Did the Constitution Betray the Revolution?

Constitution Series 1787-1987


The Constitution as counterrevolution: A tribute to the Anti-Federalists.
Jeffrey Rogers Hummel

The standard American myth celebrates the Constitution as the triumphant culmination of the American Revolution. This is largely untrue and misleading.

The alleged "critical period" between the end of the Revolution and the Constitution's adoption was not dominated by economic depression, political turmoil, and international peril, jeopardizing the independent survival of the American experiment in liberty. Those who assembled at the Philadelphia Convention to write a new Constitution were not disinterested demigods, nor did they intend to establish a federal system of divided government powers. The Constitution did not have the support of most Americans. And finally, rather than representing the culmination of the previous Revolution, the Constitution represented a reactionary counterrevolution against its central principles.

The American Revolution, like all great social upheavals, was brought off by a disparate coalition of competing viewpoints and conflicting interests. At one end of the Revolutionary coalition stood the American radicals—men such as Samuel Adams, Patrick Henry, Thomas Paine, Richard Henry Lee, and Thomas Jefferson.

Although by no means in unanimous agreement, the radicals objected to excessive state power in general and not simply to British rule in particular. Spearheading the Revolution's opening stages, they were responsible for the truly revolutionary alterations in the internal status quo: the abolition of slavery in the northern states, the separation of church and state in the southern states, the rooting out of remaining feudal privileges everywhere, and the adoption of new, republican state constitutions containing written bills of rights that severely hemmed in government power.

At the other end of the Revolutionary coalition were the American nationalists—an array of mercantile, creditor, and landed interests. The nationalists went along with independence but opposed the Revolution's libertarian thrust. They sought a strong American state with the hierarchical features of the 18th-century British state, only without the British.

The Revolution started out as a struggle against taxation. What passed among the newly independent American states for a central government, the Second Continental Congress, did not have access even to this usual state power. For revenue, Congress initially had to rely on requisitions from the state governments, which could not get away with very extensive taxation themselves.

Yet the military strategy adopted by Congress required large expenditures. Military conservatives such as George Washington induced Congress to focus the Revolutionary effort on a costly conventional force, the Continental Army, rather than the militias. By the 1781 Yorktown campaign, popular disgust at the army's continuing hand-to-mouth existence gave the nationalists uncontested control of Congress. They proceeded to implement a financial program that gave the central government much more power.

Already, the Revolution had taken an important step in this direction with the drafting of the Articles of Confederation, a written constitution. Here we encounter the first distortion in America's constitutional myth. The Articles left Congress not too weak, as defenders of the Constitution claim, but too strong: the Articles made the central government permanent; and an influential nationalist faction—land speculators—delayed ratification until Congress was given direct jurisdiction over the states' western lands. The Articles' only saving grace was that they failed to give Congress any authority to collect taxes or regulate trade.

At the time of the Articles' adoption, the most powerful nationalist in Congress was Robert Morris, a wealthy Philadelphia merchant. Congress appointed him head of the newly created Department of Finance, from which post he became a virtual financial dictator. The central government's functions were concentrated within his and other new executive departments, which Morris filled with his allies and partners.

The linchpin of Morris's financial system was the power of taxation. Only thus could the nationalists' desired centralization of power be consummated. An amendment to the Articles granting Congress the power to impose an import duty looked in 1782 like it would receive the required unanimous approval of the states, but tiny Rhode Island held out.

Morris and the nationalists made a last-ditch effort in March 1783 to coerce the states with the Continental Army, then encamped at Newburgh, New York. They encouraged a plot among Washington's officers, and a military coup loomed on the horizon. The radical suspicion of standing armies stood fully vindicated, for never has the United States been closer to succumbing to an American Caesar. At this point, however, Washington, although firmly endorsing nationalist goals, balked. His personal intervention caused the Newburgh conspiracy to disband.

Peace unraveled Morris's financial and military program. As the war wound down, the financial pressure on the national government, and the apparent need to grant taxing power to Congress, diminished. The nationalists lost control of Congress in late 1783, and Morris resigned his post after an incriminating investigation into his financial machinations. Congress wisely discharged most of what was left of the Continental Army.

Unfortunately, the war-induced nationalization of the Northwest lands had shifted the burden of policing that territory from the states to a national force. So Congress authorized a small frontier constabulary to be raised from the state militias for fixed periods. (The still-unceded Southwest territory got along fine without congressional attention.) Eastern land speculators, however, found the Northwest force insufficient to protect their vast claims from Indians, squatters, and foreign intrigue. They looked forward instead to a strong standing army.

In this desire, they were joined by many of the Continental Army's former officers. Chastened but not repentant after the Newburgh conspiracy, they had organized a hereditary fraternal association, the Society of the Cincinnati. Through this new nationalist pressure group, they campaigned for a military capable of quelling domestic disturbances and rivaling European armies.

Financially, one of the nationalists' most potent political weapons was the enduring Revolutionary war debt. Once Congress repudiated the paper money it had issued during the war, there should have been no obstacle to repudiating the debt as well. After all, the states, at Congress's behest, had forced paper money upon the people with price controls and legal-tender laws. Moreover, a big chunk of the $35 million debt came from Congress's profligate promise of five years' pay to army officers. Still worse, $11 million resulted from loans that had generally been made with depreciated currency. This was an overestimate by as much as 75 percent of their real specie worth and thus a generous subsidy to creditors. From the standpoint of equity, the paper-money claims had clear priority over the debt.

The prospect of the states themselves paying off the war debt was more likely than repudiation. When Morris took his post, the state governments had already retired, by taxation, significant parts of the national debt. The nationalists, however, vigorously opposed state assumption, for it would diminish the prestige of the central government. Morris effectively forestalled repudiation and state assumption. The lingering national debt provided both a continuing rationale for national taxation and another special interest supporting it.

An equally persuasive rationale for a more powerful central government was trade regulation. Indeed, subsequent accounts have blown this rationale up into an utterly fanciful picture of competing trade barriers between the various states disrupting the American economy. The two factual instances on which this overblown picture is largely based involve New York and Connecticut, which taxed foreign goods entering from neighboring states—an economically insignificant restriction. The prevailing rule prior to the Constitution was complete free trade among the states.

If a general reduction in trade restrictions was what the nationalists were really after, this would hardly have justified a central government with the power to tax. In reality, American merchants were after uniform navigation laws, because they wanted some coercive means of monopolizing the American carrying trade. And American artisans wanted uniform protective tariffs to stop their customers from buying the cheap foreign goods flooding American markets at the end of the war. The unique economic fortunes of these two groups and their quest for special privileges contributed much to the exaggerated impression of postwar depression.

Despite the coalescing of these various war-engendered interests, all their direct efforts to strengthen the Articles of Confederation proved futile. Radicals effectively blocked a second proposed taxing amendment and a proposal to give Congress authority to regulate trade. Congress defaulted on interest payments for the domestic debt in 1782 and for the foreign debt in 1784. At times, Congress could not even carry on business for lack of a quorum.

Consequently, Alexander Hamilton and James Madison, assuming leadership of the nationalists, made an end run around the Articles and called for a special convention to meet in Philadelphia. Assisting them was a growing antidemocratic mood throughout the country. Many Tories had returned to political life, and although they had bitterly opposed independence, they still shared the political vision of the nationalists. An even greater cause of disillusionment with democracy was the outbreak of Shays' Rebellion in western Massachusetts in 1787.

Shays' Rebellion, according to the nationalist rendition, was an egalitarian assault on the property rights of creditors. This rendition has some factual basis, but not much, for it ignores the decisive role of a contemporaneous fiscal crisis at the state level. The state governments had acquired substantial war debts of their own. This required a tax burden undreamed of before the war. Seven states, beginning in 1785, issued new rounds of paper money, which either substituted for taxes directly or, when loaned by the states to landowners, offered something other than scarce specie for paying taxes.

Massachusetts, however, was not one of the states issuing paper money—or giving any other kind of taxpayer relief. Moreover, its taxes fell inequitably on the state's agrarian sector. The Revolutionary historian Merrill Jensen estimates that at least a third of the average Massachusetts farmer's monetary income went to taxes after 1780. Here at last we find a substantial basis for the tale of a "critical period" depression. With postwar deflation, it was a fortunate farmer who could obtain enough specie to pay both his taxes and his debts. Shays' Rebellion was in essence a tax revolt.

The incident alarmed America's governing classes. Prior to the rebellion's outbreak, only Virginia, Pennsylvania, and New Jersey had chosen delegates to the Philadelphia Convention. Subsequently, every state except Rhode Island sent delegates, and Congress even endorsed the convention.

Its official function was to propose revisions to the Articles. But the delegates, meeting in secret, quickly decided to draft a totally new document. Of the 55 delegates, only 8 had signed the Declaration of Independence. Most of the leading radicals, including Sam Adams, Henry, Paine, Lee, and Jefferson, were absent. In contrast, 21 delegates belonged to the militarist Society of the Cincinnati. Overall, the convention was dominated by the array of nationalist interests that the prior war had brought together: land speculators, ex-army officers, public creditors, and privileged merchants.

