For reasons that are probably unintelligible to most, Congressman Steve Stockman of Texas has announced he is challenging Senator John Cornyn. In his initial fundraising letter, Congressman Stockman declared: “I refuse to let liberal John Cornyn continue to betray Republicans and this constitutional Republic. These next six years will determine whether our constitutional Republic lives or dies.”
Mr. Stockman makes a plethora of ludicrous statements in the letter and elsewhere, but the most deranged and deceptive belief he expresses is shown in the quoted lines. Like many other purported conservatives, Mr. Stockman fervently expresses reverence for the constitution and the Republic, but has no sound understanding of either.
As the image above depicts, people of like mind to Congressman Stockman, have a warped sense of American history. They believe there was a continuity between the American Revolution and the Civil War. In fact, they often call the Civil War either the Second American Revolution or the War of Northern Aggression. Furthermore, they completely misconstrue the American Revolution itself. To them, this was “the first great act of defiance.”
The reality is that the American Revolution was an affirmation, not a rejection. This is clear from the Declaration’s own language:
“That to secure these rights, governments are instituted among men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed. That whenever any form of government becomes destructive to these ends, it is the right of the people to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their safety and happiness. Prudence, indeed, will dictate that governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes;”
As stipulated, “governments are instituted among men”; they derive “their just powers from the consent of the governed.” People have the right to “alter or to abolish” government when it becomes destructive and “institute new government” on the basis of “such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their safety and happiness.” The original and true American patriots were not anti-government; they were anti-rule. What they waged a revolution to throw off was not governance, but ruling – i. e. oppression by an unresponsive and unrepresentative government. This point is somewhat obscured by the fact that Jefferson used the noun government rather than the verb governance to describe what he was championing. In so doing, he inadvertently contributed to the deceptions now perpetrated by reactionaries such as Steve Stockton.
In the second decade of the 21st century, the Republican Party is almost entirely transformed into a ruthless, conscience-free band of anti-government ideologues. It is in the mature stage of a five decades long evolution that began with Richard Nixon in 1968 and accelerated with Ronald Reagan in 1980. Nixon raised power lust to the first rank in Republican values and Reagan provided a noxious ideology based on deliberate falsification of American history and political theory. To capitalize on these two victories, reactionaries chose clever messages that exploited the resentments and frustrations of working class whites and fictionalized the national narrative into an epic of free-market avarice and rapacity. The citizenship ideal of “we the people united in pursuit of justice, peace, safety, prosperity, and liberty for all” has been supplanted by the consumerism concept of “every person looking out for number one and shopping to exhaustion. The fabled bread and circuses of Ancient Rome has been revived and implanted in the daily fabric of American life.
During the Revolutionary War, the Patriots formed a Confederation. This was essentially a treaty based organization among thirteen independent nations. Its provisions were almost crafted to prevent any effective action beyond that needed to prosecute the War for Independence. Despite an abundance of intellectually sloppy designations as such, the Articles of Confederation was not the “first constitution of the United States.” It was not a constitution in any meaningful sense; it was a previously remarked a treaty. Each signatory to this treaty retained “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.” The thirteen signatories were not members of a constitutionally unified nation; they were sovereign, free and independent nations participating in a “a firm league of friendship with each other”. Although the Articles were “agreed to by Congress 15 November 1777 and in force after ratification by Maryland, 1 March 1781,” they were grossly inadequate. Therefore, patriots exercised their right to alter or abolish this organization and crafted and ratified the Constitution of the United States between 17 September 1787 and 21 June 1788. The Confederation Congress recognized the authority of the new Constitution and set a timetable for its implementation on 13 September 1788. So in the most generous consideration, the Articles of Confederation endured for just over a decade.
The people known to us as the Framers had a weak and ineffective governing organization. If that was satisfactory the Federal Convention and the new Constitution would have been unnecessary. Therefore, the fact of its existence supports the view that the Constitution ordained and established an empowered governing mechanism. When asked by a Philadelphian, “What sort of government have you given us”? Ben Franklin famously replied, “A Republic if you can keep it.”
After the Constitution was written, it was returned to the states and an elaborate ratification process began. Opposing sides quickly formed. We know those who supported adoption of the Constitution as the Federalists and those who opposed it as the Anti-Federalists.
The main issue raised by the opponents of ratification was summarized by an Anti-federalist called Brutus in this way: “The first question that presents itself on the subject is…whether the thirteen United States should be reduced to one great republic…or whether they should continue thirteen confederated republics, under the direction and controul of a supreme federal head for certain defined national purposes only? [Emphasis added]” In short, would America be a nation or a league of nations? Richard Henry Lee asserted there were only three possible arrangements. First, distinct Republics connected loosely by some Federal coordinator. Second, a completely unitary government in which the states ceased to exist. Third, a mixture where the states retained many functions and a central or federal government took over some others. Lee favored the third approach and superficially, this is what was adopted. The Anti-Federalists maintained that the Constitution gave the central government too much power. They further argued that the lack of a Bill of Rights made the citizen’s hard won freedoms insecure. Some Anti-Federalists objected to the lack of a reference to God. Finally, many Anti-Federalists believed ratification should be unanimous. It is important to note, that the people who opposed ratification never suggested the Constitution described or established a feeble government. Their contention was just the opposite – the Constitution ordained and established an excessively powerful governing mechanism.
