Tuesday, April 15, 2008

American Government and the Will of the People

In the last couple of weeks, I finally finished the book “Unruly Americans and the Origins of the Constitution” by Woody Holton. The book is an account of American government during the days of the Articles of Confederation, and all of the chaos that ensued from the economics of that period. Paper money was virtually worthless, government bonds couldn’t be repaid, and there was little actual gold and silver to go around. There was a constant battle between debtors and creditors that often caused taxes to go unpaid, and gave the new nation a bad credit rating with other countries. Holton goes into great detail about these things, quoting extensively from primary sources. This should be interesting, but frequently it gets tedious. In certain parts of the text, I felt like I was reading the same thing over and over again for pages at a time. This is why it took me so long to finish the book (about 3 or 4 months).

Towards the end of the text, Holton discusses the Constitutional Convention. It was supposed to be a session for the revising of the Articles of Confederation, but many of those attending the Convention had a total overthrow of the Articles in mind when they sat down to the table, though they did not mention this to their constituents, or at the Convention, at least not initially. If they had told their constituents what they had in mind, they probably would have never been sent to the Convention in the first place. Amid this discussion, there was a quote that stuck with me: “[An] elected representative is not simply an instrument of his constituents’ will. He is instead an independent thinker who ought to execute justice as he himself defines it” (p. 181).

This is fascinating, as much as it is ironic. If the members of the Convention had not been swayed to this type of thinking, the Constitution may not have happened, and the United States may have failed as a nation.

So, in turn, I find myself thinking about our current governmental situation. Most of us who despise Bush as a President do so because he is often deaf to the will of the people. He most certainly “execute(s) justice as he himself defines it.” A characteristic of the Constitutional Convention had been the economic standing of those present—all the delegates were wealthy men, and represented their own interests. One criticism of the current Republican government is the favoring of the wealthy and of big business. In short, things don’t appear to have changed much ideologically. What is interesting is that this attitude is what saved our country early on, but currently it appears to be destroying it.

What is the difference here, or more importantly, what is the historical lesson? It seems to me that this lopsided representation doesn’t have to have a negative result. I am not implying that I think Bush has made the right choices in his tenure. If anything, it may prove that ideologies have spectra within themselves, and no one ideology works for all situations. The same medicine obviously does not cure all ills.

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