Since its birth, Americans have fought and struggled for their freedom. After declaring their independence in 1776, it took an additional 7 years for the Treaty of Paris to be signed, officially ending the war and birthing a new nation.
Their independence, however, did not come with an instruction manual on how to govern or create laws for a new democracy. In fact, their first attempt at establishing a national government, The Articles of Confederation, only lasted 8 years.
One of the biggest issues facing them was figuring out how the smaller states were going to share equal representation with the larger ones. Fierce arguments ensued. Eventually, a bicameral system of legislature was proposed, but it was still lacking the necessary votes to pass.
It wasn’t until a Connecticut delegate named Robert Sherman offered a solution that satisfied enough delegates to establish how the 2 chambers of Congress would operate. His solution became known as “The Great Compromise.”
Americans have never been bashful about reminding others of the rights guaranteed by this sacred document. Perhaps the most preferred right to evoke is the First Amendment, especially the portion that states, “The Freedom of Speech.” Those four words have been repeated innumerable times by those who are confident they know precisely what that freedom entails.
But history tells us that the Founding Fathers themselves were not 100% certain how that phrase should be interpreted. Only seven years after the Constitution was ratified, Congress passed The Sedition Act of 1798. This law made it a crime to “write, print, utter or publish…false, scandalous, and malicious writing” to defame or stir up sedition against the government or the officials. This was widely criticized as a move towards a monarchy and stripping ordinary Americans of their “Freedom of Speech.”
From its beginning, Americans have continued to wrestle over what those words mean. Rarely will they back away from a debate about it and are likely to argue more vociferously among other fellow Americans. While other countries have adopted a similar concept, Americans tend to believe since they were the first to name this right then they are the ones who instinctively know its true meaning.
Unfortunately, all this arguing has contributed to an extremely contentious political climate. The quarreling often leads to hateful and divisive speech, which some will contend is simply “my right.” Energized by social media, their need to be right supersedes the Founding Fathers’ goal of forming a “more perfect Union.” By believing they are defending their rights, the outcome is creating a fracture so wide that it may soon be unrepairable.
How does a word such as “freedom” elicit so much strife, contention, and hatred? Why does the growing dissonance ring louder and harsher from sea to shining sea? Is there anyone or anyway to reverse this trend and reunite these evermore divided States of America?
It would be rather bold for anyone to think they have the solution to such a seemingly insurmountable crisis. However, if no answer exists, the path upon which the US is heading will undoubtedly lead to its demise.
Thankfully, history occasionally unfolds answers for difficult and complex situations. America’s own solution could also be rooted in its past. Those who penned the original Constitution overcame a huge obstacle by being willing to compromise. The current situation may be another opportunity for the US to revisit the idea of a “Nationwide Compromise.” This time, however, the focus must be aimed at resolving the growing division that’s tearing apart the heart of this country.
Compromise can be a controversial word. Some people may view it as “the language of the devil,” a beginning of the end of their principles, or an erosion of character, but compromise is viewed best in context. Had the Founding Fathers not been willing to compromise, the Constitution would have never forged such a mighty nation.
One way to compromise could be as simple as willingly listening to those with opposing points of view and engaging in non-threatening conversations. Rather than listening for areas of conflict, find areas of agreement no matter how slight they may be. This takes practice, patience, and commitment.
Remember, there is no conversational law that says the loudest voice is always right, nor should we be eager to dismiss opposing views. Ask yourself, “Why would someone who disagrees with me be willing to listen to my viewpoint if I am not open to doing the same for them?”
This compromise might be easier to implement if public officials chose to be better examples. Nowadays, it seems that for most legislators, infighting is a necessary part of the job description. It’s as though political parties have mandated the denigration and mockery of all opinions that do not align with their own. Worse yet, they scheme to silence the voices of their own constituents who disagree with them. Are these not actions that would infuriate the Founding Fathers?
Anyone who takes the position that their views ought to be the “Law of the Land,” in a roundabout way is declaring their opposition to a democratic system. The checks and balances specifically cited in the Constitution explicitly prohibit one person or branch of government from excessive control. They knew that power has the potential to corrupt anyone, no matter how pure their original intentions began.
This is no easy task, and waiting for someone else to be the example has clearly not worked. It is up to each individual citizen to commit to being a part of the solution, and what better way is there than listening to another fellow citizen?
As a nation, the US must decide what is ultimately most important. Is the right to voice one’s opinion, no matter how divisive it may be, more important than building and sustaining a democracy? Are individual rights, which are a vital part of a democratic society, more important than democracy itself? These are complex questions but can no longer be ignored or dismissed. Is there another way to address them without some element of compromise?
Over the course of its history, millions of Americans sacrificed their lives to allow other citizens to live free. We must not allow ourselves to denigrate their sacrifices by spewing divisive rhetoric. With the country’s future at stake, is there a better solution than reviving a “Great Compromise?”
Democracy will always be a work in progress, and to reach the more perfect union its Founding Fathers envisioned, there must be a concerted effort and commitment from all its citizens. What that commitment is may be nothing short of a miracle or perhaps, the greatest compromise the US has ever experienced.