2/6/15 UPDATE: Upon reflection, I think I lent too much credence in this book report to what could be referred to as the patriot mythology of the Philadelphia Conspiracy, namely, the idea that the Framers schemed to usurp the Articles of Confederation during the Philadelphia Convention by drafting and proposing their United States Constitution. Such a position misunderstands not only The Federalist Papers, but The Anti-Federalist Papers as well, since allegations of a “coup d’état” totally ignore the fact that the several state governments consensually ratified the federal Constitution; however, this report on Maier’s book will be preserved in its original form, subtle errors and all, more as a lesson learned. Whether or not the outcome of the Whiskey Rebellion was desirable I do consider to be a completely different question altogether.
Whenever the American federal Constitution is brought up, everybody’s got an opinion. Either it’s a legal document that should be “progressively” morphing over time, or the letter of the thing must be followed strictly as if it were from holy writ. What is never mentioned are the people like me who just simply prefer the Declaration of Independence.
According to contemporary mainline history, you would have to infer that the central government in the District of Criminals make all the statutes that you must obey, lest you face immediate and severe punishment in the form of either stiff fines, lengthy incarceration, or even physical death. If this is indeed the case, then why did the Constitutional Convention send the Constitution as a proposal to the thirteen states for ratification? This seems to suggest to me that the states created the central (“federal”) government, not the other away around; if I am correct on this, then it would appear to me to indicate that the states, especially considering the structure of the federal republic, could exercise their respective sovereignties as distinct polities, unique and separate from the overrated Union.
Following the Constitutional Convention in 1787, a series of ratifying conventions were held in the several states, with the most prominent ones being in Pennsylvania, Massachusetts, Virginia, and New York. Direct taxes were a pivotal issue for the Federalists, since without it, there would be no point in the states ratifying the Constitution in the first place (since it would also be impossible to establish the creditworthiness of the United States without it). Their intellectual opponents, the so-called Anti-Federalists, were likewise equally concerned:
“In Pennsylvania, an informant told Madison in July 1788, the ‘most sensible, cautious and artful ‘ members told of the ‘late opposition’ were disposed to ‘acquiesce’ in the establishment of a new government under the Constitution, but they still talked about amendments: And the amendment they ‘constantly‘ mentioned was ‘the resumption of the power of direct taxation.’ That was the issue ‘most dear’ to members of the opposition, and ‘no other is much felt.’ Their sensitivity made sense for a people who had fought the strongest nation in the world on the principle of ‘no taxation without representation,’ which was for them a critical rights issue.”
Since all taxation is theft, if people are going to be living under some form of minimal government, then it would be pertinent to have a check on that coercive power be the non-negotiable ability for taxpayers to have some level of say about how the collected monies are spent, which would satisfy the requirement of representation that is to so integral to a Republic. Absent that, you simply have something more akin to an all-powerful government whose authority is not to be questioned, lest you risk punishment by violating mala prohibita.
It is quite revealing to witness the Founders’ disgust with the “peculiar institution” of race slavery. During the Massachusetts ratifying convention, Judge Thomas Dawes pointed out that Article 1, Section 9 would immediately impose a duty on imported slaves, and after 20 years, prohibit the importation of any more, thus halting the flow. As Maier describes it:
“Congress could not simply abolish slavery ‘in a moment, and so destroy what our Southern brethren consider as property,’ Dawes said, but those two provisions would eventually bring it to an end. As he put it, ‘although slavery is not smitten by an apoplexy’ that would kill it quickly, ‘yet it has received a moral wound and will die of a consumption,’ a lingering form of death.”
Baptist minister Isaac Backus echoed Dawes’ foresight, whereas Scottish immigrant James Galloway in the North Carolina convention, while agreeing that the slave trade needed to end, did not necessary agree that slavery as an institution should, since he was concerned about what the effect emancipation would have on social relations, especially considering the fact that they wouldn’t be able to ship the recently freed slaves back to their home lands. Contrasting Galloway, George Mason (during the Virginia convention) revealed his abolitionist sentiments:
“Mason also passionately condemned not only the slave trade but slavery itself as an institution that retarded industry, discredited labor, and fostered tyrannical habits in owners. Slavery was a moral evil, and ‘providence punishes national sins,’ he predicted, ‘by national calamities.'”
Given the value of hindsight, Mason’s scorn for race slavery could also be interpreted as a prediction of sorts for what later became the War between the States. I never want to ever hear again from anyone that the Founders were “evil” simply because they inherited race slavery and dealt with it as best they could, much like how we inherited the current situation, except that, unlike them (in the aggregate), “We” the “People” are not handling it well at all. It is not far-fetched to declare that Americans, even most dissidents, are much worse than the Founders, despite all the supposed “progress” that has been made, whatever the hell that is worth.
What really grabbed me about this series of ratifying conventions was the domineering statist attitude of the Federalists, such as with their notion of “take this or nothing” regarding the acceptance of the Constitution. They were absolutely inflexible with the conditional acceptances requiring the inclusion of amendments, but even those folks who wanted to amend the Constitution after ratifying it were demonized as being somehow against the formation of the United States. Combine that with the trend of Federalists trashing newspapers who published even a few of the Anti-Federalist letters and a very unflattering picture of the Federalists begins to emerge. It would not be inaccurate to state that the Federalists were the big government advocates of the 1780s. If anything, it could also be inferred that the insistence of a bill of rights (even if they were thought of not quite as such, but simply as amendments) was to protect us from the ravages of the Constitution!
Pauline Maier’s Ratification: The People Debate the Constitution, 1787 – 1788 is an intriguing historical examination of what happened immediately following the Constitutional Convention, whose original purpose was to amend the Articles of Confederation, but then the coup d’état occurred; next thing anyone knew, the new purpose of the Convention of the States was to write up a brand new constitution. Maybe if the Whiskey Rebellion had been successful, then the Union might have be short-circuited and the not-so-Civil War could have been completely avoided, thus by extension our current situation with rampant statism would also never have happened. Regardless, it is imperative to understand how the thirteen states formed the central government so as to objectively evaluate what methods could possibly work in terms of pitting the 50 state governments against the gangsters inhabiting the imperial capitol.