American Mind–Civics Class–Part Five

This is a continuation of my series on the American Mind…..a bit of civics in an age when all knowledge of such a topic is missing…..

The reader can get caught up with the series here….the first 4 parts are here……

This part deals with the American mind on “Self-Government”…..

After winning the independence they had declared in 1776, Americans had to prove that they could sustain self-government in peace. They’d governed themselves already, as colonists, but now the British government no longer protected them from the other European powers, and indeed remained a potential enemy of the new country. It’s easy for us today to wonder why American statesmen from Washington to Lincoln seemed obsessed with building and sustaining “the Union,” or why President Jefferson so readily bent his constitutional scruples to purchase Louisiana from Napoleon to extend it. But to Americans then, looking at maps of North America, seeing their republic surrounded by hostile empires and nations whose rulers viewed republicanism with fear and contempt, maintaining the Union meant survival—survival not just of their way of life but of their very lives.

How to strengthen that Union, the new American state—not a simple, centralized state as seen in Europe throughout the modern period, but a confederation—without losing the new American regime, one of the few existing democratic republics? The first American constitution, the Articles of Confederation, seemed incapable of holding the Union together. Americans tried again, framing the much-amended, much-abused, but still existing United States Constitution, which took effect in 1789.

George Washington as our first president had the chore to overseeing the experiment we call self-government……

s George Washington’s first presidential administration, the first term of government under the United States Constitution, neared its end in 1793, the president found himself confronting a form of populism antithetical to stable politics in a republic. The situation emerged from the turbulent development of highly polarized partisan politics, along with efforts by France’s revolutionary government to interfere in American elections and in the expression of public opinion. In this context, there was an explosion in the formation of “democratic societies”—“so-called” democratic societies, Washington termed them—that sought to capitalize on the idea of popular sovereignty as an instrument to influence and shape government policy.

This charged political atmosphere presented a challenge to the meaning of “self-government” as a practice compatible with stable politics. Washington took up that challenge in a manner that continues to define our understanding of the concept. To understand his response, however, it is important to understand the nature of the terms involved, for self-government has both a moral meaning and a formal meaning. The moral meaning defends the right (and duty) of individual self-government as the source (through consent) of all political authority. That meaning, in turn, produces the formal concession that representative government frames the only practical initiative that can make good or operationalize political authority consistent with individual liberty—that is, freedom of conscience and self-government. As a result, the term self-government comes to apply by analogy to the institutional arrangements or mechanisms designed to implement these moral conditions.

The experiment that started with the first presidential tenure is now being stretched and banged all out of shape.

This nation needs to get back to the intentions of the Founders….or we can witness the end of this experiment in “self-government”…..

Learn Stuff!

I Read, I Write, You Know

“lego ergo scribo”