Is Our Government Legitimate?
by Laurence M. Vance
by Laurence M. Vance
Buried in section 111 of Title I, "Miscellaneous Provisions and Offsets," of Division J, "Other Matters," in H.R. 4818, "Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2005," which became Public Law 108-447 on December 8, 2004, is the congressional decree that redesignates September 17th as Constitution Day and Citizenship Day instead of what was just Citizenship Day.
This law requires the head of each federal agency or department to provide:
- each new employee of the agency or department with educational and training materials concerning the U.S. Constitution as part of the orientation materials provided the new employee; and
- educational and training materials concerning the U.S. Constitution to each of its employees on September 17 of each year.
It also stipulates that "each educational institution that receives Federal funds for a fiscal year to hold an educational program on the U.S. Constitution on September 17 of such year for its students."
September 17th was so designated because it is the anniversary of the signing of the U.S. Constitution in 1787. In fact, this year is somewhat special because it is the 220th anniversary of that event. But what if, instead of being a cause for celebration, the adoption of the Constitution was "the most successful fraud in American history"?
The question, then, is a simple one: Is our government legitimate? I am not asking whether the U.S. government in its current state is legitimate based on its adherence to the Constitution. That it is not legitimate in that respect is obvious since the current government is about as far removed from the Constitution as it could ever be and still claim to be the government of a constitutional republic.
The Constitution was written by the delegates from twelve states to the Philadelphia Convention, which met from May 25 to September 17, 1787. It was debated and refined by some of the greatest political minds of the day. Some of the delegates had been members of Congress, some had written state constitutions, some had been state governors, and a few had even signed the Declaration of Independence or the Articles of Confederation. Three members of Convention were current members of Congress, including James Madison.
Correct, but is our government legitimate?
The Constitution was sent to the states for ratification on September 28, 1787. On December 7, 1787, Delaware became the first state to ratify the Constitution. The ninth state needed for ratification was obtained on June 21, 1788, when New Hampshire ratified.
Yes, but is our government legitimate?
After Virginia (on June 25, 1788) and New York (on July 26, 1788) ratified the Constitution, the Confederation Congress passed a resolution on September 13, 1788, to put the new Constitution into effect. The operation of the new government under the Constitution began on March 4, 1789.
All true, but is our government legitimate?
In a speech before the Virginia ratifying convention on June 5, 1788, Patrick Henry, asked basically the same thing: "Had the delegates who were sent to Philadelphia a power to propose a Consolidated Government instead of a Confederacy?"
The United States were at this time under the Articles of Confederation. According to Article XIII, no alteration could be made to any of the Articles "unless such alteration be agreed to in a Congress of the United States, and be afterwards confirmed by the legislatures of every State."
Because of the perceived "weaknesses" of the Articles, especially regarding trade and commerce, there assembled in September of 1786 delegates from New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Delaware, and Virginia at Annapolis, Maryland. The delegates to the Annapolis Convention reported that
the States of New York, Pennsylvania, and Virginia, had, in substance, and nearly in the same terms, authorised their respective Commissioners "to meet such Commissioners as were, or might be, appointed by the other States in the Union, at such time and place, as should be agreed upon by the said Commissioners to take into consideration the trade and Commerce of the United States, to consider how far an uniform system in their commercial intercourse and regulations might be necessary to their common interest and permanent harmony, and to report to the several States such an Act, relative to this great object, as when unanimously ratified by them would enable the United States in Congress assembled effectually to provide for the same."
But because not all of the states were represented (New Hampshire, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, and North Carolina appointed delegates but they never attended; Connecticut, Maryland, South Carolina, and Georgia didn't appoint anyone), the "Commissioners did not conceive it advisable to proceed on the business of their mission, under the Circumstance of so partial and defective a representation."
It was then decided that an "appointment of Commissioners" should meet in Philadelphia the next year
to take into consideration the situation of the United States, to devise such further provisions as shall appear to them necessary to render the constitution of the Federal Government adequate to the exigencies of the Union; and to report such an Act for that purpose to the United States in Congress assembled, as when agreed to, by them, and afterwards confirmed by the Legislatures of every State, will effectually provide for the same.
It was resolved by Congress on February 21, 1787, that
it is expedient that on the second Monday in May next a Convention of delegates who shall have been appointed by the several states be held at Philadelphia for the sole and express purpose of revising the Articles of Confederation and reporting to Congress and the several legislatures such alterations and provisions therein as shall when agreed to in Congress and confirmed by the states render the federal constitution adequate to the exigencies of Government & the preservation of the Union.
The purpose of the Philadelphia Convention, according to the Congress of the United States at the time, was "for the sole and express purpose of revising the Articles of Confederation," not for writing a new Constitution.
"Centinel," who termed the Convention delegates "conspirators" and their work "criminality," wrote in his third letter published in Philadelphia's Independent Gazetteer on November 8, 1787:
A comparison of the authority under which the convention acted, and their form of government will shew that they have despised their delegated power, and assumed sovereignty; that they have entirely annihilated the old confederation, and the particular governments of the several states, and instead thereof have established one general government that is to pervade the union; constituted on the most unequal principles, destitute of accountability to its constituents, and as despotic in its nature, as the Venetian aristocracy.
