While that brave band of rebellious radicals that created this country were still embroiled in a fight for their very lives against the military forces of Great Britain, their political representatives in Philadelphia were piecing together a semblance of a national government that they called the Articles of Confederation. It served its purpose for a while but was, in reality, as weak as pond water.
Under the Articles the government could borrow money — naturally — but could not levy taxes against the people. It’s hard to pay money back when nothing is coming in. The government couldn’t regulate trade and didn’t have any way to enforce the laws Congress made and — well, just take it from me. Things were a mess.
So the men who came to be known as the Framers of the Constitution returned to Philadelphia — to the very building in which independence had been debated 11 years earlier — to see about shoring up the Articles and perhaps putting some teeth into the quite limited powers of Congress.
That’s what they came to do. What they actually did was create a whole new form of government — one based on the document we now simply refer to as the Constitution. In many circles the Constitution is quite revered, believe it or not. After all, our presidents don’t swear to protect our territory or our people or our buildings or our money. Our presidents take an oath to uphold and defend the Constitution of the United States. I’m pretty sure our soldiers do, too.
The Constitution is — or at least should be — very special.
But there were a lot of people — and I mean a whole lot of people — who opposed the ratification of the Constitution. Prominent people, too. Folks like Thomas Jefferson, who wrote the Declaration of Independence, and his fellow Virginian, Patrick “Give me liberty or give me death” Henry, who said of the proposed document, “I smell a rat!”
Jefferson and Henry and the others were not anti-American. Far from it. They feared that if the people bestowed too much power in a central government, then the men who were elected to govern would seize even more and trample the rights of the very people they were elected to serve. (Thank God that could never happen!) And those who opposed the Constitution were concerned that there was no Bill of Rights that would define and protect the individual rights of the citizens.
Now I told you all of that to tell you this. George Washington and Benjamin Franklin and other supporters of the Constitution told the people that if they would just go ahead and ratify the Constitution, the government would then amend it to add a Bill of Rights.
Yeah, right. And if you believe that we have some swamp land to sell you down in Spanish Florida that will become the world’s largest theme park one day.
But you know what? The people trusted Washington, Franklin and their friends. They went ahead and ratified the Constitution and trusted the newly elected government to fulfill their promise and amend the document to protect individual rights. (All except for the people of Rhode Island, of course. They were the “show me” state before Missouri was even thought of.)
But here is the really surprising part. Our Founding Fathers were as good as their word and as soon as an actual government was assembled that government followed through on the promises made by the Framers and added 10 amendments to the Constitution to protect our rights to criticize the government, own guns, dance naked and have government-appointed attorneys for people accused of cooking meth in their basements.
Imagine that! The government made a promise — and kept it! My how times have changed. Were but it be 1788 again!
I don’t know when we abandoned electing statesmen to office in favor of liars, and crooks and other shysters but the change probably wasn’t recent. After all, Mark Twain once said, “There is no distinct American criminal class — except Congress.” And one of the three biggest lies in the world, right behind “the check is in the mail” and “Of course I’ll still respect you in the morning‚” is “I’m from the government and I’m here to help you.”
And the lies and broken promises are not limited to any party or any branch or any level of government. Twenty years ago, for instance, the state of Georgia promised the people of Georgia that if they allowed the state to build a toll road heading north out of Atlanta (Ga. 400 to be exact), that the toll would be eliminated once the bond debt to build the road was retired. It has been, but the toll has been extended at least until 2020. And we could fill the page with the broken promises of the current and past administrations in Washington, D.C.
Well now the Republicans have come up with a whole new set of promises. They call them the “Pledge to America” and they promise that if the control of the House of Representatives is returned to them on Nov. 2 that they will restore America’s faith in government by rolling back taxes, replacing Obamacare with a plan of their own, cutting spending and keeping accused terrorists on foreign soil.
I don’t know if they will follow through on their promises or not, but after two years of Hope and Change, I’m ready to give them a shot.
Darrell Huckaby is an author and teacher in Rockdale County. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.