By Charles H. Green
Happy birthday, America. Our nation was formed by virtue of the written declaration of the 2nd Continental Congress, which was comprised of representatives of the thirteen colonies, and on this day in 1776, started an extraordinary experiment in governance that is 239 years old and counting. No other government has held as long.
But to be sure, recognize that our own United States had a rather cantankerous beginning
‘American Flag,; Eric Legge, 1999
that many choose to ignore when raising the patriots, revolution or Constitution to defend their present day point of view. I believe that history–real history–matters and that more people should get their facts straight. Too many loyal Americans today can’t even identify their own two U.S. Senators
So what are we celebrating when we give adage to the ‘Fourth of July?’ Technically, I guess we celebrate the Declaration of Independence, signed on this day, but to be sure, the ‘what,’ ‘who,’ and ‘how’ of our independence were far from settled on that day. Essentially, we had only openly declared war on the mightiest nation on earth, Great Britain, and set ourselves apart from them as a sovereign nation on the faith of receiving adequate financing and military support from their arch enemy, France.
Lost to many is the fact that only a year before the signing of the declaration, during the ‘First Continental Congress,’ of the twelve colonies represented, two vocally disapproved of the idea of abandoning the Crown, and the remaining ten were evenly split between achieving legislative equality with Britain or full independence.
Confederation vs. federal government
What is sure is that from the beginning of the nation in 1776, it took nearly five years for the colonies–rebranded ‘states’ by then–to agree on a federal governing body of laws, the Articles of Confederation,’ and they became effective only six months before the end of the revolution.
It took another six years for the states to finally agree that a stronger federal government was really called for and to decide to write a Constitution, which was finally adopted toward the end of 1788.That Constitution went into effect March 4, 1789 when the first Congress opened, and remains with us today with a relative few amendments.
In our current media, we hear many talking heads (who often are untrained by way of law) squawk with a high degree of certainty about our Constitution, what it says and what it really means. Given the number of times in our history when the Supreme Court of the land has changed their view of what is ‘constitutional’ or not, I think I’d park my certainty at the door before elevating myself to being such an intuitive scholar.
Commercial lenders can appreciate a couple of financial details about the new nation–the first ‘Superintendent of Finance (today known as the Secretary of Treasury) was Robert Morris, who was honored in the naming of “Robert Morris Club.” The club was an association formed in 1914 to facilitate the exchange of credit information, and was later known as “Robert Morris Associates,” and in 2000 became the Risk Management Association.
One interesting omission of the Continental Congress was that, although granted the authority to borrow money to fight the war, it was not granted authority to impose taxes or import duties with which to repay the debts. This topic became quite contentious throughout the life of the Congress and was not resolved before the new Constitution was adopted.
Alexander Hamilton, the first Secretary of the Treasury, finally convinced Congress that the federal government should assume the war debt of several states, and set about an orderly plan to repay them. On January 1, 1791, the United States was indebted $75,463,476, of which $18.3 had been assumed from the states.
What are we arguing about today?
So you think there is too much government bureaucracy today? Between 1775-1789, the Continental Congress created 3,294 committees! More than three-quarters of them only had three members, but still, that meant they created nearly 19 committees each month. If you’re thinking we still have that many federal committees, think again and count the real list.
Needless to say, the disagreements continue to this day over virtually every topic in government imaginable, including an ongoing battle over the original division of federal powers vs. states’ rights.
I think it’s fair to say that our conservative countrymen favor the world as it used to be (or how they perceived it used to be), and as ‘Republicans,’ instinctively seek governance in accordance with the ‘rule of law.’
Our liberal–or progressive–countrymen are more inclined to favor their view of the world as it should be, and as ‘Democrats,’ instinctively seek governance in accordance with the majority rules.
Wherever you sit, I believe it’s important to note what may be the essence of our Constitution and national identity: You are entitled to express your dissent about anything, but you must respect the rule of the majority about everything.
America ain’t perfect, but a better system hasn’t been found anywhere else yet. And that’s worth celebrating.
What do you think? Comment on this page or write me at Director@SBFI.org.