Involvement in government is crucial to the success of government as a whole. During the American Revolution, it was clear that participation in the political process would continue to be valued. Since those years, much has changed.
Many early Americans, and especially Pennsylvanians, looked to the Anglo-Saxon government system of “incorporating small parcels of the people into little communities by themselves,” which led to convening of councils in those communities where they offered “their sentiments on many occasions.” Gordon Wood, The Creation of the American Republic: 1776-1787, 227-28 quoting Demophilus, Genuine Principles, 4, 15, 17, 39-40; Phila. Pa. Packet, Apr. 29, May 20, Nov. 19, 1776.
Thomas Jefferson, as well as radical Pennsylvanians, revered this Anglo-Saxon system. See Gordon Wood, The Creation of the American Republic: 1776-1787, 228. As a result of the system, individuals “became concerned about government because they participated daily in the affairs of their tithings and towns, not only by paying taxes but by performing public duties and by personally making laws.” Id. Then, when these responsibilities were transferred from people to governmental bodies, “men fell into a political stupor, and have never, to this day, thoroughly awakened, to a sense of the necessity there is, to watch over both legislative and executive departments in the state.” Gordon Wood, The Creation of the American Republic: 1776-1787, 228 quoting Demophilus, Genuine Principles, 4, 15, 17, 39-40; Phila. Pa. Packet, Apr. 29, May 20, Nov. 19, 1776.
Americans who studied this Anglo-Saxon system sought to introduce elements of that system to American government, believing that it was the best model that experience and wisdom could devise. Gordon Wood, The Creation of the American Republic: 1776-1787, 228. Those Americans hoped that introducing such a system would “give such a new face to the affairs of [Pennsylvania], and raise up so many able men to improve its internal police; that . . . the principal science that ever rendered mankind happy and glorious, the science of just and equal government, will shine conspicuous in Pennsylvania.” Gordon Wood, The Creation of the American Republic: 1776-1787, 228 quoting Demophilus, Genuine Principles, 4, 15, 17, 39-40; Phila. Pa. Packet, Apr. 29, May 20, Nov. 19, 1776.
The adoption of this Anglo-Saxon system gets to the heart of two elements of the American Revolution. First, Americans were relentless in studying the successful systems in the history of government and taking elements from those systems and implementing them in new American systems. Second, the years surrounding the American Revolution are best characterized by an obsession of Americans to devise a system that was best tailored to serve Americans.
By implementing systems that valued participation, the early Americans instilled a sense of responsibility and involvement that is largely absent in modern America. The extent of civic responsibility that most Americans perform is voting, and even that has dramatically fallen off in recent years.
This is regretful and concerning. The early Americans, including Jefferson, were inspired to know that their work was creating a system that fostered participation and involvement in government. This theoretically improved government, as when people are empowered to participate, they are incentivized to make informed decisions.
While some could debate the truth of this premise, it deserves attention. Any action that can increase participation in government should be taken. The health of democracy depends on it.