Monday, July 26, 2010

Back to the Articles

"I believe that most Americans can improve their well-being by ending the national government, that is, ending the Union," writes Michael S. Rozeff — The Breakup of the United States. "Americans might conceivably move back to a federal form of government something like that under the Articles of Confederation," he says, and then explains "how to proceed."

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22 Comments:

Blogger Mark in Spokane said...

The Articles did not work. Repeat: the Articles did not not work. One more time: the Articles did not work. Even Jefferson acknowledged that the Articles did. not. work. If the United States were to re-adopt the Articles, it would cease to exist in a meaningful sense -- it would actually soon cease to exist, period. The world that the rump states would soon find themselves in would be one not of greater liberty, but of greater tyranny, as state governments, no longer constrained by the limitations on their power by our current federal Constitution, would exercise their authority over the people within the jurisdictions without effective limit. Good luck if you are black in Mississipi, or Latino in North Carolina, or Catholic in Oregon, or a criminal defendant in any of the states. You will soon find your basic human rights up for grabs.

While the federal government can be a threat to the rights of the individual, so too can the states. In fact, as a practical matter, the states are often far more abusive of their citizens than the federal government is. Example: the Miranda warnings under 5th Amendment jurisdiction were already in place at the federal level -- put in place by J. Edgar Hoover's FBI -- years before the Supreme Court required that the states provide such warnings to people being interrogated after arrest. J. Edgar Hoover's FBI provided more protection for civil liberties than the states did!

Under the Articles, the federal restraint on the states would disappear. The paraphrase the movie The Patriot: Fear the single tyrant 2000 miles away in Washington, D.C.? Fear just as much if not more the 2000 tyrants a single mile away in your own backyard.

1:42 AM  
Blogger love the girls said...

Unfortunately the article is a utopian fantasy because when the break up comes, and it will come, it'll be because cataclysmic economic and social unrest has driven the leviathan asunder.

For my children's sake I wish it wasn't so, but those like Mark in Spokane, along with all those who profit from the current tyranny, will keep the states in bondage until the cataclysm.

And when the cataclysm comes those who warned against the breakup will think themselves justified because the results will turn out worse, even though they were the cause because they would not let go their chains when it was still possible to form civilized states of a natural proportion.

2:54 AM  
Blogger Mark in Spokane said...

First, I have no desire for a tyranny. It was precisely to prevent tyranny that the Articles were superseded by our current Constitution. I very much desire a return to a more restrained role for the federal government in our policy, greater local autonomy and a renewed politics and polity at the state level.

I do not, however, favor abolishing a functional federal government, which is what a return to the Articles would do. The Founders (including the Jeffersonian fringe) understood that without the Constitution, the United States was doomed as a nation. The Articles could not even function to properly coordinate activity among the various states -- even as a loose confederation the government under the Articles was insufficient to even get the states to work together instead of at cross purposes.

There is tyranny from too much unity, but there is also tyranny from too little. Like porridge, the trick is to get the thing just right. Our Constitution, applied in light of its original intent with a full respect for the rights of the federal government, the states, and individuals, achieves the right balance. What is needed is not revolution, but rather the slow and steady and cautious reform of our system in light of its first principles set out in our Constitution.

In short, what is needed is a conservative approach, not a radical approach masquerading as a move for the restoration of a lost golden age that never existed. We need not revolution but Burkean reform.

3:36 AM  
Blogger love the girls said...

Mark in Spokane writes : "not a radical approach masquerading as a move for the restoration of a lost golden age that never existed."

But that is what the United States is, i.e. "a radical approach."

And what you ask for is "the restoration of a lost golden age that never existed." And more, it never could exist, because it was flawed from its inception and has became what it inevitable would become.

Unnatural creatures inevitably show themselves for the monsters they are.

4:30 AM  
Blogger Mark in Spokane said...

I guess I'm not getting your point, then. I don't subscribe to the theory that the United States was "radical." I know there is an argument (propounded by historian Gordon Wood, for example) that the US was a radical innovation at the time. However, I tend to fall more into the Federalist camp on this -- Washington, Adams, Hamilton saw the Revolution and the American experiment in republicanism as being in continuity with American colonial history and English constitutionalism. This certainly was the view of Russell Kirk, who wrote a magnificent book on our current Constitution, Rights and Duties, which is must reading for any paleo-con who seeks to understand the American order.

I stand with the conservatives of the 18th century -- with Burke, with Washington, with Adams, with Hamilton, on this point. I do not embrace Jeffersonian radicalism or the attempt by the late Jacksonians, southern Democrats, and later Confederates to paint a picture of constitutional discontinuity between the early American Republic and our current Constitution and the colonial period with our attachment to England.

5:31 AM  
Anonymous Abdul Alhazred said...

"Washington, Adams, Hamilton saw the Revolution and the American experiment in republicanism as being in continuity with American colonial history and English constitutionalism."

Thank you. The Founding Fathers were not like the French radicals whose main contribution to French history was rivers of blood in the streets of Paris.

