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Congratulations for Your Independance: 231 Years Later


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The United States is the longest surviving democracy in human history.

No one knew exactly what would happen with the Declaration of Independance, it was a document among many at the time. The US Constitution was a modified second effort, with a strange series of amendments.

Both documents became important.

The US Constitution was seriously tested in less than 100 years, and a terrible Civil War resulted.

Yet, the basic principles have survived. The United States Constitution provides for the peaceful transfer of government power from one living person to another and it has done this for over two centuries. No country in human history has achieved this.

One result of the American experiment, if it can be called this, is that ordinary people enjoy life more than at any other time.

Many people look to the US Bill of Rights (the first constitutional amendments) as a source of inspiration. I note instead the success of the Constitution and the government it created.

The Declaration of Independance, signed some 200 years ago today, first stated that people should have a government that somehow decides according to what people want. That idea is still radical in many countries around the world.

I congratulate Americans on their successful experiment.

Around the world, people admire what you have done (if they begrudge falsely sometimes your success). We benefit from the society you have created. The world is a better place because of you. Without the Declaration of Independance, the world today would be a poorer place.

In 1776, it took courage to sign the Declaration of Independance. Many around the world today have not lost sight of basic principles and understand and are inspired by such courage.

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I think Happy Birthday is in order. I've been down in the States numerous times during the Fourth. As with other occasions such as Thanksgiving and Christmas, it is about family, friends and festivities. It is also about celebrating the nation that makes it possible to do all these things.

I hope there are many more years to come for our American friends.

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Aside from Iceland which predates the US by 800 or so years.....
Iceland was a colony of Norway and Denmark (both are monarchies) for much of its history. It has been a republic since WWII.

I suppose you could argue that Iceland prior to Norwegian colonization was a democracy of sorts but it certainly didn't survive.

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Guest American Woman

Thanks for all the good thoughts and wishes. It's a beautiful day today, so I'm totally enjoying it; and I'm feeling very thankful for where I live. Hope all our friends to the north had a great Canada Day. We all have a lot to appreciate and be thankful for. :)

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The United States is the longest surviving democracy in human history.
Great post. Not to quibble, but don't Iceland, Switzerland and UK get those honors?

Anyway, my thoughts below. More nitpicks on a later post.

Some truly miraculous things came together to make the United States the great country it is. We must salute the heritage given to us by our suppose enemy, Great Britain, in this regard. They struck the template which was largely responsible for our greatness, together with the addition of many high-achieving, driven and motivated immigrants.

As to our British heritage and its importance, this New York Sun Op Ed (link) perhaps says it best:

Publication:New York Sun; Date:Jul 3, 2007; Section:Editorial & Opinion; Page Number:8

Our First Revolution

Michael Barone

The events that we celebrate this Fourth of July are familiar to most of us.

In recent years, even as some universities decline to replace scholars of America’s Founding, American readers have been snapping up — and reading — terrific books about the founding fathers.

We want to know more about how our system of government was established and our liberties proclaimed. But the founding fathers did not write on a blank slate. When they began protesting the acts of George III and the British Parliament, they asserted their rights as Englishmen. Only when they became convinced that their prayers for relief would not be granted did they set out to declare their independence.

What were those rights? Many of them had their roots in the series of events generally known as the Glorious Revolution of 1688-1689, the subject of my book “Our First Revolution: The Remarkable British Upheaval that Inspired America’s Founding Fathers.” Once, this story, of the ouster of James II and the installation of William and Mary as king and queen, was familiar to every proverbial schoolboy.

Today, as I found out when I told friends and relatives about the book I was working on, it is almost unknown to educated Americans. Yet, this First Revolution turned out to be a giant step forward for representative government, guaranteed liberties, global capitalism, and an anti-tyrannical foreign policy. That was not necessarily the intention of the actors in this drama, but it was the result they produced. We are its fortunate beneficiaries.

*snip*

William could have declared himself king. Instead he ordered elections for a new parliament and conspicuously avoided influencing them. That parliament, after debating whether James had abdicated or was still king, voted to make William king and Mary queen. It also passed a Declaration of Right and effectively required that Parliament must meet every year.

