Thursday, May 22, 2008

"A Busy Half-Century" - #3

Part Three: Constitution

January 4, 1886:

“A man should admit when he’s wrong,” John MacAllister told Greg Montgomery that morning over coffee. “So, I’m wrong.”

The Assembly was due to start meeting at nine o’clock, but the President had gotten in the habit of hosting a little get-together about an hour before the session.

It helped things run smoother.

“I hate to say I told you so,” Montgomery said, “but I did say that the contract with the railroad would pay off.”

“Yeah, and I voted against it,” the head of the North Point Lumber Collective grumbled good-naturedly. He drained his coffee cup and said, “Is the new constitution ready?”

Montgomery nodded once, adding cream to his third cup of coffee. “It’s ready. If you’d look at the schedule, it’s the first item of business this morning.” The clock started to chime, and the two men walked next door.

MacAllister joined his twenty-seven fellow members as Montgomery moved to stand by his seat; the Moderator (and Prime Minister) motioned to a fur standing near the flag.

The fur, a thin rat, was the leader of the Rain Coast’s tiny Jewish community. It had been Montgomery’s idea to have each session opened with prayers offered by members of all the clergy in the country. After he finished, the cantor of Congregation Beth Shalom turned and faced the Republic’s flag.

The dark blue banner first raised seven months ago had acquired an adornment, a likeness of the Great Raven embroidered in silver and white. There was a moment of silence, and as the President sat down the session opened.

“Gentlemen,” the Moderator, a marten named Isaac Smith, said, “The first item of business is the new constitution for the Republic. If approved today, voting on it will begin. We hope to have it ratified by the end of February.” He sat as the members opened their copies and began to read.

One Assembly member gaped at the paper. “You’re giving women the vote!” he exclaimed, and several started frantically scanning their copies for the relevant passage. “What the hell are you doing, Greg?”

“It was the Committee’s decision, not mine,” Montgomery said evenly. “When we founded this nation, we said we were all in it together. We can’t really say that until all of us have a say in the government. And no, my wife didn’t have a paw in it,” he added to chuckles from several members.

“Voting age set at twenty-one . . . “ another member read aloud, “ . . . complete equality – “

“If we call ourselves a democracy, we should live up to it.”

“My district will surely vote for it,” a member representing a native tribe said. “We never really had a say in provincial politics, although we did send members to the Assembly.”

“And if it weren’t for your support, we wouldn’t have lasted this long,” Smith said.

“Are you sure you can get everyone in the country to vote on this, one way or the other, by the end of February?” the member from Great Wolf Lake asked skeptically.

“I’ll defer to the Assemblyfur from Carlin, who headed the Committee. Bob?”

A lynx stood up and set his paws on the lapels of his suit coat as he looked around the room. “Gentlemen, I and the others on the Committee worked as hard and as fast as we could. We wanted the document to be simple – you’ll notice that the Assembly hasn’t changed – but be flexible enough to move and change with the times. Sure, women suffrage is a radical thing, and so is the idea of complete equality. But we’re a small country, and there’s a lot of furs on the other side of the straits looking at us and just waiting for us to fail. I say, if we fail, it won’t be for lack of trying.” He sat down to a general chorus of approval.

Isaac Smith picked up the hammer that was on his desk and tapped the wood with it until the chamber quieted. “The issue is the new constitution. I’ll call the roll and you can vote Yes or No. Agreed? Then we’ll begin.”

When the voting was over, the draft constitution for the Republic had passed 25-2, and it was arranged that it should be published in newspapers and broadsheets so that everyone could read it before they voted on it.


February 1:

“I don’t like these parties.”

Arlene Montgomery smiled up at her husband as she finished tying his necktie, then smoothed down the knot and kissed his cheek. “You never did like having people over for dinner, even before.”

“That’s true. Oh, sure, a friend or two over for cards, but this is ridiculous.”

“Part of being President, I guess.” She giggled as he took a halfhearted grab at her.

“I never wanted the job, but I got stuck with it. The only hope I have is that someone else will get elected so I can go back to helping Abner at the store,” he said. “Why don’t you run, Arlene? Maybe government needs a woman’s touch.”

“And who’ll cook me dinner when I come home late from Assembly meetings?” she teased. “Look, this is just dinner with you, me, John and his wife, and that nice man from New Haven - what’s his name again?”

