Nov. 15, 2006

Little Prayer in November

by Lee Rudolph

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Poem: "Little Prayer in November" by Lee Rudolph, from A Woman and a Man, Ice-Fishing. © Texas Review Press. Reprinted with permission. (buy now)

Little Prayer in November

           That I am alive, I thank
           no one in particular;
and yet am thankful, mostly,
although I frame no prayer

           but this one: Creator
           Spirit, as you have come,
come again
, even in November,
on these short days, fogbound.

Literary and Historical Notes:

It was on this day in 1777 that the American colonies, in the midst of a war for Independence, approved a final version of the Articles of Confederation. It was the first time in modern history that a complete system of government was drawn up and approved by a committee. The document began by naming the new country: The United States of America.

The debate over the Articles had begun in the summer of 1776, and it mainly concerned states' rights. At the time, the colonies still saw themselves as fairly separate entities, and each wanted to be able to create its own laws. Also, none of the colonies wanted to be pushed around by the other colonies once they were free and independent. Many of the people debating the new form of government were afraid that a strong central ruling body would become tyrannical, just like a king.

John Adams was one of the few people who imagined that the new country would be a single nation, not just an association of individual states. He was joined by Benjamin Rush and Benjamin Franklin, but they were overruled. The central government under the Articles of Confederation had no real power. It had no power to raise armies, no power to impose taxes, and no power to enforce laws it had passed.

The Articles of Confederation finally went into effect in 1781, a few months before the Revolutionary War ended. In the months after the end of the war, the soldiers who had fought for the revolution actually considered seizing power. They hadn't been paid in months, they were exhausted and bitter, and pamphlets began circulating, advocating an armed takeover of Congress. Congress would have been powerless to stop them, since it couldn't raise its own armies. The only thing that prevented the takeover was George Washington's sheer force of will. He showed up at a meeting of rebellious soldiers and spoke out against their plans, and they dispersed.

There were other attempts at armed rebellion under the Articles of Confederation, the most famous of which was a rebellion led by a man named Daniel Shays, which almost took over the state capital in Boston. Congress had no authority to help Massachusetts take any action against Shays' rebellion, and some worried that the rebellion would spread to other states.

It was ultimately Shays' Rebellion that changed a lot of minds about strong central government, and in the spring of 1787, delegates met to revise the Articles of Confederation, and the result was the Constitution we have today.

It was on this day in 1940 that 75,000 men were called to armed forces duty under the first peacetime conscription in American history.

The first real draft had been signed into law during the Civil War, but it was unpopular in part because rich men could hire replacements for the price of $300. The sense that poor Americans were being exploited helped to spark the anti-draft riots in New York City during the summer of 1863.

The draft wasn't used again until World War I, and that draft prohibited the practice of hiring replacements. But it was still largely unpopular. An estimated 3 million young men refused to register, and 12 percent of those called up didn't report for duty or deserted.

Franklin Roosevelt's decision to impose a draft in the summer of 1940 was especially controversial because the country wasn't even at war. But Americans had all seen newspaper and newsreel coverage of the German army rolling over Poland in a few weeks, and doing the same in France in a few months. By June of that year, Germans controlled most of the European continent, and the United States had a poorly trained standing army of only about 200,000 soldiers.

So even though he worried it might hurt his chances of re-election that November, Franklin Roosevelt signed into law the first peacetime draft in American history. That October, 16 million young men appeared at precinct election boards across the country to register with the Selective Service. The first lottery was held in Washington, D.C., and after the selection process, the first 75,000 draftees were called up to service on this day in 1940. In 1939, a poll had shown that only 35 percent of Americans approved of a draft, but by 1940 that support had gone up to 92 percent.

During World War II alone, the draft selected 19 million men and inducted 10 million. The draft lapsed briefly after World War II, but the Red Scare persuaded Truman to start it up again, and it continued until 1973.

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