Can anyone find examples in world history whereby a new government was framed and founded and then actually delivered on its pre-founding promises? I maintain only the American Experiment has come even remotely close to that laudable achievement, and even we had the “late unpleasantness,” so no one is perfect, but we are the closest ever achieved thus far.
Looking to history, I would argue the conquest of England in 1066 was the first attempt at installing a planned notion of government that did not evolve but was instead imposed. The Norman’s took the basic organization of Saxon England and kept whatever they thought assisted them, but they installed their own Norman overlords to force compliance to all the new demands the conquerors’ placed. That’s why all those keeps and castles were built all over the countryside. The few Norman masters holed up in their fortresses to be protected from a very unhappy public.
The duchy’s of Europe prior to the Enlightenment were more like “city states” than nations. France was a series of smaller entities – Avignon, Normandy, Burgundy and Aquitaine are some of the more well known of them. Same with Germany – a series of people who basically spoke the same language, had similar customs and sensibilities, but were not a united nation as we know them today. Europe was awash in war and rumor of war for centuries until eventually some vague semblance of what we recognize as Europe today emerged, and even since then France, England, Holland, Germany, the Austro-Hungarian Empire and all the rest have fought like cats and dogs.
Each of these states came into being from war or threatened war. Alliances were made and broken in an unending series of efforts to amalgamate. Only since England and Scotland and the Act of Union have we known a UK. Only since the end of the Hundred Years War did France become largely one nation instead of a series of duchies.
All of these nations, experienced growing pains. The English Civil War of the 1640’s and the Commonwealth until the Restoration of monarchy was English struggle. The French Revolution of the late 1780’s another. My point is that every nation will experience growing pains and turn against itself to some degree. The US Civil War was our bump in the road. Germany did not become one nation until 1871 and how long did that one last before it all went to Hell in a hand basket? See my point?
But only the US decided on a system and kept to that system intact and even the American Civil War did not alter the system. In fact the American Civil War was about an entirely different set of issues than were the French Revolution and the English Civil War. We all agreed the Constitution was still the guiding hand but we needed to finally decide who was supreme. Was it the individual constituencies – that states – or was the Federal government supreme? The late unpleasantness settled the issue.
The United States was unique because we did not have monarchy. We chose to empower the individual and to make clear the rights of individuals come from a higher power and not government caveat. Our uniqueness is found in our knowledge that government is to serve our needs and not the other way round. All over Europe a man was a tool of government, but not here. Our government was defined as the will of the people. We recognized that without individual liberty and autonomy all the rest was lost.
Throughout the rest of the world any freedom one might have otherwise enjoyed was entirely because of government allowing the individual to enjoy it, but not because it was their right granted by a higher power. Even Magna Carta was merely a specificity of the monarch’s power, or more accurately, King John grudgingly acquiescing that the Lords and Barons had power too. It was an agreement of shared power, but it still sought to demand of the peasantry. In our nation we are not tools of government, but we are the government. That is a fine distinction and one to be remembered.
Our experiment is unique. In no other nation before us was there any concept that man was his own keeper and government was here to facilitate an individual’s autonomy and exercise of liberty. That made and still makes us unique. Oh sure, today nations have framed themselves as we were, but still, they do not entrust individuals with the sole power of autonomous direction. Real and true individual liberty and consent of the governed are uniquely American ideals.
Is it any wonder trying to get individuals to move from that position is like pulling teeth? Of course in any collective group there is always a seeking of common ground and in so doing a little bit of individual liberty is sacrificed. Only in America do citizens first hold dear the concept that I make the decisions and not government, but for my willing acceptance.
Unlike the current political efforts of some, this nation was about individual liberty over all other concerns. We’d better keep that in mind if we hope to keep the unique concepts under which this nation was Constituted. Individual liberty is a precarious thing. Seems someone is always trying to find a way to shave off some, bit by bit, in their seeking whatever political endgame they imagine.