“Marcus Aurelius Stagg, if you can believe it,” Montgomery said with a grin. “Supposed to have been a newspaper publisher or something, a diplomat as well. Funny old buck; hardly seems interested in learning or knowing anything about us.” He chuckled. “But he sure likes his food.”

This was true. Embassy Row in the Republic currently constituted two boarding houses in Seathl, where the foreign envoys were housed and fed at the government’s expense. The other countries were spending money like water to get proper embassies built, which made the local builders very happy.

It made for some interesting disputes. For example, the British and Russian envoys were put up at Mother Emma’s house over on Courthouse Avenue. The accommodations required that Colonels Sobakov and Sheerfoot had to share a bathroom.

New Haven’s General Assembly had been the second government to recognize the new nation and had sent Stagg to represent them. The old whitetail buck had arrived in almost record time only a month after the Proclamation.

Montgomery strongly suspected that the New Havenites had been happy to see the back of the buck, and the food bills he had seen only heightened his suspicions.

“At least he’s nicer than that dreadful Colonel Sobakov,” Arlene said. “I cooked that salmon perfectly and he had the gall to find fault with it. I – I should have hit him over the head with the plank I cooked it on!”

Montgomery laughed. “At least we got dinner with him out of the way. It’s the American, Colonel Jackson, I’m dreading.”

“Oh? Why?”

“Well,” her husband said, “he’s a likeable enough fellow – very charming when you talk to him – “


“He has some funny ideas about our new constitution, wants it suppressed so it can’t be printed in America.”

She blinked at that. “Why?”

“He’s got American ideas about the Indians. He told me that his former superior once told a chief that the only good Indians he’d seen were dead.”

Arlene put her paw to her mouth. “I hope you didn’t repeat that to Storm Cloud.”

Her husband chuckled. “I’m not that much of a fool, honeyfur.” His ears flicked and he glanced at the windows, then at the clock. “About time for our guest, and the rain starts up again.”

“Well, you go get the parasol and wait for him. I’ll get things ready in the kitchen,” and his wife walked out of the dining room. As the door closed she could be heard talking to one of their daughters about how the dinner was progressing.

He stepped out onto the front porch just as a horse-drawn cab pulled to a halt at the curb. The canine opened the umbrella and walked to the street as the rain slackened slightly, then started to intensify. “Mr. Ambassador?” he asked as he reached the cab.

“Coming, Mr. President,” and the cab’s door opened and a tall, portly whitetail buck with gray headfur and an astounding set of bone-white mutton-chop cheekruffs smiled out at him. The buck was dressed in a formal suit complete with overcoat and top hat, and as he squeezed out of the carriage Montgomery held the umbrella higher.

Getting himself wetted in the process.

“Thank you, sir,” Marcus Stagg said as the two walked to the dry sanctuary of the front porch. “Quite the odd feeling for me, it is – having a head of state escort me. Here now! You’re getting soaked, sir. Pray, take no notice of me; I have a hat and coat.”

“Thank you, sir,” and the grateful canine moved the umbrella lower. The two gained the porch, and Montgomery closed the parasol and set it aside. “Come on in, Ambassador,” and once the two were inside the canine relieved the cervine of his top hat and overcoat.

“Thank you, Mr. President,” Stagg said, looking around nearsightedly. “My, what a lovely home you have! One can always tell a married fur, sir – a woman’s touch in the home always shines through,” he remarked with a gentle smile.

Montgomery smiled in return. Despite the buck’s costume and rank, he was certainly easier to get along with than the British envoy. “Thank you, sir.” He heard footsteps and as soon as he saw his wife approaching the doorway said, “Speaking of which, let me introduce you to my wife, Arlene. Arlene, this is Mr. Marcus Stagg, Ambassador from New Haven.”

His wife was dressed in her best dress (having thrown her apron somewhere between the kitchen and the front hall) and she dropped a curtsy as she said, “Welcome, Mr. Ambassador.”

“Thank you, Madam. I was remarking to your mate on the wonderful home you have here.” He sniffed the air, and unconsciously his tongue started moving against the inside of his left cheek. It made his cheekruff undulate like a furry caterpillar.

“We do try,” Arlene replied. “Shall we step into the parlor, Mr. Ambassador? I have a few – appetizers, I think they’re called – waiting, and my husband will pour the beer.”

