Part Two: ELECTION LAW — The ‘United’ United States of America
by Jacques C. Condon
Part Two, with this and other posts raising issues worth considering in advance of the upcoming Presidential election.
A COSTLY BLUEPRINT
Anyone who has been part of a committee, whether in government, business, the local PTA, recognizes the same discussion points come up over and over again.
In politics the issue is largely taxation.
In the PTA, it’s fundraising.
Between April 15th and the local bake sale, the same discussions are had, year after year after year.
(Save for COVID-19, but you’ll need to ready my prior posts for that discussion.)
So imagine yourself in May of 1787, at the Constitutional Convention.
The topic de jure was the present form of government — the Articles of Confederation — and how to improve on what was, by then, governmental gridlock (sound familiar?).
Those in attendance had a choice of throwing the baby out with the bathwater, as it were, or improving upon what got them there.
Think about the modern-day European Union. The EU is a collection of sovereign nations that have attempted to create uniformity in currency, regulations and laws. (Great Britain being a large exemption).
Much like an EU-type relationship, the delegates in 1787 needed to ask themselves who they wanted to govern themselves. Did they want government through independent States. Did they want a national government (with powers over the States). Or, if combined, what combination would actually work.
In retrospect, the choice was clear — the country was broke, divided, and was headed toward extinction.
In retrospect, out went the baby — but in 1787 it was as clear as mud.
UNITY AT A COST
So in 1787, as the days drug-on, and as the weather changed from comfortable to hot, so too did the debate over what to do, how to do it, and why.
The debate lasted more than three months.
Context is important. As of 1787, the alliance of states was only four years removed from the cessation of hostilities with England.
Those in attendance — generally the most wealthy and influential of the citizenry — had very real experience in dealing with a King.
Issues such as “taxation without representation” and “quartering soldiers” were not simply concepts but real-life experiences.
THE PRICE OF TEA
Take the PTA example. Imagine given the choice between running your own bake sale or joining in with others in the group. Imagine further that the group — some of whom you have a personal distaste — will determine what to sell, how, and why. You have a choice. Sure, the sale might be more successful when done as a group, but, then again, you have had some success on your own and don’t want to hitch your wagon to certain (unnamed) people. Ultimately, you decide the sale will work better as a whole, and put trust in a process.
Now pretend your bake sale was something like, say, tea. We’re talking tea. As in the drink.
According to Mary Beth Norton phenomenal book, 1774 The Long Year of Revolution, that cursed tea was one of the most consumed imports amongst Americans. Tea fawned a lucrative and prosperous legal and illegal trade.
So it was no easy conclusion — and far from unanimous — to side with the folks in Boston harbor. The time was December, 1773. A group of citizens dressed in Indian garb. They boarded boats in the harbor, with the boats carrying tea imported from England. The tea was dumped overboard. This act became known as the Boston Tea Party.
And this act spurred harsh reprisal from England. The crown shut down Boston harbor. The crown took efforts through local governors to end elections or gatherings within the territories — such as the Continental Congress. Americans debated how to counter, whether to counter, or even whether to just pay for the tea.
The stakes were high then.
The stakes were perhaps even higher when the delegates convened in 1787.
(For more on the history, see my prior blog post, “Election Law — How Did We Get Here”.)
THE POLITICAL COSTS
The beauty of 1787 — and in many ways the beauty of the American-form of government — is the response. Despite high stakes and despite different statehood interests brought together, the delegates spoke, debated, disagreed and listened to each other.
Indeed, less than a decade removed from kingly-rule, delegates were set on creating a government that functioned without having a puppeteer pulling the strings.
Of course, what developed over the course of the Constitutional Convention had ramifications beyond the document itself as the very system of modern-day politics — that is, the “party system” — was taking shape.
On one side were Federalists who favored a strong national governing body.
On the other side were Anti-Federalists who, while in favor of a national governing body, wanted to reign in national-powers.
So it was that the Constitutional Convention debated the role of the president, discussed in my next blog, as we sidetrack into the federal court nomination process.
A nomination process that we address in, “Packing The Court”.
Jacques C. Condon, Marquette 1999, is owner of Condon Law Firm, LLC, in Thiensville, handling civil litigation, business law, and problem-solving cases ranging on everything from sports and entertainment to local-level government action.