There are reasons why the English and American forms of government have proven to be far more stable and conducive to liberty and respect for individual rights than others -- or at least certainly compared to France, Spain, Italy, Latin America, and so on.

8:41 AM  
Blogger Mark in Spokane said...

Abdul,

Amen to that!

12:50 PM  
Blogger The Western Confucian said...

I agree the War for Independence was conservative, rather than radical. About whether "the Articles did not not work," it depends upon what kind of "work" you want. If you want a strong central government and foundation for future expansionist empire, the Constitution is better.

Me? I prefer this vision Ralph Ketcham gives in his introduction to his edition of The Anti-Federalist Papers and the Constitutional Convention Debates:

"Perceiving these aspirations and purposes, the anti-federalists were at once skeptical and disheartened. They saw in federalist hopes for commercial growth and international prestige only the lust of ambitious men for a 'splendid empire' where, in the time-honored way, the people would be burdened with taxes, conscriptions, and campaigns.... The anti-federalists looked to the Classical idealization of the small, pastoral republic, where virtuous, self-reliant citizens managed their own affairs and shunned the glory of empire....

"To the anti-federalists this meant retaining as much as possible the vitality of local government where rulers and ruled could see, know, and understand each other... Each 'district,' furthermore, would be a town or ward or region conscious of its own, particular identity rather than being some amorphous, arbitrary geographic entity....

"If the basic decency in human nature, most evident among ordinary people at the local level, amid family, church, school, and other nourishing institutions, could impinge directly and continuously on government, then perhaps it too might be kept virtuous and worthy of confidence... Anti-federalists saw mild, grassroots, small-scale governments in sharp contrast to the splendid edifice and overweening ambition implicit in the new Constitution. The first left citizens free to live their own lives and to cultivate the virtue (private and public) vital to republicanism while the second soon entailed taxes and drafts and offices and wars damaging to human dignity and thus fatal to self-government...

"The anti-federalists... sought a society where virtuous, hard-working, honest men and women lived simply in their own communities, enjoyed their families and their neighbors, were devoted to the common welfare, and had such churches, schools, trade associations, and local governments as they needed to sustain their values and purposes."

1:03 PM  
Blogger love the girls said...

Mark in Spokane writes : "I tend to fall more into the Federalist camp on this -- Washington, Adams, Hamilton saw the Revolution and the American experiment in republicanism as being in continuity with American colonial history and English constitutionalism."

If this is what occurred, you're correct, it would not have been radical. But if the States were fully sovereign, which they were, then, the concept of fully sovereign States forming a pact like that which occurred with the Constitution, would have been radical.

And the whiskey rebellion shows us that the fallacy of that radical design was immediate, eventually leading to war of northern aggression to were the States were fully consolidated by the war into into a single whole thus doing away with the entire failed radical approach to government.

Of course, a sovereign State the size of the US is unnatural and likewise doomed. And its failure will inevitably occur because it is unnatural.

6:30 PM  
Blogger The Western Confucian said...

l.t.g., I'm with you that "if the States were fully sovereign, which they were, then, the concept of fully sovereign States forming a pact like that which occurred with the Constitution, would have been radical."

Patrick Deneen wrote that "if we revisit the debates at the time that the nation was considering adoption of the Constitution, we discover that the conservatives opposed adoption of the Constitution, while it was the 'liberals' who urged its ratification" — The Anti-Federalists Were the Conservatives.

7:49 PM  
Blogger Mark in Spokane said...

First, instead of replicating his argument entirely, I am simply going to refer folks to Kirk's book Right and Duties. Kirk demonstrates conclusively that the Constitution was a conservative improvement over the Articles, that the Constitution is an essentially conservative document, and that the Federalist approach was the conservative approach to constitutional reform and polity. As with most things, reading Kirk is an education unto itself.

Another point, while anti-federalist theory postulated the full sovereignty of the States, it is not clear that the States themselves behaved that way. The Union predates both the Constitution and the Articles. The Continental Congress met several times prior to the formal declaration of independence. Even as ardent an anti-federalist as Patrick Henry thought of himself as an American -- as belonging to a single nation. While there was plenty of "my country is Virginia" or "my country is Pennsylvania" rhetoric in the late colonial period, there is also a lot of sentiment that saw the various colonies as a single nation. No less a Jeffersonian disciple than James Madison, for example, supported a central government with sweeping powers that would have made strongly centralizing Federalists (like Alexander Hamilton) blush.

5:39 AM  
Blogger Mark in Spokane said...

Third (continued from my last comment), one of the aspects of a sovereign entity is that it can voluntarily provide some of its sovereignty to another body. Both the Articles and the Constitution are predicated on that notion. The Articles, for example, were quite explicit that States could not withdraw from the Union at all (the Union was expressly stated to be "perpetual") while the current Constitution only prohibits unilateral succession (like that attempted by the illegal Confederate state governments during the Civil War). In either case, States within the Union have surrendered a chunk of their sovereignty. With the Articles, they surrendered completely their sovereign right to leave the Union unilaterally. With the Constitution, some of that sovereignty (a negotiated and mutually consented upon withdrawal from the Union) was restored (but not all of the sovereign right of succession -- the States do not have a unilateral right to leave the Union).

