When the Founding Fathers gathered in Philadelphia in the late spring of 1787, they all well understood both the strengths and glaring inadequacies of the Articles of Confederation (1777). There were few illusions that anything short of a ground up revision of their infant nation would be enough. So when the Convention began James Madison submitted what would become known as the Virginia Plan, a proposed national government of federal structure, consisting of a bicameral legislature, a coequal executive, and a coequal judiciary.
They spent the next few months in sometimes fierce debate and often brutal criticism of the powers and form of the Virginia Plan. The disagreements over even how the Convention was conducted caused the entire New York delegation to simply walk out, halfway through. Work continued, and a few alternative plans with sometimes radically different structures were submitted, including one by Hamilton that abandoned having state level governments altogether. By September and many compromises later, the final draft was written and, with only 3 abstentions, signed by the remaining delegates.
This new “Constitution” was then sent to the states for ratification. The resulting national political schism between those who supported the new Constitution and those who opposed it ran deep, giving birth, at least informally, to the first American political parties: the Federalists, who supported ratification, and the Anti-Federalists, who opposed it. Many friendships formed in the heady days of the Revolutionary War ended, becoming fierce animosity that persisted decades after the Constitution’s ratification.
When George Washington was elected as president under the new Constitution, he saved a more perfect Union from itself, simply by being a just and honorable president.
“We the people of the United States, in order to form a more perfect union, establish justice, insure domestic tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general welfare, and secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.”
-Preamble of the United States Constitution-
One of the most important things Americans living in the same and yet, in many ways, much different Republic left to us by the Founding Fathers must understand that the Founders were keenly aware their “more perfect Union” was far from perfect. Anti-Federalists feared the political power within the Executive and Legislative branches, believing they would encroach upon the power and autonomy of the States as well as the individual, and they have been proven right. Abolitionists feared the unwillingness to abandon the cruel institution of slavery would eventually fracture the unity of the Republic, and they too were proven right.
The Republic we live in today has undergone both huge and subtle changes in its nearly 230 years of existence, yet it has remained intact but always a little different after each upheaval. Whether this is because of the “hand of Providence“, as Washington believed, or merely due to humanity’s inclination to uncomfortably “endure toil, famine, stripes, imprisonment or death itself” only then to “inflict on his fellow men a bondage, one hour of which is fraught with more misery than ages of that which he rose in rebellion to oppose“, as Jefferson observed, is uncertain.
What isn’t a matter of debate is our more perfect union will never be perfect to the standard of perfection of all. This is not to say that an earnest pursuit of a union that promotes justice, domestic tranquility, common defense, general welfare, and the blessings of liberty is futile. It is to say that while we, as a society, driven as we are by political divisions that often lead to political turmoils and strife, must never become distracted by only that one purpose of government that suits our political beliefs to the injury of others.
We must always be on guard against the 3 greatest threats of “a more perfect Union“: Bigotry, Utopianism, and Absolutism.
“So strong is this propensity of mankind to fall into mutual animosities, that where no substantial occasion presents itself, the most frivolous and fanciful distinctions have been sufficient to kindle their unfriendly passions and excite their most violent conflicts.”
While ethnocentric hatred is as old as humankind, the Bigotry of today, represented by White Nationalism and Nationalist Socialism, is a unique product of the chaos of the 20th Century. In addition to age old irrational hatreds of Jews and Africans from centuries past, contemporary bigots hold an especially deep hatred of Communism, because its rabid egalitarianism explicitly contradicts the delusions of superiority central to bigotry. Unchecked, bigotry would undermine every element of “a more perfect Union“: justice, domestic tranquility, common defense, general welfare, and the blessings of liberty. Its danger is obvious and well documented.
Communism, briefly mentioned above, has at its core a rabid egalitarianism that, despite all evidence to the contrary, presumes that even societies as complex as the United States can be made free of inequality, suffering, and political division. This Utopianism is dangerous because it reveals a mind desperately detached from the reality of the human condition. Unchecked utopianism has caused the deaths literally hundreds of millions of poor souls through bloody purges and incomprehensible incompetence. Even one death should be too high a price to pay in the pursuit of Utopia. Sadly, the death of innocents has never given Utopians pause.
The final and, by far, most dangerous enemy of the pursuit of a just and free society is Absolutism. When someone believes something without question, they can rationalize anything. They can do any deed and speak any evil, because, in their mind, their infallibility is self justifying. Even the worst bigot or the most delusional Utopian can be tolerated within society so long as they question their underlying assumptions of reality just enough to respect the rights of others, even if only because of doubt. Under the delusion of unchecked absolutism, however, even the most well meaning patriot can commit unspeakable atrocities against his countrymen.
If we can all accept that there are 3 essential and self evident rights, those being Life, Liberty, and Property, then we cannot, as a society, truly say we seek justice when that illusory justice depends on transgression of these essential rights, no matter how good, noble, or perfect our intentions may be. We must seek to harm no one, either by action or indifference.
Liberty is For The Win!