I have always loved the language of the American Constitution and of its siblings, the constitutions of the original American colonies that formed the earliest of the United States. As we have just witnessed the Primary in New Hampshire (motto: ‘Live free or Die’) , this gem of a Preamble from its 1776 constitution will suffice to demonstrate their lustre:
WE, the members of the Congress of New Hampshire, chosen and appointed by the free suffrages of the people of said colony, and authorized and empowered by them to meet together, and use such means and pursue such measures as we should judge best for the public good; and in particular to establish some form of government, provided that measure should be recommended by the Continental Congress: And a recommendation to that purpose having been transmitted to us from the said Congress: Have taken into our serious consideration the unhappy circumstances, into which this colony is involved by means of many grievous and oppressive acts of the British Parliament, depriving us of our natural and constitutional rights and privileges; to enforce obedience to which acts a powerful fleet and army have been sent to this country by the ministry of Great Britain, who have exercised a wanton and cruel abuse of their power, in destroying the lives and properties of the colonists in many places with fire and sword, taking the ships and lading from many of the honest and industrious inhabitants of this colony employed in commerce, agreeable to the laws and customs a long time used here.
The sudden and abrupt departure of his Excellency John Wentworth, Esq., our late Governor, and several of the Council, leaving us destitute of legislation, and no executive courts being open to punish criminal offenders; whereby the lives and properties of the honest people of this colony are liable to the machinations and evil designs of wicked men, Therefore, for the preservation of peace and good order, and for the security of the lives and properties of the inhabitants of this colony, we conceive ourselves reduced to the necessity of establishing A FORM OF GOVERNMENT to continue during the present unhappy and unnatural contest with Great Britain; PROTESTING and DECLARING that we never sought to throw off our dependence upon Great Britain, but felt ourselves happy under her protection, while we could enjoy our constitutional rights and privileges. And that we shall rejoice if such a reconciliation between us and our parent State can be effected as shall be approved by the CONTINENTAL CONGRESS, in whose prudence and wisdom we confide.
Accordingly pursuant to the trust reposed in us, WE DO Resolve, that this Congress assume the name, power and authority of a house of Representatives or Assembly for the Colony of New-Hampshire …
It is interesting to note that, though a formidable casus belli is set out at first, there remained, at least with the denizens of New Hampshire, a strong desire to seek some compromise with Britain. Though events and the effluxion of time would soon sweep this away, one does wonder if there had been a more emollient response from Parliament and the British Government and greater willingness to compromise whether matters might have turned out rather differently.
Today we might expect with modern communications that the problem would not have been allowed to fester and grow but then, when a letter or petition would take many weeks to cross the Atlantic and many weeks to garner a reply, those with a mind to do so had much time in which to preempt any response which might then be made to seem niggardly when it finally did arrive.
One feature of American democracy is that a considerable amount of political discourse is founded on the Constitution which thus remains a living and breathing embodiment of both the spirit of a Revolution and of the modern United States.
For example, the rights of states to conduct and legislate upon their own affairs is something which continues to engage politics and trouble the Supreme Court, with States fiercely protecting their own rights as against the Federal power with terrier-like tenacity. Or one might think of the current arguments which revolve around the highly contentious (and to the rationalist, bizarre and worrying) issue of whether the ‘theory’ of intelligent design (or ‘creation’ science) might be taught in schools which, despite the ruling in Edwards v. Aguillard,
This weak-minded individual has lately been weaned off that particular drug by some less-than-democratic boot-boy tactics by two of the men with most to lose if anything should go wrong with the process of ratification: Brown, because if the Portuguese hold a referendum, it makes his resistance to one in the UK all the more weak and Sarkozy because he wants nothing to get in the way of a Union constructed according to the model of his predecessor Giscard d’Estaing which France intends to dominate and operate for its own benefit.
My colleague Richard North has already had his two penn’orth on the topic as has Tony Sharp at Waendal Journal and I shall not here go over again greatly the ground upon which they have so usefully trod.
But I do add this: unlike the American Constitution which is, as I have described it, the touchstone of political life in the USA, the Constitution of the European Union is something which the Gauleiters and Préfets such as Brown and Sarkozy think of as to be ignored, evaded, manipulated or just plain overthrown at will whenever the need arises. When the Constitution speaks thus:
The Union is founded on the values of respect for …… freedom, democracy, ….the rule of law and respect for human rights,
Every citizen shall have the right to participate in the democratic life of the Union. Decisions shall be taken as openly and as closely as possible to the citizen.
Or to put it another way, we shall soon be forced to admit, as Pierre-Joseph Proudhon once declared in the wake of the Revolutions of 1848, that:
. . . We have been beaten and humiliated . . . scattered, imprisoned, disarmed and gagged. The fate of European democracy has slipped from our hands.
We must not allow democracy to slip thus from our hands.
In Britain we do not do revolutions. That messy business has been avoided by hundreds of years of careful, progressive evolutionary development of democracy. What we called the ‘Glorious Revolution’ was, in reality, a carefully scripted transfer of power and rule from one régime to another and our only serious flirtation with dictatorship, that of Oliver Cromwell, was booted out with sighs of relief but no great revolutionary bloodletting.
But whilst we are not revolutionaries, we do now, after proper reflection, share many of the sentiments which gave birth to the American Revolution and most of us now would acknowledge that the thirteen colonies were being given a raw deal by the home country and that their bid for redress or freedom was entirely justified.
Which is why, if this is how our masters intend to do business from now on, our abjuration of revolution might yet change. Nothing is forever.
* Let them eat cake!