8. The Party before Parties

One day while walking with the Lion of Logic through the Graveyard of Governments trying to think of new ways to help improve the health of American democracy, someone dressed in scrubs approached me. I assumed they were a nurse who worked for Doctor Democracy. They stopped about a hundred feet away, seemingly nervous to approach with the Lion of Logic next to me. I assured them it was okay, and the nurse hesitantly approached and handed me an envelope.

I opened it and read the document inside.

Hello Logos Party founder,

Go to Independence Hall tomorrow at noon. Enclosed are two tickets. Don’t open the other envelope until you are in the Assembly Room.

Doctor Democracy

I glanced in the envelope at the two tickets for a tour of Independence Hall tomorrow at noon. I looked up at the nurse. “Other envelope?” The nurse handed me a second envelope and then walked away.

I looked down at the Lion of Logic and sighed. “Looks like we’re going to Philadelphia.”

The Lion of Logic let out a low moan, the equivalent of a house cat’s purr.

The next day, after a long train ride, the Lion of Logic and I arrived in Philly. Once at Independence Hall we stepped in line without about twenty other people. When the clock tower struck noon, the guide let us in.

We walked into the Assembly Room where the Founding Fathers debated both the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution.

I had been in there twice before. I pictured Washington, Adams, Jefferson, Franklin, Madison and all the rest, all sweating in the summer heat. This was the birthplace of the republic. I tried to imagine what they would think of the country they founded. They probably didn’t think it would last as long as it has. But, since it has, they would probably like to see it go on.

Then, finally, I opened the second envelope that I had been tempted to open for the past day. I unfolded the single piece of paper. There was nothing written from Doctor Democracy. Instead, it was the speech Benjamin Franklin gave in the Assembly Room on September 17, 1787, the last day of the Constitutional Convention. I had never read it before.

At 81, Franklin was the oldest of the 55 delegates at the convention. He was too weak to give the speech himself so he had his fellow Pennsylvanian delegate James Wilson deliver the speech. Standing in the Assembly Room where it was delivered, I read Franklin’s speech for the first time.

Mr. President,

I confess that there are several parts of this constitution which I do not at present approve, but I am not sure I shall never approve them: For having lived long, I have experienced many instances of being obliged by better information, or fuller consideration, to change opinions even on important subjects, which I once thought right, but found to be otherwise. It is therefore that the older I grow, the more apt I am to doubt my own judgment, and to pay more respect to the judgment of others.

Most men indeed, as well as most sects in Religion, think themselves in possession of all truth, and that wherever others differ from them it is so far error. Steele a Protestant in a Dedication tells the Pope that the only difference between our Churches in their opinions of the certainty of their doctrines is, the Church of Rome is infallible and the Church of England is never in the wrong. But though many private persons think almost as highly of their own infallibility as of that of their sect, few express it so naturally as a certain French lady, who in a dispute with her sister, said "I don't know how it happens, Sister but I meet with no body but myself, that's always in the right — Il n'y a que moi qui a toujours raison."

In these sentiments, Sir, I agree to this Constitution with all its faults, if they are such; because I think a general Government necessary for us, and there is no form of Government but what may be a blessing to the people if well administered, and believe farther that this is likely to be well administered for a course of years, and can only end in Despotism, as other forms have done before it, when the people shall become so corrupted as to need despotic Government, being incapable of any other.

I doubt too whether any other Convention we can obtain, may be able to make a better Constitution. For when you assemble a number of men to have the advantage of their joint wisdom, you inevitably assemble with those men, all their prejudices, their passions, their errors of opinion, their local interests, and their selfish views. From such an assembly can a perfect production be expected? It therefore astonishes me, Sir, to find this system approaching so near to perfection as it does; and I think it will astonish our enemies, who are waiting with confidence to hear that our councils are confounded like those of the Builders of Babel; and that our States are on the point of separation, only to meet hereafter for the purpose of cutting one another's throats. Thus I consent, Sir, to this Constitution because I expect no better, and because I am not sure, that it is not the best.

