We the People of the United States…

Do Ordain And Establish This Constitution

We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.

On September 17, 1787, after months of discussions, arguments, and compromises, the United States Constitution was signed by members of the Constitutional Convention and sent off the Confederation Congress for its approval and then to the 13 states for ratification.  It was a complete overhaul of the federal government that had been organized by the Articles of Confederation up until that point.  The President of the Constitutional Convention was the greatest American of that time (and possibly still today), General George Washington.  Washington had been hoping to retire to Mount Vernon after the war had ended, but he knew the nation he helped to found was in need, and that only he could provide the unifying factor and give legitimacy to the proceedings.

When it was completed, the Constitution set up the three branches of government and their duties, the roles between the various states and those states and the new federal government… which still only had limited powers, the ratification process, and for the addition of amendments.  In 226-years, the Constitution has only been amended 27-times.

Constitutional Convention // National Constitution Center Blog

Constitutional Convention // National Constitution Center Blog

The Constitution is far from perfect, even back when it was signed and ratified.  Though they had taken parts of it from various other international laws, the type of government it was setting up was unheard of.  It was a way to united the various states into a federal union with a limited federal government to oversee various things and give the states one unified voice.  But for those that signed, their country was still the state they resided in.  Their nation came in second.  And even in those early days, no one was sure what the role of the federal government would be.

Two men that were absent from the constitutional proceedings were John Adams and Thomas Jefferson who were both serving as ministers overseas in Great Britain and France, respectfully.  Since the proceedings of the Constitutional Convention were held in secret, they were not aware of the final outcome until many months later.  In a letter to John Adams on November 13, 1787, Thomas Jefferson wrote:

How do you like our new constitution? I confess there are things in it which stagger all my dispositions to subscribe to what such an assembly has proposed.  The house of federal representatives will not be adequate to the management of affairs either foreign or federal.  Their President seems a bad edition of a Polish king.  He may be reelected from 4. years to 4. years for life. […]  I wish that at the end of the 4. years they had made him for ever ineligible a second time.

John Adams would reply in a letter dating December 6, 1787.

You are afraid of the one — I, of the few.  We agree that the many should have a full fair and perfect Representation. — You are Apprehensive of Monarchy; I, of Aristocracy.  I would therefore have given more Power to the President and less to the Senate.  […]  Faction and Distraction are the sure and certain Consequence of giving to a Senate a vote in the distribution of offices.  […]  Elections, my dear sir, Elections to offices which are great objects of Ambition, I look at with terror.

Jefferson had every reason to be concerned about the presidency and the establishment of a monarchy.  That’s all anyone had known.  Luckily for our young republic, George Washington was selected to be our first President under this new government.  And after serving 2-terms (8-years), he set one of the most important precedents.  He stepped aside.  It was a precedent adopted by the rest of the “founding Presidents” and was established as the next generation came to be, and it would remain so until President Franklin Roosevelt won a 3rd and 4th term and thus the passage of the 22nd Amendment limiting a person to be President for 2-terms (or 10-years total) afterwards.  With certain individuals of the time that saw larger pictures of grandeur (i.e. Alexander Hamilton and Aaron Burr), those first years and those precedents could have easily been in jeopardy.

As for Adams, we can see what he had partially predicted.  We see certain posts that require Senate confirmation being left vacant because one party objects.  We tend to elect those that serve in Congress and the President with a minority of voters.  Almost half of the voters feel disenfranchised and thus do not participate.  This leaves those to be elected by a small group of people, and those elected are supported by an even small group of people… all of whom have high ambitions for themselves and what they represent.

It has withstood the test of time including the greatest threat of all… the issue of slavery and states’ rights, the very thing that threatened to tear the entire nation apart.  In the end, the Constitution would stand tall.  We still interpret its meanings today and how they apply to our modern times.  These range from electronic surveillance, what Congress can and cannot do, the war powers, Senate confirmation of Cabinet nominees, judicial review, the separation of powers, etc.  We must continue to adapt, but we must also continue to secure and uphold the founding principles we were founded on.  Too many times, we have turned away and allowed the federal government to overstep its boundaries by violating the limited power the Constitution created.  And too often do we allow the federal government to trample on our rights as citizens defined in the Bill of Rights without going through the proper procedures to amend the Constitution.

The Constitution is not irrelevant today.  It has served us well for 226-years… even despite its flaws.  We must educate ourselves on this document and what it entails.  “We the People of the United States” are its guardian and protector.  We are the ones that determine the role in plays in today’s world.  Let us continue the tradition that has been handed down to us.