At the mention of food the buck became more animated. “Splendid, Madam!” He offered his arm and the two walked into the parlor, leaving Montgomery shaking his head.

Stagg was saying, “I read the text of your new constitution in the Clarion this morning. I must say it’s certainly more comprehensive than our Charter back home.”

“We have to move with the times, sir,” Montgomery said. “And anyone can see that women need a voice in our country.” He poured out a glass of Mendenhall Lager and the buck cheerfully accepted it.

“Yes, but, er, votes for lady furs?” There was a pause as the Ambassador sampled the beer, then drank deeply and sat as Arlene gave him a small plate containing a cooked mixture of mushrooms and corn, wrapped in small edible leaves. “Whyever would they want to?”

“Well, Mr. Stagg, maybe they think they can do a better job,” and Montgomery grinned at his wife, who stuck her tongue out at him.

The response elicited another pause and several bewildered blinks. “Better job of what, precisely?”

“Why, running the government, sir. Under our constitution – if it’s ratified, of course – there’s a possibility that we could have a woman President.”

“Will you have some more beer, Mr. Ambassador?” Arlene asked, hefting the pitcher.

“Yes, I think I shall, thank you very much!” Stagg replied enthusiastically. He drank deeply and accepted another refill (and another plate of appetizers) before saying, “A female President? Oh, well, I suppose that won’t come as a shock in London, or maybe Moscow. But my dear fellow, you shall have to warn the lady fur to take great care in Rome or Paris.”

This comment caused Arlene to laugh just as they heard a knock on the door. “I’ll get it,” Montgomery said, and went to let in the other guests for the evening.

The rest of the evening was spent pleasantly, with neither Montgomery nor MacAllister saying too much about their government’s business. For his part, Stagg didn’t seem to care, so long as there was enough beer and food.

The herbivore menu had challenged Arlene a bit, but from the smile on the old buck’s face she must have succeeded.

When he finally left after draining the house’s supply of lager almost to the dregs, MacAllister turned to Montgomery and asked, “Wouldn’t it be great if they were all as blissfully ignorant as Stagg?”

“Yeah, but since they’re not – “


February 26:

“Barnes Island.”

“Four hundred twenty-two for, twenty-seven against.”

“Thank you. Basset?”

“One hundred sixty for, ninety against.”

The voting had started as the soon as the last district reported in, and now Montgomery sat at his desk as Isaac Smith called the roll and each Assembly member read out the results of the plebiscite.

One by one, until they were all accounted for, then there was a pause as the vote was tallied with the help of two other furs.

Isaac stood up at his desk, a slip of paper in his paw. “I have the results, gentlemen:

Sixty-seven thousand, five hundred sixty-three for; twenty-seven thousand, eighty-two against. By vote, the motion carries, and the Republic’s new Constitution will go into effect on March the first.”

There was applause until one member waved for silence. “When will new elections be held?” he asked.

“Good question,” Smith said. “The Chair will entertain motions as to the date of new Assembly elections. Anyone?”

“How about April Fool’s Day?” one asked, and the hall erupted in laughter.

When it died down the Moderator said, “Why not? Do I hear a second?” Someone yelled an affirmative and Smith said, “All right. Those in favor, stand up.” A majority stood.


April 4:


“Now, dear, language.”

“DAMMIT!” Gregory Montgomery shouted as his wife again tried to get his tie straight. “I should never have allowed them to put my name back on that damned ballot.”

“Look on the bright side,” Arlene soothed. “They backdated it to June the twelfth; they could have made you stay the whole five years. Then you can go back to the store.”

Her husband grumbled as she helped him on with his coat, satisfied that his tie was acceptable. “Damned imposition – I think a few of them planned to put me back at that desk!”

“Well, come on – Mr. President,” and she laughed at his expression. “We get this over with and I have a fresh apple-and-pear pie waiting for you.”

He perked up. “How’d you manage to keep the girls away from it?”

“Simple. They’re in the audience, watching their Daddy take his oath,” his wife said as she walked with him out of the Assembly building and into the bright sunlight of an April morning.

There was an invocation by the Montgomery’s pastor, and a judge stepped up. “Gregory Eugene Montgomery, are you ready to take the oath?”

The canine swallowed, then nodded resignedly. “I am.”

“Raise your right paw, then, and repeat after me – “


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