We’re Not Worthy

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Of Timothy Sandefur, that is. He keeps trying to explain things to us, and we just don’t listen. It’s obvious, he says, that the Constitution was not a compact among states — everyone knows that.

Everyone, apparently, with the exception of the entire Virginia ratifying convention, whose Federalists — that’s right, Tim, whose FEDERALISTS — sold the Constitution as precisely a LEAGUE AMONG STATES.Moreover, Virginia’s limited understanding of the nature of the Union and its powers would be understood to bind the remainder of the states, and Virginia could be “exonerated” from the whole thing if anything more than what she expressly delegated to the federal government were attempted to be exercised. George Nicholas, a member of the committee that drafted Virginia’s ratification instrument, put it this way:

“If thirteen individuals are about to make a contract, and one agrees to it, but at the same time declares that he understands its meaning, signification and intent, to be, what the words of the contract plainly and obviously denote; that it is not to be construed so as to impose any supplementary condition upon him, and that he is to be exonerated from it, whensoever any such imposition shall be attempted –- I ask whether in this case, these conditions on which he assented to it, would not be binding on the other twelve? In like manner these conditions will be binding on Congress. They can exercise no power that is not expressly granted them.”

Edmund Randolph, the leading Federalist at the convention, “paved the road to Virginia ratification by assuring his fellow members of the Virginia political elite that the Constitution they were being asked to ratify in the summer of 1788 would have very limited significance, that it was more another league of sovereign states than a consolidated union they would be entering. What have been portrayed as extremist and Anti-Federalist principles, then, were not extremist or Anti-Federalist in their origins at all. They were the products of the most moderate of Federalists” (Kevin R.C. Gutzman, “Edmund Randolph and Virginia Constitutionalism,” Review of Politics 66 [Summer 2004]: 491).

1:12 pm on September 8, 2006