The opinions I have had of its errors, I sacrifice to the public good. I have never whispered a syllable of them abroad. Within these walls they were born, and here they shall die. If every one of us in returning to our Constituents were to report the objections he has had to it, and endeavor to gain partisans in support of them, we might prevent its being generally received, and thereby lose all the salutary effects & great advantages resulting naturally in our favor among foreign Nations as well as among ourselves, from our real or apparent unanimity.

Much of the strength & efficiency of any Government in procuring and securing happiness to the people, depends, on opinion, on the general opinion of the goodness of the Government, as well as of the wisdom and integrity of its Governors. I hope therefore that for our own sakes as a part of the people, and for the sake of posterity, we shall act heartily and unanimously in recommending this Constitution (if approved by Congress & confirmed by the Conventions) wherever our influence may extend, and turn our future thoughts & endeavors to the means of having it well administered.

On the whole, Sir, I cannot help expressing a wish that every member of the Convention who may still have objections to it, would with me, on this occasion doubt a little of his own infallibility, and to make manifest our unanimity, put his name to this instrument.

By the time I finished reading the letter, it had become clear why Doctor Democracy had given it to me. I didn’t think I had to go all the way to Philadelphia, but I was glad I did.

I folded the letter, put it back in the envelope, and walked out with the Lion of Logic. On the train ride home, I wrote down the message I think Doctor Democracy had wanted me to find in Franklin’s letter. The next day, I walked into Freedom’s Fitness Center and posted on the wall a big poster of Franklin’s speech with my message next to it:

The Logos Party: The Party that Founded the United States

According to the history books, in May of 1787 the colonies sent 55 delegates to the Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia. The goal was to revise the Articles of Confederation, but it was soon decided that instead of revising the articles, an entirely new government should be created. Each of those 55 delegates brought their personal biases, different political ideologies, state loyalties, false beliefs, jealousies and hates into that little room in that little building in Philadelphia that is now known as Independence Hall. Among those 55 delegates, I think every political ideology in America today was probably in some way represented: far left, left-center, centrist, right-center, far right, and maybe even a sixth category for people whose political worldview contains beliefs from the left, right and center.

In the midst of all those different competing political ideologies that were brought to the Constitutional Convention, I believe there was another idea that most, maybe all, of those delegates also brought into that little room: reason. In other words, I believe most of the delegates, though they each had strong convictions, were willing to compromise and find common ground in order to create the best constitution they could for the new country.

On September 17, 1787, the final day of the convention, with the Constitution completed and about to be voted on, Benjamin Franklin, the oldest delegate at 81, delivered a speech trying to persuade those delegates who were dissatisfied with the Constitution to sign it. Because of poor health, Franklin had a fellow delegate from Pennsylvania, James Wilson, read his speech.

Through this speech, Franklin appeared to be admitting that the Constitution was an imperfect document that he still had disagreements with, but, with further reflection and new information, he may someday agree with all of it because his worldview was always a work in progress. He seemed to be confessing that he was fallible, which led him to often second guess his own judgments because he concluded that he has often been mistaken on even some of his strongest convictions.

Franklin seemed to believe that, after having spent four months debating everybody’s different views and objections, the Constitution was probably the best they could come up with. It seemed like Franklin was trying to convince those delegates that were still dissatisfied with the Constitution that with so many different and contentious interests and beliefs represented in that room it was not feasible for any one person to obtain every one of their wishes in the Constitution so a willingness to compromise was paramount.

I could be wrong, but I believe Franklin was reminding all of the delegates that, yes, it was important for each of them to bring all of their different and competing political convictions to the Constitutional Convention and into the Assembly Room in Independence Hall to combine their wisdom and debate all ideas in order to find the best paths to take, but they each should have checked dogma at the door so that they could step into the Assembly Room onto the same foundation of reason that would hold them all intellectually accountable so that they could admit they could be wrong, genuinely consider the opinions of others, and concede that someone else might have a better idea. In short, I believe Franklin was trying to explain that they came together with all of their different ideas onto the same foundation of reason to make mutual sacrifices for the general good.

