Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Fumbling Founders

No two persons share the same space and therefore they cannot see things in the same way. Everyone’s angle of vision affects their interpretation of what they are observing. This is true both of visual observation and mental observation.

But it isn’t just position – physical or mental - that gives us our perspective on the world, it is shaped just as much by genetic disposition, cultural influence, experiential preconditioning, emotional commitments, and much more. Thus we live in a richly varied human cosmos that adds excitement to our lives but also creates conflicts as minor as disputes over the relative refreshment of Coca Cola vs Pepsi Cola, or as serious as the clash of armies.

Some have the mistaken notion that such was not the case at the founding of our nation; that somehow our founding fathers all managed to “stand in the same place” and thus saw issues in essentially the same way; that the founding document they devised is the product of agreement and is therefore almost as inviolate as Moses’ tablets of stone.

There were some aspects of government upon which they were all agreed. Mostly they reflected the founder’s determination to avoid the abuses of their former situation, although, even in that, they were often willing to continue those abuses when they were not directed at themselves but at those they now were governors over. For example, many of the colonies, and later the states they became, continue the practice of state-sponsored religion even though their founders had come to the continent to escape the same thing in their homeland.

In reality, there were many large issues upon which the founders could not agree. And so the document that subsequent generations has come to see as a work of genius was really the product of many compromises. It was not at all certain that it would be adopted by the 13 colonies and probably would not have been without the exertion of those who produced the Federalist papers urging its adoption. Even the idea of a “Federal” government – as opposed to a Confederated one in which most of the power would be retained by the individual states – was contentious. But so were the issues of slavery, representation, branches of government, and more.

In an era in which compromise has been equated with moral bankruptcy, it would be good for us to remember that those who shaped the Constitution were not afraid of it. No doubt they were as determined as any today to have things their way but they understood that failure to find a middle way could mean failure to find any way at all.

Time has shown that the compromises crafted in those early years have held up well. We still argue about the issues they did, and over time we’ve made some changes, but not a few of the compromises have become sacred emblems of our heritage. At the very least, they have allowed people whose position and disposition is widely different than their neighbor’s to live together in peace. Let’s not forget the blessings of compromise.

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