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I Pledge Allegiance

The “Under God” Controversy

“I pledge allegiance to my Flag and the republic for which it stands, one nation indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.” (1892)

It sounds familiar to many of us, but it doesn’t seem quite right.  Growing up, I had to recite thePledge of Allegiance every day in school.  As a child, the phrase “Under God,” which does not appear in the above quote, never even registered to me.  They were just words to be recited along with the rest.  This may be because I was raised Catholic, so I was used to the term, or it may not.  I honestly can’t tell.  What you read above though is the original Pledge of Allegiance though it started out as just a poem.

The original poem was written by a Baptist minister named Francis Bellamy, who was also a Christian socialist, in 1892.  It was published in a youth magazine called The Youth’s Companion as part of the National Public School Celebration in honor of the 400th anniversary of Columbus’s discovery of America.  It would slightly be changed to say “to the republic,” which would be used from 1892-1923.  In 1923, it would be changed again to read “to the flag of the United States” but that would only last for a year before the addition “of America” was added to it.  Bellamy didn’t like the changes as it ruined the rhythm of his original poem.

“I pledge allegiance to the Flag of the United States of America, and to the republic for which it stands; one Nation indivisible with liberty and justice for all.” (1924 – 1954)

polls_american_flag_2548_406969_poll_xlargeMany of older generations will remember citing that particular version of the Pledge of Allegiance.  It wouldn’t be until 1954 that the phrase would changed to “one Nation, Under God.”  It was the idea of an Illinois lawyer, who happened to be the Chaplain of the the Illinois Society of the Sons of the American Revolution in 1948.  His name was Louis A. Bowman.  He added it because of Abraham Lincoln.  It is said that Lincoln spoke the words “under God” in his Gettysburg Address.  It is hard to say whether he did or did not since there are hand-written copies of it both ways.  The Abraham Lincoln Museum in Springfield, Illinois currently has a copy of the Everett copy of the Gettysburg Address on display.  It was written by Lincoln to Edward Everett who had spoken for over two-hours before Lincoln.  Everett wanted Lincoln to include the words “under God” in his copy.  It would not be until 1953 that Rep. Louis C. Rabaut (D-MI) would sponsor legislation that officially added “under God” to the Pledge.  President Eisenhower would get behind the proposal in 1954, and it would be passed.  It marked the first time legislation had been passed officially changing the Pledge of Allegiance.

So why am I bringing this up?  Any challenge that has been made to get the phrase “Under God” removed has met with failure.  The courts have ruled that it can stay, and no legislation striking it would ever get through Congress.  That’s because there is a new lawsuit that has been brought up.  The difference is that this particular case is not being sought in federal court but rather in state court, and that state is Massachusetts.  They are using the exact same “equality” clause in the Massachusetts Constitution that allowed the state to be the first in the nation to allow same-sex marriages.

In Newdow v. Rio Linda Union School District (2010), the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth District upheld that “under God” was constitutional, which was upheld by an appeals court as it stated it was not establishing a religion but was “patriotic in nature.”  But how do we define was is patriotic and what is religious?  The lines get messy when we start thumbing through history.  When reciting speeches made by past presidents, it’s not uncommon to come across a mention of God.  Even Washington, himself, used God in speeches and correspondences, as did Lincoln.  In fact, one of the most recognizable lines from Lincoln’s Second Inaugural states, “With malice toward none; with charity for all; with firmness in the right, as God gives us to see the right…”

“Such being the impressions under which I have, in obedience to the public summons, repaired to the present station, it would be peculiarly improper to omit in this first official act my fervent supplications to that Almighty Being who rules over the universe, who presides in the councils of nations, and whose providential aids can supply every human defect, that His benediction may consecrate to the liberties and happiness of the people of the United States a Government instituted by themselves for these essential purposes, and may enable every instrument employed in its administration to execute with success the functions allotted to his charge.” George Washington’s First Inaugural

There has always been a constant back and forth between politics in the political arena.  It would be improper to state that a president cannot state his/her beliefs in certain times, especially when we can trace such a tradition back to the very beginning.  But there still remains that difference between a personal belief that is simply spoken in a speech and one that is recited by people with the particular phrase in it.  In another case in 2010, the United States Court of Appeals for the First Circuit upheld a lower New Hampshire court ruling that stated it didn’t violate the constitution so long as reciting the Pledge was voluntary.  I grew up saying the Pledge without incident.  Have times changed that much or were we just all religious in my public school?  Why can’t someone who has an issue reciting those words just omit them personally when saying the Pledge?  It’s doubtful anyone would even notice that someone didn’t speak two words.  And I guess the last question is why is this even such a situation?  It’s not like there aren’t easy solutions to this that don’t involve the court system.  Whether “Under God” stays or goes, it’s all rather a moot point since it wasn’t even in the original poem written by the Baptist minister to start with and seems to be there to stay now unless there is a significant push to change it from the public, which I don’t see happening.

