The Last, Lost Empire: 3rd Edition 2012
by Ted Becker
The First Two American Democracy Amendment Movements
The ONLY way to transform the current overwhelming dissatisfaction with American politics and American political economic institutions into a much more democratic system of governance at the national level is to pass a SERIES of Constitutional Amendments to accomplish that goal.
A series of amendments? Is that even possible?
Ahem. Please. It’s been done several times in American history. When did this happen? How about right at the birth of this nation?
Democracy Amendment Movement #1: The Bill of Rights
For those of you who skipped or fell asleep during your high school history classes, here’s the truth in a thimble: The American “Founding Fathers” were 38 wealthy white men who set up a new form of government—“anything but a monarchy” was their mantra—that squared well with their economic interests (they were creditors, bankers, big landowners, more than 50% lawyers and big time traders). They never called their system a “democracy” and—in fact—some of them disparaged democracy as “mobocracy” over and over again, most openly in their propaganda agitprops that are now revered as “The Federalist Papers.”
The only way that they got ALL 13 states to agree to the quasi-elective form of oligarchic government they proposed was to agree, as a compromise with the pro-democratic elites at the time (called “The Anti-Federalists”) like Thomas Jefferson, Patrick Henry and George Mason—that the First Congress would pass a “Bill of Rights.” These amendments to their Constitution would afford some democratic freedoms (but not democracy itself) to the people so they could express their desires to the “elected oligarchy” that would actually rule them.
So, after much debate in that First Congress, 10 Amendments were agreed upon that guaranteed such democratic type freedoms (freedom of speech, press, assembly, petition and religion)..plus one democratic institution (trial by jury) in late December 1791. In other words, a fabric of genuine democracy was woven into the U.S. Constitution 3 years plus after the U.S. Constitution came into being. They were the fruit of much true democratic sentiment (New England Town Meetings, the Quakers in Pennsylvania, and libertarians in Virginia) and a vigorous philosophical debate that started with The Declaration of Independence in 1776 and continued throughout the Revolutionary War.
That was the first set of Democratic Amendments that occupy our U.S. Constitution. They represented a strong democratic theme in American politics at the time and it took many years for it to become part of the supreme law of the land and they changed the federal system substantially through intense struggle that spanned three centuries.
Imagine America today without The Bill of Rights! Well, The Discovery Channel did it for you. It’s all on YouTube. If you want a feel for what it could have been like, then at least watch the first part:
Democracy Amendment Movement #2: The Civil War Amendments
The proximate cause of the American Civil War was the desire and attempts of the slave holding Southern elites to extend and expand slavery well beyond the confines of the traditional Southern states into newly acquired Western lands. They succeeded at doing this in Texas (with an aim to keep going westward to California and southward into Mexico itself) but ran into stiff resistance in Missouri and Kansas. There the Abolitionists took root and stood firm. The slavers (many of whom belonged to a secret society called “The Knights of the Golden Circle”) wanted more land and more slaves throughout Mexico and the Caribbean. Click on: http://knightsofthegoldencircle.webs.com/ The most extreme of them wanted out of The United States of America and eventually succeeded by “seceding”. They resorted to force at Fort Sumter, became an insurgency, and the U.S. Civil War was on. But the slave lovers lost the independent Slave Empire—from sea to shining sea–they coveted.
When that bloodiest war in American history ended, Lincoln had already “emancipated” the slaves, who were now free from slavery. But there was pressure for the post-Civil War Congress to amend the Constitution to make sure that full American citizenship rights were conferred upon “the Negroes” as the supreme law of the land. Still, it took 3 Amendments this time, and 5 years between when Congress passed them to when 3/4s of the states ratified them before this quasi-democratic legal transformation was accomplished.
The 13th Amendment, which formally abolished slavery from the U.S. Constitution (where it had been institutionalized at the Constitutional Convention) took one whole year from 1865 to 1866. Then, the 14th Amendment, which gave equal rights to Black Americans against state governments (as well as to all other state citizens as well) took two years from 1868 to 1870. The 15th Amendment, which gave the right to vote to former slaves, took another year as well.
Yes, we know. It took a lot more time to make these constitutional amendments into reality…and that means the Civil Rights movement of the 1960s. Actual political transformation in America may take several generations, but our point is: It must start out as constitutional amendments, that is, major changes IN THE AMERICAN POLITICAL SYSTEM, have often started out as constitutional amendments. Here’s another Discovery Channel short video history lesson on this topic:
Yes, even today in 2012, black Americans find themselves in battles where it seems clear that racial politics is trying to disenfranchise them of the right to vote in national elections. Here’s a video clip from BET (Black Entertainment TV) that discusses the importance of minority voting rights and the ways that, in the epitome of irony, shows how the Republican party of today is trying to suppress their right to vote in the 2012 presidential election. It is done in many ways when certain people get put into positions of electoral roll power. It is a struggle that continues in many states, with Florida being the poster child.
Here is a video that touches on this subject as part of its content. The issue of disenfranchisement comes a minute or so into the clip….but it will bring you right up to date on this century-plus democratic struggle for black Americans.
Still, without the Civil War Amendments, the progress in electoral power of Black Americans would be nowhere near where it has come to be in modern America. The mere right to vote may be an important part of the struggle for more democracy in America, as the next blog will reinforce, but there are other key changes in the Constitution that have also come about through the Third American Democracy Amendment Movement which have also been important advances for the people of the United States as the system continues to move, two steps forward and one step backward, toward a more democratic and just United States of America.
Continued in Part III – The Populist and Progressive Amendments