Mike Parker: The genius of our forward-looking Founders
I had the idea for this column nearly a month ago but just now found time to address an insight I received during the Naturalization Ceremony that took place on July 4th at Harmony Hall.
Rev. Jason McKnight delivered the keynote address for the occasion, and during his remarks he made a point that I had never considered about the Founders of this nation. He said:
“What does ‘American’ mean? What are the hallmarks of this nationality – in its ideal form! I realize that none of us lives up to it; but we need to… and we need to press on. An American, in the ideal, is this:
“We are future-oriented – We face tomorrow, not yesterday. We make a future, not maintain a past. Something about America wants to make things better.”
This sentiment echoes what Thomas Paine wrote in the Dec. 23, 1776, edition of “the American Crisis.” Paine shared his disgust and anger over a statement by a Tory tavern keeper. Paine wrote this Tory “was standing at his door, with as pretty a child in his hand, about eight or nine years old, as I ever saw, and after speaking his mind as freely as he thought was prudent, finished with this unfatherly expression, ‘Well! give me peace in my day.’”
Paine’s response was “a generous parent should have said, ‘If there must be trouble, let it be in my day, that my child may have peace.’”
Chief U.S. District Judge James C. Dever III, who officiated over the Naturalization Ceremony, expanded on this focus when he pointed out the Founders as a whole shared this future-oriented outlook when they crafted the Preamble to the United States Constitution.
He pointed out the verb constructions that We the People used to create our most important governing document. The goals of our Constitution was to form a more perfect union, establish justice, insure domestic tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general welfare, and secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity.
The Constitution’s purpose was not merely to meet the immediate needs of those living in the late 1700s. Instead, the Founders looked to the future. They wanted to secure liberty both then – and for the future. They wanted generation after generation to enjoy the blessings liberty brings.
They sought to craft a document embodying the principles of the Declaration of Independence for their time – and for future generations.
“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. – That to secure these rights Governments are instituted among Men deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed. – That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness.”
The Founders led a rebellion against one of the most powerful nations on the earth – Great Britain. They fought a war no one except themselves thought they could win. After winning independence, the time had come to lay a foundation for new government. Their desire was to ensure a government deriving its lawful power from the consent of the governed to secure these basic rights.
I get tired of hearing people refer to our government as a “democracy.” I can only wonder if those who use that term have ever recited the Pledge of Allegiance: “I pledge allegiance to the flag of the United States of America, and to the Republic for which it stands. …”
Article IV, Section 4 of the U.S. Constitution stipulates: “The United States shall guarantee to every state in this union a republican form of government.”
A republic is a government of laws – not of people. A republic protects individual liberties from the whim of what John Stuart Mill termed “the tyranny of the majority.” Individual liberties are at the heart of what our forward-looking Founders wanted to ensure for their posterity.