Was Nationalism Sold To the Country As Federalism?

by Al Benson Jr.

It seems that, under the Articles of Confederation, there were states rights, as each state was considered sovereign and independent. However, with the ratification of the new constitution, that seems to have disappeared. Historian Clarence Carson has noted that, regarding the Articles of Confederation: “This bent, or tradition can be traced to many sources. Americans were, above all, a people of the book–the written word–the Bible. There was the Puritan idea, too, of the Covenant, an agreement between man and man and between man and God…Colonists had drawn their own political agreements, such as the Mayflower Compact and the Fundamental Orders of Connecticut…Once the colonies had broken away from England, the only historical allegiances that remained were to the states and localities…At any rate, there should be no doubt that the government of the United States under the Articles of Confederation was brought into being by the states.”

Some delegates saw the new Constitution as potentially tyrannical and refused to sign it. It seems that statesmen in those days had a far clearer view of things than do our present politicians, who I will not dignify by calling them statesmen.

George Mason of Virginia was unwilling to sign. The major objection was that the new document did not contain a bill of rights and there were objections in several state conventions to ratification being enacted too hastily without such being made part of the document. Patrick Henry argued, and rightfully so, in the light of history, that a specific bill of rights was essential. He observed that governments regularly and automatically assumed powers that were not prohibited to them. Can anyone in our day deny this truth? We have a Commander-in-Chief that regularly rules the country by executive fiat when he can’t get a usually-willing Congress to go along with something he has been instructed to ram through. And Congress never seems to complain. They sit back and let him do it. In our day the Executive Branch of government regularly usurps powers denied to it and the courts ignore the whole situation, giving the Executive and Legislative branches a wink and a nod as our rights are stolen. So much for checks and balances–another bill of goods we have been sold.

Added to all this was the continuing problem of differing views of the Constitution, which seems to have been a major problem back before the War of Northern Aggression.

In his book The Confederate Constitution of 1861 Marshall DeRosa noted that: “Within the context of American federalism does sovereignty reside in the people in their national or state capacities? To be more precise, does the U.S. Constitution establish an association of sovereign individuals within their respective states or a national community of sovereign individuals the states notwithstanding?” It seems that within the ‘more perfect Union” there has always been this tension. DeRosa noted that by 1861 this tension had become a major cleavage so that the Constitution “rather served as a vehicle for dissension and separation.”

DeRosa observed that: “This was most certainly the case by 1861, as Northerners insisted on a model of federalism consisting of a national community of individuals, with sovereignty being a national phenomenon–that is, nationalism–whereas Southerners adhered to a model consisting of a community of states.”

John C. Calhoun, while he was still alive, (he died in March, 1850) noticed that a transition was taking place wherein the old Federal Republic was being transformed into a consolidated democracy, which placed sovereign authority at the national level while taking power away from the states. That trend continued, with William Henry Seward claiming that the Constitution had established a national community of individuals and not a community of states. Seward was from New York.

And this thought has occurred to me–is it just possible that what Calhoun observed as a transformation was, in fact, actually there in seed form at the very beginning?

According to DeRosa, Seward claimed that: “the States are not parties to the Constitution as States; it is the Constitution of the people of the United States. But even if the States continue as States, they have surrendered their equality as States, and submitted themselves to the sway of the numerical majority…” There is no way I can agree with Seward’s blatant nationalism, but, what if that was really the intent from the beginning? What if nationalism was sold to the Southern states surreptitiously as federalism and, outside of a few men like Patrick Henry, hardly any grasped that? While that may sound far out to some, is it any further out than the idea of a group of men eagerly signing up for a “Union” they could not secede from only 13 years after they had experienced the same situation with Great Britain?

You have to wonder what would make men yoke themselves and their states again to a bondage they had only recently fought a war of independence to get away from. You have to wonder if some of these delegates had in mind something other than the freedom and liberty for both states and individuals that Patrick Henry envisioned.

An educated pastor once said to me “You have to wonder if there were some anti-Christs in that (constitutional) convention.” At the time, I did not grasp the enormity of his assertion. Now I have begun to.

Is the Constitution Really Inimical To States Rights?

by Al Benson Jr.

A lot of years ago now, when I first became involved in conservative and patriotic endeavors, I can recall many patriotic folks saying that we needed to get our government “back to the Constitution.” While I believe that would be a step in the right direction, away from the rogue government we have now with its Marxist proclivities, I am not sure that, in the long run, this would solve all our problems. Although for a little over a decade I believed that myself, so I am not faulting in any way those that believe it. However, over the years, events have changed my thinking.