William’s prime motive was to bring England into his alliance against Louis XIV. In the centuries since then, Britain and, in time, America have waged war to prevent a tyrannical power from dominating Europe and the world. In order to finance that war, Parliament created the funded national debt and established the Bank of England. This financial system enabled Britain to defeat France, which had four times as many people, and provided the credit necessary for Britain’s Industrial Revolution.

This First Revolution also had a lasting impact on the American colonies. James abolished the legislative assemblies in New England, New York, and New Jersey and might have abolished others had he stayed on the throne. William restored them.

As the historian, J. H. Elliott, has noted, one reason the Spanish colonies in the Americas had difficulty winning independence and establishing selfgovernment is that they had no legislative assemblies, no experience with self-government. The British colonies of North America, thanks to this successful revolution, had such assemblies and the colonists — the founders — had such experience. “Without 1688,” as Christopher Hitchens has written, “there would have been no 1776.”

We owe much to the founders. But we owe something as well to the men and women who made, what I call, Our First Revolution nearly a century before.

Mr. Barone is a senior writer for U.S. News & World Report and co-author of “The Almanac of American Politics.”

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Not to quibble, but don't Iceland, Switzerland and UK get those honors?
The UK is a monarchy and power changed hands upon death.

Medieval Iceland was a rough place and I'm not sure one could speak about "government" at all. Switzerland is a confederation of small states and the governments of these states amount to oligarchies. But I'll admit that you've found a good counter-example.

As to Barone's article, it raises the usual point that the US has succeeded in providing individual liberty.

I took another tack.

IMV, the success of the US is that it has created a way to transfer power peacefully. That's rare in human history. Usually, government power is transferred through bloodshed or death. In all its history, Russia has only succeeded once to transfer power voluntarily. It did so in 2000 when Yeltsin resigned.

Changes in power are nerve-wracking experiences. Even in Canada, people are nervous when a new government takes power. (How many thought Harper's election would cause the sky to fall?)

So IMV, the success of the US Founding Fathers was in their second attempt at a Constitution and a method to concentrate power but to make it possible to transfer that power peacefully between living leaders, and leaders who often disagreed.

George Washington chose not to be a candidate for a third term. John Adams was the first sitting president to give up power even though he wanted it and had been a candidate against Jefferson.

Civil liberties ultimately derive from political leaders' willingness to restrict the reach of their power. The best indicator of a democratic system is whether it's possible to get rid of political leaders peacefully. To understand a political system, look at how power is transferred.

No dictator voluntarily resigns.

The US Constitution has undergone many tests, changes and interpretations but most important of it all, it has ensured that power has been transferred in a civilized way for over two centuries.

I was very impressed in 2000, and so were others around the world. No one knew who would be president, but everyone knew that there would be one, and he would be chosen without bloodshed or endless confusion. In the grand scheme of world history, the fact that George W. Bush became president matters less than that power was transferred peacefully, and quickly.

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Not to quibble, but don't Iceland, Switzerland and UK get those honors?
The UK is a monarchy and power changed hands upon death.
A system they still have today but they are still a democracy.

The first elected parliment was in 1265: see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/De_Montfort%27s_Parliament

It is true that only land owners were allowed to vote. OTH - only white men were allowed to vote in the US.

If you want to use the peaceful transfer of power then the UK would also beat the US on that count (the last violent change of power in the UK was Oliver Cromwell).

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It is true that only land owners were allowed to vote. OTH - only white men were allowed to vote in the US.

This is not altogether true....at least five states did permit free black men to vote. The qualifications for white male voting varied as well.

http://www.americanforeignrelations.com/Ab...-the-North.html

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It is true that only land owners were allowed to vote. OTH - only white men were allowed to vote in the US.
There is often much attention on who gets to vote, or how voters select their representatives.

IMV, these voting questions don't matter much.

If the 2000 US voting confusion had occurred in the UK, it would have been the Queen who would have decided. Ultimate power still resides with someone decided by death, or birth.

I'll admit though that in the UK, the monarch has far less power now than 250 years ago.

In the US, no one knows who will be president in two years time. But everyone knows that someone will be president and that George W. Bush will give up power peacefully. Indeed, Bush may give up power to someone he detests and has no respect for.

