The most fundamental elements of government are wealth and power. Their interplay is forever to aggregate to themselves at the expense of the governed. The structure of government comes from the culture and assent of the people.
Where is Sovereignty?
By reason of the Nature of our Creator, American sovereignty resides solely in people. It is not derived nor can we abscond. As the very Nature of our Creator is to be sovereign, so ours is to govern ourselves. With our Creator we become co-creators of our lives. For sovereignty is one cloth. It never divides. Its entire meaning is in a unity of respect for differences. That is our Creator’s compact of liberty with each of us. By reason of imparted and shared sovereignty, we enjoy, among other powers, the irreducible power to exercise unalienable rights, to govern ourself through self-reflection, to live at liberty and pursue happiness with one another.
When individuals gather into a polity, each brings its personal sovereignty to the table. In aggregate we become “the people”. As a people, we then decide a structure for our government. Our mutual sharing of individual sovereignty does not produce a separate sovereignty in the governments we create. They are structures and never a person. Nor can government ever reside in a person even should we, the people, choose a monarchy for our government.
Governments are solely our creation. They have no powers from our Creator. They are entirely dependent and derived from our power to govern ourselves. Their power to govern comes from the power we delegate to them. We cannot grant it anymore than we can cleave the vital organs of our bodies and expect to survive. Without us they are empty and lack even a shell for recognition. “Consent of the governed” means we govern the government structure we create. So whatever we command through our voting in convention is absolute and must not be transgressed.
Secession is Beyond Positive Law
Early on, before the peoples of the American colonies turned themselves into States with one unified Declaration and five (5) individual State Declarations of Secession from England, and though never unified in religion, a significant, compelling number held that by reason of their Creator, each person was sovereign of their own lives, property and dreams. For early Americans this fundamental and essential belief, poised within Natural Law, was a manifest of “Nature’s God” – and so Jefferson wrote it so in 1776. Later he was even more clear in his Statute for Religious Freedom, “Whereas, Almighty God hath created the mind free …”
In 1787 the Free, Sovereign and Independent Nations of the United States (minus Rhode Island) wrote a new Constitution: a voluntary Compact of Liberty among Sovereigns. The Sovereigns were the aggregate people within each Nation. British law being the Mother of our Law, the people of each Nation voted in convention to approve or disapprove this new central government and discard the Articles of Confederation under which the former central government governed. There was no trans-national plebiscite governing all the Nations. Such a vote, if even possible, would have resulted in failure. Eleven Nations approved so the first central government under President Washington was able to begin April 30, 1789. North Carolina ratified on November 21, 1789 and eventually Rhode Island on May 29, 1790 – by 2 votes.
No people of any State thought they were surrendering their sovereignty to govern themselves except for those specific responsibilities “granted” in the Constitution to the central government. None would deny the power of any other Sovereign Nation to enjoy the structure of government they might create. Any might secede from the Compact after a vote of their people in convention. Three, namely, Virginia, New York and Rhode Island specifically made it parcel to their ratification: they would and could secede for whatever reason their people might decide they should. No one challenged their ratifications. Our Founding Nations understood sovereignty resides within their separate peoples.
Creating a House Divided
The 1787 Constitution, Article 1, Section 1, unambiguously “granted” powers to the National Congress . Article 1, Section 8 enumerates those powers. The Nationalists, e.g., Hamilton, Madison, Wilson, Ellsworth explained these “granted” powers created a new foundation of government, a “dual sovereignty”. Prior to this, the Federalists, e.g., Mason, Henry, Sam Adams, Elbridge Gerry held sway and everyone understood sovereignty to be solely in the people of the individual States. But the Nationalists combined the powers “granted” with the Preamble’s “We, the People ….” and claimed their dual sovereignty meant the People in their States and the People as a Whole in the National government were a dual but, perhaps, seamless sovereignty.
They argued this despite that in 1776 the States were written plainly separate in the Declaration. In both 1776 and 1781 the States were listed equal and separately in the Articles of Confederation. In 1778 they were again separate in the Treaty of Alliance with France and its sister document the Treaty of Amity and Commerce. In 1783 they were again recognized separately and individually as sovereign States by George III. Only in the 1787 Constitution’s Preamble were the States, though initially listed, dropped from the document.
