Innovative Virginia farmer and prolific speaker/author, Joel Salatin, of Polyface Farm west of Staunton is one of the pioneers in rotational multi-species animal farming. Joel raises chickens, turkeys, rabbits, cattle, and pigs. I had a brief conversation with Joel during the fall Mountain Run Jam two years ago and I recall he told me Polyface Farm had grossed 1 million dollars in sales in the previous year. Clearly, he’s doing something right on his 550-acre pastured farm. I know Joel considers himself, at the most basic fundamental level, a grass farmer. Everything depends, and builds, on the grass. It is the basic principle on which his family farm prospers.
A recent poll conducted by NBC News in August found that 74% of people believe the country is headed in the wrong direction. I am sure, within this surveyed group, that there would be little agreement regarding what is the right direction. Though not polled, I certainly would have agreed with the 74%. I believe we Americans have lost our guiding principles. Too many of us have given up on principles and voted based on feelings. As truly devout religious people know, following principles are hard, really hard. The ethics of turn-the-other-cheek/love thy neighbor/camel and eye of the needle/ walk not one, but two miles/ know them by their fruits are daily struggles for humble true followers. In politics, conservative Senator Barry Goldwater, credited with sparking the resurgence of the conservative movement during the 1960s and author of the book The Conscience of a Conservative was a staunch supporter of individual liberties. Because of those principles, he took unpopular stances with Republicans late in life as he supported gay and abortion rights and saw the religious right’s views as an intrusion on personal privacy and individual liberties.
A major reason I started writing the Constitution Revisited in January was my attempt to find common ground (along with re-educating myself) regarding our foundation — the Constitution, underlying debates, and principles. We face great challenges ahead. We can’t possibly walk down the aisle of hard choices and make decisions based on what we like, don’t like, and want to ignore. We need to collectively affirm basic principles upon which we fundamentally agree and hold to them even when we may personally dislike the outcome.
As I waded through Pauline Maier’s 600-page book Ratification: The People Debate the Constitution and Michael Klarman’s 800-page The Framer’s Coup: The Making of the United States Constitution this summer, what I found most affirming was the endless debates by our founders and state ratification delegates as they conceived, compromised, and finally ratified the Constitution. Ben Franklin’s speech on the final day of the Constitutional Convention started with “I confess that there are several parts of this Constitution which I do not at present approve “but partway the speech contained “I agree to this Constitution with all its faults…...” Some tenets of the Constitution have stood the test of time and remain so today. Others, such as the state legislatures appointing Senators, finally were amended. Other things, such as the electoral college which never worked like the Founders expected, remain today. The endless debates on the embarrassment and blemish of slavery were a failure. The compromises made, kicked the problem down the road, resulting in our bloody civil war 73 years later. I am absolute in my belief that if the Founders could return today, they would be absolutely shocked to find that the only Constitutional Convention we’ve ever had was theirs in 1787.
During Ratification, it became clear that numerous states would attempt to withdraw their Ratification unless a Bill of Rights was amended to our Constitution. This will help start the conversation on principles as we start through the Amendments to the Constitution. In the view of our Founders, we will always be the American experiment. If we stop trying, become comfortable in our set ways, we will simply be the America, that was.