Anatomy Of A Democracy
We have many choices and
many decisions to reach.
You could have a monarchy; those were all in vogue in the 18th and 19th
centuries and even before that. A monarchy, not what Britain has with a
Queen who has to sit back and watch the likes of Boris Johnson turn
England into a Monte Python skit, but an absolute monarch like Saudi
Arabia has. The Saudis have a King, the supreme leader, and the Council
of Ministers, probably family members who will rubber-stamp whatever the
King wants. To do otherwise can lead to forfeiting about ten inches off
You have dictatorships, such as Putin in Russia and President Xi Jinping
of China; However, Xi, while quite powerful, must have a few restless
nights; China has a long history of deposing errant dictators. Putin, in
Russia, should probably sleep with one eye open as well.
A few others of note might be; President Ashraf Ghani Ahmadzai of Afghanistan President Abdelmadjid Tebboune of Algeria President João Lourenço of Angola President Ilham Aliyev of Azerbaijan Sheikh Hasina of Bangladesh President Alexander Lukashenko of Belarus Sultan Haji Waddaulah of Brunei.
I won't waste my time or yours going on about flash-in-the-pan blowup
governments like anarchies, oligarchies, and the rest; while
interesting, we're talking about trying to make democracy work.
is the deal with democracy?
First, we don't have a democracy, at least not a pure one; nobody has to
my knowledge - they are unworkable. As in our case, you cannot allow
330 million people to vote on every issue that comes up in the course of
governing; it would be constant elections and chaos. The ancient Greeks
tried it and failed. We have about 600 elected representatives from
primarily two political parties in the U.S., and they can't get a damn
thing done for arguing.
Around 509 B.C., the Romans tried a representative form of government
following centuries of rule by Etruscan kings. The Roman Republic lasted
about 500 years and collapsed under greed, favoritism, and an effort to
let the people decide about a land distribution plan without consulting
the rich who had been illegally occupying that land for over a century.
Out came the clubs, and Tiberius Sempronius Gracchus was summarily
What we have in the U.S. is a democratic republic. A government that
elected officials run is called a republic. The United States has both
republican and democratic characteristics throughout its multiple levels
of government. That's all I'll say on the definition of our approach to
governing; you can read much more about our approach to governing
As I stated in the beginning, democracies are a bitch. They are
unwieldy, slow, and infuriating. There are always winners and losers on
any issue, but it has to be a majority rule. Some Eastern European
nations that had never - never in their history - been a democracy were
suddenly cut free to drift in the stormy democratic seas after the
collapse of the Soviet Union; there were fifteen in all.
Two years before the collapse of the Soviet Union Poland broke away and
gained its independence in 1989 and moved to a democratic government.
Lech Walesa was Poland's first popularly elected president. Wałęsa
helped guide Poland through its first free parliamentary elections
(1991) and watched as successive ministries converted Poland's state-run
economy into a free-market system. Poland found that making democracy
work is a full-time job as did other nations freed from the yoke of
tyranny. Someone once said, I thought it was Walesa, but I haven't been
able to verify that; it went something like this, "Freedom is more than
buying a pound of sausage." I took that to mean that with the collapse
of communism, where products were scarce, people had access to more
goods, but the speaker's point was that you have to work to keep your
democracy; a thriving democracy is about more than just abundant foods.
You have to participate and vote;
Back to my story.
One has to admire the founding fathers, a term I find to be humorous.
They might more appropriately be called the "founding children," their ages
being; Marquis de Lafayette, 18; James Monroe, 18; Gilbert Stuart, 20;
Aaron Burr, 20; Alexander Hamilton, 21; Betsy Ross, 24; and James
Madison, 25. There were a few "old-timers"; Thomas Jefferson, 33; John
Adams, 40; and Paul Revere, 41. George Washington was 44, and Samuel
Adams was 53. Today, none of the young men in the first group could run
for president until they were 35 years old. Oh, and let's not forget Ben
Franklin, a senior citizen at 70 years of age on July 4, 1776.
As I stated, for this collection of people with an average age of 29 years and nine months old to have developed the outline for a government and nation as successful as we have been, is impressive. Before we all start dancing in the streets and beating our chests, we need to understand that bringing this small group to a consensus, as well as all of the thirteen original states, was like brokering peace between the Hatfields and the McCoys.
Even after the initial
battles of the Revolutionary War broke out, few colonists desired
complete independence from Great Britain, and those who did-like John
Adams- were considered radical. Within about a year, as Britain
attempted to crush the rebels with all the force of its great army, King
George III popped off. His words reached the colonies pissing everyone
off, and effectively consolidated our troops in pursuit of independence.
Soon after we won independence from Great Britain in 1783, it became
increasingly evident that our young republic needed a stronger central
government to remain stable. In 1786, Alexander Hamilton, a lawyer and
politician from New York called for a constitutional convention to
discuss the matter. The Confederation Congress, which in February 1787
endorsed the idea, invited all 13 states to send delegates to a meeting
On May 25, 1787, the Constitutional Convention opened
in Philadelphia at the Pennsylvania State House, now known as
Independence Hall, where the Declaration of Independence had been
adopted 11 years earlier. The 55 delegates (who became known as the
"framers" of the Constitution) were a well-educated group that included
merchants, farmers, bankers, and lawyers, all men, of course, and all
The convention sessions were held in secret to avoid outside pressures.
