Despite it’s short history, the United States has evolved rapidly in the near two-and-a-half centuries since this experiment in democracy began. America was founded on the precipice of a new age; one of rapid technological advancement and seemingly just as rapid social change. In the years since George Washington first took office, the entire world has changed the ways it views itself, and America’s successes in this era can, in many ways, be attributed to our ability to keep up with the times, roll with the punches, and adapt to each new challenge as it comes.
Today, however, the American populous seems less adaptable than ever, opting to bicker with one another over Tweets and perceived offenses while ignoring looming threats on the horizon. China’s heavy investment into controlling American media, Russia’s efforts to manipulate the way Americans see one another, Iran and North Korea’s pursuit of nuclear weapons, and the return of something akin to spheres of influence in Africa are not the makings for a war in this election cycle, but they certainly are the ingredients for a global conflict somewhere on the horizon.
Here inside America’s borders, we find ourselves fighting our own wars on social media, and in some deranged minds, in public spaces full of innocent people. Our hate for one another keeps spilling into the streets, and in the aftermath, our leaders leverage the bloodshed to advanced their political careers, keen to be the one that stands up the loudest for whatever set of ideologies they feel will mobilize their bases.
Around dinner tables and at office parties everywhere, we find ourselves choosing sides between ourselves, instead of recognizing that these shooters (whether harboring Left or Right beliefs) have nothing in common with any of us. An Antifa affiliated mass shooter doesn’t represent Democrats. A white supremacist shooter doesn’t represent Republicans. They both represent a deeply disturbed minority element within our nation: the fools among us that treasure the infamy of senseless violence rather than the slow march of debate.
So, as we look to our grandstanding lawmakers championing efforts to either remove or protect American’s 2nd amendment rights, the majority of people on both sides agree in at least one regard: this is a problem for America’s federal government to solve. But for all the debate we have about what the Founding Fathers really meant when they wrote the 2nd amendment, few people seem to recall that ratifying the Constitution itself was sometimes referred to America’s second revolution.
Most folks that graduated high school know that the Constitution was ratified long after the Declaration of Independence was penned, but in our abbreviated view of history, the gap between 1776 and 1789 is little more than a sentence long. For those early Americans, however, much of that time was spent living under a very different form of American government established by the Articles of Confederation. See, America had just fought a war against a distant, consolidated power and they had a healthy fear of falling into the same trap again. Under the Articles of Confederation that bound America’s first thirteen states together, each former colony was now a sovereign state unto itself. These disparate entities had a great deal of autonomy and relied on a federal government for very little.
Article II of the Articles of Confederation stated:
Each state retains its sovereignty, freedom, and independence, and every Power, Jurisdiction and right, which is not by this confederation expressly delegated to the United States, in Congress assembled.
The concept was simple: people in New York would worry about their own business and people in Maryland would worry about theirs. When it came to national concerns like going to war, the Federal government was in play, but for almost everything else, the United States was just that in many ways: a group of allied states.
As history shows, this loose affiliation resulted in a quagmire of domestic issues and a weak foreign-facing front that could have left the U.S. susceptible to invasion and the end of our great experiment in democracy. The introduction of the Constitution wasn’t the establishment of an American form of government, it was the dissolution of the existing government in favor of a replacement. The Federalist Papers, in many ways, were an exercise in selling the nation’s populous on this new concept.
So lively were the debates pertaining to the Constitution that the Bill of Rights emerged in large part because our leaders couldn’t make a deal regarding this new form of government without coming to a number of compromises. History has proven that this “second revolution” was in the nation’s best interest, but that doesn’t change the fact that our founding fathers weren’t keen on the idea of letting a small group of wealthy and powerful people thousands of miles away dictate every facet of how we live our lives. That was a job for our local elected officials, who could better appreciate the challenges, culture, and populous found in the regions we lived.
Today, we want sweeping change and instant solutions — a magic pill for gun violence — that will somehow make our communities safer from the rural mountains of Montana to the crowded Burroughs of New York City. And we argue about the intent of the language found in the Constitution as though we’ll find national solutions in a document that was so ripe with debate at the time it was penned that the entire constitutional effort was nearly scrapped on multiple occasions.
If we want to honor the intent of our founding fathers, we need to participate in local government, call for legislation as we see necessary in our own communities, rather than on the national level. I’m the first to admit that the gun laws that work for my rural Georgia community likely wouldn’t on the streets of Chicago. Life on the farm is just different than life in a forty-story apartment building.
It’s safe to say that if America’s founding fathers were alive today, they wouldn’t agree on much, seeing as they often didn’t see eye to eye back then either. So as we all try to attribute our beliefs to these long-dead political leaders, maybe we should look back just a bit further than the Constitution — to the short lived and poorly executed Articles of Confederation. America could never work as a loosely affiliated group of individual nations, but the idea of regional governance was carried over into the Constitution’s time for a reason: because it’s one of the few things our Founding Fathers could agree on.