Not as long ago as we think, divided regions stood pitted against one another. Outside influences sought to play them off of each other for personal gain. The feeble central government was stripped of any ability to corral these fickle localities—each with their own idiosyncrasies and identity.
Common sense standards regarding general safety and economic regulation had little effect. Many levied taxes against each other in order to steal business. Northern and Southern groups had their own culture, as did those in the East and West.
Before going further, am I talking about the municipalities of St. Louis County or the thirteen states under the Articles of Confederation?
Maybe that’s an unfair question. New states levied tariffs against each other as foreign nations sought to seal the best deals and divided the new nation against itself. Municipalities wage sales taxes and tax increment financing against each other. The Articles of Confederation left the central government little room to provided any sort of national defense. The County is being sued for instilling minimum policing standards that the Department of Justice, Police Executive Research Forum, and Ferguson Commission reports all recommended.
The founding fathers realized that to survive they had to join or die. They were philosophers who understood checks and balances described by Locke, Montesquieu, and Rousseau. They were familiar with Aesop’s proverb, “United We Stand. Divided We Fall.” While they believed in local control and limited government, they also believed a central government must be strong enough to promote economic prosperity and protect the common welfare.
In 1787 56 delegates gathered to design a new constitution. At the end of the convention, Benjamin Franklin pleaded members sign and ratify the Constitution, for while they were all deeply frustrated and had compromised more than they would like, they knew their compromises were as close to perfection that any fallible man could get. The split between Jefferson* and Hamilton is still the split between modern republicans and democrats. In a sense we have always been divided, but also united.
Thomas Schneider overlooks just how divided the founding fathers were and the fact that they eventually came together despite their personal differences, despite their skepticism, and despite their fallibility. They understood that government is a careful balance between individual prosperity and the common welfare.
The question has never been, “do we want big or small government?” Neither. The question remains “what makes government effective, efficient, and equitable?” St. Louis must examine this question deeper. We agree St. Louisans must indeed follow the example set by founding fathers—which put aside petty differences, swallowed their pride, compromised, and managed to become united while retaining respect for individual sovereignty.
St. Louis must unite while retaining respect for individual neighborhood identities.
*Jefferson did not sign the Constitution as he was in France serving as a diplomat. Hamilton did. Jefferson drafted the Declaration of Independence. Patrick Henry (whom Schneider cites) refused to participate in the Constitutional Convention.
So next time someone makes a comparison to the County as King George and the municipalities as the colonies just ask: