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In My Opinion
Happy Birthday To the American Experience!
Wednesday, July 3, 2013 • Posted July 3, 2013

237 years ago, a group of men met in a hot room in Philadelphia and decided to put their lives and their fortunes on the line. They knew that by signing the Declaration of Independence, they were signing their own death warrants for the British Crown. They weren't intending to form a new country or to establish a new government; rather, they knew that the conditions they were living under at the time were unacceptable for a free people, which they believed they should be.

It was almost eleven years later before they would finally get around to establishing the rules and guidelines for their new United States of America. Many of the original men who had signed the Declaration would not live to see how their fellow patriots would make the journey from separation to unity. They would not live to see the pains of continuing arguments over slavery, limits to power and governmental responsibilities.

Even after creation of our Constitution, a document that was designed as the framework upon which the country was to be built, the discussions and disagreements continued. It would not be until 1791 that The Bill of Rights, containing the first ten amendments to the Constitution, would be ratified. It is those ten "adjustments" to the original document that we all think of most frequently when enumerating our rights as citizens of this country.

The Constitution begins with the words: 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.

And yet, it took several years of experience before the citizens of the new country realized that they had only just begun the process. There were still no guidelines for what COULD be done, as the Constitution generally spells out what CAN NOT be done. The first ten amendments clarify rights of speech, religion, property, militia, guns, judicial processes, and governmental constraints.

Then, the long process of growing up and becoming a functioning entity on the world stage began.

In 1795, the 11th Amendment clarified limitations of judicial power.

In 1804, the process of elections was finally codified with the 12th Amendment.

In 1865, the 13th Amendment finally addressed the issue of slavery that had almost derailed the original Constitutional convention almost a century earlier.

The 14th Amendment in 1868 further addressed processes for elections and eligibility for office.

In 1870, the 15th Amendment guaranteed the right of ALL citizens to vote.

The 16th Amendment, in 1913, finally established a system of taxation to pay for the services spelled out superficially in the Constitution.

The 17th Amendment, also in 1913, changed to process for electing Senators, taking the power from the House and giving it to the citizens.

The 18th Amendment, passed in 1919, holds the distinction of being the only one to also be repealed (by the 21st Amendment in 1933). Apparently, banning alcohol was NOT a function of the government.

In 1920, the 19th Amendment finally granted the right to vote to women.

The 20th Amendment, again in 1933, clearly identifies the rules of succession, terms of office and times of meeting.

In 1951, responding to FDR's four terms, the 22nd Amendment limited a President to only two elected terms.

The 23rd Amendment, in 1961, finally recognized the right of the citizens in the District of Columbia to be represented in Congress.

In 1964, the 24th Amendment dealt with threats to voting by repealing poll taxes and limits on eligibility to vote due to failure to pay such taxes.

In 1967, the 25th Amendment further clarified the roles and strictures regarding the Vice President and how he replaces the President.

The 26th Amendment in 1971 lowered the voting age to 18.

And, in an example of a complicated, long-term process, the 27th Amendment (proposed by Congress in 1789) was finally ratified in 1992. It prohibits Senators and Congressmen from benefitting from a pay raise until a subsequent election of those offices shall have occurred.

We didn't start out perfect. Nor are we perfect now. But, what makes us great is that we know we're still evolving, still growing, still learning. We realize that the framers did not have all the answers and that sometimes we have to change the rules to reflect a country that is 237 years older.

Happy Birthday America!

It’s all just my opinion.

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