These interests wanted to establish a consolidated government under which the states would be subordinate, like counties and local governments within the states. But as with the Revolution itself, the Constitution eventually turned into the hybrid product of a disparate coalition. The nationalist dream of replacing the Articles' guarantee of full state sovereignty with a fully sovereign national government slowly eroded. Some of this erosion occurred just as America's constitutional myth has it, through the compromises worked out within the Philadelphia Convention. But most occurred outside the convention, through a subtle process of reinterpretation, when the nationalists were compelled to defend their completed handiwork to the public.

Most Americans opposed a sovereign national government. The nationalists thus pulled off a significant linguistic coup by successfully seizing for themselves the label "Federalist." They had designed the Constitution to replace the federal system of government under the Articles of Confederation with a national system. The true defenders of federalism were therefore the Constitution's opponents. One disgruntled "Anti-Federalist," Elbridge Gerry, suggested that because one group was for ratifying while one was against, "their names ought not to have been distinguished by Federalists and Anti-Federalists, but Rats and Anti-Rats."

The Anti-Federalists weakened their own case by admitting the need for some additional national power in order to make the central government independent of the state governments. This permitted the Federalists/nationalists to deny vigorously but disingenuously that the Constitution would subordinate the states. Instead, it would create a delicate balance of powers between the national and state governments, each sovereign within its own realm. In other words, the much-touted federalism of the U.S. system was in no way an intended consequence of the Philadelphia Convention. It was an unintended and insincere concession that the Anti-Federalists wrenched from the Federalists during the ratification struggle.

This Federalist equivocation over the powers granted the national government spilled over into the most controversial issue of the ratification struggle—the Constitution's omission of a bill of rights. The Federalists defended this omission with the claim that the Constitution provided a government possessing only specifically enumerated powers. As a result, argued Hamilton in The Federalist No. 84, a bill of rights would be positively harmful. "They would contain various exceptions to powers which are not granted," implying that the national government could do anything not specifically prohibited.

The trouble with this argument was that it contradicted a second Federalist argument based on the explicit words of the Constitution. In the very same Federalist paper, Hamilton pointed out that the Constitution already contained a truncated bill of rights scattered throughout its clauses. There was a prohibition against ex post facto laws and bills of attainder, a ban on religious tests for holding office, guarantees of habeas corpus and jury trials in criminal cases, etc.

The Federalists were able to ram the Constitution through the first five state conventions in rapid succession. But by the time the Constitution was under consideration in the key states of Massachusetts, Virginia, and New York, they were in trouble. To secure ratification, they had to promise to amend the Constitution. Overall, five states coupled their ratifications with proposed amendments, while in two others, the minority issued amendments. The North Carolina convention refused to ratify at all without a bill of rights similar to the one it drew up, and Rhode Island would have nothing whatsoever to do with the Constitution.

The proposed amendments often went far beyond a simple bill of rights. In particular, a curb on the national government's taxation power found unanimous support. The near-addition of a taxing power to the Articles of Confederation indicates that even many Anti-Federalists had been willing to permit the central government to collect import duties. They insisted that all internal taxes, however, be at the discretion of the state governments.

Unable to defeat the Constitution in the ratifying process, the Anti-Federalists hoped to enact these drastic amendments, stripping the central government of many of its new powers, through a convention to be called by two-thirds of the states. Thus they pinned their hopes on a second constitutional convention that would undo the work of the first. New York, Virginia, North Carolina, and Rhode Island all promptly called for such a convention. However, because North Carolina and Rhode Island had not ratified the Constitution, their endorsements did not count toward the requisite total. Having made the tactical decision to work within the legal framework of the new Constitution, the Anti-Federalists discovered that the legitimacy they had conferred on the new government worked against them.

At the other end of the political spectrum, many ardent Federalists were quite prepared to renege on their solemn promises to amend the Constitution now that their new national government was in operation. Only the politically astute Madison seemed to realize that the popular demand for a bill of rights must be fulfilled. While privately complaining about "the nauseous project of amendments," Madison culled through the more than 200 state proposals, eliminating any that, in his words, might "endanger the beauty of the Government." He successfully steered the resulting Bill of Rights through Congress. Although these widely publicized amendments would not be ratified for several years, they mollified many opponents of the new government.

Most of the Bill of Rights restricted the national government's authority over its subjects. Only one part dealt with the relationship between the states and central government: the Tenth Amendment. A similar clause had been part of the Articles, and every state ratifying convention that proposed amendments to the Constitution had requested just such a change. But Madison worded the amendment skillfully, to calm opponents of the Constitution without detracting one iota from the power of the national government. Whereas the Articles had guaranteed states' "sovereignty, freedom and independence," the Tenth Amendment only "reserved" to the states or people all the powers not "delegated to the United States by the Constitution." Obviously, how much the amendment furthered states' rights depended on how much power the Constitution granted to the national government in the first place.

Meanwhile, the Federalists took quick advantage of the Constitution's unequivocal establishment of an independent executive and a central taxing authority. Washington was elected president, and he appointed Hamilton Treasury secretary. Hamilton resurrected Morris's entire financial program. Its central feature was still the national debt. The interest alone accounted for almost half of the new government's expenditures, which the Federalists financed by imposing a tariff and a variety of internal taxes.

Any doubts about the national government's grandeur were dramatically dispelled in 1794, when it smashed the Whiskey Tax Rebellion in western Pennsylvania. In the long run, however, the whiskey tax and other excises proved to be the Federalists' undoing. On the basis of popular opposition to these internal taxes, Jefferson was able to organize a new political party promoting radical republicanism. Joining him was Madison, who switched sides from the Federalists to the Republicans.

The Republicans' decade-long struggle against the Federalists culminated in Jefferson's election as president in 1800, and they proceeded to dismantle much of the Federalist state. In particular, they repealed all internal taxes. From then until the Civil War (except for a brief moment during the subsequent War of 1812), the national government's sole sources of revenue would remain import duties and the sale of public lands.

In short, the Anti-Federalists lost on the ratification question, but they won the question of how the Constitution would operate in practice. The Tenth Amendment symbolized this victory. True, on a purely literal level it did nothing to restrain the national government. But on a deeper, symbolic level, it indicated that the Constitution had not ushered in a consolidated national system of government but a truly federal system. To exaggerate only slightly, the Federalists got their Constitution, but the Anti-Federalists determined how it would be interpreted.

Of course, even an Anti-Federalist interpretation of the Constitution left a central government that was unnecessarily strong. But if, in this bicentennial year, Americans wish to celebrate a document that once limited the power of the state, they should not pay tribute to the so-called Federalists who wrote the document in order to undermine such limitations. They instead should pay tribute to the Anti-Federalist opponents of the Constitution. To the extent that the Constitution ever actually limited the national government, we have only them to thank.

Jeffrey Rogers Hummel is a free-lance writer and the author of tapescripts for Audio Classics bicentennial tapes (Knowledge Products).

Making liberty work: The Constitution as resolution of revolutionary debates.
William Marina

The interpretation of the constitutional movement as an elitist plot to push through a national government was first voiced by some of its opponents and is still with us today. A corollary of that view is the belief that the Constitution represented a betrayal of the Revolutionary principles of 1776.

Any answer to this question must begin with an examination of just what the Revolutionary principles of 1776 were. The great document of that year was, of course, the Declaration of Independence. That statement, however, was hardly a blueprint for government. Placed at the beginning of a myriad of reasons for separation from Great Britain was the famous passage about self-evident truths such as "that all men are created equal" and that their Creator endowed them with "certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness." Just what this would mean about the government of this new nation was not self-evident at all.

Despite the belief of some contemporary neoconservatives, among them Irving Kristol, that the American Revolution was different from others, by their very nature revolutions are fought by coalitions, whose elements have a variety of views about the nature of the good society. Sometimes all that unites the revolutionaries is their opposition to the old regime.

Americans of that generation no doubt overwhelmingly agreed with Jefferson about "life" and "liberty," but we have been contending ever since about the meaning of "created equal." And as the historian Merrill Jensen has observed, Jefferson "abandoned the traditional formula that the purpose of government was the protection of life, liberty, and property," substituting instead "the pursuit of happiness," a much less controversial point. Further, he notes, Jefferson "did not use the word democracy, but others did so."

One might add that he did not use republican either, which was certainly more consistent with the opposition tradition he represented than was democracy. Quite apart from the fact that his purpose was to declare independence, not to discuss forms of government, including terms such as property would have been divisive to the coalition he was addressing.

Writing in the 1830s, Alexis de Tocqueville observed that equality was the motivating principle of human action in America and would soon extend itself throughout the world. The Declaration of Independence was evidence of its importance in the American Revolution, and it has been the engine of revolutions throughout history. The recurring question in all such revolutions for social change, however, has been whose definition of equality within the coalition would prevail.

Thus, for example, the Peasants' Revolt in the late 14th century began as a rather bourgeois protest in the towns of the eastern British nation against increased taxes and wage and price controls, which had been Richard II's response to the labor shortage and rising wages resulting from the Black Death. The elimination of a few tax collectors was essentially a defense of property rights, hardly a bloodbath to eliminate all social distinctions. It might have been successful if the townspeople had had any real supply of weapons. As that initial protest receded, radical priests roused the peasants in the countryside with a much more egalitarian program, which was not supported by the towns, and the movement was brutally suppressed by the government.

