Democracy is Messy Business

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The farmers who battled the British in April 1775 fought for our freedom to disagree and to compromise.

Published on: April 13, 2011

The farmers who battled the British in the spring of 1775 fought for our freedom to disagree and to compromise.

It wasn’t all that well planned out, but the farmers and laborers in the countryside knew one thing. They wanted to be free. They had no idea, when they stood together on Lexington Green to face a well-trained British column on the morning of April 15, 1775, what the country they were about to risk life and limb for would turn out to become. Yet, when the “shot heard ‘round the world” rang out, and as the British fired on the assembled minutemen, blood was shed and the American Revolution had begun.

The British advanced to Concord, and faced another group of farmers on the Concord North Bridge. The Americans fired back this time, and the British abandoned the bridge and retreated to Concord. As they started a hasty retreat back toward Lexington, they were exposed to the mobile farmers who lined the escape route, firing from behind trees and thickets. The British weren’t used to these backwoods tactics and they suffered heavy casualties, under hard fighting.

Farmers on the front lines started the War of Independence. Freedom and liberty were only ideas back then, and in modern times, many of us have come to worry about the shape of those ideals in our country today. Are the goals of those farming forefathers still intact?

After a bitter budget battle in Congress in recent days and more partisan fighting over budgets, wars, domestic, foreign and even farm policy ahead, we have come to complain about the bickering. Public forums and letters to the editor berate Congress and the President for playing politics with our future.

People are mad and they just want the fighting in Congress to stop. “Why can’t they get along,” one letter writer lamented recently.

Well, the answer is simple. They aren’t supposed to. If we think the budget battles were bad, we should have been around before the Civil War broke out, when members of Congress were all packing revolvers and Senator Charles Sumner was severely beaten with a cane by Congressman Preston Brooks on the floor of the Senate chamber, over the issue of slavery. That makes our current political battles look like a Sunday picnic.

Civility hasn’t always been a part of our political history. Yet, through it all, our legislative and executive branches have continued to survive and evolve, and ultimately, compromise. Civil War historian and author, Shelby Foote, once said that we Americans like to think that we’re independent and self-reliant, yet the greatest achievement of our system of government has been in the ability to compromise and come up with solutions together, in spite of and often times because of the politics involved.

So, the farmers on the bridge at Concord didn’t fight for us to always get along and agree with each other. They fought for our freedom of speech, freedom of assembly, freedom of religion, freedom of the press and all of those freedoms that we take for granted, but that make our democracy function, but seem kind of messy and disorganized.

I thank those farmers for standing up for what they believed America could become, and I thank those partisans in Congress for fighting for their constituents and for what they believe, and ultimately, being able to give and take and come up with answers that neither is entirely happy with, but that we can all live with as we move forward. Most Americans don’t really understand this, but that is the American way, and so far in our history, it has served us pretty well.

After writing all of this, I wonder if I’ll feel the same way once the battle for the new 2012 Farm Bill begins?