The ratification debate: Part One
By Dr. Robert Owens
While it is not my usual routine to write articles in a series, in honor of our nation's 235th birthday I want to take some time to examine the process that led to the ratification of the Constitution. Therefore, each of the next three weeks I will post one installment of a short refection on the ratification debate.
To understand the debate over the ratification of the Constitution it is necessary to first establish the context, for the study of a text without a context is a pretext.
Was the Constitution the first document produced to form the United States of America? Does it mark the beginning of our nation and its government?
No, before there was a Constitution there was a United States of America. This nation was not formed under the auspices of the Constitution the Constitution was formed under the Auspices of the United States.
Years before there was a Constitution there were the Articles of Confederation and it was at the final ratification of this document that the United States of America officially was born. This often over-looked and much maligned document was drafted in 1777 by the same Continental Congress that passed and proclaimed the Declaration of Independence. The Articles acknowledged the inherent sovereignty of the constituent States while at the same time establishing a league of friendship and perpetual union.
The Articles of Confederation:
The Articles of Confederation were written, debated and ratified during the Revolutionary War when the States were fighting for their lives against the overbearing Imperial government intent upon reducing all of them to mere appendages of the London based bureaucracy. In consequence, they reflect the lack of confidence felt in any highly centralized state power. The States were jealous of their ability to control their internal affairs. These privileges had been won in various ways in the different States but in each of them they had gained the authority of custom and Tradition. And in every State they were held dear and looked upon as necessary for a free and prosperous nation. Therefore the Articles while creating a central government that could address such issues as war and peace most of the actual power was reserved to the individual States.
The maintenance of the sovereignty, freedom and independence of the individual States was facilitated by the fact that under the Articles there was no Executive or Judicial branches in the central government only a legislature and that consisted of only one house. This one house Congress was composed of committees of delegates appointed by the States. Congress was charged with the responsibility to prosecute the Revolution, declare war, maintain the Army and Navy, establish relations with other government, send and receive ambassadors and other functions such as establish policies for any territories acquired that were not under State control.
In the depths of war the Articles of Confederation were adopted by the Second Continental Congress on November 15, 1777. The Articles actually became the official and original organic document establishing the government of the United States of America on March 1, 1781 when Maryland, the last of the thirteen states ratified the document.
Today we reap the fruits of the reality that winners write history. For two hundred plus years we have all been taught that the Articles of Confederation were an abject failure. We are lectured on the fact that they did not have the power to create or sustain a viable nation. It is common knowledge that if they would have continued in force there would have been wars between the states and a dysfunctional economy.
Yes, this is what we are taught. This is what every school child for ten generations has learned as the bedrock of civics and the study of American politics and History. But does the accepted History fit the facts?
What were some of the accomplishments of the Articles of Confederation?
This is a very long list of positive accomplishments for a government that is portrayed as an abject failure. This brings us to the question, "What was the problem?" a question I will address next week.
Dr. Robert Owens teaches History, Political Science, and Religion for Southside Virginia Community College. He is the author of the History of the Future @ http://drrobertowens.com View the trailer for Dr. Owens' latest book at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_ypkoS0gGn8. Follow Dr. Robert Owens on Facebook. © 2011 Robert R. Owens