These same differences about what constitutes equality and the nature of the "good society" were evident in the English Revolution almost three centuries later. The revolutionary coalition ranged from conservatives on the right, who hoped to emerge as leaders in a Protestant revolution that would maintain many of the inequalities of the old order; through those libertarian-equalitarians of the middle, curiously described as Levellers because they wished to eliminate social and legal distinctions based on birth; to the religious, communist, egalitarian Diggers and Jesus-men on the extreme left.

Oliver Cromwell first compromised with the right wing of the coalition, and after his death further compromises resulted in a return of the monarchy. Thus was frustrated not only the egalitarianism of the smaller groups on the left, but also the equalitarian views of the much larger group of revolutionaries in the center.

Three decades after Cromwell's death, the "Glorious Revolution" of 1688 affirmed the ultimate power of Parliament over the king and heralded an almost century-long struggle between "court" and "country," mirrored by the development of political parties, Tory against Whig. Then as now, two parties were an awkward dichotomy within which to express the variety of contending interests—agrarian and mercantile, king and Parliament, established religion and proponents of greater religious freedom, to name a few. John Trenchard and Thomas Gordon's Cato's Letters, later so popular in America, opposed the political party jobbery and corruption so characteristic of this period and set the tone for groups opposing royal prerogatives in the emerging colonies.

English preoccupation with revolution in the 17th century, and later a long period of "salutary neglect," allowed the Americans an unusual degree of economic and political growth and participation compared to the colonies of other nations. Under such circumstances, a large part of the American population came to perceive their rights as Englishmen in terms of a liberal Whig worldview. As recent writers such as J.G.A. Pocock have emphasized, this worldview went back at least as far as Machiavelli and Florentine republicanism.

Indicative of some of the unresolved tensions in this outlook was an agrarian orientation manifested in Jefferson and later Jeffersonian leaders. The extreme wing spoke of "the Agrarian law," an egalitarian commitment to level society by a radical program of land redistribution in the belief that republican virtue could not exist in an environment characterized by extreme differences between the rich and the poor. While more moderate republicans distrusted such "court" jobbery as the financial manipulation inherent in the creation of the credit structure of the Bank of England, the agrarians, often even moderates such as Jefferson, distrusted not only banking but also commerce and industry.

For the better part of a century, the American colonials disputed the unresolved equalitarian questions of the English Revolution. The meetings of the Revolutionary Congress took place within the context of a continuing debate in America, focused around greater popular representation for both western settlements and emerging urban groups in an increasingly stratified society.

One of the major differences was with respect to property. While some radicals argued for popular political participation regardless of property qualifications, others suggested that the best way to achieve this was to distribute property to those who lacked it. More moderate leaders such as John Adams argued for a balanced republican government that would reflect the several orders of society.

Merrill Jensen, in The American Revolution Within America, is quite right that "serious debate over a central government began at the First Continental Congress in 1774." The exodus of the Loyalists weakened the elements seeking a "balanced" constitution, and, Jensen notes, "to assume, as has been done, that Americans were a united people in 1776 and dedicated to the establishment of a single form of republican government, is an assumption that is unjustified by the evidence."

Further, he observes, a writer such as Gordon Wood, in The Creation of the American Republic, 1776–1789, "emphasizes the unity among Americans and virtually ignores the sharp debates in 1775 and 1776 over the nature of the constitutions to be created, and the concern of practical politicians with such matters as suffrage, representation, local self-government, and the balance of power between those elected to office and the voters who elected them. "

The Revolutionary movement was not monolithic. As Thomas Paine's Common Sense was pushing independence early in 1776, John Adams's Thoughts on Government was a statement of the balanced-government position. The draft for the Articles of Confederation, authored by John Dickinson, gave wide-ranging powers to the Congress. The ensuing discussion, Jensen notes, focused on "issues that Americans continued to debate for decades thereafter, most notably in the [Constitutional] Convention of 1787," and seven of the members of that Congress attended the later meeting. The Congress deadlocked on the draft of the Articles in the summer of 1776, although it did pass a Declaration, whose wording sought to maximize agreement within the Revolutionary coalition.

In an unstable military situation, Congress had to flee ahead of the British army and did not complete the Articles of Confederation until November of 1777. The Articles were then sent to the state legislatures for ratification. Thomas Burke had altered the Dickinson draft by inserting what became Article Two: "Each state retains its sovereignty, freedom and independence, and every power, jurisdiction, and right, which is not by this confederation expressly delegated to the United States, in Congress assembled [emphasis added]. "

Ten years later an attempt was made to add that phrase to what became the Tenth Amendment to the Constitution, but it was defeated. The debate over that small phrase, however, demonstrated two distinctly different conceptions of the proper relationship between the central government and the state governments.

The Articles were not ratified until early in 1781, only after the large states had agreed to renounce their claims to vast tracts of land in the West. Under the exigencies of war, both the Declaration as a philosophy and the Articles as an instrument of government represented minimal positions reflecting the maximum agreement possible in a coalition whose first task was to win the military struggle. Given the deep differences about the nature of government, the debate had only been postponed until a more opportune time.

During 1780, in the darkest days of the war, with the nation ravaged by inflationary paper money, some of the more extreme nationalists in the Congress and the army sought a central government verging on a military dictatorship. George Washington's unwillingness to accept any such scheme, as well as subsequent American military successes and the signing of a peace treaty, prevented it. Despite the failure of such extremists, more moderate advocates of balanced government wanted to reopen the debate, while even some advocates of the Articles began to realize the need for revision.

There is not space here to detail the many ways in which the military struggle, the new state constitutions, and the subsequent development of state governments changed the nature of American society during and after the war.

The number of Loyalists who fled, most never to return, was a larger percentage of the total population than in almost any of the allegedly more radical modern revolutions. As Forrest McDonald pointed out in a paper some years ago, much of the abandoned Loyalist property was confiscated by the "new" men entering government and the military as avenues for advancement.

Moreover, the turnover of elites in the American polity was far and away greater than in any of the modern revolutions of this century. A study of the Russian Revolution, for example, found that 10 years after the event, the elite turnover was only 50 percent. In the American case, however, only slightly more than 20 percent survived the transition to the new order: the political turnover averaged 77 percent, ranging from 50 percent in some states to 100 percent in others.

In this sense, the American Revolution was perhaps the most radical revolution for which we have any real data. The evidence assembled by James K. Martin in Men in Rebellion: Higher Government Leaders and the Coming of the American Revolution, contrasts starkly with claims by neoconservatives about the conservative and consensus nature of the Revolution.

The importance of this rise of new men was touched on by Adam Smith in The Wealth of Nations, published as the "colonial problem" was heating up. In 1778, while reassessing policy, the British government asked many of its intellectuals what ought to be done about the rebellious colonies. In a letter discovered only in the 1930s, Smith replied that he saw little hope for reconciliation, for the "leading men of America, we may believe, wish to continue to be the principal people in their own country." The importance of this phenomenon extended throughout all of the 13 colonies, down to the local as well as the national level, and it constituted the single most important factor in the development of Revolutionary society.

We know, for example, that given the lack of literacy, Paine's Common Sense had to be read to groups of American soldiers. Wood's Creation of the American Republic describes how some of these illiterates were elected to office in the midst of these social changes and had to have bills read to them before they could vote!

All of this could not but raise questions in the minds of men who believed in the liberal, republican, Whig worldview. The "virtue" that they believed could triumph over "corruption" was based on the concept of the gentlemen and an educated yeomanry, not illiterates seeking to use government to secure a place. (A vivid description of this factional fight is found in James Madison's famous Federalist No. 10, which was perhaps more historical than philosophical.)

This is not to deny that there were some major accomplishments under the Articles, especially considering the war and the subsequent economic recession. It is simply a mistake, however, to suggest that the absence of a stronger central government meant less government. The new men in the state legislatures were legislating with a vengeance! The actions in the states raised great concern among advocates of balanced government. Inflationary paper money, restrictions on trade, and lack of protection for contracts were all distinctly unlibertarian products of legislatures during this period.

To this should be added meddling by foreign governments and the seeming inability of other nations to take the American government seriously. The internal discontent evidenced by Shays' Rebellion and other lesser disturbances were indicative of the social dislocation of this era. The alternatives were not, as we perceive from a perspective of 200 years, either the Articles, perhaps with some amendments, or the eventual Constitution. Some still thought monarchy or a dictatorship might be necessary. In 1786, for example, no less than the president of the Congress, Nathaniel Gorham, was involved in negotiations with Baron von Steuben to invite Prince Henry of Prussia, the brother of Frederick the Great, to rule in America.

The alternatives facing Americans were described quite accurately by Pennsylvania's James Wilson at the Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia: "At this period America has it in her power to adopt either of the following modes of government: She may dissolve the individual sovereignty of the States, and become one consolidated empire; she may be divided into thirteen separate, independent and unconnected commonwealths; she may be erected into two or more confederacies; or, lastly, she may become one comprehensive Federal Republic."

The Constitution and the Bill of Rights, like the Declaration of Independence or Articles of Confederation, consisted of a number of compromises. At least these could be debated and decided upon without the exigencies of war and the need to first develop state constitutions.

