Isn’t the United States the greatest “nation” on earth? The Pledge of Allegiance tells us so, right?
Most Americans think so. They believe the Spirit of ’76 and the ensuing War for Independence birthed a unitary nation. But this notion has been fundamentally wrong since the Declaration of Independence was drafted and signed. The true Spirit of ’76 was rooted in the idea of republicanism, decentralization and self-government, not top-down centralized authority. And the political society the Spirit of ’76 birthed was a union of sovereign states, not a singular “nation.”
Most mainstream history professors, econ teachers, and political science teachers all share one erroneous belief in common. They embrace a “one-nation” conception of America. They view the United States as a unitary whole, not a union of independent states. They believe in top-down centralized control. And they pushed this “nationalist” conception through three false principles
The first false principle you are taught comes from the “divine” paragraph of the Declaration of Independence which States “all men are created equal.” This theory started with Lincoln and was pushed by people like Harry Jaffa or Eric Foner. Modern political thinkers have pushed this idea to mean we should strive for equality of outcome – government policy should promote sameness. That was not the founding era conception of equality. St. George Tucker, an early American lawyer and jurist who wrote the first legal commentary on the Constitution perhaps put it best.
“By equality, in a democracy, is to be understood, equality of civil rights, and not of condition. Equality of rights necessarily produces inequality of possessions; because, by the laws of nature and of equality, every man has a right to use his faculties in an honest way, and the fruits of his labor, thus acquired, are his own. But some men have more strength than others; some more health; some more industry; and some more skill and ingenuity, than others; and according to these, and other circumstances the products of their labor must be various, and their property must become unequal.”
While this phrase from the Declaration is often considered the foundation of American political philosophy, it wasn’t viewed as particularly important in the founding era. The Spirit of ’76 rested on the idea of self-government. The crowning jewel of the Declaration, and the key concept to understanding the union, was the fact that the states declared independence as 13 sovereign political societies, not one nation.
That leads to the second false principle you are taught – America is “one nation. We get this from the Pledge of Allegiance, which is used to engrain it into our heads as kids. The idea is fundamentally wrong. Alexander Hamilton, in the midst of the debates in Philadelphia, thought that the “reliance on pure patriotism had been the source of many of our (the framers) errors.” The pledge is nothing but an idea created by a Christian Socialist; Francis Bellamy, and his brother.
The third and final false principle you are taught in school is that America was created “of the people, by the people, and for the people.” Unfortunately, virtually everybody gets the definition of “people” wrong. The true definition coined in the preamble of the Constitution means “constituents” or those vested with political rights in the communities of the states. A better way to put it is “people of the states.”
So you may be asking: if all those principles are wrong then what is the foundation of American government?
The answer to that is “Federalism.”
Merriam-Webster dictionary defines federalism as a “distribution of power in a government between a central authority and the constituents.” I would argue in this case that it’s not so much a central authority as it is a general authority. As it was explained in the ratifying debates, the new government was created for general purposes to be achieved by exercising specific powers delegated to it.
American Government was founded on the principles of a Federal Republic, or a Confederated Republic made up of sovereign states. Thomas Jefferson made this clear in the Declaration when he equated each North American state to the “state” of England. This principle was also laid out in the Articles of Confederation and serves as the foundation of the Constitution.
However, confusion arises because many people believe the general government is the head and has final authority over everything. This is wrong. The Constitution did not create a top-down government. The states came together to form a union. In doing so, they created the general government, to which they delegated powers. They also put in a series of checks and balances so that there could be no usurping of powers. “States’ rights” and nullification aren’t “myths” created by the Democrats before, during, or after the War Between the States. It is the states’ sovereign right to put a check on the power of the government.
Historian M.E. Bradford in his article “A Teaching for Americans: Roman History and the Republics First Identity” said in order to understand just what the Constitution and true federalism is, we must look at the Roman Republic model as our founders understood it
We can divide this into three time periods – the Republic during the rise of Roman (510 – 252 B.C.), the Era of the Punic Wars (262 – 202 B.C.) and the Decline toward Monarchy and Despotism (201 – 227 B.C.). The true Spirit of 76’ lies with the Roman Republic during these periods. Instead, we’re taught the spirit of 76’ was based on the Greek Republic whose foundation was in Democracy (This thought was echoed by Thomas Payne in his pamphlet “Common Sense”).
In his book “The American Democrat,” James Fenimore Cooper suggested that we also need to understand the founders understanding of the other Republics in order to understand our own. You had the Polish Republic, which unfortunately succumbed to a kingly election and nobody set the veto power. You also had the of Venice, which fell to the aristocracy, turning the state into a private advantage. These examples are but a few that turned our founders’ sights on the great Republic of Rome.
Cooper makes a bold statement saying, “Real Republics are good in theory, but tend to go so wrong,” meaning that most of the examples ended with a monarchy or despotism when power went unchecked or was abused. You can see that prior to the War Between the States, the Republican Party became that of Vince and was trying to use the power of the state to its advantage.
The founders choose a Federal Republic or a Confederated Republic because, in essence, it was:
- The best government for representation
- It was the best government for liberty and the working together of each party
This is what “Made America Great.” It was the only confederation in all of history that created a Republic but put significant restraints on the general government.
Even nationalist like James Wilson recognized the separation of powers between the states and the general government in his state house speech in Pennsylvania.
“It will be proper … to mark the leading discrimination between the State constitutions and the constitution of the United States. When the people established the powers of legislation under their separate governments, they invested their representatives with every right and authority which they did not in explicit terms reserve; and therefore upon every question respecting the jurisdiction of the House of Assembly, if the frame of government is silent, the jurisdiction is efficient and complete. But in delegating federal powers, another criterion was necessarily introduced, and the congressional power is to be collected, not from tacit implication, but from the positive grant expressed in the instrument of the union. Hence, it is evident, that in the former case everything which is not reserved is given; but in the latter the reverse of the proposition prevails, and everything which is not given is reserved.”
This idea was echoed by Madison, Jefferson, Tyler, Calhoun, Davis, etc.
As far as centralized government goes, the founders did all they could to prevent that from happening. The point is they believed decentralized government to be better based on their reading of the history of the Republics.
But this system has been virtually abandoned. Consider the emphasis on a Supreme Court pick on modern politics. John Adams’ midnight pick, John Marshall, shouldn’t have been able to operate under Hamilton’s blueprint under that Constitution. Hamilton’s nationalist vision and thirst for centralized power set an awful precedent for today. Now, SCOTUS judges virtually rule the country.
Meanwhile, the executive branch has taken on all kinds of power it shouldn’t have under the Constitution. Presidents including Andrew Jackson, Abraham Lincoln, Woodrow Wilson, FDR, LBJ, and every modern president went out of their way to destroy not only the Republic but every aspect of the Constitution.
Congress is also not free of blame. It has punted many of its duties to the executive branch and the Supreme Court.
Another downside to centralization is that it moves whole societies in the same direction at the same time. Centralized systems provide no dampening effect for adverse outcomes. This is like one giant wave as opposed to many small waves that dampen the effect of each other.
Centralized systems are also slow to move on anything. We often get lost in this “government can do all” attitude and fail to understand that top-down government has been the worst thing for our civil society.
Federalism was the answer from the beginning. The states took care of local problems within their sphere and the general government tended to general such as international relations, war and peace, and foreign trade. Virtually all of the general government’s power is focused on these objects.
In the end, we as a country cannot continue to believe that a centralized government is working for us, historically it hasn’t proved to work anywhere and will ultimately be the demise of this once great Republic.