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We the People . . . or

A follow up to Mark’s post regarding the oath and the ramifications for the question of what the United States was/is, and the discussion that followed.

There is an argument, advanced by contemporary Calhouns and Vallandinghams, that a state rights, limited federal power spirit animated the Founding Fathers when the U.S. Constitution was written in the 1780s and that the Constitution was written by and for a confederation of states, sort of like the UN, rather than a nation. (And in light of how well the UN works, I find it curious that anyone who cares about this country would want to have THAT as our way of doing business. But that’s a matter for perhaps another post.)

Yet, if this was the case, why did Founding Fathers of the Confederacy deem it necessary to modify the preamble of their Constitution, eschewing the “We the People of the United States” in favor of “We, the people of the Confederate States, each State acting in its sovereign and independent character”? By doing this, where they not conceding a nationalist interpretation of the U.S. Constitution, that it was written by the people of the United States rather than the states? Otherwise, why would they have felt the modification was necessary? Moreover, by forsaking their Constitution and submitting to the authority of the U.S. Constitution after the superiority of a government that embraces centralized power run amok (their stated view) was demonstrated by the war, were not the people of the South de facto submitting to what by their own preamble they had declared a centralist Constitution?

Comments (5) to “We the People . . . or”

  1. The democratic as opposed to federalist interpretation of a democratic republic by Jefferson is documented well enough.

    Jefferson was the leader of political thought resulting in secession. A thought that was tried and tested in battle along with states rights. We all know the result of 1865.

    The Constitution lives as a growing instrument as it evolves throughout history with very little change. Your post is correct. I agree.

  2. Of course, that same Jefferson managed to find enough “life” in the Constitution to enforce the Embargo Act and purchase Louisiana.

    Sadly, as you know Tim, just because these things are documented does not mean they are accepted.

  3. Was this the same Thomas Jefferson who wanted to impeach Chief Justice John Marshall for acquitting Aaron Burr of Treason when Burr was accused of trying to incite secession in parts of the Louisiana territory?

  4. Re Ethan’s question about why the framers of the Confederate constitution altered the wording of the preamble, it’s possible that they wanted to explicitly nail down their interpretation of the U.S. Constitution. I just read the parts of the CSA Constitution dealing with slavery, and those parts seem to reflect this concern as well.

    Of course, if we really wanted to answer the question definitively, we could actually do some research. Or get a Corona with lime. I’m opting for the latter.

  5. Those were my thoughts.

    Hamilton won out eventually. Now we have a Hamiltonian democratic republic. It is ironic the republicans are the Jeffersonians now in word but not always in deed. Democrats being Hamiltonian in deed but not in word.

    Southerners were forced by a desire for self(ish) preservation to distance themselves from the promise of effective central government by rule of law since it was written in a somewhat ambiguous manner for passage by their ancestors from Virginia and the Carolinas. Money talks and statesmanship walks most of the time. All men are created equal works if you have well trained professional law enforcement organizations without unpaid labor being classified as an expensive thoroughbred race horse, a strong mule or even a real smart dog.

    Explicitly nailing down all thirteen colonies turned out to be a temporary accomplishment. To make it permanent took more than the rule of law. It took guns to enforce the law and still does.