The Federalists also argued that the Constitution created an empowered Federal government, but they said this was a benefit and not a threat. The Federalists argued that the Federal government would be supreme and that it rightly had the power to tax and all other necessary and proper powers. In Federalist #33, Hamilton argues the Necessary and Proper Clause and the Supremacy Clause are implicit in the nature of governance. If government has a power, it must of necessity be able to enact laws to carry out this power. Furthermore, the existence of a government and laws implies supremacy. If this were not so, then laws would be mere guidelines and governance would amount to nothing. He goes onto say that this is spelled out specifically to guard against “those who might hereafter feel a disposition to curtail and evade the legitimate authorities of the Union, through unduly literal interpretation of the constitution. Hamilton also contends that government must be responsible for proper exercise of its powers, but the people themselves must hold government to account “and take such measures to redress the injury done to the Constitution as the exigency may suggest and prudence justify.” Therefore, both the proponents and the opponents of the Constitution asserted that the government it established was powerful. They only differed on whether this power was good and proper or bad and excessive. Now, 224 years after governance under the Constitution went into effect, no genuinely informed and patriotic American can sensibly argue that it created a paper tiger with little or no power.
After all this time, the American citizenry has been subjected to a deliberate propaganda campaign that has sought to defile and discredit the Framers thought and fought so long and so well to create. Billions of dollars have been expended to spread the messages about “big guvmint” favoring lazy and undeserving minorities over hard working real [white] Americans and how bureaucrats are causing all the nation’s problems by meddling in the “free market.” In this context, an empowered Federal government is once again presented as a threat.
This perspective is no more valid now than it was more than two centuries ago. Those who wanted a feeble central government wanted to maintain their unchallenged power at the time of the ratification debate. Those who seek to enfeeble the government now want to wield unchallengeable power for their own benefit today. In both cases it is the never ending struggle between those who seek to govern and those who strive to rule.
The people history calls the Anti-Federalists were actually proponents of Confederacy. They believed the Articles of Confederation were sufficient. They championed the sovereignty of the various states and functioned as bigger fish in those smaller ponds. It is important to understand that both Anti-Federalists and Federalists were generally in the upper echelon of early American society. They were men of consequence. As the arena grew larger due to the Constitutional unification, some feared the diminution of their influence and freedom of action. The Presidency and the Federal Judiciary were both targets of Anti-Federalist suspicion. The Articles of Confederation had neither and executive nor a judiciary. Therefore, under the Articles, people and states could not be compelled to do what they did not choose to do.
For many reasons, the first Confederation was not viable. Seven decades after governance under the Constitution began, the Confederates tried again to wreck the Federal Union and implement governance through a Confederacy. As Jefferson Davis commented a few years later, the second Confederacy “died of a theory.” Confederation is not a workable approach to governance; it is unable to enforce its own will and does not protect the ordinary citizens from the depredations of the powerful. The Planters in the ante bellum South were the masters of all they surveyed, not merely of those they held in bondage. A Confederation with sovereign states controlled by the Planters allowed them to do whatever they chose. A third Confederation inflicted on the entire United States by hugely funded propaganda and clever political maneuvering will let the spiritual descendants of the planters – the billionaire tycoons – to do whatever they choose in contemporary society. These elitists already have mammoth advantages and an empowered federal government is one of the few remaining obstacles to their complete subordination of all other Americans.
The Federalists rightly contended that the Republic ordained and established by the Constitution would protect the rights of the people. This was even truer after the Bill of Rights was added in 1791. As the country aged, the reach of the Federal government expanded and the ability of States to practice various forms of oppression diminished. This was clearly the case with the abolition of slavery with the enactment of the Thirteenth Amendment. Then, the Fourteenth and Fifteenth Amendments enabled the extension of the Bill of Rights to the states. In virtually no case, were states defenders of the rights of all Americans. Generally, states defended the privileges of some Americans and the ill-treatment of other Americans. So when people such as Steve Stockton declare: “You are in a foxhole fighting to save our constitutional Republic…” understand that they are championing a third Confederacy under the guise of their deceptive and distorted narrative of the nation’s political evolution and history. Lest one dismiss this as the rantings of a living caricature in American politics and thus of no consequence, consider this: on 10 December 2013, “nearly 100 state legislators from 32 states filed into the library that sits above the museums of Mount Vernon and got to work talking about how to form a convention of states that could amend the Constitution–without interference from Congress.” They were acting under the auspices of Article V of the Constitution due to the theorizing of neo-confederate commentator Mark Levin. In his book, The Liberty Amendments , Mr. Levin advocates “10 amendments, starting with 12-year term limits for members of Congress and Supreme Court judges. Unpopular Supreme Court decisions could be overridden by a three-fifths congressional vote, “not subject to a presidential veto.” The 17th Amendment would be abolished, letting state legislatures once again elect the Senate. (If that happened today, the Senate would be snapped up immediately by Republicans.) If 34 states chose to, they could override any federal statutes or regulations “exceeding an economic burden of $100 million.” The actual constitution, the one championed by the Federalists, preserved by Lincoln, and to which every public official swears an oath is the real bastion of our unity, liberty, and prosperity. Protect it against Neo-confederate confidence men like Steve Stockman and Mark Levin.
About the Author: Larry Conley
I live in Allegheny County, PA. I am married and a father of twins. I served in the U S Army and saw hostile fire in Vietnam. When I was in the Army I took and oath to preserve, protect, and defend the Constitution of the United States. I have never rescinded that oath. br> For whatever time remains for me, I will do all in my power to answer the question, "What can I do for my country?" br > View My Profile