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In 1776 our forefathers rebelled against their lawful government over many issues including the fact that they felt they were being unfairly taxed for goods necessary both to their comfort and their survival. Incidents such as the Boston Tea Party and the Boston Massacre bought the American colonists to the brink of war and beyond.
It has been claimed that fewer than fifteen per-cent of the American colonists favored the separation of the colonies from Mother Britain but many of this small group were willing to fight and die for their principles. The most vocal and most aggressive of this minority are well remembered today with names such as George Washington, Benjamin Franklin, Nathan Hale, Patrick Henry, and Thomas Jefferson. These men, along with others, are credited with being the founding fathers of our Country. They were a part of a tireless minority who preferred independence over the security of the British Empire. Through their actions they achieved their independence from England and set out to create a new form of government in the Americas.
After their Independence was secured, the leaders of the revolution agreed that it was impractical to continue as thirteen separate and isolated Colonies without some sort of agreement for their common defense. Since their independence had been granted, they were no longer colonies; rather they were separate, sovereign states, governing themselves, who had united for the purpose of achieving their freedom. It was decided this Union should be maintained for the purpose of defense against those who might desire to overcome the small individual states. Plans were made for a Congress to assemble to determine what course of action would be best for these thirteen states future safety and delegates from every state assembled to discuss their future.
Realizing that, while their individual governments were satisfactory for governing their internal affairs, there was a need for a central committee to deal with matters that affected all states, they felt it necessary to create a government of the united thirteen states. Naturally there were many different opinions as to what form of government would be best for such a diverse group.
Human nature being what it is, some favored delegating authority to a ruling body that would have absolute power over the citizens. By this form of government, individuals would not have to worry over the issues of governing themselves, trusting, instead, that their leaders would have their best interests at heart and rule them accordingly. It is a sad fact of human nature that some individuals prefer to relinquish control of their lives to a higher authority,
Some delegates favored a Monarchy such as they were used to, since they were still basically English in their hearts. They wished for a benevolent King to rule them wisely and justly, and such powers would be passed down to their lineal descendents, just as it was in England. Others remembered that history had seen many weak and even evil Kings and soundly rejected this idea. Some wanted a President for life to rule over all the states, only having elections when the President grew too old to fulfill his duties of Office.
Others opposed any idea of a central government, arguing that they had just fought the British Empire to achieve their independence and the creation of a central government would be tantamount to surrendering their independence to a new master.
In the end, it was decided that since each state was justifiably enamored of their independence and the citizens were not likely to shift their allegiance from their State to a federal government, the best form of Government would be a Republic with each State retaining their sovereignty, but united together with the other states for the good of all. Now a directive was needed, stating what the duties of this government would be and what safeguards were needed to prevent a power hungry individual from perverting it for their own purpose.
It was finally decided that a Constitution was necessary, detailing the specific departments of the Government and their duties. After many drafts and endless discussion, a final version of the Constitution was presented to the Committee, but some thought this was not enough. Several members of the Constitutional Convention thought that a section was needed listing the basic rights of the citizens. It was decided that rather than re-write the entire constitution, this Bill of Rights would be added in the form of Amendments.
In the Preamble of the Constitution it clearly states the purpose for its creation:
We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.
Notice that it does not say “The Government of the United States of America”. It clearly says “We the People. . . “, implying that it was created with the will of the people and that these people had the right to self government; government by the consent of the governed. If the Government were stating this, it would have stated its own authority, not that of the people. The use of “We the People” implies that this government derives its authority from the People and cannot act without their permission. Also, the use of a simple descriptive phrase has aroused much confusion.
The Colonies had long been known as simply America. After their independence there was no need to change this way of thinking. For example, the State of Georgia for convenience sake could easily have been referred to as Georgia, State of America to prevent confusion and to make clear which Georgia was being mentioned. As a way to make the wording of the Constitution less cumbersome its authors chose not to say “We the People of New York, Connecticut, Rhode Island, Vermont, New Hampshire, Delaware, Massachusetts, Pennsylvania, Maryland, Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, and Georgia, States of America…” but instead referred to the United Thirteen States of America and shortened this to United States of America, a descriptive phrase for the thirteen States, united for a common goal, rather than a specific title of the Government. This again infers that the individual States were still considered sovereign and had not given up their independence upon joining the “United” States.
