In a day and age when the Constitution is of little to no concern to the average American voter, I thought it would be interesting to discuss the method in which it came into existence way back in 1787. Before the constitution was even a gleam in James Madison’s eye the States were equal in their sovereignty and independence; each having all the powers of a nation to govern their own internal affairs. They had joined together in a loose confederation to fight a common foe, (the British), and maintained that confederation after the conclusion of the American Revolution.
Once peace between the former Colonies and Great Britain was established the talk by certain men was that the government established by the Articles of Confederation was weak and inefficient; and that something must be done to remedy that or else the Confederacy would be rent asunder. Therefore a convention was called and delegates chosen to propose amendments to the Articles of Confederation which would be considered by the 13 States; and if approved would give the existing government the necessary powers to handle the general affairs of the Confederation.
Yet before the delegates even arrived at the City of Brotherly Love, (Philadelphia), James Madison was already scheming to abolish the Confederation and establish a centralized form of government with far greater powers than those given the existing Congress. In a letter to George Washington, Madison presented his ideas, stating, “Having been lately led to revolve the subject which is to undergo the discussion of the Convention, and formed in my mind some outlines of a new system, I take the liberty of submitting them without apology, to your eye.”
Even before the Constitution began to take shape there were those who felt something was amiss in Philadelphia. Patrick Henry said that he ‘smelled a rat’; meaning that he felt something untoward was going on. Rhode Island opposed the whole idea of amending the Articles of Confederation and therefore didn’t even send any delegates to the convention.
But once the convention got under way, and before Madison could present his grand design for a new system of government he first imposed certain restrictions upon those in attendance. Here is an excerpt from the Dissent of the Pennsylvania Minority regarding those restrictions, “The convention sat upwards of four months. The doors were kept shut, and the members brought under the most solemn engagements of secrecy.”
Could it possibly be that Madison did not want the various State Legislatures to get wind of his plan to reduce their authority and create a more centralized form of government? The only record we have of what went on in those proceedings comes from James Madison himself; who took copious notes of what was said. Yet those notes were not released until after his death; leaving us to wonder whether he delayed their publication so that no one could question him on what actually occurred.
With that being the case, I still find his notes a fascinating read; shedding a great deal of light onto the various plans and sentiments of the delegates on a wide range of issues; from the sovereignty of the individual States to the powers which should be exercised by the central government they were in the process of creating. Yet the key point remains, did they overstep their authority by establishing an entirely new system of government? They were, after all, chosen by their State Legislatures to attend this convention for the sole purpose of coming up with proposed amendments to the Articles of Confederation. Therefore, any document they produced which was beyond that limited scope of authority could be considered as a violation of the trust and authority granted them; making the drafting of the Constitution an act of fraud and abuse of authority.
One of the interesting points, at least for me, was that there were some who felt that the whole idea of continuing on with a confederation would not serve the purposes for which they were sent to Philadelphia to achieve; that an abolishment of the confederation was the only means of effectively governing the country as a whole.
This idea did not sit well with some in attendance. For instance, William Patterson of New Jersey stated, “If the confederacy was radically wrong, let us return to our States, and obtain larger powers, not assume them of ourselves. I came here not to speak my own sentiments, but the sentiments of those who sent me. Our object is not such a Governmt. as may be best in itself, but such a one as our Constituents have authorized us to prepare, and as they will approve. If we argue the matter on the supposition that no Confederacy at present exists, it can not be denied that all the States stand on the footing of equal sovereignty. All therefore must concur before any can be bound.”
Then there was John Lansing from New York, who also stated, “He was decidedly of opinion that the power of the Convention was restrained to amendments of a federal nature, and having for their basis the Confederacy in being. The Act of Congress The tenor of the Acts of the States, the Commissions produced by the several deputations all proved this. And this limitation of the power to an amendment of the Confederacy, marked the opinion of the States, that it was unnecessary & improper to go farther. He was sure that this was the case with his State. N. York would never have concurred in sending deputies to the convention, if she had supposed the deliberations were to turn on a consolidation of the States, and a National Government.”
Of course nothing could stop the momentum once it had begun rolling towards the creation of a stronger centralized government, with forced John Lansing, and his fellow delegate Robert Yates, to leave the convention and return to New York and begin the opposition to whatever plan was unveiled by the Philadelphia Convention.
