Studying history is not just a matter of interest to me, it is a mental health necessity. I find that when I can look out upon the problems of my country and the world, it soothes me to realize that we as a race have faced problems such as these in the past and managed to come through them. This is not true of all of the situations before us. New to our age is the internet and global warming. Nevertheless, the frustrations I feel over governments and world movements are eased as I realize similar patterns from the past.
One of my favorite forms of history study is reading source materials. I happen to own a set of volumes that house letters and reports written by those who were actually on the scene as our nation was being formed. The series is called America: Great Crises In Our History Told by Its Makers. Because I feel we are in the midst of a constitutional crisis, I chose to read “Volume IV: The Critical Period 1783-1803”. These are the years when the Revolutionary War came to a close and the work of forming a nation began with the writing of the constitution. This morning I read a piece by James Madison: “Framing The Constitution”. It is the notes he took during the constitutional convention covering three days when reps from the various states argued over how to form some kind of union under some kind of government. One of the issue had to do with the differences in the way states were managing their voting. In some, only land owners were permitted to vote. In others, all had a vote. There was also the issue of state size. Would the smaller states be drowned out by the larger ones? What about states that had no particular source of commerce? How do you tax these verses those who benefited from trade opportunities. Should states be required to be part of the union or could some opt out. And if they opt out, would they tend to form alliances with foreign nations at odds with their neighboring states? Would different states end up forming their own armies and end up fighting one another?
In the midst of it all, Dr. Franklin (Benjamin I presume) suggested they begin each session with prayer, an appeal to God to help them figure things out. Hamilton and several others had hesitation but they ended up with a compromise…a little prayer but not too much.
Truthfully, it hadn’t occurred to me the magnitude of the challenge when the process of forming a unified government was brand new. I was impressed by one thing, however. Madison reported that the founding fathers used the history of nations and the formation of ancient governments as a central part of their discussion. They were willing to learn from the mistakes and successes of those who had come before them as they tried to shape just societies.
What a loss it was when this nation of ours took a turn away from this willingness to learn from the past! When was it that we decided that we knew more than any other nation, no matter the number of years they have been in existence? I don’t know when…but thinking we “know it all” seems to be part of the American problem. And it sounds downright adolescent.