In Russia, Yeltsin chose Putin and Putin has said that he'll in effect choose his successor. That's how Mexico usually chose its leaders, and how China now chooses to transfer power.

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If the 2000 US voting confusion had occurred in the UK, it would have been the Queen who would have decided. Ultimate power still resides with someone decided by death, or birth.
In the US this was decided by unelected partisan appointees. I don't see why that gives the process better democratic credentials.
In the US, no one knows who will be president in two years time. But everyone knows that someone will be president and that George W. Bush will give up power peacefully. Indeed, Bush may give up power to someone he detests and has no respect for.
No one knows who will be the PM in the UK in 5 years but we do know that he/she will have come to power peacefully.

Democracy has many models. I do not see the constitutational monarchy model as any less democratic than the republican model. The fact that Putin was elected president does not stop him from acting like a heriditary monarch.

Democracy is a culture - not a political system. That is why Putin is able to get away with what he is doing - Russians simply do not have the culture required to support a democracy at this time. We can hope this will change in the future but you never know. America was one of the first societies to develop a culture of democracy - but that culture did not spring from nothing. It is no co-incidence that most of the former british colonies developed into stable democracies yet the spanish colonies were largely dictatorships until recent times.

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Not to quibble, but don't Iceland, Switzerland and UK get those honors?
The UK is a monarchy and power changed hands upon death.

Actually, the absolute power of the monarchy was constrained early on. As pointed out in the part of the New York Sun article I posted above (link) (I "snipped" this part of the article) there was a "move toward absolutism in Europe, where monarchs like Louis XIV of France were abolishing ancient assemblies as medieval anachronisms and ruling directly through bureaucracies". Charles and James II had a real problem when they tried that trick. The people that arrived in the US as early as 1607 knew that they were supposed to peacefully and nonviolentally elect and change leaders. Thus, I regard Britian as more our template than something we're sharply different from.

Medieval Iceland was a rough place and I'm not sure one could speak about "government" at all.
My understanding (and I will ask our Board's resident expert on matters Icelandic) is that the Althing was created during the 900's to bring the disputes "inside" so that the people weren't engaged in continual "Hatfield and McCoy" type feuding, and that the effort succeeded.
Switzerland is a confederation of small states and the governments of these states amount to oligarchies. But I'll admit that you've found a good counter-example.
You may be more right than I am on this one. My instinct is that Switzerland wasn't/isn't as democratic as it's cracked up to be.
As to Barone's article, it raises the usual point that the US has succeeded in providing individual liberty.

I took another tack.

IMV, the success of the US is that it has created a way to transfer power peacefully. That's rare in human history. Usually, government power is transferred through bloodshed or death. In all its history, Russia has only succeeded once to transfer power voluntarily. It did so in 2000 when Yeltsin resigned.

Changes in power are nerve-wracking experiences. Even in Canada, people are nervous when a new government takes power. (How many thought Harper's election would cause the sky to fall?)

People may have been nervous electing a real conservative, but I didn't see any evidence of violence or real nervousness, aside from the Sponsorship gang, on January 24, 2006.
So IMV, the success of the US Founding Fathers was in their second attempt at a Constitution and a method to concentrate power but to make it possible to transfer that power peacefully between living leaders, and leaders who often disagreed.

George Washington chose not to be a candidate for a third term. John Adams was the first sitting president to give up power even though he wanted it and had been a candidate against Jefferson.

Great points!!!And that is why, when FDR's blood was barely cold, and he had barely finished his trip through Hades to h*ll, that the US passed a Constitutional Amendment, with stunning speed (for the US) restricting Presidents to two terms.

I was very impressed in 2000, and so were others around the world. No one knew who would be president, but everyone knew that there would be one, and he would be chosen without bloodshed or endless confusion. In the grand scheme of world history, the fact that George W. Bush became president matters less than that power was transferred peacefully, and quickly.
Absolutely right. And though I now loathe Gore (even though I voted for him in 2000) I have to give him some credit at restraining himself from threats of revolution. He confined himself to ruinous and fratricidal litigation and demagoguery instead, but he showed that even the worst Americans do follow Constitutional tradition.

One of the great monuments to Gerald Ford's presidency, in fact, was his reassuring establishment of obedience to the law and the Constitution, something that Nixon tried to scuttle.

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