Not only did those who chose to remain in Philadelphia overstep their authority, they violated the existing law, (The Articles of Confederation) when they presented the final draft of the constitution to the States; along with their demands that it be ratified according to the procedures outlined in the constitution itself; which at this point in time was merely a proposal and held no authority or legal weight. This was a clear violation of the Articles of Confederation, which in Article 13 stated, “…the Articles of this Confederation shall be inviolably observed by every State, and the Union shall be perpetual; nor shall any alteration at any time hereafter be made in any of them; unless such alteration be agreed to in a Congress of the United States, and be afterwards confirmed by the legislatures of every State.” (My emphasis)
An argument could be made that from May 21, 1787, (the first day of the Constitutional Convention) until June 21, 1788, (the day the Constitution was officially ratified), the entire process was an illegality; the delegates having exceeded their authority, not to mention demanding that the document be accepted or rejected by means other than those proscribed by law.
If I were a gambling man I would wager that none of this matters to people today. I say that because it is my firm belief that the Constitution itself does not matter to the average voter; let alone the means by which it came into existence. Yet without the Constitution we would not have the government we do today; it is because the people chose to accept the plan proposed by the delegates to that convention that we even have a federal government that consists of an Executive, Legislative and Judicial Branch.
Does it not make sense then that if our government is to be considered legitimate that it must conform to the powers given it by that document; that any assumption of powers beyond those given violates the compact and nullifies their consent to this system of government? Am I the only one who can see that?
Our Founders, at least those that participated in the Revolution, believed “That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness.” This was enshrined in the Declaration of Independence; establishing it as a fundamental principle upon which any system of government in America would be built upon.
This consent, or the revoking thereof, was not required to be a unanimous decision by all the States; any of them at any time could revoke their consent to being government by the entity created by the Constitution if they felt it was in their best interests to do so. Madison himself said as much during the convention that produced the Constitution, “If we consider the federal union as analogous to the fundamental compact by which individuals compose one Society, and which must in its theoretic origin at least, have been the unanimous act of the component members, it can not be said that no dissolution of the compact can be effected without unanimous consent. A breach of the fundamental principles of the compact by a part of the Society would certainly absolve the other part from their obligations to it.”
Regardless of what you have been taught in school, America was not established as a democracy, where the majority, or most powerful, get to dictate the laws that the minority must obey. We are, or we were, a Republic where the rule of law decides what our government can and cannot do; where its legitimate use of coercive force can be exerted. If, at any time, that use of force, coercion, taxation, or whatever, is/was deemed to be excessive or beyond the powers specifically given government, then it basically voided the affected States requirement to remain subject to that government’s authority.
Regardless of what you have been taught about the Civil War, it was NOT about slavery. Slavery may have been an issue which led to secession, but it was not the cause of the war itself. You have to remember, in 1861 slavery was still legal in America; a constitutional amendment prohibiting it not having been ratified at that point in time. Therefore any interference in it by the Northern States could be considered as an act of hostility by the North towards the slave owning States of the South; and grounds for a severing of the ties which bound them to the Union.
But it was not merely the North’s increasing demands for the end of slavery in America which led the South with no other alternative but to seek its independence from the Union; it was the issue of unfair and excessive taxation.
Ever since the Hamiltonian scheme of using government to subsidize and expand American business and commerce the South had been bearing the brunt of the taxes required to fund this growth, in the form of tariffs imposed upon goods entering the country. Three decades BEFORE the Civil War, Senator Thomas Hart Benton said the following in a speech to his fellow Senators, “I feel for the sad changes, which have taken place in the South, during the last fifty years. Before the Revolution, it was the seat of wealth, as well as hospitality. Money, and all it commanded, abounded there. But how is it now? All this is reversed. Wealth has fled from the South, and settled in regions north of the Potomac; and this in the face of the fact, that the South, in four staples alone, has exported produce, since the Revolution, to the value of eight hundred millions, of dollars; and the North has exported comparatively nothing….Under Federal legislation, the exports of the South have been the basis of the Federal revenue….Virginia, the two Carolinas, and Georgia, may be said to defray three-fourths, of the annual expense of supporting the Federal Government; and of this great sum, annually furnished by them, nothing, or next to nothing is returned to them, in the shape of government expenditures. That expenditure flows in an opposite direction—it flows northwardly, in one uniform, uninterrupted, and perennial stream. This is the reason why wealth disappears from the South and rises up in the North…taking from the South, and returning nothing to it.”
The truth is, that for decades the South was being raped economically to fund economic growth and infrastructure improvements in the North, and they came to the realization, (just as their forefathers had), that to remain subjected to a system of government that was oppressive was not in their best interests; so they seceded…
Almost immediately the cries began regarding the loss of revenue into the federal treasury. Here is but one of many instances where the press cried about what would happen if the Southern States were allowed to secede, “… either the (federal) revenue from duties (protective tariff) must be collected in the ports of the rebel states or the ports be closed to importations from abroad… If neither of these things be done, our revenue laws are substantially repealed; the sources which supply our treasury will be dried up; we shall have no money to carry on the government; the nation will become bankrupt before the next crop of corn is ripe…” (Source: New York Evening Post, March 12, 1861)
Lincoln himself, in a letter to Horace Greeley, said that his intent was not to abolish slavery, but to maintain federal authority over all the states. How can anyone claim that this war was about slavery when the person who initiated it by raising an army of 75,000 to invade the seceded States said it WAS NOT about slavery? Do the facts not matter to people these days? (I know; it was a rhetorical question.)
