Tag Archives: Articles of Confederation

“Let’s give up on the Constitution”

That provocative headline got me – and no doubt millions of others – to read this op-ed in The New York Times (caution: possible paywall). Its author first notes how unproductive the offers and counter-offers on avoiding the fiscal cliff have been. He says the arcane limitations under which Congress must proceed – as dictated by the Constitution – are one barrier to producing any sensible legislation to send to the President. He blames in part our blind adherence to Constitutional prerogatives.

Instead of arguing about what is to be done, we argue about what James Madison might have wanted done 225 years ago.

He reminds us of one of my own favorite facts of American history, one that is routinely ignored:

Constitutional disobedience may seem radical, but it is as old as the Republic. In fact, the Constitution itself was born of constitutional disobedience. When George Washington and the other framers went to Philadelphia in 1787, they were instructed to suggest amendments to the Articles of Confederation, which would have had to be ratified by the legislatures of all 13 states. Instead, in violation of their mandate, they abandoned the Articles, wrote a new Constitution and provided that it would take effect after ratification by only nine states, and by conventions in those states rather than the state legislatures.

It was because of these subversive proceeding that the gathering in Philadelphia famously kept all windows closed during their deliberations. They worked in a steam bath rather than chance being overheard by those who lurked outside Independence Hall. They knew their behavior would be widely seen as subversive.

Stock Photo of the Consitution of the United States and Feather Quill. . . before abandoning our heritage of self-government, we ought to try extricating ourselves from constitutional bondage so that we can give real freedom a chance.

Moving from one year onto the next – as we will do at midnight – should remind us all that the arc of history always favors leaving the past behind and stepping into the future.

Originalism be damned.

They seem to have confused the U.S. Constitution with the Articles of Confederation

Don’t tell the Tea Party caucus who, along with Grover Norquist and a cabal (yes, cabal) of soulless financiers who crave power and hate taxes, that when they dream of a balanced budget and  call for a return to our ‘founding principles’, they only reveal ignorance of American history. In Salon, William Hogeland points out that The Founding Fathers would have hated the debt ceiling.

The Constitution came about precisely to enable a newly large government — a national one — to tax all Americans for the specific purpose of funding a large public debt. Neither Alexander Hamilton nor his mentor the financier Robert Morris made any bones about that purpose; James Madison was among their closest allies; and Edmund Randolph of Virginia opened the Constitutional Convention by charging the delegates to redress the country’s failure to fund — not pay off, fund — the public debt, by creating a national government.

Beginning during the War of Independence, and continuing throughout the 1780s, American nationalists committed themselves to a small class of upscale high financiers (largely identical with the American nationalists), who had bought bonds from the confederation Congress in hopes of earning regular, tax-free, 6 percent interest payments — not in the Congress’s crashing paper currency but in hard, cold metal or its equivalent, stable bills of exchange. Morris, Hamilton, Madison and others believed that swelling the debt to immense proportions would make a coherent nation out of 13 squabbling states and make that nation a player on the world economic stage. Their plan to do so depended partly on making military-officer pay a pension, thus turning the entire officer class into public bondholders — and giving Congress new power to tax all Americans to support that debt.

But they are certain of their righteousness (as defined by right-wing Christian Evangelicals and FOX News) and will fight on, financed by those whose allegiance is not to any nation, much less our own.