I generally try not to comment on purely political issues, but this topic is important to the religious and the irreligious alike, determining how we all view ourselves as Americans. The crux of the problem being that many are frustrated by failed agendas and angered by a president perceived as grasping for power even as he faces charges of ineffectiveness; as a result some are advocating a Constitutional Convention to rectify this “injustice.”
The proper role of the three branches of our government has been debated since our country’s inception. In fact, the Constitution and Bill of Rights were created to address these issues and more as a result of the failed Confederacy of states that was in chaos specifically because there was no single voice representing a unified people; individual states jealously guarding their own singular rights and privileges, damning everyone else’s concerns and needs – barely acknowledging the existence of a union much less its needs and policies.
Their reluctance to cede power to a more centralized form of government was understandable, given the recent war for independence from a near-totalitarian state – albeit one with a Parliament allowing limited citizen input – that was still fresh in their minds. As is so often the case, however, they went too far the other way; setting the stage for intense debate between advocates of a Federal government embodied in the person of a president and those believing that states should control everything but a few truly national concerns. (Which has merit, Thomas Jefferson believing that government governs best when it governs least.) In the meantime, absolutely nothing got done.
For instance, George Washington was often hobbled as Commander of the Continental Army when many states refused to contribute men, money or material during the war being waged for their freedom; that reluctance to sacrifice individual goals for the greater good intensifying during his and John Adams’ presidencies. Thomas Jefferson struggled throughout his presidency with regional rivalries (as well as some misconceptions of his own), contributing to an unfocused, disjointed approach to government; inspiring him to lament, “We don’t have a government by the majority. We have a government by the majority of people who participate.” (Which still holds true today.) James Madison, the father of the Constitution, and James Monroe, the last of the “founding fathers” to serve as President, cajoled, begged, threatened and often despaired as many states – unbelievably – continued their refusal to support the federal government’s effort to deal with British and French demands leading up to and including the second war for independence in 1812.
After the war, their intransigence continued when petitioned to support federal plans for much-needed repair and construction of infrastructure such as roads, bridges, ports and canals, a common currency, standard weights and measures, tax reform and a professional army and navy; which was seen by some as promoting a national identity, by others as an infringement on state rights and regional power. John Q. Adams attempted to work with both sides of the political spectrum of his day in order to strengthen the function of government and the nation. For his efforts, he was lambasted by both sides and turned out of office after one term; later elected to the House of Representatives, he continued his principled fight, serving his country for many more years. Rounding out the list of early presidents who fought strenuously to bring cohesion to government and the country was Andrew Jackson – the hero of New Orleans; later often depicted as a villain for his championing of his vision of democracy and the “common man” even as he labored to increase the power of the Executive branch of government at the expense of “state rights.”
As a result of these jealousies and lack of cooperation, state affairs were often in shambles; the strife becoming so severe that some states actually threatened their neighbors with a call-up of their militias to protect themselves from competition with other states as well as the federal government’s “encroachment.” Their distrust and single-minded approach to politics leading to shifting alliances including collusion with unfriendly foreign powers. Particularly troublesome was the insistence of some states, primarily in the South, on the right of nullification; the ability to refuse to acknowledge or enact any federal law deemed contrary to their sensibilities, leading to aggressive assertions of regional independence and repeated threats of secession. (First used by disgruntled New Englanders years before.) All of which ended in the horrors of a Civil War. The South’s banner and sense of legitimacy coming from its “defense” of states’ rights, the underlying reason being its protection of their “peculiar institution” – slavery.
Constitutional Conventions have been called for in the past and were vehemently opposed as unwise, unwarranted and dangerous. I agree. Our present Constitution and its attendant Bill of Rights give us all the tools needed to address any legitimate grievance we may have. What we must acknowledge is that power of any kind is usually in a state of flux; at any one particular moment any one of the three branches of government being in the ascendency. A genuine understanding and use of the laws and procedures at hand, as well as our right to vote for the people, parties and policies most closely meeting our expectations should suffice. Even a limited incursion into the heart of our Constitution, done by individuals of personal bias, political allegiance and regional concerns – many of whom are already employed by the state or federal government, and thus part of the problem – could do irreparable harm to a system that has served us well for over 200 years, making us the envy of much of the rest of the world.
The temptation for any organization not getting its’ way, suffering reversals in its programs, and with little to offer to bring people back to their particular fold, is to correct the perceived “imbalance in power” by refocusing debate, redefining success and changing the rules. Which very seldom works, giving rise to more calls to adjust the rules again.
If we really disagree with our Presidents supposed grab for power, mirrored in past administrations of both parties, and truly yearn for change; vote accordingly. But let’s not let those with a vested interest in the power of politics mess with a founding document that fosters pride in our past and hope for the future. Make them come up with programs and policies worthy of our trust, support and vote.
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