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Thursday, July 4, 2013

4 July

     Today's the day when I'm supposed to commemorate the formal launch of one of the few successful revolutions in all of history.
     One of the most successful and, at least in the home country, poorly understood.  It was not a war won by winning battles, it was a war won by avoiding too-expensive losses.  It was not a war won by beating the the Crown's forces to their knees but by making continuation too costly for them (at the time, they had other troubles, elsewhere).  It was won, in fact, by refusing to give up, even though it appeared unwinnable over nearly the entire course of the war.
     And, much as we'd like to think it was fought for the very highest ideals expressed in the Declaration of Independance, it was mostly fought to get the Crown's hand out of our pockets, to get the Crown's men out of our homes, and to generally be left alone.  --Or are those the highest ideals expressed in the Declaration, after all?
     The document [that] this day marks the adoption of was not at the time and has never been a part of the actual law or foundational documents of the States, united; it is not The Law Of The Land.  If you're after the first of those, you want the Articles of Confederation and Perpetual Union, used for four years prior to ratification in 1781.--Some perpetuity: it was replaced a dozen years after first use.
     Along about 1787, either the fed.gov established by the Articles of Confederation was too puny to work, or it hadn't grabbed enough power to satisfy the social engineers, depending on who you believe.  The reality appears to be both and motivated more by pragmatism than idealism: things were falling apart and a baker's dozen of squabbling States stood no more chance against the Great Powers of the day than it had in 1776.  Thomas Jefferson being safely out of town, the drafting of our present Constitution began, ostensibly as a "revision" of the Articles of Confederation.  Instead, the delegates threw them out and started over.
     That is the first example of what came to be a classic pattern for popular revolutions: the old order is tossed out, there's a relatively brief period of great freedom, followed by a consolidation of power or formal reordering.  Best case, there's just the one and things get back on track; worst case, um, see French Revolution.  It appears inevitable; perhaps it's just theory hitting reality and the only variable is the size of the splat.
     If so, we were fortunate; but no luck runs forever and I'm half-convinced we have already passed the point where future historians will draw a line, saying, "Here the Republic ended; here the Empire began."
     It's still a good place, compared to most, and a great life, compared to most.  The present and the past that led to it are worth celebrating.
     That past is worth remembering and worth analyzing.  What happened?  Why did it work?  What did they get wrong?  What short-term compromises lead to long-term failure?
     What did it all mean and what does it mean today?  Something more than "BANG!" and a puff of bight sparks and colorful smoke, I hope.
Stolen entire from Roberta X

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