Immigration issues. Health care policy. Political polarization. There are plenty of options to choose from when targeting deficiencies in American society. However, the season surrounding Independence Day seems to bring with it a breath of fresh air. We push pause on our criticisms and set aside a day to reflect and give thanks.
Our thoughts turn back to those immortalized Founding Fathers and the spirit of '76. We rightfully praise the men whose vision of liberty and equality for all causes our hearts to swell with patriotic pride. The George Washingtons and Thomas Jeffersons were unremitting in their pursuance of these ideals.
But on their grand voyage toward freedom, there were some who wanted to steer the ship along a different route. Patrick Henry and many other liberty-loving founders spoke against ratification of the Constitution. To these Anti-Federalists, preventing ratification would better preserve the rights they had in won in the Revolutionary War. After several close battles at the state ratifying conventions, the American people chose to adopt the Constitution as it was.
While many cheered in the streets for ratification, the Anti-Federalist opposition mourned the loss. Some, like Massachusetts delegate Elbridge Gerry, were "crestfallen" at the news of ratification. George Mason proposed to take out their frustration by writing a "fiery, irritating manifesto" against the Constitution.
But then there's Patrick Henry and the Rebounding Fathers. At the conclusion of their defeat, Henry expressed his determination that his next object was to now work to "amend the Constitution in a constitutional way." Henry, famous for his line about choosing to lose life rather than liberty, was willing to work under the system created by the very document he had just fought against for months. Other Anti-Federalists had similar resolve at the announcement of ratification. They would continue to work toward bringing the change they wanted in America, even under a Constitution they didn't support.
Why did they do it? While the nation sailed the course to liberty charted in the Constitution, the Rebounding Fathers were dedicated to something more than a political agenda or objective. It was the union and the ideals they all shared that superseded any individual interest. Rather than taking their political loss as a reason to abandon ship, they took it as a sign that there was more work to be done to reach their destination. Their continued commitment to the changes they sought would aid the effort to draft a Bill of Rights just a few years later.1 comment on this story
We are still on the ship of democracy today, sailing the same course toward a destination of freedom. Many, like those disgruntled convention delegates, may feel the ship is completely turned around. They may feel exasperated by all the ways in which the ship is too slow, the captain is crazy, and the bow is covered with holes. But the best of democracy has always been those whose dissatisfaction drives them toward rather than away from engaging with the process. These are they who work to repair and mend the damages they see, rather than point it out. This is the true strength of democracy and should be the strength of America.
So, if the Fourth of July to you results in less of a celebration and a reminder of things to criticize, consider what you can learn from the Rebounding Fathers. Don't see the flaws as a reason to jump ship. Take it as your cue that there is more work to be done. And we need your help to get there.