Alright, down to business. First off, I really enjoyed reading through these selections and found that the more I read through and about them, the more I wanted to read other things in connection to them. I finally understand why it's important to read all those philosophers' works we're always hearing about, and I've taken the time to really think through some of the wording of these documents and was able to come to some opinions on my own that wouldn't have happened just by listening to teachers or the media. (That makes me feel smart.)
The basic historical facts behind the American Founding Documents:
The second Continental Congress met May 10, 1775 (three weeks after the battles at Lexington and Concord). On June 7th, the idea of dissolving ties with Britain was introduced. Four days later, a committee was assembled to produce a draft of a declaration of independence. The draft, written by Thomas Jefferson, was finished within two weeks. John Adams and Benjamin Franklin reviewed the draft and added 47 amendments before it was presented to the whole Congress on June 28, 1775.
A year later, on the second of July, Congress formally adopted the resolution declaring independence from Great Britain. Thirty nine changes to the Declaration were made and on July 4, 1776, the actual Declaration of Independence was drafted and formally adopted by Congress.
The Declaration's first public appearance was in the Pennsylvania Evening Post on July 6th and George Washington had the Declaration read to his army in New York on July 9th. That night a mob of New Yorkers tore down the statue of George III located on the Bowling Green at the foot of Broadway.
The Articles of Confederation were ratified in 1781, but problems soon became apparent and led to the need for a stronger centralized government, which spurred the creation of the Constitution. The Constitution was approved by the Constitutional Convention in 1787 and received enough votes for ratification in 1788.
The Bill of Rights was introduced in 1789 and became effective in 1791.
The Declaration of Independence:
It's mind-blowing to me to even try to think about the enormity of what the Founding Fathers did. Here's a colony of the greatest ruling power in the world (which also had the best military forces), and they muster up the courage to declare independence from that country, all in the name of the philosophical ideal of democracy. These people believed so strongly in the "unalienable rights" of each person that they intentionally took on Great Britain and all its power. "And for the support of this Declaration, with a firm reliance on the protection of divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes and our sacred Honor." That last line is almost chilling to me because those men entered into that battle knowing full well that the odds were stacked against them and they still were so committed to their convictions that they pledged up front that they were in it to their last breath. All they had was their faith in their God that what they were doing was the right thing, and their wealth and lives, and they pledged it all to the cause of liberty. That's courage. I can only hope that I will be as valiant when called to such a task.
This had never been done before. Despite the many philosophical reasonings declaring that government should be by the voice of the people, it's not hard to see why monarchies pervaded. Sure, rulers and dynasties had been overthrown time and time again, but only to be replaced by a new ruler and/or ruling family. The American Declaration of Independence from its mother country was a huge event in history. It flew in the face of reason; and what's more surprising, it actually worked! There is no way that it should have worked, but it did. It is my personal belief that the American Revolution had a lot of help from Providence. You won't come to that conclusion by reading the textbooks of today, but if you hunt down the primary sources and read the first-hand accounts, you will find many eery "coincidences" and events that defy reasoning.
Another line from the Declaration really resonated with me:
Prudence, indeed, will dictate that Governments long established should not be
changed for light and transient causes; and accordingly all experience hath
shewn that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable, than
to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed. But
when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same
Object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their
right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards
for their future security.
Isn't that a candid observation? It made me think of the things and people in my own life that dictate to me what to do or promote suffering or ill will. This had made me think about my worth as a person and how it is my own responsibility to throw off the abusive things and relationships that are present in my life. I think the Declaration of Independence still serves us today in the role of affirming the worth of each individual.
Something that is bothering me though--if each individual has the inherent right to Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness, it doesn't sit well with me that women can just run amuck and abort their unborn children simply because they don't want them. I think a child in the womb has just as much right to Life, Freedom and the chance to find their own happiness as a child outside of the womb. It's not my intention to make this club into a hot political debate, but part of gaining wisdom and becoming truly educated does demand that we think through the hard questions of our day.
The Constitution of the United States:
We are blessed to live in a country that is governed by its own people, instead of the whims of a monarch or dictator. It's unfortunate that the two pre-eminent political parties of this country are becoming rather polarized, but it's still a blessing that the people can decide for its self what they would like to happen. I'm glad that I can voice my opinion and hopefully sway legislation to go in the direction that I believe is best. At least we have that. When laws are passed that I disagree with, I always have the hopeful chance of changing it for the better.
