Monday, November 5, 2012

It's a Miracle!

Ronald Reagan takes the Oath of Office,
while outgoing President Cater looks on.
 "To a few of us here today, this is a solemn and most momentous occasion; and yet, in the history of our Nation, it is a commonplace occurrence. The orderly transfer of authority as called for in the Constitution routinely takes place as it has for almost two centuries and few of us stop to think how unique we really are. In the eyes of many in the world, this every-4-year ceremony we accept as normal is nothing less than a miracle."  
- Ronald Reagan, January 20, 1981.

In the history of humankind, this orderly, peaceful transfer of power we've come to take for granted in the United States really is borderline miraculous.  The first example was following the election of 1800, a bitterly contested race that ended up in the House of Representatives for a tie-breaking vote (see previous blog entry).  An incumbent (John Adams) lost the vote to a political rival (Thomas Jefferson) and the rival took office without bloodshed, a coup de etat, or violence of any sort (Aaron Burr's killing of Alexander Hamilton in a duel years later aside).  Power was not handed down by heredity or any sort of divine edict.  The people of the nation voted and the Executive Branch of the government changed hands.  It was considered a miracle at the time, as such a shift of power in so peaceful a manner was all but unheard of.  

Indeed today, I venture to guess that the majority of the world's nations have yet to experience this miracle for themselves.  Many nations identify as at least nominal democracies, but truly do not have free and fair elections (Cuba, North Korea, Iran, Russia, much of Africa, and Saddam-era Iraq come to mind right away).  Why is this?  What makes us (and at least most of the developed world) so successful in this free transfer of power?  Is it our Constitution?  Our history of encouraging and expecting fair play?  I'm sure someone far more qualified than I can help explain all the social, economic and political issues that leave so many other countries behind in that regard, but for now, let us appreciate the success we've had here.

I write this on Election Eve, November 5, 2012.  In just over 24 hours, we will know if we have a new president or if the incumbent will serve four more years.  Regardless of the outcome, we will have a peaceful aftermath (threats of riots and civil unrest by fringe groups aside).  If the president loses, the transition will start almost immediately, preparing the president-elect to smoothly take office.  If the president wins, the challenger will almost certainly bow out gracefully and accept the will of the electorate, as has been our tradition (the 2000 election aside).  

I also write this, conveniently, from the State of Virginia, beloved home of this blog's namesake, James Madison (and also of a couple other interesting guys named Washington and Jefferson, to name a couple).  Tomorrow, I will be watching the Electoral College map and election returns from Connecticut (home of Roger Sherman - see earlier blog about him), right on the Massachusetts border (home of Adams).  I feel perhaps a little keener sense of history being in this part of the country on such a momentous occasion, and except for being home on election day, I think there are few better places to be.  

Let us, then, celebrate our representative system of government, fair elections (allegations of voter fraud aside for now), and the continued tradition of peaceful transfer of political power - unique in history when it began in 1801, and still unfortunately rare today.  God bless America!

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