One Vision, United
"But what makes government so powerful is that....
Government is a way to force everyone else to
pursue the same vision."
Of the forgotten names of America's founding family are those of the Pilgrims who embarked on their journey to America after signing the "Mayflower Compact" (1) This compact was the first record of the colonialist struggle to separate themselves from the vision of the British government. The seeds of American patriotism were sowed within the compact. This "vision" later germinated into the social-contract theory, natural rights and the separation of powers that are quintessential to politics in America.
Despite the Pilgrims bold attempt to pioneer a new vision upon their land, over a century passed before an official document mirrored this vision. Unfortunately the unification of a system of beliefs amongst the American colonists was not enough to guarantee their vision. In fact, the colonists and future "Continental Congress" faced many problems prior to the Revolutionary War.
As the British government implored boorish tactics to force the colonists into King George III's distorted vision, many resisted (2). Rather than acknowledging this public outrage, the British instigated colonists further. In resistance, the colonists formed the "Son's of Liberty" and the Minuet Men militias to fight for their freedom. Massachusetts was the center for political tension but colonist organized in New York, Pennsylvania and Virginia as well. Patriotic pride culminated in Boston when British troops attacked and slaughtered colonists. The revolution had just begun with a day known to history as the 'Boston Massacre'.
Slowly the power of politics began to turn around when the Sons of Liberty looted from the British crown and patriots organized the Boston Tea Party. These intense events outraged the British Parliament who started withdrawing colonies charters and closed down functions in Massachusetts. By 1774 the colonist were blinded by rage from the British vision. To alleviate this "conundrum", colonies agreed upon a secret meeting in Philadelphia to discuss a united resistance. This meeting became the first Continental Congress.
On September 5, 1774, representatives from all but one colony congregated in Philadelphia. Our nations original congressman's creates achievements is the Association of 1774 (3). According to some historians the association was "a statement of rights ... but stopped short of a rebellion" (Fiorina, 25). Despite the lack of declaring a "rebellion", colonist took arms and organized militias. The first shots fired by the colonist militia were so powerful that patriot Ralph Waldo Emerson declared that the shots could be "heard around the world".
Although these early arms were fired in Boston, the shots were heard thousands of miles south in Georgia. The only colony that failed to attend the first Continental Congress had delegates that were summoned by that indivisible blast. On May 10, 1775 the second Continental Congress opened session with representatives from all thirteen colonies. During this second congress session, George Washington was appointed commander in chief and general, Esek Hopkins was appointed commodore to the "neo" Navy. Congress would not rest until independence was declared. On July 2, 1776 the vote was official and Congress now represented a new nation, the United States.
During the next seven years, the Continental Congress faced many conundrums ranging from bleak military forces to a monumental national debt. Without a strong military, Congress had no means to "force everyone else to pursue the same vision" (Fiorina, 7). These weaknesses lead to a low public morale amongst the new nations’ citizens. Nor were the citizens voluntarily compensating for the expenses of the war, leaving the congress with a huge debt. Despite these challenges, the new nation was still struggling for recognition.
Congress was so confident of Americans independence that in 1778 a manifesto was declared stating that "we (America) will take such exemplary vengeance, as shall deter others from like conduct." ("Fanning the Flames of Patriotism") if the British did not acknowledge American independence. This confidence stemmed from the support all of the colonies were giving the Congress. America was a confederation, loosely united by the congress representatives. Outlined by the "Articles of Confederation", the colonies began to take on the vision of a nation (4).Although just as important as the Declaration; Congress contemplated what would be needed to form a more perfect union for a year until the Articles of Confederation were adopted.
Over the next four years the states discussed the virtues of the Articles of Confederation. In 1781 all thirteen states had signed the articles binding them to the confederation. With the ratification of the Articles of Confederation, the Continental Congress adopted a new title, The United States in Congress Assembled. The Articles of Confederation took so long to obtain approval from all thirteen states that the original document was interwoven with defects from compromises.
The union of states under the articles did not give the Congress much respect or support. The state governments feared that congress could obtain too great of power over the states; an issue later resolved by Federalism. These defects aggravated the problems faced by the Continental Congress after the Revolutionary War. Under the loose union of states, the Congress was given the power to declare war but not to raise a military force. Unfortunately for our early nation the defect of the articles did not cease with the limits on the military. Of notable concern was the inability of congress to influence state delegates to attend the Congress sessions.
Early congress delegates had such a poor attendance record that the quorum of nine states was rarely present. Without the quorum, congress could not ratify any treaties. When the Treaty of Paris reached congress, weeks elapsed without enough delegates to reach the quorum. Some delegates "went so far as contemplating holding Congresses in the sickroom of an ailing delegate, to add him to their numbers" ("Identifying Defects in the Confederation"). This weakness in Congress was do too many delegated who focused more aptly on the politics within their states than congressional duties.
Congress developed a great debt during the war which the states never reimbursed. Of course the Articles of Confederation did not allow the federal government to regulate tariffs. Nor could the federal government regulate commerce amongst the states. Congress even issued a report in 1783 proclaiming the inebriated economic state in the union being close to bankruptcy.
Due to the dire economic and military forces in America, Charles Pickney of South Carolina rallied for action. Congress called for a revision of the ancient Articles of Confederation during the Constitutional Convention of 1787. Of greatest concern for the convention was the greatest weakness of the articles: if there were not enough delegates to "ratify" the articles, Congress could do nothing but wait. The first committee to produce amendments to the articles faced this unfortunate fate. The amendments were never acted on but they did influence other delegates to attend the Second Constitutional Convention in Annapolis, Maryland.
Unlike the original convention, in which the articles were amended, the second convention took politics into their own hands. Rather than ratifying the Articles of Confederation as they were intending to do, a new constitution was crafted in their vision. Written out of the vision of "Edmund Randolph" of Virginia, a draft was revised by James Wilson during committee review. This draft was a highly protested document kept secret under a gag rule. Unfortunately the secrecy of the document gave the delegated the ability to exploit political advantages and blur the vision painted by the document.
Several strategies utilized during the construction of the constitution to give delegates prospective political power. Notably the sub par means delegates used to form compromises resulted in the bigoted three-fifths compromise (5). In an attempt to disguise the motivating force of Congress to have increased power, interpretation is needed throughout. The drafters of the constitution lined it with vague language that has since been interpreted to expand their powers. Although the vague language is open to political hermeneutics, this was required to fulfill the expanding vision of the American public.
The future vision of the American public was one thing the Congress could not plan for or predict. Rather than dictating outcomes to conflicts and resolutions to situations, there were guidelines. These constitutional guidelines set forth a path to determine the proper resolution of issues when they arose in the future. This was a much needed flexible thread in the parchment of America's vision.
"As long as the Constitution provided some way to determine the proper procedure for resolving later disputes, it did not have to declare what the resolution would be." (Fiorina, 33)
Although restrictive at the time, this open language gave the states the ability to someday extend suffrage to women and people of color.
Upon approval from New Hampshire on July 2, 1778 the United States Constitution received its ninth and ratifying vote. Through the efforts of the "federalists" campaigning during the first national election civil liberties were of public concern. The federalists did not criticize the constitution but instead sought to improve it with a Bill of Rights. From their public action, the federalists persuaded Massachusetts to vote on the document under the pretext that civil liberties would be granted. Congress agreed to amend the constitution with the ten civil liberties listed in the Bill of Rights.
From the seeds of the Pilgrims to the sprouting of civil liberties of the Federalists; the common vision of America can be achieved. Through the Constitution, the government is assigned fluctuating, "vague powers" to keep the public compliant yet appearing compassionate. Since the document drawn up on the Mayflowers voyage to the Bill of Rights, Americans adhere to the words of their forefathers. This is due to the wisdom and idyllic visions recorded in these documents.
As a result of this vision, the Constitution was written with the intention of growth in the future. Like a "Bamboo" that will someday flower, Americas’ forefathers knew the beauty of our nation’s future. From the strong roots of these early documents and the nutrition of American patriotism, the government has sustained through many different visions. "Blossoming" into an intricate tree with many branches that interweave the complex society of modern day America with the history and patriotism from America’s original branches.
1. The Mayflower Compact illustrated the shared vision in which personal decisions regarding religion and politics were mandate, this compact was signed prior to the voyage of the Mayflower and was in fact an agreement amongst the ships passengers to pursue a new government once reaching the shores of America.
2. Following the Sugar Act and Currency Act in 1764, colonists spoke out against taxation without representation and the following year the Quartering Act and Stamp Act resulted in the formation of militias.
3. The Association of 1774 urged for a unified resistance from British good and services and the congress appointed enforces to pursue this goal.
4. The Articles of Confederation was the formal plan of the union of the colonies originally proposed by Virginia Richard Henry Lee concurrent to his proposal for the Declaration of Independence.
5. The three-fifths compromise refers to the equation used to determine what percentage of African Americans who were slaves in the southern states were to be counted in determining taxes and House members. This compromise is considered the most offensive aspect of American politics.
1. Fiorina, Morris, et all. America's New Democracy. 3rd ed. New York: Pearsons Eduction, Inc. 2006.
2. Library of Congress. "Fanning the Flames of Patriotism." Continental Congress & Constitutional Convention:To Form A More Perfect Union. <http://memory.loc.gov/ammem/bdsds/intro01.html.
3. Library of Congress. "Identifying Defects in the Confederation." Continental Congress & Constitutional Convention