the Articles of Confederation the Founders recognized that the other axiom of motion for survival also held true: Move in *any* direction, even the *wrong* direction as that will give you perspective and then show you the right way to go. The Articles were the wrong path to Nation for the young United States. It would not give an equitable society nor justice nor ensure Freedom and Liberty. That is when you stop, re-assess and then step out in a different way heading towards the goal of success. The next step may not be perfect or lead to perfection, but it is towards that Goal and much, much better than where you were headed, which was deadly. Thus the Founders had set their Goal, stopped what they were doing and checked their bearings and realized they had not gone in the right direction towards their goal. The Goal, then, was simply to make something that would outlast them and give Freedom and Liberty a chance to take root and let something better come from their work.

Given the long perspective of history, we are divorced from the pain they had surely felt in realizing that they had not crafted well on their first attempt at things. They wanted time to see if things could work out and when it was apparent that they would not only *not* work out but things were headed in the opposite direction of the Goals, they came forth to try again. The Goal was worth the humility of admitting that they were wrong and worth the re-commitment to the Goal that had been set as a firm fixture. So many of their countrymen had died for this, a Nation was still in chaos and ruin needing to be built and the enforced poverty that the States put upon the People were making that goal of having a Nation seem to drift further and further away.

It was not a 'given' that the United States would survive and the track record for democracy had been, until then, quite abysmal. It was assumed the inherent difficulties in democracy would be the undermining of it, and that the People would turn to rabble and vote themselves all sorts of goodies until things went bankrupt. By attempting to address those ills, America was striving to put something a bit different together that just might hold together for awhile. After the problems with the Articles this was no sure thing in 1786 Annapolis Convention that called for a 1787 Philadelphia Convention to straighten things out. The Shaysite Rebellion of that Winter brought out just how near collapse the entire enterprise was and Washington, himself, was moved enough to go to it so as to try and head off a final defeat that would have destroyed all he had worked for during the years of fighting in the Revolution.

Coming together in 1787 was a profound happening in America as those that had fought the Revolution for 7 long years now had to face the fact that the Government they first made would not meet their dreams after 5 years. They understood that to attempt to remake their work they would need to change their views and themselves so as to create a firmer foundation for lasting Government. After the harsh payment in the lives of those lost, some 10% of their countrymen dead by the Revolution and 15% fled to the Crown, America was destitute of people, of money and increasingly lacking in cohesion. The Revolutionaries had followed their original view and moved from cooperation amongst themselves as States within a Nation to their States alone. The Nation had no basis without commonality and the commonality of loss was still being paid for and dearly on the backs of the land owners, the farmers and the poor. The Goal fought for starting in 1775 and established by the Revolution was coming so undone by 1787 that all the cost was put at peril. There would be no Liberty or Freedom in America because there would be no America.

To those familiar with the great story themes, this is one that sticks out time and again across Peoples and across time: having found a dream and held it, that dream became lost again. Odysseus was the man to turn to for direction until that direction was tempest tossed and yet he won through by re-dedication to come home to hearth and wife and to end his long travels once and for all. Moses sought after the place of homeland for his people to espy it, yet while away the Israelites were called upon for so much work that they had lost the meaning of what it was to be Jewish, and brought his people forth to hard circumstances to recover what they had lost so they would be worthy of a home. Robert the Bruce would see his people lost and need travel far to re-find the will to lead his people to be a people and embrace who they were via their traditions. Jesus of Nazareth learned the meaning of the society and then spent time in the desert once he recognized that it would be lost unless something was done, and then returned with a re-dedication and re-commitment to his people so that their understanding could spread and be sustained by new outlook. To win through for a People, they must lose so that they understand the meaning of what it is they have. And then dedicate themselves to it, anew.

None are so low as those facing that humility of loss, of having failed and of having all they understand brought into question.

And none are so found as those that realize that they stand for their People to be a People, to be different, to be special and to leave a mark that will last longer than their short span on Earth. None so lost as Odysseus from home and wife seeking to regain it; as Moses coming home and finding his People slowly losing what it means to be a People separate from Egypt; from Robert the Bruce returning home to fight the good fight to assert that the old way is the way of his People and could not be denied; and of Jesus coming from the desert and trials and tribulations and learning to speak in a new way to his People so as to give the basis to revitalize society... revitalize the world.

That was America in 1787: it had won its ideals and then was faced with those same things being lost because the idealistic form of Government would not work and would lose all that was fought for and won. Washington left Mount Vernon because his hard work was put in jeopardy because what he had fought for was not working. Others would return with those who had fought and survived in the Revolution and understood the dear price of being a People apart from others. A People not beholden to Crown, to King, to Government and they would damn well not lose the meaning of their lives because of the monetary price attached to the fight they had won. To bring unity they must describe that unity and make a Government that was United in more than word, but in deed. If they could not find a basis for that unity amongst themselves, then all who depended upon them would fail and fall back to chaos and tyranny.