This change to “We, the People …” with no enumeration of the States came from the Style Committee – perhaps because Rhode Island was not present. But, perhaps not. All the members of the Style Committee were Nationalists. Not one strong Federalist among them. All had already spoken to diminish the power of the States (Madison’s federalism is, at best, weak at this time of his life) because they feared the rise of democracy in the States. All were experienced, skillful politicians with a rare talent for language. Each had fought the Nationalist vs. Federalist battles in the Confederation.
Here was, intentionally or not, the initial step to undoing the sovereignty of the States. Against our British legal tradition and philosophy of undivided sovereignty, and against the voice of the Federalists, a determined group of Nationalists divided the sovereignty of the peoples of the American States while claiming a seamless, “dual” sovereignty over the entire land. It opened the chasm for political manipulation of State governments by the National government.
This division became the engine for elastic political minds to argue and aggregate for wealth and power unleashing eternal warfare between the National and State governments. More importantly, certainly more decisively, the cultural and economic interests of the States were now lined against one another on the distant court of National government. That government’s growing network of financial and political power would foist the seductive, corrupting theme that National sovereignty supersedes the sovereignty of the People of any State. It would become the sporting life of interlacing financial, political interests and the altar for expressions of moral superiority.
Against history and common sense the 1787 Constitution created the folly that a government of divided sovereignty, the people as a whole and the peoples of the States, as Madison and Wilson had in mind, could and would serve as synergetic and mutual masters. It was a flimflam and they were too experienced, too bright not to know it. Here was a National government which they were at odds to make others believe was a Federal government. Refusing to sign the 1787 Constitution, Elbridge Gerry stated plainly in his Letter to the Massachusetts government: “The Constitution proposed has few, if any, federal features, but is rather a system of national government.”
The Nationalists forgot or by design glossed over that a House divided against itself cannot stand. They had split sovereignty under the camouflage that the same people holding sovereignty in the States equally held sovereignty in the National government – a national politician’s natural dream to accrue power.
This is the true House Divided, not Lincoln’s false use of the phrase to brand the South with moral inferiority while targeting and abetting Northern racism. There was never a chance this Republic would have become all slave. For all his political capacity, he displayed neither then nor later the savvy or statesmanship to mend the wounds of conflicted government. Maybe he did not understand the depthless shadows of divided sovereignty.
But, then, maybe, neither did the Nationalist Madison. As for Hamilton, Ellsworth and other Northern Nationalists, whether they understood or not wasn’t and isn’t important. They had waiting in the wings their programs for national financing of commerce by a marriage of National government and industry along with National judicial supremacy and a National bank. These programs they began to institute in the First Congress of 1789 and thereafter. They were content in 1787 with a mere slice of sovereignty, power much more than they had under the Articles of Confederation, because having a true understanding of human nature they knew they would eventually win.
But Jefferson was no Nationalist. He was a Virginian and never thought himself otherwise.
When Jefferson Obeyed Everyday People
He was the first President to face a serious movement for secession. New England led by Timothy Pickering, Rufus King and similar formidable and outspoken advocates of New England’s almost primordial understanding of its assumed preeminent place in the National government, were coalescing to secede. In his 1st Inaugural, Jefferson resorted neither to a strain of Jacksonian force nor to Lincoln’s political distortion of history to deny the sovereignty of the States.
Rather Jefferson made straight to the core belief of the Federalism he advocated. He sanctioned approval of New England’s desire to secede. They were free to develop the government they wished because the power to create a government best espousing their way of life came as dearly from our mutual Creator as did the desire of any people of any State or land to live as they wished under any form of government they would create for themselves “in convention”. For the New England States would be “each State acting in its sovereign and independent character”.
Neither One Country nor One Nation nor One Government But a Compact among Peoples
In 1781 with the Articles of Confederation the Federalists won the day. In 1787 the Nationalists won. From then on, with a steady stream of finances going to the National government and sovereignty shambled in division, a continuing economic and culture warfare was inevitable. The Sovereign Nations were blending diverse cultures of religion and family, of government and daily life, cultures of enterprise and wealth. Neither the land of America nor the United States (plural in 1787) have ever been a single culture, single religion, single enterprise or single people. Any thought to enforce such singularity forfeits not only our history but also any understanding of human nature. Yet our happy symmetry of God-given liberty and human-created government and commercial success, safest under a true federalism, has eluded our understanding. Too early we retreated into slogans of morality and destiny. We lost the perception of human nature that cautions us against the venal and self-glorification of every human enterprise.