And Carry A Big Stick

The Predicament Of US Foreign Policy

Just before the College of Cardinals locked themselves away in seclusion to elect a new Pope, several of them were talking to various media outlets.  They weren’t floating around names but rather the different sides of the Church.  Yes, even the Catholic Church has something close to political parties.  There is the more conservative side and the more progressive side.  One such individual being interviewed was on the progressive side and was asked about the chance of an American Pope.  It has been discussed in the news.  The answer that was given was that it was highly unlikely since it would be assumed that the Pope would then be under the guidance of the American government.  When I heard this answer, it got me to think.  It was only in 1960 that American voters were hesitate to even elect a President that was Catholic because it would be assumed that he would be under the guidance of the Pope.  It’s interesting how things can change.  But was the person being interviewed completely out of step with what he said?  Probably not since our government does have a way of intervening in affairs in other countries, and usually that intervention comes back to haunt us at some later date.

Let’s jump back to the early 1900s.  The American government, under President Theodore Roosevelt, wanted to build a canal across the isthmus of Panama.  At that time, it belonged to the country of Columbia whose government declined.  So in true Roosevelt fashion, the US began to ship arms to rebel groups in Panama, and the US Navy blockaded the coast so that Columbia couldn’t respond in force.  Within an hour of Panama declaring its independence, the US recognized the new nation.  In the end, Roosevelt got his canal much to the consternation of the Columbian government.  Today, as a result of a treaty with Panama, the canal has been returned to the control of the government of Panama and is currently being widened.  We might see this is a triumph for our nation, but it still didn’t help relations with countries in that part of the world.  Overall, though, this was fairly simple in relation to the messes we’ve gotten ourselves into by the end of the 20th century.

In 1980, the Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan.  These were the declining years of the Cold War.  The United States could not, and would not, let the Soviets invade a nation.  The people in Afghanistan were putting up resistance, but could they really stop the invaders?  The US government decided to send weapons to help the resistance fighters who would, with the help of the weapons sent by the American government, defeated the Soviets.  These resistance fighters were the Taliban.  In the fall of 2001, the US would go to war in Afghanistan and fight the Taliban for harboring terrorist Osama bin Laden and al Qaeda.  US forces were able to overthrow the Taliban government, but the Taliban continued to fight to regain what they had lost.  What weapons are they using when fighting our troops… the very weapons we gave them in the 1980s to fight the Soviets.

mideast1aFor a better example, I turn to Iraq.  It seems like everything spins around that nation these days.  It was the US government that put Saddam Hussein in power.  He was to be the buffer against Iran (more on that in a bit) after the Iranian Revolution in 1979.  He was our puppet, so to speak.  And he kept Iran in check… even going to war with the country.  Who gave Saddam all the weapons he would need to stay in power and even go to war with Iran?  The United States did.  Saddam would even use these weapons against his own people when he started attacking the Kurdish population in the north.  Yet the United States still turned a blind eye to the massacre that was taking place.  In 1991, Saddam went rogue and invaded Kuwait.  This threatened US interests in the area.  So now the US had to go to war against the very person it put into power.  The US and its Allies had the upper hand.  The Iraqi army in Kuwait either surrendered or withdrew, and Saddam was on the verge of falling from power.  In the end, Saddam was allowed to stay.  However, all of this would change in 2003 when the US would again invade Iraq and overthrow Saddam’s regime.  The result was a power vacuum and sectarian violence that destabilized the country, threatened the weak democratic government, and cost the US plenty in terms of casualties and money.

The overthrow of Saddam would also have other consequences… our current problem with Iran.  But let’s backtrack just a bit.  In the 1950s, the US government overthrew a democratically elected government in Iran to install the Shah.  This is also the time when we gave nuclear technology to the Iranian government. (see: Persian Rug)  In 1979, the people revolted against the Shah and overthrew their government.  Even today, we still do not have official ties to the Iranian government.  Since the overthrow of Saddam in 2003, we have come across the conundrum of Iran having a nuclear weapon which we are trying to prevent.  The irony of the situation.  As we look at the cluster-bomb (no pun intended), we have failed to realize that we created it by deposing the buffer.  Though Saddam was bad and did need to go, overthrowing his government has directly led to Iran pursuing a nuclear weapon.  Saddam would never have let Iran have a nuclear weapon.  It would have threatened his country.  He would have handled the situation himself… probably with another war.  And more than likely, past transgressions would have been forgiven, and we would have supplied with him with the necessary weapons to ensure that he was successful.  The only thing we despised more than Saddam in the end is still Iran.