Towards the end of the war for federal supremacy, (another title given the Civil War), Major General Patrick Cleburne wrote the following, “Every man should endeavor to understand the meaning of subjugation before it is too late… It means the history of this heroic struggle will be written by the enemy; that our youth will be trained by Northern schoolteachers; will learn from Northern school books their version of the war; will be impressed by the influences of history and education to regard our gallant dead as traitors, and our maimed veterans as fit objects for derision… It is said slavery is all we are fighting for, and if we give it up we give up all. Even if this were true, which we deny, slavery is not all our enemies are fighting for. It is merely the pretense to establish sectional superiority and a more centralized form of government, and to deprive us of our rights and liberties.”
You have been taught the North’s version of what that war was about, meaning you have been taught a one sided lie. Woodrow Wilson, before becoming president, would write the following about the Civil War, “It was necessary to put the South at a moral disadvantage by transforming the contest from a war waged against states fighting for their independence into a war waged against states fighting for the maintenance and extension of slavery…and the world, it might be hoped, would see it as a moral war, not a political; and the sympathy of nations would begin to run for the North, not for the South.”
How this all ties together is, when the delegates attended the convention that produced the constitution one of the key points of discussion was whether the sovereignty of the States should be maintained, and whether or not the system of government being created would consolidate the States into a single nation under a strong centralized form of government.
This was the major sticking point between Jefferson and Hamilton while both served on Washington’s Cabinet; with Jefferson taking the States rights side and Hamilton looking to expand the authority of government and use it to fund economic growth in the North.
It is also the main point addressed by Patrick Henry when he opposed ratification of the Constitution in the Virginia Ratifying Assembly, “The fate of this question and of America may depend on this: Have they said, we, the States? Have they made a proposal of a compact between states? If they had, this would be a confederation: It is otherwise most clearly a consolidated government.”
Alexander Hamilton may have simply been too impatient to see his goals achieved; yet achieved they were when Abraham Lincoln demolished the concept of government by consent. I don’t know how anyone can say that we have a government by consent when the government can use military force against those who revoke their consent to being governed by it.
When Franklin left the Constitutional Convention he was supposedly accosted by a woman who asked him what form of government they had created, a republic or a monarchy. Franklin is quoted as saying, “A Republic madam, if you can keep it.”
Well, we didn’t keep it. It became ill under the leadership of Hamilton and his Federalist cronies. It was wheezing and barely hanging onto life in the 1830’s during the Nullification Crisis, and it died on April 9, 1865 with the surrender of the Confederate Army to Ulysses S. Grant at Appomattox Courthouse.
What we have now is NOT the Republic that was established in 1789 when the Constitution was put into effect. You may cast your votes for those to fill the seats of power within a government that resembles the one established in 1789, but the purposes it serves and the power it exercises over us, and the States, is not what the States were promised when they decided to accept the plan proposed by the Philadelphia Convention.
You ask me why I don’t vote. I don’t vote because I do not recognize the authority of the current system of government that operates upon the people of these States united. I may be forced to submit to the laws they enact, but I do not give my consent to them, and I certainly won’t participate in choosing who will be my master; in that I am still a free man…although the rest of my freedoms have all but been stripped away from me by this thing we can government.
But like I said, I doubt any of this is going to make a difference in how people think, or how they act. Ignorance, apathy, and the refusal to accept the truth are potent enemies to liberty, and they are attributes that abound amongst the people living in this country.
Yet as Patrick Henry warned, “You are not to inquire how your trade may be increased, nor how you are to become a great and powerful people, but how your liberties can be secured; for liberty ought to be the direct end of your Government.”
If you were to give your government a report card based upon how well they performed that simple function, how would you grade them; and this question applies probably even more so to those who support Trump than it does to those who oppose him; how well is your president safeguarding your liberty?
Liberty, and the pursuit of it, have all but died in this country. As Judge Learned Hand said back in 1944, “Liberty lies in the hearts of men and women; when it dies there, no constitution, no law, no court can even do much to help it. While it lies there it needs no constitution, no law, no court to save it.” The pursuit of liberty has been replaced by the pursuit of comfort, security, and what can I get from the taxes paid by others.
Yet there are still those living here who understand why our system of government was originally instituted, and we still cherish liberty above all else. It is to those that I raise a glass and toast, “To us and those like us…damned few left.”