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The Town Crier

The Genius of our Founders

by C. John Grom  |  December 23, 2014

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.

Comments

2 Comments

Robert Hoban January 12, 2015 10:40 am

John,

Your article is very Interesting and thought provoking. The first thought that came to my mind is what Ben Franklin said when asked after the Convention what kind of Government we had, his answer was a Republic if we can hold it. It is my firm believe that for too long we have pursued Democracy in the name of a majority decision or reaching across the aisle.

At the end you say that Political Civility must replace hyper partisanship and I agree wholeheartedly. I must caution that Political Civility is not Political Correctness. What I vehemently disagree with you on is the statement about rigid allegiance to special interest.While I understand what you are saying I wish to make the point that is our lack of allegiance to the Special Interests known as the will of the people as stated in our Constitution that has brought us to the lowest state of Liberty since before the Constitutional Convention. It was that liberty that dictated a change in the government of our country. We desperately need a return to the principals defined and recorded by our Founding Fathers. It is time for another change. I often quote George C. Wallace as he stated in his campaign for President that when you look at Washington there is not a dimes worth of difference between the Republicans and the Democrats. When will we learn?

Thanks for the opportunity to express my feelings,

Bob Hoban

Reply

C. John Grom January 12, 2015 3:05 pm

Bob:

Thank you for your comments. I agree with you that what we think of as “political correctness” is not an example of civility. In fact you could make the argument that it is in many ways the opposite. Political correctness seems to me as seeing things only one way and not even considering other possibilities. As for your comment about the constitution, I guess I never thought of it as a “special interest”.

John

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