God, guns, guts and compromise
| September 28, 2023 12:00 AM
Sunday, Sept. 17, was the anniversary of the signing of the U.S. Constitution in Philadelphia in 1787.
I want to think of those giants of history, the founders of America, as brave, wise, not perfect, but good, who compromised, not their principles, but their desires, in order to bring together a nation that has served as a shining example to the world of what can be accomplished for the benefit of humankind.
I want to think of them, but what keeps intruding on my thoughts are several people in power who have nothing to contribute to this great nation but their own egos, and those not in a good way.
Specifically, a single senator, by exercising a rule of the Senate, is able to single handedly disrupt the entire chain of command of the armed services by not allowing promotions to be confirmed. Specifically, a few members of the U.S. House have found themselves in a position powerful enough to shut the government down and suspend paying our debt obligations if their demands are not met. I am not criticizing them for their beliefs, but I am criticizing them for using their power to harm America without considering compromise.
There, I’m done with that. Sort of.
These are the kind of public servants who claim “God, guns, and guts” made America great.
Maybe. But what made America in the first place was people placing ideals before personal goals, a willingness to compromise for the benefit of the many, not the few, and having principles and the wisdom to use them judiciously.
After the Revolution was won and before the Constitution was adopted, from 1781 to 1789 the colonies were united under the Articles of Confederation which gave the majority of the powers of government to the states and little to the federal government. The Revolution was funded with money borrowed from France, Spain and the Netherlands that needed to be paid back. The states could tax, and some paid back their war loans, but the federal government could not tax, which made paying off our collective debt difficult. (From America’s very beginning, honoring our debts was of paramount importance and has made us the chief creditor nation of the world.)
Nor could the national government raise an army without money. It was evident that power needed to be concentrated in a stronger federal government, and so the states came together in a convention in Philadelphia to hammer things out. The proceedings were secret, but James Madison took notes and so what we know about the convention comes from him. (“Miracle At Philadelphia” by Catherine Drinker Bowen is a good primer on the convention.)
It was a difficult convention made contentious by the differing needs of the states. However, one thing was clear, as individual state governments they had little political influence in the world, and less military might. They needed to form a union where the power of the nation would be greater than the sum of the powers of the states.
As the delegates to the signing assembled at the Pennsylvania State House (now known as Independence Hall) in Philadelphia they were greeted by a letter from General Washington.
It said, in part, “It is at all times difficult to draw with precision the line between those rights which must be surrendered, and those which may be preserved; and, on the present occasion, the difficulty was increased by a difference among the several States as to their situation, extent, habits, and particular interests…thus, the Constitution which we now present is the result of a spirit of amity, and of that mutual deference and concession, which the peculiarity of our political situation rendered indispensable.”
If those qualities were good enough to create America, they are certainly worth reviving to keep us great.
In that same city, hard by Independence Hall, shaded by the trees of Washington Square and surrounded by the flags of the colonies is the Tomb of the Unknown Revolutionary War Soldier which is graced by these words: "Beneath this stone rests a soldier of Washington's army who died to give you liberty."
Jim Elliott served 16 years in the Montana Legislature as a state representative and state senator. He lives on his ranch in Trout Creek.