I don’t know how many were persuaded by Franklin’s speech because, once it was done being read, the Constitution was signed, but, to Franklin’s displeasure, only 39 of the 55 delegates signed it.

Regardless of how many delegates signed the Constitution, I believe the Constitutional Convention was a good representation of what the Logos Party tries to embody. The Logos Party does not endorse a particular political platform that all members are expected to believe in. Instead, it endorses a standard of reason, which, one, fosters a culture of intellectual diversity that allows into the party opinions across the full political spectrum, and two, mandates that each member checks dogma at the door so that they enter the party onto the same foundation of reason that holds them all intellectually accountable so that each member sees their worldview as a work that is always in progress, they admit they could be wrong, they challenge their own views, and they welcome others challenging their beliefs. In short, the Logos Party allows in conviction, passion, and a diversity of ideas, but not dogma. I could be wrong, but I think that was also the goal of the Constitutional Convention.

The Constitutional Convention took place during a time before political parties. But, shortly after the Constitution took effect in 1789, the first political party was formed. Created by Alexander Hamilton and John Adams, it was called the Federalists and supported a strong central government. Then, in 1792, Thomas Jefferson and James Madison founded the Democratic-Republican Party, which advocated against a strong central government. By 1796 the bitter rivalry between these two parties had essentially monopolized the politics of every state. Those two parties even had their own propaganda newspapers that were used to make their party look good and the other party look bad. Sound familiar?

Though neither party would survive in their original form, they established the system of two dominant and mostly dogmatic parties competing against one another that has persisted until the present day. I believe that if a two-party system similar to the one the United States currently has and has had for almost its entire history had existed before and during the Constitutional Convention the Constitution probably would have never been created, at least nowhere near the quality of one we have, and the United States of America would have never been founded.

Fortunately, when the 55 delegates came to Philadelphia in May of 1787, a majority of them checked their dogma at the door long enough to allow reason to guide them as they turned Independence Hall into a laboratory of ideas where they debated and tested all of their different opinions and then made mutual compromises for the sake of creating a constitution unlike anything the world had ever seen before. Then, with his final speech, Ben Franklin immortalized the conventions spirit of intellectual diversity, reason and compromise.

The Founding Founders reached back to the ancient Greeks to help them form American democracy. The Logos Party also reaches back to the ancient Greeks and reaches back to the spirit of the Constitutional Convention to replicate the party that existed before political parties. Like the Constitutional Convention, the goal of the Logos Party is to be a laboratory where old, current and new ideas across the political spectrum can be tested so that everyone’s differences can be used towards the same goals of truth and progress, with each member at peace with the idea that many of their views could be casualties on that path because every member’s goal is truth and not their opinion of the truth.

Even though there was no official political party represented at the Constitutional Convention, those 55 delegates, with all their different ideologies across the political spectrum, acted together almost as if they were one party, a party committed to reason, diversity of opinions, mutual compromise first and their personal platform second. It was as if the 55 delegates, or at least all the ones who checked dogma at the door, were the Logos Party. That is why I call the Logos Party the party before there were parties. I think the Logos Party, at least its essence, was the party that founded the United States. If nothing else, I think it was at least the party of Benjamin Franklin. And, I believe if America has before already had a version of the Logos Party that was so productive, it can be done again.

After Franklin’s speech was delivered and the delegates were signing the Constitution, Franklin watched the president's chair at the front of the hall. A sun was painted on the back of the chair. Franklin told some of the members near him that it was always difficult for painters to show the difference between the rising sun and the setting sun. He said that during the convention he had often looked at the painted sun and wondered “…whether it was rising or setting. But now at length I have the happiness to know that it is a rising and not a setting sun." Today, I think Franklin might say that the sun is setting and a re-dedication to the principles that guided the Constitutional Convention is necessary for the sun to again be rising, the principles embodied in the Logos Party.

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