Some things that came up as I read through the Bill of Rights:
- What, exactly, is speech? It is my understanding that the first amendment was created to allow people to speak out against the government without fear of persecution. The first amendment allows for free speech--and speech is speaking, oral communication, the written word and the use of gestures to communicate (ie. sign language). I cannot understand how it can be stretched to cover pornography or offensive art and photographs.
I attended my church's General Conference a few years back, and at the conclusion of the session I walked out and saw the usual throng of protesters--and one group had this huge banner of a full-color, dismembered fetus as a way to protest against abortion. It was grotesque. And it pained my heart to look into the crowd of my fellow church members and to see the multitude of young children who were witnessing that image. I don't think free speech necessarily covers the use of images--a banner with the words "Abortion is wrong," or something like that, would have been perfectly acceptable. (And why in the world was an pro-life group protesting a church that also opposes abortion?)
Free speech also doesn't give free license to artists to flaunt indecency. Lyrics are covered by the amendment, but I highly doubt that the raunchy "bump & grind" theatrics of many concerts come even remotely close to being a form of speech.
- The second amendment gives us the right to bear arms, and I am looked at like I have three heads if I say that I have a gun in my house, especially since I have young children. It's important that we keep arms in the event of emergencies and danger. What happens if our military is wiped out or our government is somehow overthrown? I am thankful for the guaranteed right to protect myself. Yes, guns in the wrong hands do a lot of damage. I can't fix that. But if there were more guns in the hands of the right people, what are the odds that the wrong people would be so eager to whip theirs out? How do you think the American Revolution would have turned out if all those farmers hadn't already had guns of their own? I consider it a patriotic duty to not only have a gun, but to also know how to use a gun well.
- The fifth amendment has this one phrase that says a person should not "be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law..." and it made me think of Child Protection Services. I think it's fair to ascertain that my children are my "property," and I also think it completely goes against my Constitutional rights to snatch them out of my home simply because CPS thinks I'm guilty of a crime against them. Yes, CPS is a necessary in our society; but we've all heard tons of stories about children being ripped from their homes because CPS suspected abuse, and then those reports of abuse being unfounded. We are innocent until proven guilty, period. If I haven't been tried and convicted of child abuse, then no one has the right to take my children away from me. I admit, this particular example is a double-edged sword; we don't want children to stay within a potentially abusive situation, but we do have this right to our property and I think CPS's ability to remove children based upon suspicion is downright unconstitutional. (And no, I don't have a solution to the problem at the moment...except to perhaps, just maybe, gather enough evidence to arrest the offender and then keep them in jail until their trial?)
The Federalist Papers:
I was only able to read #1, 2 and 10. The thing that stuck with me after reading them was the necessity of good and virtuous people being involved in government. Our government was set up to weed out the bad politicians and to keep wicked people from positions of leadership, but it only works if the good and honest people rise up to the challenge and serve their country. The pervading opinion of politicians is that they're evil and horrible; and if that's the case, we have only ourselves to blame. The ideal politician is a humble, honest and good person; if you consider yourself one of those, perhaps you should be in politics.
I really liked the message of #10, about how our government protects against factions. Recently in my town, there were windmills installed to generate electricity in an environmentally-friendly manner. My goodness, you should have seen the fit that people threw over those things because they considered them to be an eyesore. The city had gone about getting the windmills approved in the correct governmental manner, but the people who didn't want them didn't show up to the meetings. Federalist paper #10 lauds the importance of the "common good." When you considered what the windmills could do for the town, at the expense of simply being an eyesore for a few people, it didn't make sense that the anti-windmill people should have been in such an uproar. We really do need a better commitment to the common good. (And yes, I can see the windmills from my house and they are an eyesore; but they're doing a good thing and I think that's more important than my view from my driveway.)
Whew, that's a long post. This has been good to really read these and then have to sit down and write about them because it forced me to really think about them. Hopefully you all feel the same way. Leave your (relevant) thoughts or a link to your own thought posts in the comments section and I'll choose from them on the 10th to send August's book to.
And speaking of August's book, the next historical event on the schedule is the French Revolution and we have three choices to vote on. Voting will end June 9th at 11:59pm.