There is also the fact that with all the land available in the “New World” it was likely that more States would be created and if the original thirteen were individually mentioned it would create problems since the Constitution only mentioned the original thirteen. To avert this possibility, the Constitution was worded so that future States would be included under the terms of its protection as soon as they were admitted as a State of the Union.
Notice also the phrase “…in order to form a more perfect union…” unequivocally saying that the individual States had formed a Union, not been joined as one entity as would be the case if the Government had superseded the rights of the States.
James Madison and others thought while the rest of the Constitution was well worded as pertaining to the form of government, it needed a section listing the rights of the citizens so they could never be compromised by unscrupulous individuals. This list was added as amendments to the Constitution and became known as the “Bill of Rights”.
Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.
This is two Amendments in one. The first part says that the government cannot interfere or prohibit any religious practices. It Does NOT say that religion is prohibited within the government. The “Separation of Church and State” isn’t mentioned anywhere in the Constitution.
The second part says the public has the right to gather and say what they want without being interfered with by the authorities. It also does not say anything about any form of expression beyond speech.
A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a Free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.
Free State? As in Free, Independent, sovereign State?
No Soldier shall, in time of peace be quartered in any house, without the consent of the Owner, nor in time of war, but in a manner to be prescribed by law.
The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.
No person shall be held to answer for a capital, or otherwise infamous crime, unless on a presentment or indictment of a Grand Jury, except in cases arising in the land or naval forces, or in the Militia, when in actual service in time of War or public danger; nor shall any person be subject for the same offence to be twice put in jeopardy of life or limb; nor shall be compelled in any criminal case to be a witness against himself, nor be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor shall private property be taken for public use, without just compensation.
In all criminal prosecutions, the accused shall enjoy the right to a speedy and public trial, by an impartial jury of the State and district wherein the crime shall have been committed, which district shall have been previously ascertained by law, and to be informed of the nature and cause of the accusation; to be confronted with the witnesses against him; to have compulsory process for obtaining witnesses in his favor, and to have the Assistance of Counsel for his defense.
In Suits at common law, where the value in controversy shall exceed twenty dollars, the right of trial by jury shall be preserved, and no fact tried by a jury, shall be otherwise re-examined in any Court of the United States, than according to the rules of the common law.
Excessive bail shall not be required, nor excessive fines imposed, nor cruel and unusual punishments inflicted.
The enumeration in the Constitution, of certain rights, shall not be construed to deny or disparage others retained by the people.
The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people.
It is clear that the first Nine amendments specify the rights of the individuals and the ninth amendment states that some Rights are included that were not specifically listed.
The Tenth Amendment clearly states that any powers not specifically given to the Federal Government are the exclusive domain of the States. In other words, if the State did not give the government permission, then the government cannot do it. The Government derives its powers from the States and not as we assume today, the States are ruled by the Federal Government.
On March 4, 1789 the Constitution of the United States was officially accepted and on April 30, 1789 George Washington was inaugurated as the first President.
So began the Noble experiment in Democracy. The Government of the United Thirteen States was unlike any the world had ever seen. The People of the sovereign States ruled the Government and gave it its powers and authority. It was truly the first Government of the people, for the people and by the people. The three branches of Government, The Judicial, the Legislative and the Executive were in place as a system of checks and balances so even if an unscrupulous person should achieve power the other two branches would quickly bring him back in line.
So where in our history did this change? When did the States become subservient to the Federal Government?