Writers as different as Merrill Jensen, an advocate of the Articles with perhaps the need for revision, and Herbert Aptheker, a Marxist who favors the Constitution, agree that the constitutional movement was an effort to protect property in its various forms—land, money, contracts—from the majoritarian state legislatures that were then dominant. In addition, as Aptheker notes, the Constitution guaranteed much greater freedom of religion than the states, many of which kept religious qualifications well into the 19th century.

For all its failures, the Constitution remains after 200 years one of the great protectors of property rights in human history. As such, it was not a betrayal of the principles of 1776 as much as an effort to reopen the debate of that period, freed of the pressure of war. It represented a compromise reflecting one version of the idea of a balanced government to protect property rights as essential to the enjoyment of more broadly defined human rights. The Constitution was a balance between monarchy and military despotism on the one hand and extreme majoritarian populism on the other.

From a "what if" perspective, the burden is really on those who argue for the Articles, with perhaps some revision. Adam Smith's observations, along with the present-day researches of such scholars as James Buchanan and Mancur Olsen, suggest that there was simply no incentive for those new men in the states to concede power willingly to a government at a locus higher than their own. Whatever the corruption and abuse of rights at the national level, throughout our history the worse abuses have been, and remain, at the state and local levels.

The Progressive movement at the turn of the century, for example, was in a way a response to the increasing state economic regulation that was preventing the creation of national markets. To do business on a national scale, you had to buy all of the state legislatures, and the lower you descended, the less likely the politicians were to stay bought.

And does anyone really believe that the southern states would have moved willingly away from slavery and later segregation by law? In addition, the taking of property, whether from zoning or newer environmental "growth management" legislation, is greater at state and local levels than at the national. The great growth of government in the last several decades has been at these levels, not at the federal.

Since the administration of Richard Nixon, there has been an effort to return power to the states. But like the era of the Articles of Confederation, this has meant more government, not less. We now have 50 states competing in a more or less mercantilist struggle for advancement. In my state of Florida, the ex-governor, now Senator Bob Graham, conducted his own foreign policy with Latin America, and legislative committees junket in Asia with the aim of promoting economic development. A growth-management plan initiated in Oregon several years ago was developed by consultants from Florida.

The threat to human liberty and property rights, especially at the state and local levels, is as great now as it was in the 1780s. The preoccupation of so-called conservatives like Ronald Reagan with asserting the power of the United States in the world, and his circumlocutions of the Congress on a scale to rival previous imperial presidencies, remind us that we still lack something by way of "virtue" or an adequate system of checks and balances. Corruption, in the sense that the Founders used the term—as a whoring after power—is still with us.

Yet it is the Constitution that checks this corruption and keeps the politicians from achieving their nefarious ends. The defense the Constitution provides against their tyranny is sufficient reason to celebrate its Bicentennial.

William Marina, a builder, is director of the Small Business Development Center and coordinator for International Studies at Florida Atlantic University, where he also teaches business history.

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  1. Yeah, not having a national market and allowing states to erect trade barriers would have worked out so well. So would have having no national defense. I am sure the imperial powers of the 19th Century would have never bullied the US or picked off various parts of the country or anything. Never.

    1. For the record, we fought the world’s largest and most sophisticated military at that time without a Federal government or “national defense”. As a matter of fact we fought it with about 20% of the population of 13 independent governments and militias (I suppose the continentals get some credit too).

      Sure there were contributing factors such as England’s over extension and Lafayette but still. We did win. For all the problems of the Articles the delegates were still only authorized to “fix” them, not throw them out and start from scratch.

      1. Of course that same country kicked the shit out of us in 1812. England didn’t lose, it gave up. But, England was trying to recapture the entire country. Picking a part, say Spain showing up to take Georgia, would have been a lot easier

        1. “gave up”

          Exactly. We were Britain’s Viet Nam. Kind of ironic…

        2. Yes, they torched some ugly building in a swamp. We still repelled them. If GA had been under specific fire from Spain (and remember, Coase is an acceptable tactic toward victory) I am sure the other colonies would have repeated the joint defenses.

          What is lost on many people is those colonies were VERY different places, they were separate countries unto themselves. Even after 1789 there was hardly a big cumbayah(sp) moment. See 1860 for proof.

          1. I am sure the other colonies would have repeated the joint defenses.

            Why? The North had very little in common with the South. And there is nothing to say that it wouldn’t have been in the other colonies interests. A foreign power could have just bought them off if nothing else. Further, as technology advanced, the ability of individual states to maintain a modern army and navy would have gotten smaller and smaller.

            Remember, the Revolutionary war was before even Napoleon. Armies were much smaller. Once industrial age armies came about in the 19th Century, it would have been impossible.

            1. This would have driven some unique situations for sure. It is of course pointless to debate but fun none the less. I tend to think we could have been successful under a better Articles than the Constitution but all in all I aint bitching about that part of our country’s history.

              1. I don’t understand the bitching about the Constitution. People think just because Roosevelt and the progs raped it and took away all of its meaning beyond “fuck you that is why” that it is a bad document. No, it is a great document and a great system that endured for a very long time and created a great and mostly free country. By any standard it is the greatest political compact of all time. It is not the document or the founders’ fault we decided to piss on it.

                If the Constitution has one fault it is that it is too good. People grew to rely on it for protecting their freedom and making things right and have lost the ability to do so themselves. Just because the government has the power to do something doesn’t mean it should or the population doesn’t bear some responsibility to stop it instead of just depending on a judge to do their dirty work for them. Both sides are horribly guilty of this. Look at gay marriage. Libertarians want gay marriage, they should get states to pass it. Instead, they run to their roved overlords and get them to rape the document and make it a “right”. Once you go down the road of “the Constitution is there to make the government the way I want it” rather than, “the constitution is there to set some specific limits and create our system of government” you are doomed.

                1. I think the One Fault is the fact it has not teeth.

                  That would solve a lot of problems.

                2. The biggest problem with the Constitution was the Commerce Clause. We have seen it used to justify most over-reach in government history. I think that if the constitution had given the US Government more of a WTO-type of “Commerce Mediation” powers, it would have done much to keep the negative parts of interstate commerce mitigated while also keeping the government’s power in check.

                  1. Of course, once the Income Tax was authorized and the government became Uncle Moneybags passing out coin for reform, it became a big setback for liberty.

                    But still, a lot of the country’s ability to Buy states into submission comes from its taking over swaths of our economy using the Commerce Clause. If they hadn’t been able to control the road system, they wouldn’t have been able to pull half the shit that they have done at the federal level.

                  2. But the Commerce Clause was never intended to do what it is doing now. It was in fact one of the best parts of the Constitution. It created a national market and kept the states from retraining interstate trade.

                    It is not the documents fault that the progs decided to read the Commerce Clause as a loophole to destroy the entire document. That was not how it was intended and it should have never been read that way. Blame Roosevelt and the cowards on the Supreme Court not the framers.

                    1. There are other handles by which to stretch the US Const. to fit even if you don’t consider the commerce clause. The taxing power has been commonly used for the same purpose, and it still can be, as shown by the penaltax.

                    2. It created a national market and kept the states from retraining interstate trade

                      This is disputed. Sheldon Richman argues that the Articles of Confederation already created a free trade zone, although the language seems hazy to me. I don’t have time to watch his talk again, but here’s the Youtube link.

          2. “We still repelled them.”

            We also did not have their full attention at the time, and they had been in what was a World War in all but name for over a decade.

            1. I made mention of that.

            2. And we also did it as a full nation, not as a bunch of states. By and large, the US ability to force the end of the War of 1812 was a direct result of our Navy- which was a wholly Federal endeavor. The major land victory of the war- New Orleans- was largely Federal, not militia troops.

              So I think that the war of 1812 goes more towards proving the necessity and supremacy of a national defense, than cooperating militias.

        3. You have to keep in mind the two generals, Howe and Cornwallis, were not only Whigs, they were Whig MPs. Kind of like tasking generals John Kerry and Chuck Schumer with winning the Vietnam war. Not much question how that would have turned out.

          1. Yes. And they also were such assholes they refused to let the loyalists, of which there were many, do anything to help squash the revolution. It would be like if the US had refused to let the South Koreans form an army.

            It is difficult to fuck up a war as badly as the English fucked that war up.

            1. Arguably, the Whig faction, which was sympathetic to the colonies, deliberately sabatoged the war. It’s wouldn’t be the first or last time a war was lost due to internal treachery.

              1. The concept wasn’t all that popular in London either. A significant portion of the polity, supposedly, wasn’t clear as to the benefits.

                1. Cheap rum. What else do you need?

            2. For which we thank a merciful God.

              And, of course, it is no reflection on the anti-American policies of George III that some of the people they appointed to enforce these policies actually had a soft spot for the rebels. Funny, that.

        4. England didn’t lose, it gave up.

          That means it lost.

          1. I’m not sure the English could’ve won. They’d have had a terrible time trying to maintain control if the local population was willing to fight. Remember, this was a war against a modern opponent with a sizable population.

            1. Remember, this was a war against a modern opponent with a sizable population.

              I read somewhere that there were only 2-3 million people in the US at the time of the revolution. Only a fraction of that number could have been in the fighting.

          2. They gave up because they were afraid of Old Hickory, I’m guessing.

        5. Of course that same country kicked the shit out of us in 1812. England didn’t lose, it gave up. But, England was trying to recapture the entire country.

