Thursday, August 25, 2016

Fifty-two Words

Constitution of the United States
Because I am writing a manuscript about a homesteader and his community actively involved in a political movement, and because this is a Presidential election year, it seemed important that I take a look at the American Constitution.

As an attorney and as the author of two books dealing with Constitutional issues, I am probably more familiar with the Constitution than most Americans, but an occasional review of the document that forms the basis for our government is important for all of us.

After the Civil War (during the years of the late 1800s when the populist movement was evolving), the two major American political parties showed the influence of the war.  In the North, the Republican Party of Lincoln predominated, and Black voters in the South also tended to vote Republican.  Most land-owning Southern White voters were Democrats.

In Isaac Werner's community many settlers had taken advantage of the benefit given Union Soldiers, crediting a year toward their homestead claim's 5-year residency requirement for each year of military service for the Union.  That resulted in a strong Republican membership among Kansas settlers throughout the state, which continues to the present time.

Then, as now, there was a gulf between the wealthy and the working classes, and the populist movement sought to establish a third party that represented farmers, ranchers, factory workers, and other members of the working classes.  There were many attempts to organize, but the most successful was the People's Party.  Workers believed that both Republican and Democratic candidates for political office forgot the promises made to workers during their campaigns and were more influenced by the wealthy and powerful once they were in office.  The People's Party sought to elect candidates that worked toward goals of the working people of the nation once they were elected.

Signing of the Constitution
The men who came together to draft our Constitution expressly intended to "promote the general welfare" when they signed their names to the document dated September 17, 1787.  A century later, it seemed to the working classes that politicians were more influenced by promoting the welfare of powerful and wealthy men than in acting on behalf of all Americans.

Workers also questioned the even-handedness of Justice, with such examples of the power of the wealthy in hiring private mercenaries like the Pinkertons and in using political influence to call out government forces against peaceful strikers.

Among the books inventoried for Isaac's estate was the "History of the United States."  I do not know if Isaac had a copy of the Constitution, but he had so many books that many were sold at his estate sale by the box rather than individual titles.  In addition, prior to his death he donated nearly one hundred of his books to the community library of the Farmers' Alliance during the populist movement, and many of those books were of a political nature.  It is almost certain that Isaac was very familiar with the Constitution.

When the Constitution was written, providing for the common defense involved reliance on the militia of the separate states, a reliance reflected in the 2nd Amendment.

An important role of the government and those elected to serve the people is often overlooked.  That duty is "to insure domestic Tranquility," a responsibility some political rhetoric seems to disregard during election campaigns--in Isaac's time and today!

The opening fifty-two words of the Constitution are:  We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.

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