The "Federal Farmer" wrote for the Poughkeepsie Country Journal in 1787. He described the Convention in his first letter:
September, 1786, a few men from the middle states met at Annapolis, and hastily proposed a convention to be held in May, 1787, for the purpose, generally, of amending the confederation — this was done before the delegates of Massachusetts, and of the other states arrived — still not a word was said about destroying the old constitution, and making a new one — The states still unsuspecting, and not aware that they were passing the Rubicon, appointed members to the new convention, for the sole and express purpose of revising and amending the confederation — and, probably, not one man in ten thousand in the United States, till within these ten or twelve days, had an idea that the old ship was to be destroyed.
"Old Whig" wrote for Philadelphia's Independent Gazetteer in late 1787 and early 1788. He brought up the Convention in his seventh essay:
The late convention were chosen by the general assembly of each state; they had the sanction of Congress; — for what? To consider what alterations were necessary to be made in the articles of confederation. What have they done? They have made a new constitution for the United States. I will not say, that in doing so, they have exceeded their authority; but on the other hand, I trust that no man of understanding amongst them will pretend to say, that any thing they did or could do, was of the least avail to lessen the rights of the people to judge for themselves in the last resort. This right, is perhaps, unalienable, but at all events, there is no pretense for saying that this right was ever meant to be surrendered up into the hands of the late continental convention.
The essays of an Anti-Federalist who wrote under the name of "John DeWitt" were published in the Boston American Herald in late 1787. He spoke of the Convention in his fourth essay:
And do you discover a desire in those who wish you to embrace this Government, to inform you of its principles, and the consequences which will probably ensue from such principles — why they have taken from you the sinews of your present government, and instead of revising and amending your Confederation; have handed you a new one, contrasted in the plenitude of its powers.
The dissenters in the Pennsylvania ratification convention who published The Address and Reasons of Dissent of the Minority of the Convention of Pennsylvania to Their Constituents in the Pennsylvania Packet and Daily Advertiser on December 18, 1787, said about the Convention:
The Continental convention met in the city of Philadelphia at the time appointed. It was composed of some men of excellent characters; of others who were more remarkable for their ambition and cunning, than their patriotism; and of some who had been opponents to the independence of the United States. The delegates from Pennsylvania were, six of them, uniform and decided opponents to the constitution of this commonwealth. The convention sat upwards of four months. The doors were kept shut, and the members brought under the most solemn engagements of secrecy. Some of those who opposed their going so far beyond their powers, retired, hopeless, from the convention others had the firmness to refuse signing the plan altogether, and many who did sign it, did it not as a system they wholly approved, but as the best that could be then obtained, and notwithstanding the time spent on this subject, it is agreed on all hands to be a work of haste and accommodation.
But it was not just the convention that gave us the national Constitution that the dissenters in the Pennsylvania ratification convention had a problem with, it was with their own state's ratification convention as well:
The proposed system of government for the United States, if adopted, will alter and may annihilate the constitution of Pennsylvania; and therefore the legislature had no authority whatever to recommend the calling a convention for that purpose. This proceeding could not be considered as binding on the people of this commonwealth.
The Pennsylvania ratification convention was
a convention called by a legislature in direct violation of their duty, and composed in part of members, who were compelled to attend for that purpose, to consider of a constitution proposed by a convention of the United States, who were not appointed for the purpose of framing a new form of government, but whose powers were expressly confined to altering and amending the present articles of confederation. — Therefore the members of the continental convention in proposing the plan acted as individuals, and not as deputies from Pennsylvania. The assembly who called the state convention acted as individuals, and not as the legislature of Pennsylvania; nor could they or the convention chosen on their recommendation have authority to do any act or thing, that can alter or annihilate the constitution of Pennsylvania (both of which will be done by the new constitution) nor are their proceedings in our opinion, at all binding on the people.
The trouble with the corrupt, bloated, intrusive, out-of-control, evil monstrosity known as the federal government did not begin with — as destructive to liberty as they have been — Bush and the Republicans or LBJ and the Great Society or even FDR and the New Deal. We must go back even further than the tremendous increase in the size and scope of the government that we experienced under Wilson and Lincoln to locate where the trouble started. The first step was taken when the Philadelphia Convention was hijacked by those who desired a consolidated government instead of a confederate one.
No, we can't change history; and yes, I know that the Constitution is accepted as not only legitimate, but authoritative, and binding. But the unpleasant history of the origin of the Constitution should at least help to quash the epidemic of Constitution worship among those who wish to return to its principles.
Although we would certainly be much better off if we returned to the limited government that the Constitution was supposed to set up — and perhaps that is the best we can hope for — it would be better if we could return to the government that the Framers of the Constitution destroyed.
Is our government legitimate? I think the answer is quite obvious.
All quotations from the Anti-federalists are taken from Regnery edition of The Anti-Federalists: Selected Writings and Speeches, edited by Bruce Frohnen. For the education about the Constitution and early American history that you never received in school, I highly recommend two works: The Politically Incorrect Guide to the Constitution, by Kevin Gutzman, and The Politically Incorrect Guide to American History, by Thomas Woods.
September 17, 2007
Laurence M. Vance [send him mail] writes from Pensacola, FL. He is the author of Christianity and War and Other Essays Against the Warfare State. His latest publication is War, Foreign Policy, and the Church. Visit his website.
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