Early in his presidency, President George W. Bush referred to three countries as an “axis of evil.”  Those countries were Iraq, Iran, and North Korea.  One of those nations was soon invaded and had its government overthrown.  Since then, the other two countries have been working to obtain nuclear technology so that they may possess a nuclear weapon.  In the past week, North Korea, as a result of joint war games by the American and South Korean navies and new sanctions placed on them by the United Nations, has terminated the 1953 armistice and threatened to attack the US.  The sanctions came after North Korea supposedly tested a nuclear device.  Is there the possibility that the governments in these countries (though authoritarian) might be trying to defend their own borders from US involvement?  They were once declared an axis of evil and saw one of the other nations on the list invaded and overthrown.

bigstickThe US government does have a tendency to meddle in other nations’ affairs.  Though they seem like good ideas at the time, they usually come back to bite us later.  For nearly three decades, we supported the authoritarian regime of Hosni Mubarak in Egypt despite how he oppressed his people.  Though the US government officially sided with the revolutionaries to oust Mubarak, we didn’t receive any major props.  When the military began firing on protesters, the tear gas canisters had “Made in the USA” written on them as we were providing military weapons to the Egyptian military.  Even today, we are supplying military equipment to the country of Bahrain, and that nation’s government is currently working to stop its people from rebelling and overthrowing it.  In Libya, we helped ouster Gaddafi.  Though we only supplied operational support and didn’t directly supply the revolutionaries with weaponry, other nations did.  And somehow, this could work against us as other situations have.  There have been calls to intervene in Syria.  The US has been walking a very fine line though we are not fans of the Assad regime.  It still goes back to the same conundrum.  Today’s grand moment could be tomorrow’s downfall.  We’ve seen it happen so many times when we’ve meddled in other countries.  Sure, we wouldn’t be here having this discussion if the French government hadn’t given arms to a rebelling army in the British colonies, but the act did work against the French, too.  We still signed our own separate peace treaty with England and left France (and Spain) alone to continue the fight against England.  Sometimes, and more often that we’d care to admit, we need to step back and make sure we are doing the right thing… not just in terms of our interests today but in the bigger global interests that may come tomorrow.

Let Freedom Ring

Throughout history, we remember names like George Washington, John Adams, Thomas Jefferson, the Marquis deLafayette, Paul Revere and many more.  What we don’t know are the names of countless others that laid down their lives for our independence.  They are the ones who’s stories are not told… lost in time and forgotten.  They believed in a cause… a new concept that no one was certain would succeed, but still they pressed on.  They survived brutal winters, hot summers, and camp diseases.  They sacrificed everything to be free from tyranny.

For those we have forgotten, it wasn’t about the creation of a republic.  It was about being able to choose their own destiny and make their own way in life.  What they helped to create was a nation with untold potential.  Whether they survived our war for independence or whether they fell fighting for the cause, their service was invaluable.

We mark this holiday 236-years after the signing of the Declaration of Independence, though we still weren’t free until the Treaty of Paris in 1783.  Our nation has changed a lot since then.  We have grown from struggling colonies to a vast nation comprised of a wide variety of people.  Upon our shores, people have looked to see new promise… the same as those soldiers did back then.  Without their sacrifices, none of us would be celebrating this day and our lives would be different.

With all the pomp and ceremony that even our Founding Fathers recognized we would be having, we must not forget these long forgotten unknown men and what they fought for.  It beats within every one of us and should never be taken for granted.  Even now, somewhere in this world, there are people fighting for their independence… fighting for their freedom from tyranny.  What we fought for all those years ago still echos throughout the globe.  People want the freedom to determine their own destinies.  It is that very freedom that always comes with a high price, but we cannot let that deter us or anyone else.  The very ideals that once washed over our people should echo to every people in every corner of this planet.  From every mountain top, through every plain, across every ocean… freedom shall ring.  And while we celebrate the names we have been taught to remember, let us also remember those that we don’t.  Let us remember our founding principles and know that people around the world are fighting for them this very day because even as we fade away, the idea still lives on.  May the sun shine upon them as it did us on July 4, 1776.

“And for the support of this Declaration, with a firm reliance on the protection of divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes and our sacred Honor.” Declaration of Independence~ 

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