For many years, when I first got involved in all the events that have shaped the direction I have gone in, I had a good friend, and sometimes mentor, Pastor Ennio Cugini, of the Clayville Church in North Scituate, Rhode Island, half a country and a whole culture away from where I am now. Pastor Cugini had a radio broadcast in Rhode Island called “The Victory Hour” which he used effectively and vigorously to expose the machinations of Communists, socialists, and various New World Order types, both in government and in the churches (yes, they were and are in the churches). He was also an avid reader of history. You have to be in order to deal effectively with what has gone on in this country for over two centuries. This is where so many Evangelicals fall by the wayside. Their grasp of our history is like the Platte River in our West, a mile wide and an inch deep.

I recall talking with Pastor Cugini on the phone one time, way back in 1980. My family and I were living in Indiana at the time. Pastor Cugini was telling me about a book he had just read, Patrick Henry–Patriot and Statesman by Norine Dickson Campbell, published all the way back in 1969. It was basically a biography of Patrick Henry, but towards the end of the book, actually starting on page 322, she delved into Mr. Henry’s views on the U.S. Constitution and why he was such an ardent foe of the ratification of that document in Virginia. Just that fact alone startled me, because none of the history books I could recall reading ever went into any of that. Nowadays, I am not surprised, but then I was. I had yet to grasp the truth the the “winners write the history books.” In fact, the “history” books never mentioned much at all about Patrick Henry. About all you ever got from them was a brief commentary about his “liberty or death” speech and then they pretty much dropped him out of the historical narrative (if you can call it that).

After hunting around I managed to find a copy of Miss Campbell’s book. It was the last copy the bookstore had, and over the years I have only seen one other copy. If it hasn’t been reprinted it should be. After reading her book I can understand why it didn’t get lots of coverage. In a nut shell, even in 1787, Patrick Henry was politically incorrect! And many of the Federalist mentality (it’s still out there) have never forgiven him.

Pastor Cugini told me something in that phone conversation I have never forgotten. He said that, while political conservatives wish we could simply get back to following the Constitution, he had concluded, from Henry’s comments included in the book, that “the Constitution is the problem.” Miss Campbell’s book gave a lot of Henry’s reasons for his opposition to it, as he put them forth in Virginia during his opposition to ratification.

Henry was downright prescient in his predictions of what would happen to this country if the Constitution was ratified. One of his most prophetic statements was that the Union that was cobbled together by the Constitution would not last 100 years. He was right on–it didn’t It didn’t last ninety years.

Henry had a problem with the wording of the Preamble, where it said “We the People” which he felt should have read “We the States” because it was the states that eventually ratified the document. He also noted, correctly, that the delegates from the various states that assembled in Philadelphia in 1787 did not have instructions from their states to form a new government–all they had been delegated to do was to amend the Articles of Confederation–and so they far overstepped their instructions in what they ended up doing. Miss Campbell’s book on Patrick Henry is excellent. If you can find a used copy in a book store or on Amazon.com grab it before someone beats you to it.

A more recently published biography of Patrick Henry has been written by David J. Vaughan and is entitled Give Me Liberty. Mr. Vaughan echoed much of what Miss Campbell had earlier stated. He wrote: “Although the federal Convention that met in Philadelphia in May of 1787 was authorized only to revise the existing Articles of Confederation, the delegates devised an entirely new constitution that was subsequently sent to the states for ratification. Those that favored the new Constitution were named ‘Federalists’ while their opponents were called ‘Anti-Federalists.’ These labels were apt to be misleading, however. In fact it would be more accurate to name the pro-Constitution faction as ‘nationalists’ and the opposing group as the true ‘Federalists.’ For it was Henry and those of similar sentiments who espoused the true sentiments of federalism–a federation of independent and sovereign states…”

Vaughan also noted that the pro-Constitution group, led by James Madison, felt a stronger national government was needed. He said: “The national government, they believed, needed the power to tax and to regulate commerce…The way to give energy to the national government was to give it power, but this required a change in its form. The Anti-Federalists, (or Federal Republicans as they often called themselves) were led by Henry of course. In general the Republicans were united on the principle of confederation…In effect, Henry charged the Constitutional Convention with illegal proceedings. And he was right.”