          Britain, not England, did lose. Their supply lines were vast and huge proportions of the British army was captured, killed or deserted by war’s end.

          Picking a part, say Spain showing up to take Georgia, would have been a lot easier

          If you remember your history, you’ll remember that it was the US who showed up and took almost the entire remnant of the Spanish Empire. Perhaps a bad example?

      2. Is not just about Lafayette : France was the second most powerful state of the time. Without France’s help (by money, weapon, soldiers and international war…) it would have been much harder to gain independance.

        The very purpose of independance is to be… independant and not relying on an another foreign power.

        1. The very purpose of independance is to be… independant and not relying on an another foreign power.

          the goal was sovereignty. achieving that sovereignty with an alliance is no the same thing as political dependence.

  2. Several of the Founders made very clear statements at the time that liberty wasn’t going to be protected by a piece of paper alone. I don’t think they couldn’t have been clearer about the only safe course of action being extreme distrust and skepticism about government. That’s where we lost our way.

    As the great political philosopher Eric Stratton once said, “You fucked up. . .you trusted us! Hey, make the best of it! Maybe we can help.”

    1. No system can account for its people giving up on the idea of liberty. You can’t enforce freedom on a society. And you can’t have a government that is properly responsible to the demands of the populace that doesn’t become tyrannical when the populace becomes so.

      1. No system can account for its people giving up on the idea of liberty.

        This is true. And today, we’re proving that people will readily sacrifice their liberty for anything that looks like security. Or even if they’re just told it’s for security.

        1. Liberty is scary.

          Men with guns who may kill you without consequence if you do not immediately obey and submit is a source of comfort.


          1. Yeah, I still don’t get that. People are far too scared of dying. I imagine a world full of bubble boys here in the near future.

            1. this is actually a good thing. Seriously. As a populous we now value life more than ever before. The example of those stone age tribes in New Guinea that were hunting each other to extinction is instructive. When life has little meaning so does property and law. But when life is sacrosanct, as it should be, then law prevails. Unfortunately people conflate government oversight as law.

              1. As a populous we now value life more than ever before.

                As long as it has been squirted out of the womb. Until then women have a basic right to have the unwanted growth removed on demand and paid for by the government.

              2. As a populous we now value life more than ever before.

                I’m not sure I agree. I think most people value their own lives, sure, but other people’s lives? I have my doubts.

                1. Kill those damned sand-nigger towel-heads! America! Fuck yeah!

                2. The evidence on this is pretty convincing. See Steven Pinker’s work. The overall value of life has risen incredibly in the last 2000 years or so. While the “west” can account for a large portion of it, even rural tribal societies are slowing down on the whole revenge killing thing.

            2. I partially blame the loss of religion.

  3. I’m sure we can all pick out flaws we wish had been corrected, to
    2nd amendment, commerce clause, etc. I think the biggest failure of the Constitution was to compromise on slavery rather than to come up with a plan of gradual compensated emancipation. As this was before the invention of the cotton gin, there would have been less resistance to the plan, and it is known that Washington and others would have supported it. And if, say, South Carolina and Georgia refused to accept it, they should have been allowed to depart peacefully.

    1. There was no money to do compensated emancipation. There was just no way it was going to end well.

      1. It could have been treated like the decommissioning funds for nuclear power plants. Require slave owners to post a bond (allow them to expense it if necessary) to fully compensate their charges and or their estates in the future, while eliminating the slave trade and providing for mandatory emancipation over time.

        I find slavery completely disgusting, but the end of it could have been handled so much better that by holding the country’s most destructive and lethal war in its history.

        I should read up on this, but anyone know in a nutshell how the British ended their slavery program?

        1. I have no idea, but I imagine it was easier because the British didn’t have a bunch of slaves in the UK proper.

        2. I find slavery completely disgusting, but the end of it could have been handled so much better that by holding the country’s most destructive and lethal war in its history.

          No it could not have. The South based its entire identity on slavery. Maybe not in 1789 but certainly in the 19th Century. They looked at slavery as their way of life and expanding it as their duty. You have to remember that by the 1830s the big plantations in the east had mostly worn out their land. The plantations on the James river and in the low country of Georgia and the Carolinas were primarily in the business of breeding and exporting slaves. Cotton production had moved West to Mississippi and Louisiana and then Texas. The South needed a constant new supply of land so that they could have someone to sell their slaves to. It was also necessary to expand to keep the slave population both in demand and smaller than the white population. If slavery had ever been contained in the South, the supply of slaves would have started to exceed the demand lowering their value. Worse still, the slave population would have started to approach the white population and it would have gotten harder and harder to control them. Slavery had to expand or the South faced some huge problems.

          For that reason, there was no way the South was ever going to peacefully live as they were or agree to any settlement of the slavery issue that didn’t involve aggressive expansion of slavery.

          1. No it could not have.

            Jim Crow could never have ended without war. Women could never have gotten the vote without war. Alcohol Prohibition could never have ended without war. Of those things I am absolutely certain and no one can sway my opinion because I am right and they are wrong.

            1. And that proves what? If anything Jim Crow proves my point. Even after losing a war and being occupied for 11 years, the South still wouldn’t give up on white supremacy and just recreated as much of slavery as they could. But you honestly think that the same people who went to war over slavery and even after losing that war created Jim Crow would have just voluntarily given up their slaves?

              That is utterly idiotic. Slavery would have never ended in the South without an external invasion or a successful slave revolt. The chances are pretty high that if the South had been allowed to leave, it would have turned into a pariah state like South Africa and there would have eventually been a successful slave revolt. And that if Haiti is any indication, would have ended very badly for everyone involved. Everyone who lives in the nice free place that is the modern south owes a debt to Lincoln for fighting the war and saving them from becoming Haiti.

              1. Slavery would have ended for the same reason no one uses oxen to plow their fields anymore. It is not economically viable.

                1. So where are all the oxen now?

                  1. So where are all the oxen now?

                    Petting zoos.

                2. Why wouldn’t it have been? It was economically viable in 1860. Why would it not be today if you could get away with it? Indeed, the Chinese seem to do pretty well with it. You know how many things are manufactured by Chinese prison labor?

                  1. You know how many more things are manufactured by Chinese who are leaving subsistence farming to work in the cities under conditions that we would find to be deplorable but are preferable to what they are leaving?
                    You know that all this wealth that is being created in China is raising the standard of living for most everyone in the country?
                    You know that it won’t be long before the lifestyle of the average Chinese person is comparable the the average American?
                    You know that this is all because of the abandonment of forced communal (plantation) living and instead capitalistic voluntary labor?

                    Voluntary labor will always out-compete slavery because voluntary laborers have incentives. They can improve their lives. Slaves merely exist.

                  2. It was economically viable in 1860. Why would it not be today if you could get away with it?

                    Call it a hunch but I’m pretty sure that it would be a hell of a lot cheaper to plant and harvest a couple hundred acres of cotton using modern industrial machinery than several hundred slaves that have to be fed, clothed, etc. long enough to produce enough value to offset their cost.

                    Although I suppose in a counter factual history where slavery wasn’t abolished, the old guard plantation owners would have been an entrenched special interest and may have been able to use political influence to prevent many of the modern industrial farming innovations that we take for granted from being invented, but I doubt it. They weren’t able to stop the cotton gin from being invented, I doubt they would have been able to stop the combine harvestor, modern tractors, and all the other goodies farmers use at a fraction of the cost of human labor from being invented.

                    1. I think John is arguing that slaves could be used to operate that machinery. In theory, yes. But the security required to keep productive slaves from taking their skills to someplace free would have vastly offset any comparative advantage of slavery over voluntary labor.

              2. Yeah, Lincoln was a great president, what with signing the Fugitive Slave Act into law and all.

          2. For that reason, there was no way the South was ever going to peacefully live as they were or agree to any settlement of the slavery issue that didn’t involve aggressive expansion of slavery.

            You know the south seceded because of a blatant violation of the 10th amendment, and not particularly slavery, right?

            1. Bullshit. They left over slavery. Every single state declaration said as much in the language. That “we didn’t leave over slavery” bullshit is just a fucking myth created after the war. Read the accounts of the time and read the actual secession documents. They all talked about slavery as the primary cause. The South left because Lincoln made it clear that he wasn’t going to let slavery expand into the West. And because of that, the South felt that it would eventually be so outvoted by the new free states, that the Constitution could be amended and slavery ended. Also, the South economically had to have new areas of slavery.

              1. Also, the South economically had to have new areas of slavery.

                I disagree; there’s no evidence that slavery is very profitable, but that’s a red herring.

                Read the accounts of the time and read the actual secession documents. They all talked about slavery as the primary cause.

                Yes, and the government’s intervention in what was constitutionally a state matter.

                1. To be clear, I am not promoting slavery; I’m just saying that constitutionally it was legit, and it would’ve gone away somehow or another without a civil war.

                  1. To be clear, I am not promoting slavery; I’m just saying that constitutionally it was legit, and it would’ve gone away somehow or another without a civil war.

                    Oh, that is untrue. In John’s mind you fully support slavery. The only possible way to prove you do not support slavery is to say that Saint Lincoln invaded the South for the sole purpose of abolishing slavery.

