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December 2004   
In The Beginning: Let There Be The Articles Of Confederation By Sartre



The great deficiency in both the popular culture and academic education is that of distorted history. No other single erroneous national belief has greater importance than the notion that the Articles of Confederation were a blunder. All the contentions that the first governing body of the United States of America was a failure, avoids the central issue. Just because it was eventually superceded by the U.S Constitution, was it lacking in its attempt to fulfill the essential purpose of the 1776 Revolution?

Even though the Articles of Confederation and the Constitution were established by much of the same people, they were still very different.

Article Summaries:

1) Establishes the name of the confederation as "The United States of America"

2) Explains the rights possessed by any state, and the amount of power to which any state is entitled

3) Establishes the United States as a league of states united "...for their common defense, the security of their liberties, and their mutual and general welfare, binding themselves to assist each other, against all force offered to, or attacks made upon them..."

4) Anyone can pass freely between states (excluding fugitives from the law) and be entitled to the rights established by the state into which he or she travels. If a crime is committed in one state and the perpetrator flees to another state, he will be transported to and tried in the state in which the crime was committed.

5) Allocates one vote in Congress to each state, which was entitled to a delegation of between two and seven members. Members of Congress were appointed by state legislatures; individuals could not serve more than three out of any six years.

6) Limits the powers of states to conduct foreign relations and to declare war.

7) When an army is raised for common defense, officers below the rank of general will be named by the state legislatures.

8) Expenditures by the United States will be paid by funds raised by state legislatures, and apportioned to the states based on the real property values of each.

9) Defines the rights of the central government: to declare war, to set weights and measures (including coins), and for Congress to serve as a final court for disputes between states.

10) Defines a Committee of the States to be a government when Congress is not in session.

11) Sets rules for new states requiring nine state approval, preapproves Canada, if they apply for membership.

12) Reaffirms that the Confederation accepts war debt incurred by Congress before the articles.

13) Declares that the articles are perpetual, and can only be altered by approval of Congress with ratification by ALL state legislatures.

According to Robert Middlekauff, the fourth draft version written by John Dickinson of Pennsylvania, became the text that after much revision provided the basis for the Articles approved by Congress. Dickinson prepared his draft in June 1776; it was revised by a committee of Congress and discussed in late July and August. The result, the third version of Dickinson's original, was printed to enable Congress to consider it further. In November 1777 the final Articles, much altered by this long deliberative process, were approved for submission to the states.

Bob Taft in Democracy? -- Who Needs It (look to the Articles of Confederation), makes a perceptive observation: “Under the Articles there was a uni-cameral Congress, quite sufficient, from which the Presidents were chosen, not democratically elected as under the Constitution. And the Presidents, like Justices, were chosen for single year terms with no right of succession. This was an unwanted block to personal ambition by so many of the Founding Scoundrels and had to be and was abandoned.”

Confusing the fundamental reason for fighting the American Revolution; namely, independence - the essence of Inherent Autonomy - with the creation of a central government, is the fatal mistake that allows for a false sense of relief and is the basic basis for political misapprehension. The delusion that a tangible Republic was originally instituted with the U.S. Constitution, causes the malady that the federal government possesses legitimate powers of the STATE.

Taft argues that “the genesis of a Republic is found in Exodus 18:21 where it speaks of "judges of thousands, judges of hundreds, judges of fifties, judges of tens." In different translations of the true, unalterable word of God instead of judges it may say rulers, or chiefs, etc. Jumping to Saxon England (Isaac's Sons) from ancient Israel we have the basic ten-family political unite called a "tun." Ten tuns come under jurisdiction of a Hundred court. Such courts still function in some of our southern states. The "fifty" in Exodus 18:21 apparently referred to the size of councils and the "thousand" stands for the general populace.”

Benjamin Franklin was influenced by the Iroquois Constitution (Algonquin Confederation). It acted as an inspiration for the Articles of Confederation of 1777. Taft proposes: “We could go from the "tun" to the Congress in five or six levels, councils along the way representing wards, cities, counties, states, whatever is needed to handle very limited amounts of delegated sovereignty.”

Donald S. Lutz published in Publius: The Journal of Federalism 20 (Winter 1990): 55-70, offers a comprehensive background and perceptive analysis on the struggle for constructing an honest republic. The Federalist defeated the “Anti-Federalists” Whig faction for political ascendancy. While, the Whig theory did not work out an adequate form of government for national union, it still defined at that time the mainstream of American political thought. Lutz suggests that ‘so called’ shortcomings of the Articles of Confederation could have been minimized with the adoption of a more enlighten Franklin plan. “Unlike the Iroquois model, Franklin's plan did not provide a veto for each colony. Instead, it was a logical extension of the American colonial pattern of political organization. There was an executive appointed by the crown and termed the' 'president general." The legislature, called the Grand Council, controlled the purse strings, although all legislation had to be signed by the president general as well.”

