For some time I have been studying the works of philosophers that influenced our founding fathers--Locke, Montesquieu, Kant, Rousseau, etc. My study culminated a few months ago with a reading of James Madison's journals of the Constitutional convention. The point of this for me was to understand better the the foundation principles that influenced their debates, and resulted in a document that we hold to be inspired.
During my study, I was surprised to find less of a direct connection than I had expected. Except for a series of letters written by John Trenchard after a financial scandal in England (collected as Cato's letters) I found few arguments that were direct ancestors of what was eventually established by those good men. There were some basic ideas on sovereignty of the people and separation of powers, but nothing that would account for the genius of the document itself. Interestingly, the debates themselves reveal little argument regarding the great ideas, but were primarily occupied with discussion over various forms of power sharing, which when it boiled down to it, revolved around the slavery issue. The actual drafting was carried out by the committee of detail, a small group which shaped the destinies of generations here in America and abroad.
Surprised by what I found, it became apparent
that the grand ideas were debated over so little because they had been generally accepted years before by the various schemes of government created by the State constitutions drafted after their independence. Following that line of reasoning brings you to the seminal constitutional work of that day, the Virginia constitution which was adopted just prior to the signing of the Declaration of Independence. In it you find all the great hallmarks that would later be incorporated into the US constitution. That convention worked day and night, generally not leaving the floor until well after 9pm.
I have been reading through the Virginia convention of 1776 to see what types of debates took place there; little is recorded, but it is historically understood that the constitution was drafted by George Mason, with the Virginia Declaration of Rights and the plan of government being read three separate time each and modified as needed before being accepted unanimously. Immediately following its acceptance, Patrick Henry was elected as the first governor of Virginia.
To think of the dedication and the sacrifice in such times of uncertainty. To think of the inspiration that rested upon a simple Virginia planter, that was the seed that would blossom into free government at home and abroad.
That was their particular battle in their day. Many, like Mason, engaged in the debates of the day with reluctance, preferring instead a simple life. Ours is a different day; one in which the last barriers to freedom are collapsing all around...
A fellow serviceman here reminded me that an iniquitous ruler could only be brought down through much bloodshed. It is sad and unfortunate, but for many people across the globe, the time to make a stand for freedom is now; even if it means much bloodshed. There are Masons and Jeffersons and Madisons across the globe. Some are leading their people in their search for freedom.
May we remember our heritage, and vow to give our very best--even our all--to the causes of our day.