If you’re financially hurting during this 4th of July, you may not exactly be feeling like this is a great country. But it is.
- We are the fresh-start nation of the world. We’ve all heard the famous words from the poem at the base of the Statute of Liberty:
Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!
Emma Lazarus, 1883
- Much of our history is one of migration within or beyond the edges of the country in hopes of finding a better life:
- in the late 1700s, following Daniel Boone’s route through the Cumberland Gap of the Appalachian Mountains from Virginia to Kentucky
- during the first half of the 1800’s, pouring into and throughout the Ohio Valley and the Great Lakes region, and across the southeast into Texas
- from the 1840s through the 1860s, trekking 2,000 mile along the dangerous Oregon, California , and Mormon Pioneer Trails
- populating the Great Plains as encouraged by the Homestead Act of 1862 which distributed free land to those who “have resided upon or cultivated the same for the term of five years,” and the Oklahoma Land Run of 1889
- in the first half of the 20th century, 6 million African Americans participating in the “Great Migration” from the rural South to the urban North and West
- since the end of World War II, the consistent shift in population from the northeast and Midwest Rust Belt to the southern and western Sun Belt.
- The spirit of a fresh start is woven into our history and culture, as expressed in our laws, starting with our foundational law, the Constitution: “The Congress shall have Power… To establish… uniform Laws on the subject of Bankruptcies throughout the United States” According to a famous commentary on the Constitution, this clause was not in the original draft, but was added after a vote of 9 states in favor and 1 against.
- In spite of this clear Constitutional mandate, it took Congress more than 100 years– until 1898—to pass a bankruptcy law that wasn’t repealed within a few years! We’ve managed to have a comprehensive bankruptcy law in effect ever since then.
- Property exemptions—your right to keep a certain amount of your property when filing bankruptcy–is the result of a 200-year-old Constitutional battle of states’ right versus federal power. Throughout the 1800s, the country waged a political and economic war between Northeastern bankers and Western and Southern farmers and small merchants. Because of reoccurring devastating financial “panics” during that century, the farmers and merchants had good reason to worry about losing their homes and farms to out-of-state creditors. As a result, the first law exempting property from the collection of debt was adopted in 1839 in the Republic of Texas, and spread quickly through the South and the Midwest during the 1840s and 1850s. Exemption laws continue to protect our property from creditors today.
- In spite of huge efforts over the years by creditors to make bankruptcy less accessible to consumers, the Chapter 7 and Chapter 13 options do continue to provide tremendous relief for most people who need them. Although not perfect, they give you a relatively flexible, balanced, and effective way to personally take part in the centuries-old and sometimes necessary American tradition of a financial fresh start.