The Genius of our Founders
The genius of our founding fathers was not only that they produced our Constitution that has stood the test of time for over 225 years, but that they overcame serious differences of opinion to do it.
These differences were not trivial and they were not lightly held. When the Delegates from all the states, except Rhode Island, met in Philadelphia in 1787 they were not even in agreement as to the nature of their task. While they all recognized that the Articles of Confederation, which at the time served as the U.S. Constitution, placed too many restrictions on the Federal Government, they were not in agreement to replace it with a whole new constitution or to merely amend it. Once that issue was decided the meeting became known as “The Constitutional Convention.”
Finding Common Ground
The conflicts that had to have followed while finding common ground on the issues of division of power, judicial authority, political representation, taxation, national defense, states’ rights and countless other potential roadblocks is almost impossible to contemplate. To be sure, the Constitution would not have been written by fifty-five individuals if they were slaves to their own parochial interests and those of their backers, instead of rock solid committed citizens with a vision of a United States of America.
Of course there is no way of knowing just how civilly the negotiations were conducted across the political spectrum while hammering out the details of the final draft. But they got it done, and they got it done in a little over eighty working days because they were more committed to finding common ground than they were to individual or group interests.
Also, we can assume that in order to produce a seven article, twenty-two section document to establish the framework for managing the affairs of what became the most successful and longest lasting democracy in history required a high level of appreciation of the rules of civil political discourse and a willingness to compromise.
They Made Civility Work
We can take it on faith that they listened to each other. Not just stayed quiet while others were speaking, but analyzed what was being said, considered the interests of the speakers, appreciated the prism through which they view the world and made sure their own prism was clearly understood. They had to have worked hard to blend their interests and those of the other delegates into solutions that worked for everyone. They must have learned from each other, developed trusting relationships and had confidence in unity.
To be sure, the process did not go off without a hitch but that isn’t what civility is all about. In the words of Benjamin Franklin, “When you assemble a number of men to have the advantage of their joint wisdom, you inevitably assemble with those men their prejudices, their passions, their errors of opinion, their local interests, and their selfish views.” He knew that a perfect product could not be expected from such an assembly but that, with all it’s faults, the Consitution they drafted was better than any alternative that was likely to emerge. The delegates apparently agreed because they put aside their differences and signed it.
That’s the way it’s suppose to work in a democracy. Political Civility must replace hyper partisanship and rigid allegiance to special interest must be set aside in search for common ground.