Virginia's James Madison kept a detailed account of what transpired
behind closed doors. Congress had tasked them with amending the Articles
of Confederation; however, they soon began deliberating proposals for
an entirely new form of government. After intensive debate, which
continued throughout the summer of 1787 and threatened to derail the
proceedings, they developed a plan establishing three branches of the
national government; executive, legislative and judicial.
Among the more contentious issues was the question of state
representation in the national legislature. Delegates from larger states
wanted the population to determine how many representatives a state
could send to Congress, while small states called for equal
representation. The Connecticut Compromise resolved the issue, which
produced proportional representation of the states in the lower house
(House of Representatives) and equal representation in the upper house
Slavery was another contentious issue to be dealt with. Although some northern states had already started to outlaw the practice, they went along with the southern states' insistence that slavery was an issue for individual states to decide and should be kept out of the Constitution. Many northern delegates believed that the South wouldn't join the Union without agreeing to this. For taxation and determining how many representatives a state could send to Congress, it was decided that enslaved people would be counted as three-fifths of a person. And that Congress wouldn't be allowed to prohibit the slave trade before 1808, and states were required to return fugitive enslaved people to their owners.
By September 1787, the convention's five-member Committee of Style
(Hamilton, Madison, William Samuel Johnson of Connecticut, Governor
Morris of New York, and Rufus King of Massachusetts) had drafted the
final text of the Constitution. Of the 55 delegates, 39 signed, and
three refused to approve the document. For the Constitution to become
law, it had to be ratified by nine of the 13 states.
Madison and Hamilton, with assistance from John Jay, wrote a series of
essays to persuade people to ratify the Constitution. The 85 pieces,
known collectively as "The Federalist" (or "The Federalist Papers"),
detailed how the new government would work.
Beginning on December 7, 1787, five states, Delaware, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Georgia, and Connecticut-ratified the Constitution in quick succession. Other states, especially Massachusetts, opposed the document, as it failed to reserve un-delegated powers to the states and lacked constitutional protection of fundamental political rights, such as freedom of speech, religion, and the press.
In February 1788, a compromise was reached whereby Massachusetts and
other states would agree to ratify the document with the assurance that
amendments would be immediately proposed. The Constitution was narrowly
ratified in Massachusetts, followed by Maryland and South Carolina. On
June 21, 1788, New Hampshire became the ninth state to ratify the
document. It took a whole year to get all nine states to agree on the
Constitution, only with a caveat for amendments. The following year,
Madison introduced 19 amendments, 12 were adopted, and the states
ratified ten in December of 1791; the Bill of Rights became part of our
I have tried to summarize several decades of upheaval, fighting, and
finally, an agreement that yielded our country and Constitution. Why did
I do this? To make the point that forming and eventually running a
nation is analogous to having and being a part of a family. Families
fight and bicker and maybe even engage in a bit of backstabbing. Still,
the most successful families work together, albeit noisily, to make the
family more robust and better. Some family members win, and some may
lose, but they remain a family.
Most of you know what I'm referring to. Families are made up of diverse
personalities, likes and dislikes, and, yes, politics. In most families,
when the children are young, the parent provides the leadership and
guidance that they hope will lead the family to success and happiness in
all their dealings. The beginning of our nation was a bit like a new
As the children grow and are exposed to new ideas and philosophies
outside the home and through their friends at school, they might
question some of what the parents proclaimed to be the best approach.
Discussion around the dinner table can become boisterous if not
downright family war stuff.
If you have three children, even though they share the same DNA,
parents, upbringing, etc., they can often appear to be someone else's
child. While genetics and DNA play an essential role in a child's
development, it does not mean they will be a cookie-cutter copy of their
parents or siblings. With effort, compromise, and understanding, the
family can still differ and love each other. Thanksgiving dinner can
still be a treat as opposed to a food fight.
Our nation is now about 250 years old. We are not in our infancy. We
often take certain things for granted, like liberties and freedoms. We begin
to find fault with our elders and question past decisions. But, we must
remember that we are a family above all else. We all have a
responsibility to seek a middle ground on issues that divide us, a
middle ground that will always allow us to sit together around the table
at Thanksgiving, be grateful for what we have, and look forward to the
Aesop is credited with the line, "United we stand, divided we fall." In his fable, The Four Oxen and the Lion, he wrote: "A lion used to prowl about a field in which four oxen used to dwell. Many a time, he tried to attack them, but whenever he came near, they turned their tails to one another so that whichever way he approached them, he was met by the horns of one of them. At last, however, they fell to quarreling, and each went off to pasture alone in the separate corner of the field. Then the Lion attacked them one by one and soon made an end of all four. Like those oxen, united we stand, divided we fall."