DIVIDING THE UNION
The first incident took only nine years from the formation of the Federal Government. In 1798, our second President, John Adams, feared that with the conflicts between France and England, the Union could become embroiled in the intrigues and possibly be overcome by a foreign power. He proposed a Bill called the “Alien & Sedition Act”, which would make it a crime to speak out against the Government of the States. On the surface, this law was designed to control the activities of foreigners in the United States during a time of impending war. Beneath the surface, however, the real intent of these laws was to destroy Jeffersonian Republicanism, which placed its faith in the virtues of an agrarian democracy, believed that the greatest threat to liberty was posed by a tyrannical central government and that power in the hands of the common people was preferred. Despite the fact that such a Bill was in violation of the 1st Amendment to the Constitution, many supported this heinous disregard for the Laws of the Land. Fortunately our original founding fathers were still active in government and this bill was quickly defeated but it serves as a reminder of the lust for power that sometimes overcomes otherwise decent, upstanding men.
During the next few years world events began to influence politics in the fledgling American States. The two schools of thought toward the system of Government had formed into political parties. The Monarchists had accepted that there would never be an American King so they began their efforts to grant greater powers to the Government and to expand its authority. These advocates of a large, all-powerful, central government were known as the Federalist Party and those who espoused Jefferson’s belief that the source of governmental power should remain in the hands of the public were called Republican-Democrats. Since the Federalists tended to support Britain and the Republican-Democrats preferred France, tensions were high because of the animosity between those neighboring Countries.
In 1801, during the Presidency of Thomas Jefferson word was received that Spain intended to cede the Louisiana Territory back to France. Jefferson sent envoy James Monroe to negotiate the purchase of Florida and New Orleans. Before Monroe arrived, ambassadors of Emperor Napoleon offered envoy Charles Livingston the sale of the entire Louisiana Territory. President Jefferson was shocked at the offer and while he was unsure of the legality of purchasing territory, since it was not defined by the Constitution, accepted Napoleon’s offer, fearing that if he took the time necessary to prepare and approve a Constitutional Amendment, France might change its mind.
The Northern States dominated by the Federalist Party were furious at Jefferson’s actions since much of the new territory was in Southern Climates and presumably would strengthen the South’s hold on the Federal Government. Many Northern States openly discussed secession since a Republican-Democrat majority was contrary to their plans for a large, centralized Government. Eventually, through compromises, they were appeased and decided to remain in the Union.
Less than a decade later, the British, who were still smarting from the rebellion of the American colonies and sometimes refused to accept that they were now sovereign, independent States, had started the antagonistic policy of “impressing” citizens of the former colonies (forcing them to work for the British Navy) by claiming they were actually British sailors who had jumped ship. Rumors were rife that British outposts in other parts of the American continent were stirring up rebellion among the Native Americans, encouraging them to rise up against the White settlers.
These actions eventually led to the outbreak of the War of 1812.
The Federalists who were predominantly in the New England States were vehemently opposed to any warfare against England, especially since their trade was mostly with England and a war would cut drastically into their profits. The Republican-Democrats, who were mainly from the Southern States, were in favor of such a war as they saw it as a way to expand their territory.
When war was actually declared, the New England States convened the Hartford Convention with the full intention of leaving the Union because they disagreed with the policies of the Republican-Democrat majority in the Government. They also considered drafting an Amendment to the Constitution which would prohibit any state from providing more than two Presidents in a row, presumably to end the “Virginia Dynasty” since four of the first five Presidents were from that State. Only the quick cessation of hostilities prevented their plan of secession from becoming a reality.
The War of 1812 changed many public perceptions of the Government. We had gone to war again against the British Empire and won. Allegiance to the “Union” began to supersede allegiance to the individual State, especially in the North. During the next few decades the northern States and their political parties began a slow but determined take-over of the Government from the southerners, with their emphasis on individual freedom.
As Northern influence grew their actions in government became bolder. The South was extremely prosperous from their sales of Cotton and Tobacco, while the fledgling industries of the north were still struggling to show a profit. Needing funds for many improvements in transportation such as more railroads and better shipping, duties and Tariffs were levied and these funds were used to increase the solvency of the Government, but were often used for Northern improvements. By the 1850’s the Northern States held a clear majority in both the House and the Senate, and the duties and Tariffs had been cleverly worded so they applied mainly to products the South exported or needed to import.
