The principle of compromise has kept our country strong

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July 2005

It’s the principle of the thing!

You have probably heard someone use the above phrase during your lifetime. Perhaps you have said it yourself. I know I have.

What unspoken  principle is being brought up here? I think it is the principle that the speaker is right and the listener is wrong. It doesn't matter what the issue is, because it's the principle of the thing! It's a quick way to end a discussion and feel superior to the other person.

There is a lot of this kind of talk going on around the country.  Each side thinks their principle is self-evident and must prevail, so they don't need to debate the issue or listen to another side or position.


In May my wife and I visited Philadelphia and Gettysburg for a few days. We toured National Constitution Center and Old City Hall. We ate at City Tavern. These are the places where the founders of our country met, debated, and worked out a plan for our new government.

It was awesome to walk the same floors, see the same desks and walls, and eat in the same building that these founders did. I got a sense of the drama that played out here.

Yet it is important to remember that these courageous human beings came together o ensure their own freedom from the “tyranny of King George of England”. We are all familiar with the cry, “no taxation without representation”. Without any exaggeration, this cry of freedom inspired in them lofty goals of self-government that was and still is a grand experiment.

Did all these delegates from the various colonies agree on what needed to be done? No. Were they successful right away? No. The Revolutionary War raged on for seven years. The first attempt at self-government, the Articles of Confederation, was a failure. This experience inspired them to create a stronger central government and create the Constitution.


The delegates at the Constitutional Convention did not use the phrase, “it’s the principle of the thing” but rather used the principle of compromise. For example, the delegates couldn’t agree on how the states should be represented, so they set up the House based on population, and the Senate based on state equality with two from each state with one vote from each state.. This is called the Great Compromise.

This Compromise also included the ill-conceived method of counting slaves as ¾ persons for purpose of representation.

Many people today speak reverentially of the Constitution and rightly so, but it was not a perfect document. It has been amended 26 times, including the first ten amendments called the Bill of Rights, ratified in 1791.

Many of the amendments were passed to expand freedom,. They extended rights to former slaves, provided for the direct election of Senators, gave women the right to vote and the last one lowered the voting age to 18..

One  ended the poll tax and other practices that restricted voting rights. Another gave the citizens of our nation’s capital the right to vote.

Several amendments clarified or changed the process of government by limiting a person to two terms as President,  by providing for Presidential succession in case of disability, by changing how the judiciary worked and  by changing the date for the beginning of Congressional terms from March to January.

Supreme Court

With the resignation of Justice Sandra Day O’Connor, there is much speculation on who President Bush will appoint to replace her. In keeping with the hostile division in this country between the “right” and the “left”, the war of words has already begun. Part of me says that this is just part of our political process. Let if work.

On the other hand, the political right under the leadership and perhaps control of the religious evangelical segment of Christianity is advocating an ideological stance that is not merely a “strict constructionist” view of the Constitution, but one that would try to impose their religious agenda on the nation This is scary.

The Supreme Court in Marbury v. Madison in 1803 established that the Supreme Court has the right to interpret the constitutionality of the laws passed by Congress. This is as much a part of our political process as the bicameral legislature. Unfortunately, the political right has co-opted the meaning of interpreting laws as something evil and to be avoided.  They call it judicial activism.

The Constitution  is a document to be used and adapted to meet the changing times. It has done that extremely well. Ii is first and foremost a document of freedom.

Freedom is for everyone, especially when in comes to matters of religion. We have become a religiously diverse nation. The First Amendment protects each and every religion, not just a segment of Christianity. That is real freedom.