Accept responsibility, exercise power

........................................................................................................................................................................................

I remember my high school civics (class) teaching about the importance of the Magna Carta; for the first time, citizens, albeit the aristocracy, sought to limit the power of a monarch.

I have since learned that our concepts of trial by jury and habeas corpus were first mentioned in that charter, indicating that as early as 1215, men knew there were natural laws even kings shouldn’t violate.

The British Parliament counts its beginning from that day, but the struggle for power between the governed and their governors lasted centuries. Even during the 150 years that the colonists had been in America, Parliament was dissolved and later reinstated, war occurred between monarchs and the church, and a king was tried and executed.

Jon Meacham* observes:

” … Rapin’s [Paul de Rapin — Thoyra's history of England] book held that the story of England (and thus of English people such as Americans) was the story of the battle between monarchical and (relatively) popular authority.”

English history was/is important because our founders considered themselves Englishmen, and they were altogether familiar with the conflict between natural law and the machinations of man. So, wisely they tried to avoid repeating those historical steps at governance for their new nation.

It still took our founders two tries to get it right. The Second Continental Congress was the only institution of national government the colonies had. They developed the Articles of Confederation during the Revolutionary War to provide Congress with domestic and international legitimacy to fund and manage the Revolution.

It is understandable that representatives to a congress would invest governing authority in only one body of government, a congress. It is ironic though that it only took a decade for these learned men to demonstrate and learn that time-tested truth, groups or bodies can’t lead. Leadership needs a responsible individual with a vision.

Congress could make all the laws they wanted, but they had no means of enforcing those laws. They could set taxes on states, but the states didn’t have to send the “requested” revenues. Congress could declare war, but the states had to raise the army. There was not even a form of judiciary to litigate trespasses or grievances.

Our founders, rightly fearful of a monarchy or some other form of despotism, had created a government almost devoid of a central federal authority. Something had to be done, or the Articles would succeed where the British Army had failed; states would return to English rule on their own.

Our founders had to convene a Constitutional Convention to “fix” the Articles of Confederation. What occurred was a brand new form of government.

Irony, like history, seems to repeat itself. Today we have a divided, some might argue dysfunctional, Congress and an Executive devoid of leadership abilities but still desiring monarchical authority. Today, the power rests with the electorate to change our national direction via the ballot box.

We need to accept our responsibility and exercise that power.

*Meacham, Jon; “Thomas Jefferson: The Art of Power”; Random House 2012