The review of what they had said was important in the Declaration of Independence told them that the Rights of Man to be Individual is only sustained by the Government created in Common to serve All of the People. And those same People must come together to be a Nation so that a Government could be established. Without the Nation, Government would be mere fiction and no longer represent the will of the People, only itself. That is what they had fought *against* and would not allow to happen again. The review of the Declaration had told them the path and that path may end in Government, but the Government, itself was not an end in and of itself. It was a means for the People to come together and give common expression to their will. For Man to have Just Government by the Consent of the People, the society must have a Nation that and that Nation bow to being an artifact of that common will. To have Rights for Individuals needs more than Government: it requires commonality in commitment and understanding via the Society the People create.

In making the Constitution the People drafting it were well aware of the frailty of Representative Democracy and of Republics. Putting those two together was thought to be an invitation to mob rule and destruction of society to that mob. By layering representation into the structure in multiple ways and having it work at cross-check and balance, the Will of the People could find both voice and stability in Government. The drafters were also too well aware of the tendency for Government to move to tyranny and despotism, and did their best to ensure that not only would Rights be upheld but that the entire social compact laid down in the Constitution would be understood so that Rights would not put Liberty at peril. Attempting to use Government to suppress the Rights of People had proven to be awful and led to some of the bloodiest religious wars ever seen heretofore. That had to be negated by creating something that was in Common and would not speak against religion of any type, but for the Rights of Man to *have* religious beliefs not controlled by the State. The other had proven not to work and was negated by the enforcement of that basic right for the People. That said each State within the Union had separate outlook while coming together and those States would need to decide on such things in common with their People so long as the commonality of All of the People was not put in jeopardy. The right to speak out and put forth ideas, both for good and ill, was upheld so that the People may decide freely on the ideas and ideals that would govern them and their society. That held in common could not endanger that, less the road to authoritarian rule be started. The right to keep and bear arms so that the People and their States may protect themselves not only separately but in common with the Union was upheld and could not be infringed by the Government. Time and again basic rights are stated and upheld for Individuals so that they have especial protection against those seeking tyranny.

Even further those that drafted the Constitution put forth that those rights not specifically granted to Government to govern, were the sole realm of the States and the People. The fount and founding of Rights was not gracious Government, but good People who agree to have their rights and respect those of others. In doing all these things the drafters also recognized one other part of their failure: anything they made would need to be reviewed and amended as times changed so that this framework of governance could have continued meaning over time. Thus the right of the People to Amend the Constitution or call together a new Convention is sacrosanct and the ONLY way the Constitution may be changed. No matter how high their ideals, the realization that to make this something for the People was to make it amenable and amendable to them and by them. They had not been handed engraved stone tablets from on high, but only parchment and ink in the hands of man.

And they knew that their work would cause a long-term problem in the form of slavery. The Declaration nearly shattered the Southern Colonies from the rebellion due to its wording on the Rights of Man. That was papered over and that 'fight would be put off to another day'. Coming together with the agricultural South having high trade and the North being in poverty due to taxation, the Constitution again put that fight off so that there might be a chance for a Nation to reconcile this question about Universality of Rights and slavery. The Constitution was flawed because of that and that would be recognized and agonized over for decades until the day of reckoning arrived. The drafters of the Constitution stepped back from that abyss which would shatter the young Nation and send brother against brother, when they had still not recovered from the Revolution. So Amending and Convention were added so that hoped for wiser generations could finally resolve this question.

In that the Society that was built failed and in an awful manner that would see over 600,000 Americans dead and wounded. Casualties to our inability to come to common terms as a Society and a People, until brother was set against brother and the Nation set back once more. That nearly shattered the Nation completely and nearly undid the work of 1787 and of 1776. We did not find perfection then, nor now and we are still reminded of that by the Founders who drafted the language of the Constitution. We are not enjoined as a People to perfection but to make a 'more perfect Union'. To stand by our society, our Nation and strive to make it better in common for all of the People. And our National symbol of Liberty reminds us of the lacks in ourselves: The Liberty Bell is cracked, though its tone is still so sweet.

