"A New Land: What Kind of Government Should We Have?" - a New Issue Guide from the National Issues Forums Institute (NIFI) Historic Decisions Series

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  • Cover of the issue guide titled A New Land, What Kind of Goverment Should We Have

The issue guide, A New Land: What Kind of Government Should We Have? is now available to order in hardcopy ($2.49 each plus shipping), or to dowload as a PDF ($1.99 each). The newest in the Historic Decisions series, this 18-page guide was created as a project of the National Issues Forums Institute (NIFI), James Madison's Montpelier, and the National Constitution Center, in collaboration with the Kettering Foundation.

The following is excerpted from the introduction to A New Land: What Kind of Government Should We Have? and explains more about the Historic Decision series:

This issue guide is a part of the National Issues Forums' Historic Decisions series. Most guides published by the National Issues Forums Institute seek to stimulate deliberation by diverse groups of citizens about current public problems. This one focuses on a time in the past: 1787, just before the Constitution was written, negotiated, and adopted at the Constitutional Convention. All of the actions proposed in this issue book are based on ideas or proposals that were being considered in 1787. But these ideas were generated in a society in which many Americans were excluded from public discussions and democratic governance. Deliberative forums based on this issue guide will be more effective if they include diverse perspectives, including ones that were not heard in 1787.

The issue guide begins, "It is the spring of 1787. Our republic is unstable and the liberty we won just four years ago is threatened. What should we do?" After an introduction to the context of the issue, the guide presents three possible options for deliberation.

Option One: Strengthen the Current Partnership Among Equals

The Articles of Confederation and Perpetual Union need to be amended. The current one-vote-per-state Confederation Congress assures that we are a union of equal members, but the current central government lacks the power to raise funds or make binding decisions. It needs to have the power to hold states accountable without impinging on their rights. We must figure out a workable balance that gives the central government more power and yet still respects each state's autonomy.

Option Two: Create a Strong Central Government

To maintain our independence, we must ensure our stability. We need a strong central government to protect our liberty. Too much freedom at either the state or the personal level can be destructive. A republican form of federal government, with proportional representation from all of the states, guarantees that individual citizens will still have a say. A stronger central government in a new federal union of the states will also have the authority to safeguard our economic stability and physical security.

Option Three: Let States Govern Themselves

Now that we have our liberty, we should dissolve the Confederation and let the states govern themselves as independent republics. Local governance works best. We are too economically, geographically, and culturally diverse to form one nation. Each state has its own traditions of self-governance, some going back a century or more. Each has its own way of determining citizenship. We've proven we can successfully unite in the face of a common threat and we can do it again if need be.

Click here to order this issue guide and companion materials.

Another recent topic in this historic issues series, 1776: What Should We Do?  imagines life in the American colonies in 1776, and invites people to deliberate about three possible answers to the question, "What should we do about our relationship with England?" Guides and companion material are available to order here.

The National Issues Forums Institute (NIFI) encourages organizations, groups, educators, and individuals to hold deliberative forums using this and other issue guides. If you decide to hold a forum, we hope you will let us and others in the National Issues Forums (NIF) national network know about it by posting some brief details about your forum on the website calendar. In order to post events, please register and log in.