Beyond the Cusp

July 30, 2011

What Made America Great?

What made America great has been a question I have been asked in many different settings and situations and I have given it a fair amount of thought over the years. It seems not to matter what the place or situation, my answer is much the same whether the question was posed in an American History Course, a World History Course, a Political Science Course, a General Civics and Governments Course, general conversation (I often find myself in strange conversation partly due to traveling with stranger company), and even in Candidate for Office debates. So, I will try to answer this question now for BTC in this article. I welcome your thoughts and opinions in feedback, it has always fascinated me to hear others’ opinions on this subject as often they vary greatly even to include claiming one must be delusional to believe America is any different or has a special greatness when compared to other countries).

When considering what made America great, it is tempting to give the easy and obvious answer that it was the Constitution. The argument goes that with all the intricacies, limits, checks, and balances built into the American Constitution with the bicameral system and Supreme Court all working to restrain the Administrative Branch and keeping everything in balance and check, Government, especially the Presidency, would be held within limits. It is pointed out that the House of Representatives gives weight to areas containing the largest concentrations of populations which currently gives additional weight to the major cities and areas of manufacturing over its many years. In balance you have the Senate which represents each state with complete equality giving each the same number of two Senators thus assuring that the areas with lesser population centers a voice in government. And also there is the use of the Electoral College in choosing the Presidency which gives the majority of peoples voting a proportional representation which is modified slightly by counting the number of Senators and Congressmen to determine each state’s number of electors which guarantees even the smallest and least populated states a minimum of three electors. Finally, there is the fact that Federal Court Judges are appointed for life and must be ratified by the Senate after Presidential appointment. This way the President has the privilege to appoint a judge to these courts but only with the acquiescence of a Senate vote which gives each state an equal say in the appointments made to the Judicial system. But the Constitution is simply a skeletal structure upon which the people elected and appointed flush out the rest of the governing bodies. All the constitution is able to add are the checks and balances which preserve the greatness of America supposedly protecting it from the excesses of any group or individuals.

So, if it isn’t the constitution, could it be the first ten Amendments known as the Bill of Rights? After all, the Bill of Rights expressly states that the people are to control the government, not the government controls the people. There are all the guarantees against government intrusion into the lives and homes of the people as well as constraining the government from placing undue pressures and limitations on the rights of the people. The Bill of Rights even goes so far as to state in Amendment IX, “The enumeration in the Constitution, of certain rights, shall not be construed to deny or disparage others retained by the people.” This makes it obvious that the people may claim rights beyond solely those stated within the first ten amendments. And to further impress on government that it was to be limited and made subservient to its citizens the last of the Bill of Rights, Amendment X reads, “The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people.” Surely this was what spurred the greatness of America. In all honesty, the Bill of Rights was added to the Constitution in order to ease the suspicions of a large number of those Americans that the government would become a monster with no restraints whatsoever and they demanded that the rights of the people must be enshrined as an indelible part of the Constitution. But all the Bill of Rights did was to assure that the freedoms claimed in another document were preserved by the constitution, thus they are not the root of America’s greatness.

So, what was this document that set America apart from all other nations and spurred our founders and their contemporaries to demand the inclusion of the Bill of Rights before they would acquiesce to the Constitution which many suspected gave far too much power to a Federal Government. This noble, unprecedented, revolutionary, never to be equaled document that set America apart from the family of nations and instilled upon the United States citizens a wide freedom to accomplish anything they are capable free of impediments from the government protecting the individual above the governance was the Declaration of Independence. The American Declaration of Independence combined the most revolutionary theories of the age, and still a radical concept of governance, with some of the oldest assurances on defining good governance by demanding that for a leader to be honorable before the L-rd, the King should be prevented from gathering great wealth unto himself, live within the laws of the land and Old Testament and not above the laws that are placed on the people, and must rule with the consent of the people and the prophets. This balance of some of the oldest of documents that demanded honorable and good leadership and other documents and philosophies including Plato’s Republic and the concepts of shared leadership of the Magna Carta with the most radical and revolutionary political theories from political philosophers of their time blending them into a document that still to this day is the most liberating call for governance of men by men.

The idea that was encased in the Declaration of Independence was that man is capable of ruling himself provided the system under which such was attempted provides mechanisms whereby the people hold the power individually even to the point that the individual can stand against a majority and be assured to not be trampled. That was and still is the most radical and freedom enabling concept fomented by mankind. Almost, if not every other system of rule is based on some system where the individual is incapable of self-rule and must be made subservient to the system, the government. The Declaration of Independence insisted that man be above the system and control lie with the individual over being enforced by the government. This is why our constitution functions making America a country that has, as President Lincoln ended the Gettysburg Address said, “a government of the people, by the people, for the people”. The Constitution works as it does due to the principles set forth in the Declaration of Independence and is limited as pointed out by John Adams, “Our Constitution was made only for a moral and religious people. It is wholly inadequate to the government of any other.” John Adams was referring to the limitations placed upon men, especially a King, or any person in a position of power, by the Torah, the Old Testament of the Bible. Perhaps this is why some have claimed the founding fathers referred to themselves and the new Hebrews.

Beyond the Cusp


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