                    Just as anyone who opposed redefining marriage hates fags, and the only possible way to prove you do not hate fags is to support redefining marriage.

                    It’s the exact same circular illogic, courtesy of Red Tony.

                2. I disagree; there’s no evidence that slavery is very profitable, but that’s a red herring.

                  That is insane. The price of slaves in 1860 was higher than it ever had been. The South had more millionaires than any other country in the world. Slavery was extremely profitable. Why do you think it spread so much? There is nothing to say that states like Mississippi or Missouri had to be slave states. They were only slave states because slavery paid. And breeding and selling slaves really paid. And doing that was a large part of Virginia and the Carolinas’ economy.

                  1. And yet somehow everyone is more profitable with no slaves.

                    1. The slave holders were not anon. Most people didn’t own slaves. But the ones who did own slaves did very well. If slavery had not been profitable, it would have never made sense to expand it. Slaves would not have had any value. Instead it expanded and slaves were extremely valuable.

                      Your argument is totally counter to economic reality.

                    2. Your argument is totally counter to economic reality.

                      Actually, it’s not. Here’s a quick primer for you, followed by an excerpt. Google up as many sources as you want and you’ll find technology was making slavery comparatively unprofitable.

                      Nearly every sector of the Union economy witnessed increased production. Mechanization of farming allowed a single farmer growing crops such as corn or wheat to plant, harvest, and process much more than was possible when hand and animal power were the only available tools. (By 1860, a threshing machine could thresh 12 times as much grain per hour as could six men.) This mechanization became even more important as many farmers left home to enlist in the Union military. Those remaining behind could continue to manage the farm through the use of labor-saving devices like reapers and horse-drawn planters.


                    3. Anon,

                      So what? The South could have mechanized too. And still used slaves. That is another myth that drives me nuts. The idea that slaves were not skilled labor. Bullshit. Plantations were basically communes that made nearly everything they needed on premises. So there were slaves who were carpenters and metal workers and every other skill. The biggest reason for Jim Crow laws was to keep skilled emancipated blacks from competing with white workers for jobs.

                      Slavery could have totally been adapted to mechanized farming or anything else. Hell, the entire Soviet and Nazi war machines were based on slave labor. A whole chunk of the Chinese economy is based on prison labor which amounts to slave labor. Slavery wasn’t going anywhere. The idea that it couldn’t have been adapted to mechanization is just a myth people invent to pretend the South was something other than what it was.

                    4. Slavery could have totally been adapted to mechanized farming or anything else. Hell, the entire Soviet and Nazi war machines were based on slave labor.

                      And we see how well that turned out.

                      A whole chunk of the Chinese economy is based on prison labor which amounts to slave labor.

                      Only because they have a larger chunk that is not supporting that on slave labor.

                      The idea that it couldn’t have been adapted to mechanization is just a myth people invent to pretend the South was something other than what it was.

                      It takes more money to hire people to make sure your slaves don’t escape, then feed/clothe/support slaves, than it does to simply hire people to perform the labor slaves would have done.

                      If slavery were well suited to economic gain, then slavery would still be a *large* business today, much like prohibition was still very profitable for alcohol makers in the 20’s.

                    5. And we see how well that turned out.

                      Pretty well for the Soviets. And the Nazis didn’t lose because they failed to produce enough armaments. So, yes, I would say that slave labor worked quite well for both of them.

                      Only because they have a larger chunk that is not supporting that on slave labor.

                      No. It makes money. The rest of the economy making money or not has nothing to do with it. When you can kidnap someone and beat the shit out of them every day if they don’t work hard enough, you can get a lot of labor at a very cheap price. That is profitable.

                      If slavery were well suited to economic gain, then slavery would still be a *large* business today, much like prohibition was still very profitable for alcohol makers in the 20’s.

                      Yeah, because kidnapping and keeping someone in bondage is such an easy crime to commit. Just like making illegal booze. Come on. That is idiotic. Slavery isn’t done today because it is illegal and actually really difficult to get away with. Slavery only works if the slave has no where to run. If you are doing it underground and all the slave has to do is make it to the neighbors and he is free and you are going to prison forever, it won’t work.

                      Come on anon. Give up the idiotic idea that slavery wasn’t profitable. To believe that is to think that people were buying slaves out of irrationality.

                    6. Give up the idiotic idea that slavery wasn’t profitable. To believe that is to think that people were buying slaves out of irrationality.

                      It was profitable at a specific time, in a specific place, and for a specific group of people. The question was whether it would have remained so in perpetuity, or whether it would have naturally withered away on economic grounds without 600,000 people having to be slaughtered. The fact that the non-slave states were more economically prosperous than the slave-owning states even while slavery was the law of the land goes a long way towards obliterating your historical revisionism (or illiteracy, or whatever the fuck).

                    7. John has a very good point about skilled slave labor. You have to look at the hx of slavery not only around the world, but even in what became the US. In the northern colonies and even in the southern ones before cotton took off, they were commonly artisans, personal assistants, drivers, that sort of thing; for many slave owners during that era they were primarily a luxury good rather than money makers. In much of the rest of the world, slaves had been used in construction and fine carving. Of course for much of that time, division of labor and sophistication of capital had not progressed to a point where many of those people would’ve been better off free than as slaves; horizons were close.

                    8. The Soviet and Nazi war machines were nowhere near as effective as the US’s. And the entire history of communism in the 20th century shows the inefficiency of slave labor. I agree that slavery was very profitable for a small group of wealthy slaveowners, traders, etc. but as a societal economic system, slavery is clearly inferior to free markets

            2. You know the south seceded because of a blatant violation of the 10th amendment, and not particularly slavery, right?

              Google up “declaration of secession” and you’ll find that secession was indeed about slavery.

              The war, however, was initiated to preserve the union. Ending slavery was an afterthought.

              1. The people of the State of South Carolina, in Convention assembled, on the 26th day of April, A.D., 1852, declared that the frequent violations of the Constitution of the United States, by the Federal Government, and its encroachments upon the reserved rights of the States, fully justified this State in then withdrawing from the Federal Union; but in deference to the opinions and wishes of the other slaveholding States, she forbore at that time to exercise this right. Since that time, these encroachments have continued to increase, and further forbearance ceases to be a virtue.

                1. I can quote more; Mississippi appears more particularly concerned with slaveholding… I don’t really have the time to read every individual state’s declaration of secession right this moment.

                  1. From what I read of the declarations, they all mentioned slavery. More specifically they mention slaves as property, property that they were unwilling to give up without a fight. So secession was indeed about slavery.

                    1. From what I read of the declarations, they all mentioned slavery.

                      Yes, they do; because the government unilaterally abolishing slavery exceeded the power granted to it by the constitution. Slavery wasn’t the cause, but the government assuming a power it did not constitutionally have the right to exert.

                      Slavery was *a* cause, but the primary cause was the blatant violation of the states’ rights.

                    2. Bernoulli / Angle of Attack

                      same thing.

                    3. What violation of states rights? Lincoln was not proposing a law to abolish slavery, nor was there enough support to pass such a law, and it probably would not have survived Supreme Court review. If you’re referring to the fact that Lincoln and the Republicans wanted to stop the spread of slavery, there was nothing unconstitutional about the federal government making admission to the Union contingent on being a free state.

                      “Slavery was *a* cause, but the primary cause was the blatant violation of the states’ rights.”

                      Even if that were the cause, the “state right” at question was the right to have legal slavery. There’s no way around that. And as John describes below, the South didn’t give a shit about states’ rights when they didn’t benefit them.

        3. The British never had slaves in Britian. And Britain only had a few Carribean Islands were slavery was used. A lot of Brits got rich off of the Sugar trade using slaves in places like Barbados and such. But the sugar trade got more competitive and less profitable in the late 18th Century. Meanwhile, religious authorities turned against slavery and launched a moral crusade against it. The moral persuasion combined with the decreasing economic importance of slavery to Britain caused Britain to go after the international slave trade.

          1. An interesting thing I learned recently was that after the abolition of slavery there, they resorted to labor that was effectively just as captive as slaves had been. They brought in indentured servants from the hotter parts of India, who once they were settled in were too poor to move back out. Think company town on an island. It’s not like anyone else was bidding on their labor.

            1. Yes. That is why there are a lot of east Indians running around places like Trinidad.

          2. The British never had slaves in Britain.

            Yes, they did. The Anglo-Saxon word for “slave” was “theow,” and they had quite a few of those — 10% of the population. The distinction between slaves and freemen did not disappear with the Norman Conquest, but theows ultimately became villeins, who weren’t slaves in the sense of being chattel.

    2. I’ve always maintained that there wouldn’t have BEEN a constitution (not a ratified one) without the slavery provisiosn, but that the genius of it was containing the method to change this later through amendment. Which happened.

      Now, whether it was worth the Civil War and Lincoln’s auhtoritarianism – it’s at LEAST subject to argument. But it happened.

      But I can’t criticize the lot 240-ish years ago from the route they took. They are, as we all are, a product of their time.

      The fact it’s lasted this long is somewhat miraculous. Of course, it’s been all downhill from the start – but – good effort! Lasted longer than many thought it would!

      1. There would not have been a Constitution without the compromise on slavery. The South was not giving them up. Also, remember, the cotton gin had not yet been invented. I think most of them thought slavery would die on its own in a few years. You can’t blame them for making the best of a bad situation.