As for "who were the real conservatives," look at the rhetoric of the time for guidance (which is what Kirk did). The Federalist always were portrayed as the party of continuity with England, as the party that sought to preserve established institutions and polities and approaches. The anti-federalists and later the Jeffersonian Republicans portrayed themselves as the revolutionaries, as the ones seeking to establish a new order, as the innovators and the ones who were carrying the banner of liberty forward, even at the expense of destroying the past. Jefferson himself is particularly clear on this point (for more on this, read Connor Cruise O'Brien's book of Jefferson's embrace of the French Revolution, The Long Affair).

As for "empire building," do not forget that it was the Jeffersonian Republicans who got the US involved in its first overseas adventure -- the war against the Barbary Corsairs. And it was the Jeffersonian Republicans lead by Madison who got us involved in the completely disastrous War of 1812. And it was Jefferson who embraced the principle of Manifest Destiny which lead not only to the Louisiana Purchase but also (eventually) the Mexican-American War -- a war that was enthusiastically embraced by the Democratic Party (the descendants of the Jeffersonian Republicans) and opposed by the Whig Party (the descendants of the Federalists) -- and one Whig congressman in particular who denounced the war, Abraham Lincoln.

And the Jeffersonians had visions of expanding America's "empire" into the Carribean and Latin America, all in the hopes of extending the institution of slavery and embedding it permanently into the fabric of our Republic. So, when denouncing "empire," keep in mind who set the groundwork for that. It was the slaveocracy of the South, anti-federalists and the later Jeffersonians, who set that stage

5:40 AM  
Blogger Mark in Spokane said...

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5:41 AM  
Blogger Mark in Spokane said...

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5:41 AM  
Blogger The Western Confucian said...

Of course, both sides in constitutional debate would be considered paleoconservatives today.

The Anti-Federalists are saddled by the negative prefix, and recognized it at the time, as they were more federalist than the Federalists. Also, they are saddled by the term Jeffersonian, as Jefferson was not very Jeffersonian once in office.

I'd say the movement was dead by the time the Whiskey Rebellion was crushed, or even earlier at the adoption of the Constitution, or at the latest with the election of Jefferson, who morphed in office. Thus, the term "Anti-Federalist" should only be applied to the thought of those who opposed the adoption of the constitution. (Jefferson was in France at the time, so was not part of the movement.)

8:40 AM  
Blogger Mark in Spokane said...

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2:04 PM  
Blogger Mark in Spokane said...

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2:06 PM  
Blogger Mark in Spokane said...

First, great point that the Federalists of today have very little in common with either the progressives of the 19th century or the liberals of the modern era. The "American system" developed by the Federalists and the National Republicans (under John Quincy Adams) has very little in common with the rise of big government under progressives like TR and Wilson and liberals like Hoover, FDR and their successors in both parties.

Second, the anti-federalists were overwhelmingly from the South, and as such they tended to embrace the sectional interests of their part of the country. As such, they almost always were stalwart defenders of the slaveocracy, and sought the extension of slavery across the continent. Remember, prior to the adoption of the Northwest Ordinance, the individual states themselves made claims on the trans-Applachian parts of North America. Virginia at one time claimed territory that stretched all the way to the Mississipi River and into Ohio country. All of that was to be slave territory unless the federal government moved to block the states' expansion beyond the Applachians. The Confederation Congress did just that, in one of its last major actions. But because it was so weak, it took additional steps by the federal Congress under the U.S. Constitution to solidify and enforce the provisions of the Northwest Ordinance.

Do not underestimate the influence of the slaveocracy on the anti-federalists. While there rhetoric may have been about "liberty" and "little republics," their actual practice was to embrace tyranny -- the tyranny of slavery.

2:13 PM  
Blogger The Western Confucian said...

Just a quick point before I have to go: my home state, New York, was also a bastion of Anti-Federalism, at least the upstate parts from which I hail.

4:36 PM  
Blogger Mark in Spokane said...

There were anti-federalists in the North, without question. And there were also northerners who embraced the doctrine of unilateral succession (the Hartford Convention, for example). But where did the strength for both movements really dwell? In the South.

And why? Because both sought to protect slavery from possible federal elimination. This is why the tariff issue was so huge in the South prior to the Civil War. High tariffs (supported by the Whigs and later the Republican Party) endangered the viability of the slave-based economy in the South.

12:52 AM  
Blogger The Western Confucian said...

I'm preparing a response to this fascinating discussion in the form of a post. Take a look at the map and chart from this site -- Ratification of the Constitution (1786-1790).

As I will say in my post, they "indicate that the Upstate-Downstate rivalry predate the Union and that Upstate New York was perhaps the bastion of Anti-Federalism."

I hope to take the discussion back, if I am able to do so, a century earlier, to this brief period of Catholic history on our continent -- Jacobite New York (1682-1688).

1:05 AM  
Blogger Mark in Spokane said...

Sounds fascinating. I will do a little digging on this as well. That would be a post well worth reading.

7:25 AM  

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