“The Constitution is the guide which I never will abandon.”
to The Boston Selectmen, July 28, 1795
In January 1979 I entered active duty in the United States Air Force. I re-enlisted twice and got out in 1992 after the Air Force offered incentive bonuses for mid-level NCO’s, (Non Commissioned Officers) to get out because they had promoted too many to the ranks of E-5 and E-6. During those 13 years I never once had anyone thank me for serving; not that I expected anyone to do so, it simply never happened. Now it seems like it happens at least once a month; someone out of the blue will ask if I’m in the military and when I say I used to be, they will say, “Thank you for your service to our country.”
While I am not unappreciative of your thanks, if you really want to thank me you can begin by learning what principles this country was founded upon. You see, aside from the uniform; the short hair; the frequent changes of station and TDY’s; and the battle readiness exercises being in the military is just like having a regular job; you get up, go to work, then come home; only one of the job requirements is that you may be asked to put your life on the line for your country.
The difference which separates those in the military and those in the civilian sector who haven’t served, is the oath of enlistment taken by all those who enter any of the branches of our armed forces; “I, _______, do solemnly swear that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same…” Aside from elected officials I don’t believe there is anyone working a job in the civilian sector whose job requires them to take an oath to support and defend the Constitution.
You see, that is something those who give thanks to those who currently serve, or have served, don’t realize; our service may have been to, or for, our country, but our oath was to support and defend the Constitution. Although there may be many who do not give it much consideration, (I know I certainly didn’t), but everything we did while in uniform must be in accordance with what the Constitution says. So if you truly want to thank me you can begin by holding yourself to those same standards when you consider what you want your government to do for you and in the choices you make for who will fill the seats of power across our nation.
Before I begin discussing what our Constitution says there is a bit of history that must precede it. Prior to 1776 and the drafting and signing of the Declaration of Independence the 13 Colonies were, just that, colonies of Great Britain. The people who inhabited these colonies may have been citizens of the individual colonies they inhabited, but they were subjects under the King of England; subject to his authority. When those 56 men affixed their signatures to the Declaration of Independence they were severing the political bonds which tied them to England; in essence the Declaration of Independence is the birth certificate of the united States of America.
If you notice I used a lowercase u when I wrote out the word united because that is the way it is written in the Declaration of Independence. My spelling and grammar checker in my word processing program tells me this is wrong; that I must change it to a capital u for it to be correct. That is not so because as written in the Declaration of Independence, “The unanimous Declaration of the thirteen united States of America…” the word united is an adjective describing the status of the thirteen States of America. When the word united is written with a capital U it becomes a pronoun describing the entity that is the entire United States of America, (or it could be describing the corporate United States of America; but that is a subject for another article maybe at a later date).
I think if you’ll scroll down to the end of the Declaration of Independence you’ll get a clearer picture of that fine point I’m trying to get across. The final paragraph states, “We, therefore, the Representatives of the united States of America, in General Congress, Assembled, appealing to the Supreme Judge of the world for the rectitude of our intentions, do, in the Name, and by Authority of the good People of these Colonies, solemnly publish and declare, That these United Colonies are, and of Right ought to be Free and Independent States…”
If you’ll pay particular attention to that last sentence you will see that it capitalizes the u in United Colonies; then goes on to say that they ought to be Free and Independent States. As colonies they were united under the Crown, but upon the conclusion of the war for independence they sought recognition, not as a United States of America, but as 13 distinct and independent sovereignties.
This was a fact recognized by King George III in the Treaty of Paris which ended the Revolutionary War, “His Brittanic Majesty acknowledges the said United States, viz., New Hampshire, Massachusetts Bay, Rhode Island and Providence Plantations, Connecticut, New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Delaware, Maryland, Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina and Georgia, to be free sovereign and Independent States.” (emphasis added)
While it may seem that I am spending an inordinate amount of time on the way the word united is written, it is important to note the distinction between united and United. You see, unlike today with English having been infused with so much slang and the constant changing of what words mean, in the era in which our Founding Documents were written words had specific meanings and grammar played a large role in interpreting what the document actually said/meant.
So in effect, at the end of the War for Independence, there were 13 distinct and separate American nations living side by side in relative peace with each other with a Congress established by the Articles of Confederation to govern over them all. Each of these nation’s or states as you know them, had their own government, established by a constitution, to govern the internal affairs of their State. The Congress, or for lack of a better phrase, federal government, had little to no say in what the States could or could not do.
Some saw this as a recipe for disaster; thirteen independent nations with their own systems of government, squabbling amongst each other. Men like James Madison and Alexander Hamilton both had their own reasons for wanting a much stronger central government to assume certain powers over the States; claiming the lack of the Congress ability to raise revenue or regulate commerce being two of the primary reasons given.
At first the States were wary of creating any form of central government which gave the government any amount of power over the States; having just fought a war to free themselves from such a power. Then when Shay’s rebellion occurred, the States begrudgingly agreed to send delegates to attend a convention to amend the Articles of Confederation in such a manner to strengthen the existing Congress so that it could deal with the problems of a new nation. This was the opening Madison had hoped for; a chance to unveil his grand scheme for a much stronger centralized government.
to be continued…