As a People we come together to bridge those cracks, and find that there are far more of them than we had ever imagined or can imagine. That sustainment of Liberty is vital to the Nation and, over two centuries and more, others have heard the sweet tone from that cracked bell and yearn for Liberty and Freedom to have a free society. America has always safeguarded Her own Liberty and Freedom first, and extended the hand of Friendship for those yearning to be free. Men and women have volunteered from this Nation to teach, work and fight for Liberty in far off lands, far removed from the Shores of the Land of the Free. Missionaries went forth not only to teach their version of the Gospel, and there were a plethora of teachings to be sure, but their very presence spoke of the commitment to Liberty and Freedom and the Land that sustained it. The People who invested themselves so much in their belief of it that they took their lives in their hands to spread their beliefs, and doing that spread the word of Liberty. Be it preacher, teacher, ditch digger or soldier overseas those Free People from America have demonstrated by their presence that not only is Liberty worth having, but worth spreading. Americans, in doing this, lead by example so that others may see what it means to be a Free Individual exercising their Rights to their Responsibilities.

It is this simple exercise of People doing according to their beliefs and recognizing that they have consequences that bespeaks of America. It is not in the words, though they give common form and transmission to ideas and ideals, but the actually placing oneself where they can do as they see fit and damn the consequences because it is the *right thing to do* that spreads Liberty and Freedom. Americans do not place themselves above other Peoples and reach out to them so as to help them from poverty, from disease, from ignorance and from tyranny. And so many that have extended that hand have died from those that wish never to see the dawning of Freedom in their lands. Scholars, doctors, teachers, priests, soldiers and just ordinary folks out to explore the world come what may have all paid a price year in and year out to practice Freedom and make it whole.

When that clarion call to Nation was given in 1776, those who called realized that the price to pay would not end in one war. The Revolution was the start of a very, very long conflict that would go on for generations. Go on for centuries. They gave that call because they saw that the Price in blood was far outweighed by having Liberty and Freedom so that something better could be built by Free Individuals. They paid a far steeper toll than at any time since the Revolution and that has proven to be the smallest of down payments on keeping this dream of Universal Freedom for Mankind alive. That is what America was called to do and harshly reminded by our own bloody faults through time that we are damned imperfect and should not once nor ever take on airs of sainthood or of perfection. Those that have decried the lack of perfection by society are lauded when they are able to reconcile the perfect with the merely human. Those that stick to their perfect beliefs and die for them are admired, but also looked at quizzically for they have not tried to make a more perfect Union between themselves and society, but attempted to remake society into something it can never be: Perfect.

If America falls short of Perfection it is because it strives for that and will never achieve it, but recognizes the struggle is worth the achievement that can be won. The Declaration was not a call to realistic goals but for unrealistic and noble goals of Universality of Rights and People to have Societies that would Govern them in accordance to their wishes. The Constitution was the realistic foundation for common governance and to have that Government be in common and yet never to infringe upon society nor individuals lest it become despotic. That framework limits Government because the People see it as something necessary for survival and to have a common vision. It is not meant to assure a good life, but ensure that a good life can be led. It is not created to protect the outlook of diversity but the diversity of outlook necessary to a vibrant society. Government is safeguard against tyranny not a guarantee against it.

That sole guarantee is held in common by those who call themselves: We the People.

4 comments:

Tiger said...

Terrific site, AJacksonian.

To paraphrase Jefferson: a government which the people fear is called Tyranny; a government which fears it's people is called Liberty!

We are now leaning more towards Tyranny than not.

A Jacksonian said...

Tiger - Thank you for the visit!

You may not find it all to your liking, but such is life in these things... better to have tried and fail than to naysay and never build a thing.

Jefferson was right in that outlook, but we must also remember that he was in *France* for good reason: the need to build a firm idea of government would be stymied by high ideals. The Articles showed that, and now the time was ripe for something workable to be put down. The visionary was 'away' and that left those that held the vision, but had their feet on the ground to figure out how to get to it.

Today much of that dream has been lost by the bloody 20th century and the might Nation State. We are losing that dream of personal liberty to those inside and outside corroding it and tearing it down. It is sad to see so many denying that a Nation has place in this world... as it is the ONLY construct formed by man to allow liberty and freedom within its conceptual space.

And as Empire slowly rises again, the Sons and Daughters of Liberty bicker, as the shadow moves over them...

whit said...

Excellent essay!

As I was reading it, I couldn't help but wonder waht the Founding Fathers would think of our Federal Government today.

A Jacksonian said...

whit - My thanks, my writing is imperfect but I do try to get the idea across.

It is hard to know exactly what the Founders would think of us, today... Jefferson, I think, would be aghast at the lengths people have gone under his banner and stretched his ideals out of proportion with his aims. Franklin would be a chronicler, and probably a vociferous one at that, looking out for the common man and putting forth for us to achieve good even when circumstances are rough... I shudder to think of what Washington would think of us, possibly just grind his teeth in frustration until smoke appeared.

They could understand what has happened, but wonder why we don't understand what they handed us, and that I fear the most.