19 December 2012

The Founding Fathers Were Wrong...So They Changed

The Founding Fathers, the saintly cabal of 18th century colonial thinkers who first established this nation, were wrong once.  Very wrong.  So wrong that this country almost collapsed before George Washington even became our first President.  In keeping with their lionized status, these wise men acted in the only manner they saw fit:  they changed.

It was 1776 and while Thomas Jefferson and cohorts were off composing the immortal Declaration of Independence, an absolute brilliant treatise on the inherent rights of man for self-determination, there was a separate committee of thirteen that set forth to draft a less heralded document that would be absolutely vital to the future of the incipient state:  a constitution. What they came up with turned out to be an unmitigated disaster.    

The Articles of Confederation, drafted by John Dickinson, and ratified by all thirteen states by 1781, served as the first de facto system of government used by Congress.  Their aim was noble and true, but the drafters got just about everything wrong.

Wary of all things monarchic, the Articles established a central government that in essence had no influence.  Power was tilted heavily towards the States, and although the government could make decisions, it held no authority to enforce any of those decisions.  The fledgling country quickly fell into bankruptcy because the central government could not collect taxes.  It had to request funds from individual states. The Treaty of Paris, the agreement that ended the Revolutionary War and called for the expulsion of British troops from American lands, remained maddeningly symbolic as the Army was too ill-funded to force the stalling British from American lands.  The new government was completely paralyzed.

By 1786, the country was on the verge of collapse and the Founding Fathers knew it.  So what did they do?  Did they stubbornly refute all criticisms and bore down to stay the course? Did they tinker with the Articles, making cosmetic changes that in effect only maintained the status quo?  Or did they take the more difficult path and reconvene to hammer out a new and improved document that would pave the way for a more perfect union? By 1790, the Constitution of the United States of America had replaced the Articles of Confederation as the supreme law of this country.

The venerated, the deified, the worshiped, the beloved Founding Fathers had made a mistake.  A big one.  But they were not afraid to admit it and to change, to adapt. Yes, they were great men who forged this country, but they were men all the same.  Men who make mistakes.  

And, by the way, they continued making mistakes. Thomas Jefferson triumphantly wrote, "...all men are created equal."  Yet nowhere, not in the Declaration of Independence, not in the Constitution, not in the Bill of Rights, is there even a mention of slavery, or civil rights, or women's rights.  Washington, Jefferson, Madison, slave-owners all. 

To suggest that the Founding Fathers were perfect and the Constitution utterly unassailable spits in the face of logic.  The very men who constructed it knew they weren't and it wasn't.  They were not of afraid to change, especially in the face of disaster.  It is incumbent upon us -- for our sake, for posterity's sake -- to follow their lead.

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