        The South of 1789 was not the aggressive imperialistic and dangerous South of 1860. For that reason compromising with it to create a better union was totally understandable. The had no way of knowing the South was later going to go insane.

        1. The South of 1789 was not the aggressive imperialistic and dangerous South of 1860.

          Uh, what? Secession was an aggressive, imperial and dangerous act?

          I think you’re confused. Waging war to “preserve the Union” was aggressive, imperial and dangerous.

          1. Uh, what? Secession was an aggressive, imperial and dangerous act?

            Sarc, you’re obviously not looking at this from the fed. govt’s point of view.

          2. That is not all they did. The Fugitive Slave Act was aggressive and imperialistic. The invasion of Kansas was aggressive and imperialistic. The invasion of New Mexico was aggressive and imperialistic. Dred Scott, which mandated that southerns be allowed to take slaves and keep slaves in every state was aggressive and imperialistic. The South’s plan was nothing less than universal slavery in all of the continent.

            They were aggressive and imperialistic assholes. Totally despicable

            1. Explain to me how the Fugitive Slave Act mattered once the South was no longer part of the Union.

              Explain to me how the South was going to achieve universal slavery once they were no longer part of the Union.

              Explain to me how Slave Power mattered once they were no longer part of the Union.

              You’re working backwards in your reasoning. You start with the premise that slavery was ended after the war, and then you justify everything that led up to that end. That’s the same type of reasoning that Tony and his ilk use.

              The simple fact of the matter is that slavery would indeed have ended because it would have been economic suicide for it to continue. Voluntary labor will out-compete slavery any time. If it had not ended then the South would have become a shithole like North Korea, but without China to prop it up.

              Slavery’s days were numbered. The war was not necessary.

              1. The FSA mattered because it showed that the South one had no respect for states rights and had no intention of every just letting slavery be a strictly southern thing. They wanted to expand slavery throughout the entire country. And when the North said no, that is when they left. And they would not have lived quietly had they been allowed to go. Southerners had already invaded border states and conducted kidnapping raids in the name of capturing escaped slaves. That would have continued. They would have also continued to spread west and used terrorism to enforce slavery in the west.

                You are projecting Sarc. I am just reading the history. The South’s behavior before the war tells you everything you need to know about both their intentions and their future behavior had they been allowed to live as a nation. You are the one reasoning backwards. You see that they left the union. You think they had a right to do that. So you therefore reason that they must have had a good or even anything but a despicable cause. No, they didn’t. They left for the worst reasons. Nothing they did had anything to do with freedom or the right to live in peace.

                1. So you therefore reason that they must have had a good or even anything but a despicable cause.

                  No, John. That is absolutely false, and you know it. In fact I shall from now on consider you to be a despicable bastard for implying that I support slavery.

                  Until I see an formal apology you can forever go fuck yourself.

                  1. No Sarc. I am not saying you support slavery. I am saying you are ignoring and denying the South’s support of slavery. You keep trying to come up with less despicable reasons for the South’s actions other than the fact they their entire cause was based on the preservation and expansion of slavery.

                    1. I am saying you are ignoring and denying the South’s support of slavery.

                      No, Disingenuous Dipshit. Did you miss the part above where I told anon to google up the declarations of secession to read for himself that secession was about slavery?

                      Go fuck yourself.

                    2. If the South left because of slavery, then why are you defending them? What is your point other than to just scream invectives?

                    3. If the South left because of slavery, then why are you defending them?

                      I’m not defending them. I’m saying that the hostilities by the Union had nothing to do with slavery. The South could have seceded because Yanks talk funny, and Lincoln still would have gone to war to “Preserve the Union.”

                2. they would not have lived quietly had they been allowed to go. Southerners had already invaded border states and conducted kidnapping raids in the name of capturing escaped slaves. That would have continued. They would have also continued to spread west and used terrorism to enforce slavery in the west.

                  Which sounds like the union states would have been perfectly justified at that point in declaring war on the confederate states. Invading another country’s sovereign territory is an act of war, afterall. As is pursuing an aggressive expansionist policy.

                  FWIW, I don’t disagree with your conter-factual. Had the North sat back and let the South leave*, eventually the South would have given the North a perfectly valid excuse to wage war on them. At which point, fuck them, they would have deserved everything they got.

                  *I’m assuming that means leaving Ft. Sumpter immediately after seccession instead of attempting to hold on to it.

              2. been reading a long time and enjoy reading you guy’s because of your actual valuable conventions so i had to make an account and point of a few things you guy’s are missing.

                1. Plenty of things in todays world requires extensive manual labor. Not everything in farming is like corn. Many migrant workers from mexico and the like come to the US for work in fields. So Slavery would and is still economical just not in every field but could easily still be around.

                2. Chicago sweat shops are a prime example of where slavery would have been very profitable and it was arguable slavery but legal.

                3. Slavery would have been even economical today but it would have died down enough by the 1900s where it would have been outlawed due to it not being as necessary but still profitable.

                So slavery is still very profitable but not to the level of where whole states economy were living off of it. Also as slavery was less needed the trade of new slaves would have stopped and the current slaves would be sufficient plus their spawn would have been adequate to maintain lively slaves.

                There was something else but i am forgetting it :/

                None the less slavery were always and still are profitable but they would have not been as many fields of use for them as there were so they would have shrunk in importance where they could have been easily phased out completely.

                1. (This is what i forgot)
                  Also the whole feed cloth and house garbage is dumb….the person you pay you have to do that too -_- The only real argument was if the overhead of forced labor would have been more expensive than hirering(sp?) someone. Along with the efficiency standpoint.

                  Also i suck at English so get used to it.

            2. They actually expected to institute their own empire over parts south, reintroducing slavery in Mexico, Cuba, etc., exporting people for money.

              1. They specialized in two industries: warfare and people farming. They figured they could knock off some of these regimes south of them the way they’d knocked off the Indians, and then export their product of growing, and technology of organizing, slaves. They figured those countries had foolishly prematurely made slavery illegal, when it was obvious they just didn’t know how to do it right. However, they would’ve been in the forefront of suppressing the export of slaves from Africa, since they wanted no competition for themselves.

        2. AS I said, those states that refused emancipation should have been allowed to depart. You are right that the founders of 1789 probably thought it would die out. Jefferson said, in 1814,
          “The hour of emancipation is advancing in the march of time. I have seen no proposition so expedient, on the whole, as that of emancipation to those born after a given day. The enterprise is for the young, for those who can follow it up and bear it through its consummation.” The failure to resolve the “peculiar institution” had repercussions throughout the world for those looking to emulate the freedoms gained in the American Revolution. Lafayette to Jefferson in 1821: “Was it not for that deplorable circumstance of negro slavery…not a word could be objected, when we present American doctrines and constitutions as an example to old Europe.”

      2. The idea of indentured servitude isn’t inherently bad either. “Sure, I’ll pay your way over here as long as your ass is mine for 10 years.”

        I mean, how do you think we have a military today? It’s not at all unlike indentured servitude. Which allows us to not have a draft.

        1. It gave a lot of people a way out of a bad situation. Slavery was evil because it was race based, permanent, non-consensual and generational. Indentured servitude was none of those.

          1. Slavery need not be raced base in order for it to be evil.

            1. No it doesn’t. But it being race based made it more evil. It was evil for a lot of reasons, being race based was just one of them.

              1. Agreed.

              2. No, I don’t agree that its being race based makes it (slavery) more evil, unless what you mean is that the “peculiar institution” as it worked out in North America led to more evils as a way of justifying it.

                1. “No, I don’t agree that its being race based makes it (slavery) more evil, unless what you mean is that the “peculiar institution” as it worked out in North America led to more evils as a way of justifying it.”

                  I honestly can’t figure out what this means. Can you clarify?

                  1. I wouldn’t care what the race of the slaves was. In fact limiting the eligibles to one race, if anything, improves the situation by making it harder for someone to be a slave.

                    Where the extra evil came in was by a very interesting sociologic process resulting from slavery’s being restricted to non-whites in North America. What it resulted in (much more than from) was racism. People got an exaggerated idea of the difference between the races to justify the compromise that’d restricted slavery to non-whites.

                    1. “I wouldn’t care what the race of the slaves was. In fact limiting the eligibles to one race, if anything, improves the situation by making it harder for someone to be a slave.”

                      Harder is true only if you care about the perspective of a person of the race that is not enslaved. For a person of the race being enslaved, it’s exactly the opposite. There were a lot of free blacks who were kidnapped into slavery in the antebellum era. And the fact that slavery was race-based enabled that. When someone can look at you and know that there’s over a 90% chance that you’re a slave, it’s pretty tough to escape. And as you admitted, the fact that it was race-based exasperated racism, resulting in even more negative social consequences. Slavery is wrong regardless of the form it takes, but that doesn’t mean that all forms of slavery are equally bad.

  4. Next up for discussion: Was the Holy Roman Empire truly not holy, not Roman, and not an empire, as Voltaire said, or was he just being, you know, an asshole?