The core point can be seen as: “Its superiority to the forthcoming Articles lay in the design of its legislature. Elected every three years, the representatives were to be apportioned according to the financial contributions of each colony. This would have put the colonies in the position of arguing for a decrease in their respective representation every time they asked for a lower tax levy. Linking taxes to the commerce and wealth generated by the colonies had the effect of overrepresenting the smaller states compared to their population, because they had disproportionately fewer citizens in low income-producing frontier situations. It also overrepresented the southern colonies by taking into account the commercial effects of slavery, without having to face the question that would be raised by using population as the base - should slaves be included in the head count?”

The apportionment proposed for the first three years until tax contributions could be worked out illustrated the shrewd calculations that Franklin had made about probable future politics in a united legislature. The Council was to be initially apportioned as follows:

New England total = 16 (33%)

New Hampshire 2

Massachusetts 7

Rhode Island 2

Connecticut 5

Middle state total=17 (35%)

New York 4

New Jersey 3

Pennsylvania 6

Maryland 4

Southern state Total = 15 (32%)

Virginia 7

North Carolina 4

South Carolina 4

Total = 48

The conclusion drawn by Lutz: “has it possible for four out of the eleven colonies to create a majority, but it was also unlikely that this would happen because the three largest colonies were each the centerpiece of a different political subculture. The most likely coalitions were not based on the size of the colonies, but rather on a New England coalition centered around Massachusetts, a southern coalition centered around Virginia, and a center coalition built around Pennsylvania . . . It is an irony of history that in the Articles of Confederation, the American Whigs opted for something much closer to the Iroquois Confederation than to their own state systems as represented by Franklin's plan. The irony is furthered by Franklin's plan being explicitly proposed as an alternative during the debate in the Continental Congress. Had it been adopted, Franklin's plan would probably have overcome the weaknesses in the national government to the extent of stalling for a considerable time, if not permanently, the need for the even more powerful replacement represented by the Federalist Constitution of 1787.”

Thus, when Bob Taft states: “Unfortunately, whatever hopes the original thirteen States may have had for the establishment of a Republic under the Articles of Confederation were dashed upon the rocks of democracy by the 1787 Constitution”, we should appreciate that few really understand the nature of an actual Republic and even less seek to establish rightful independence.

The Articles of Confederation had eight presidents that served with the congress: Samuel Huntington, Thomas McKean, John Hanson, Elias Boudinot, Thomas Mifflin, Richard Henry Lee, John Hancock, Nathaniel Gorham, Arthur St. Clair, Cyrus Griffin. Consider how preferable our plight would have become, the extent of local rule maintained and the advancement of regional autonomy, had a limited and restrictive role of a central government been kept. The Federalists under Hamilton never wanted a real Republic. It required the efforts of the Anti-Federalists to insert a Bill of Rights into the U.S. Constitution, and force the Federalists to abandon the plan for a unitary government in favor of what is now represented as a "federal republic." Imagine a government that does not allow a President to remain in office long enough to ponder his legacy, build a library or reinvent the national fabric.

In the Strappado Wrack article, Articles of Confederation was Preferable, the case is made for limited governance and the preference for a confederacy model embodied in the pre Constitution era. The exact refinement over the specific details may be hashed out. What doesn’t need to be debated is the advantage of restraint upon central government. Absolutism under the guise of a bogus “separations of power” - that subjugates sovereign states and suppresses local self-determination - cannot be deemed legitimate.

What is lost in the celebration of the founding of our nation is that it never was one country. There were three distinct regions and several very different worldviews. The Tories that sided with Britain moved to Canada, back to England or adjusted to the new reality. Hamiltonian’s sought a strong central government with some even favoring an Americanized version of a king. Jeffersonian’s preferred a much weaker central authority with a limited role into the internal affairs of individual states. The Articles of Confederation did not stop working. It was sabotaged by the Federalists in order that a replacement could be enacted that better fit with their vision for governance. A confederation respects individual sovereignty. A centralized national government inevitably destroys the independence of home rule and meaningful representation. The very purpose for the creation of a New Nation, is embodied within individual liberty. In the beginning there was HOPE, today there is only despair. An earnest union necessitates indigenous self-rule, based upon justifiable parochial interests and needs.

During the era when the Articles of Confederation provided a framework for government, Americans lived their natural Inherent Autonomy with less interference. An artificial reverence for the U.S Constitution, immediately guarantees a disconnect from optimism. Personal benefit in harmony with national gain rests upon the precept of unified agreement. The standard of principle must share a natural distrust for despotic government. We all lost our cause with the emergence of a strong federal state. This kind of union has proven to be authoritarian nightmare. Freedom had a better chance under the Articles of Confederation.

"Published originally at : republication allowed with this notice and hyperlink intact."

SARTRE is the pen name of a reformed, former political operative. This pundit's formal instruction in History, Philosophy and Political Science served as training for activism, on the staff of several politicians and in many campaigns. He is the content liaison for Ether Zone.