The Southern States were angered at such oppressive duties and tariffs being levied against them and it is estimated that funds from the Southern States comprised eighty per-cent of the income for the Government but that as little as twenty per-cent was being used to improve conditions in the South. For the third time in its young lifetime, States threatened to remove themselves from the Union but this time it was the Southern States.
Around this same time a movement called “Abolition” became increasingly popular in the Northern States. While some of the leaders of the Abolitionist movement were motivated by an altruistic belief in the evils of Slavery, most were thinking more of the financial gains provided by “Free” labor.
It had already been proven that the African slaves were not suited, temperamentally, for work in the Northern mills and factories. At the same time, recent immigrants from Ireland and other countries were concerned that slave labor would reduce the number of potential jobs and they themselves might find their jobs had been co-opted by slave labor. The abolition movement provided the incentive to oppose the practice of slavery under the guise of doing a public service. What is less well known about the abolitionist movement is that most preferred to ship the slaves back to Africa. These abolitionists were using public opinion about the slaves to have them removed from this Country.
The South on the other hand had a much smaller population with much more land. Being a semi-tropical climate it was eminently suitable for agriculture. It was also a climate much more suitable to the African Slaves. Since manpower was in great demand but unavailable, the practice of slavery flourished in the South. It is highly unlikely that the South could have become prosperous had it not been for the labor of the Slaves. They had become such an integral part of the Southern economy that even those who did not personally own slaves feared the increasing Abolitionism sentiment in the North.
As the Abolitionist movement grew demands were made that the slaves be freed immediately with no compensation to their owners. Since at 1850 prices a male slave was worth up to $2000 and there were over a million slaves in the South, their total value would be somewhere around one-billion dollars if we estimate that their average worth was $1000. Not only did the abolitionists advocate the South release the slaves without compensation of their purchase price or worth, they expected the Southerners to be able to maintain their crops with the loss of over eighty per-cent of the manpower they had previously enjoyed.
Another problem that is seldom addressed is that while in most cases the slaves had been schooled in the Christian Religion, little else had been taught to them. Most could not read and had no notion of how society functioned outside of the Plantation. They needed extensive education before they could be mainstreamed into society as free men. Even the Southerners who were opposed to slavery and advocated freedom for the slaves had no answers for this dilemma.
By 1852 a new element had been added to the Abolitionist’s arsenal. Harriett Beecher Stowe, the daughter of a prominent abolitionist Lyman Beecher, who wedded another ardent abolitionist Calvin Stowe, had written a book entitled “Uncle Tom’s Cabin”, purportedly about slavery in the South.
She had never been further South than Ohio, where she witnessed a slave auction, but that did nothing to suppress her imagination. Drawing from the most sensational headlines and the ideas of her abolitionist associates, she penned the most luridly graphic novel of anti-slavery ever published. Despite being a novel (i.e. fictional) the reading public in the north accepted the novel as the true story of slavery in the South, fueling the arsenal of anti-southern/anti-slavery sentiment.
Fueled by the sentiments from her novel, some of the more radical abolitionists decided that their propaganda was not enough and decided to launch another more direct attack; to promulgate a slave insurrection in the south. That such an insurrection would undoubtedly lead to bloodshed and loss of life was unimportant to them. They found their means of employing this tactic in the person of John Brown of Kansas.
Brown, a self-styled fundamentalist Minster with the long flowing hair and beard of an Old Testament prophet had already established a reputation in Kansas where he and his sons and other followers slaughtered whole families for the crime of being Southern. With the financing of a group known as the “Secret Six”, he raided the Federal Arsenal at Harpers Ferry, Virginia with the idea that the slaves would flock to him to be armed, so they could rise up and slaughter their white masters. Unfortunately for Brown, the slaves stayed away in droves. None attempted to reach him and he was finally captured and executed by the United States Army.
By 1860 the South was feeling sorely put upon and alienated from the Union they had worked so hard to establish. With their grievance against the United States Government over being unfairly taxed (shades of 1776), the abolitionists demands that they bankrupt themselves by immediately freeing the slaves and the fear that the next madman who tried to stir up a slave rebellion might succeed, the Southerners watched nervously the election results for a known sectional candidate with little love for the South, Abraham Lincoln.
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