    1. Well if anyone would know the subject of being an asshole, it would be you Venneman.


    3. Still alive, huh Vanneman?

      1. Proof there is no god, or if there is one, he’s a malevolent asshole.

        1. Holy Roman Empire for $200?

  5. Wow, I haven’t seen that name in a while.

  6. A good rule of thumb: Jeffrey Rogers Hummel is usually correct.

  7. “Placed at the beginning of a myriad of reasons for separation from Great Britain was the famous passage about self-evident truths such as “that all men are created equal” and that their Creator endowed them with “certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness.””

    Christfag! Sky-Daddy!

    (Lights the Sevo signal)

    1. One can believe their creator(s) were their parents.

      1. It’s “Creator,” singular and capitalized.

        1. Ok, my mom created me.

          1. “*their* Creator endowed *them*”

            So who’s “them”?

            1. Or, your “creator” can simply be Nature.

          2. yea but i came out of a tube -_- So who created me?

  8. If it wasn’t for the Constitution, the biggest stain on America’s so-called liberty would have probably lasted much longer: slavery. The Constitution gave the central government the power to fight secession.

    We could argue all decade long about whether the Civil War was about slavery or something else (I will provide that it was a complex dispute centuries in the making, echoes of which are still being debated today), but the Articles would not have been able to provide a sufficient centralized government framework to defeat the secessionists and end slavery.

    1. No, that’s one thing it didn’t do: provide the power to fight secession.

    2. Are you sure about that?

      The Constitution seems to be ambiguous at best about secession whereas the AoC mention the “perpetual” union 5 times.

      Unless you are speaking purely in terms of Might.

      1. It’s pretty hard to believe that the Founders thought that the Constitution would prevent secession, just a decade or so after they quite eloquently stated that secession was a natural right.

        1. The Lincoln cult has a tough time with that one.

          1. The Confederate cult has a real hard time with the problem of the South taking its slaves by force with them. The only way the South’s secession is legal would be for it to have agreed to let every slave leave and go to the North if they liked.

            But, the North never made that argument. So what? It doesn’t make it less valid or the South’s leaving the union and effectively kidnapping its slaves any more legal.

            1. Slavery was illegal? Maybe if you’re Spooner.

              1. Slaves were Americans. And the South could leave, but that doesn’t mean they could close their borders and prevent those who wanted to stay in the US from doing so. Yet, slaves didn’t get t hat option.

                To say that the South’s secession was legal, you have to say that slaves were not Americans. And people who defend secession wonder why they get called racists.

                1. Okay, the slaves weren’t Americans. That wasn’t particularly difficult.

                  1. Are these your own moral rules here, or are you actually coming from a constitutional/legal stand point?

                    1. From a legal standpoint. The constitution guarantees every state a democratic government. Keeping a third of your population in bondage is not democratic.

                      And if you think slaves were not Americans, you are racist and deserve to be called such. If California wanted to leave the union today but in doing so said that 1/3rd of its population where prohibited from leaving and returning to t he US, you don’t think that fact would have a bearing on both the legality and morality of their secession? You think that states own their citizens and have the right to leave the union and force all of their citizens to remain where they are? Where does that power come from?

                    2. So… no.

                      You’re just making things up.

                      The power for a state to leave the union comes from the Constitution.

                      As always, there are requirements to be a right-enabled American. Call me an “agist” too. Just because you don’t agree with the specifics of the time doesn’t make them illegal. Immoral? Sure, probably.

                    3. Could the North not have passed a law (like the 14th Amendment) stating that anyone born in the United States was an American citizen? And since the slaves had been born in the United States, would your objection not be moot at that point?

                    4. Calidissident,

                      Is your question directed at me? I really can’t tell at this point.


                    5. Yeah. The Northern Congress could have passed such a law, which would have made the slaves American citizens. Would John not have a point then? (Ignoring the fact that the North’s motivation for fighting the war was simply the fact that the South seceded, not why they did)

                    6. Well, no. Obviously not, since they didn’t.

                      However – moving to the realm of hypotheticals – Only the slaves in the Union slave states would have been freed.

                      Can the U.S. declares all, say… Canadians to be Americans unilaterally?

                    7. The constitution guarantees every state a democratic republican form of government.

                      FTFY. You ever actually read the document?

                2. To say that the South’s secession was legal, you have to say that slaves were not Americans.

                  Technically, at the time, they were considered property. I’m not defending that line of thinking, it should go without saying that chattel slavery is/ was a disgusting practice, but that’s how people thought of them back then.

              2. slavery being legal is irrelevant. If you adhere to the Constitution and the theory of natural rights than slavery was purely wrong. That is saying natural rights is a real thing. If you ask people of today’s world there is no such thing and it is a dog eat dog world or whatever the saying is.

        2. Even if the South had a right to leave, they didn’t have the right to take their slaves forcibly with them. I don’t see a case for how their secession is legal.

          I really don’t understand why so many Libertarians want to die on this hill. If anything Libertarians should hate the South for discrediting the idea of secession by attempting a blatantly illegal and immoral one. Instead, they hate Lincoln and continually make excuses for the South.

          1. I’m with you. I look at the Civil War as nothing but a tragedy now. Both sides got together and ruined the country.

            1. But they didn’t ruin the country. They made it better. It is a hell of a lot better country without slavery. And the government in 1866 was not the government of today. I would take that government in a heart beat. The federal government was very small after the civil war.

              One of the greater crimes against the truth the confederate lovers commit is to impute the crimes of Roosevelt and the Wilson and the Progs to Lincoln. The things Libertarians dislike did not start with Lincoln. But the Confederate lovers continually pretend they did.

              1. John, that one condemns Lincoln does not thereby mean that one loves the confederacy.

                1. But what do you hate Lincoln for? Fighting the war? The federal government that emerged from the civil war was far preferable to what we have today. The real bitch is with the two Roosevelts and Wilson, not Lincoln.

                  1. I hate the ante-bellum South for the following reasons:

                    (1) De jure slavery.

                    (2) Gun control measures.

                    (3) The harassment of abolitionists, preachers and others who spoke out against slavery. The harassment consisted of jailing, fining, whipping and killing.

                    (4) Pushing for the enactment of the Fugitive Slave Act.

                    (5) Using the Fugitive Slave Act.

                    (6) Harassing the organizers and supporters of the underground railroad.

                    John, I enumerated some things that were just bloody awful about the ante-bellum south. In many a prior thread, I have listed why I loathe Lincoln. Of course, not so much as to drive 400 miles, each way, to splash some paint on his statue.

                  2. But what do you hate Lincoln for? Fighting the war?

                    Yeah. Suspending inconvenient constitutional rights while it was being fought as well. 600,000 lives and the cult of the executive was a pretty fucking steep price to pay for keeping the south annexed to a union of which it wanted no part. Something tells me if the victors in the Civil War were reversed, you probably wouldn’t have quite the Lincoln woody that you presently do.

                    Oh, also, if it wasn’t for the precedents set under Lincoln, the abuses under Wilson and Roosevelt wouldn’t have been possible. But, uh, yeah. That they shit on the constitution while playing follow-the-leader to Good Saint Lincoln is like, totally bad. Yep.

                    1. A steep price, yes, but I’m guessing that most of the slaves felt it was worth it.

              2. The things Libertarians dislike did not start with Lincoln.

                In the context of American history, some of them did. Most of the things libertarians dislike started with Ug the neanderthal. Your arms must be exhausted from beating that strawman so fucking hard.

              3. i have to disagree with you on that one john. Lincoln was the founder of abusive executive orders….Don’t get me wrong i think what Lincoln did was an necessary evil but it was the start of the downfall.

                The precedent he set for what the executive branch could do is terrifying. Look at what is going on now? The two branches are nearly powerless to stop the executive branch. Obama was just saying the judges have no authorities on how the Executive branch acts when it comes to spying -_-

          2. I’m not talking about the Civil War or slavery. Just whether the Constitution prevented secession. I think it’s quite a stretch to say it did.

      2. Unless you are speaking purely in terms of Might.

        Might makes right, isn’t that what the constiution says? Right after “Fuck you, that’s why”?

        1. The Constitution strengthened the Federal government and military, which was used to hammer the Confederacy.


          1. But it strengthened the southern military as well, so that’s a wash.

            1. Stronger than it would have been sure, on par with the Union, not at all.

              1. When you write legal slavery into the Constitution, you’ve pretty much signed up for the Might Makes Right camp.

                Of course, that set things on an inevitable collision course with the All Men Are Created Equal camp.

    3. The Constitution gave the central government the power to fight secession.

      *Citation needed* Point to the specific article and section of the constitution that grants the federal government this specific enumerated power.

      I will provide that it was a complex dispute centuries in the making, echoes of which are still being debated today

      At the time of the Civil War the country was less than 100 years old, so it wasn’t a dispute “centuries” in the making. Perhaps you meant decades.

      1. Seriously, you need a citation? Read the thing, I hear it’s available on the Internet even. The Constitution has a lot the AoC didn’t have – the power to tax independently of the states, the power to commission armies and navies without the states, naming the Prez C-in-C, etc.

        1. none of those allow it to top secession or make it no longer a natural right of the states….

  9. Libertarians celebrating the constitution is nonsensical in one important way: the primary reason it exists was to create a big government as a response to the failure of the prior, smaller one.

    1. You truly are a king among retards.

      1. He’s right! George Washington died on the cross so we could have eternal Medicare. Forever and ever, amen.

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