When Congress met in Philadelphia in 1776, it was NOT for the purpose of declaring independence from the Crown and Parliament and embarking on the path to Revolution. In fact, most of the delegates wanted exactly the opposite. They sought to find a means by which the status quo of the previous Colonial system could be restored, and the conflicts abated. We see this even in the Declaration of Independence where Thomas Jefferson is almost apologetic in his inditement of George III.
“…Prudence, indeed, will dictate that governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes; and accordingly all experience hath shown that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable, than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed. But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such government, and to provide new guards for their future security.”
We all hope and trust in the institutions of our governments and their abilities to self-correct when inevitable abuses of power occur. But, when have we crossed the Rubicon, when have we reached the point when the threat is so grave, the abuses so insufferable, that the only course is to take up arms and create new guards for our future security?
Its easy to claim that the situation was “special” in the 1770’s but were they? In many instances throughout history, existential crises have occurred. The question is do we rally behind a George Washington and fight a revolution to “throw off such government” or do we rally behind a Joseph Stalin built a cult of personality around himself as he collectivized production to stave off the immediate threat? In one situation, we have a reluctant leader who when it became obvious the people wanted a new king, stepped down; in the other we have a new depot who will execute his rivals and employ terror in order to remain the equivalent of a Tzar. This is the question that the Continental Congress fought over for several months during the Spring of 1776.
One cannot help but see parallels in today’s pandemic crisis and sadly I feel our country is taking the wrong path. This week in New Rochelle, the government shut down an Orthodox Synagogue on fears of spreading COVID19. It’s a real threat, but then again so were the French in 1765. The question is do we compromise our sacred truths to combat it or do we take a heavy-handed approach. Time will tell.
Earlier this year, the US Senate opted not to try Donald Trump on charges put forth buy the House of Representatives (no evidence was sought). Like Parliament in the 1770’s, our legislative branch of government is allowing themselves to be pressured and threatened into abdicating their rights as governors. Is this too much, time will tell.
The debate is not an easy one. When you opt for any sort of change, it is scary. Many unexpected and problems can arise and there is always the risk that the new system will be worse than the what we have today. “Prudence, indeed, will dictate that governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes.” Like John Dickinson, I believe that a government that fails to perform is not necessarily irreformable, the history of corruption of one leader or even a small cabal of leaders is as old as humanity. We should exercise the powers in the Constitution (in John’s case the British Constitution following the Glorious Revolution; in mine the US Constitution) and attempt to correct and reform the current government before we take drastic actions. This is what happened in the US House of Representatives in 2019 and hopefully will occur in the Election of 2020. But be warry.
Remind your elected leaders, in all levels of government “That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness.”