by Thomas J. DiLorenzo, LewRockwell.com
The American Revolution was waged against a highly centralized, nationalistic governmental tyranny run by a king, namely, the British Empire. The king enriched himself and his regime through the economic institution of mercantilism, defined by Murray Rothbard as “a system of statism which employed economic fallacy to build up a structure of imperial state power, as well as special subsidy and monopolistic privilege to individuals or groups favored by the state.” This system impoverished the average Englishman but was a perpetual source of power and riches for the king and his political allies. That is why the system lasted so long (at least two centuries) despite the fact that it was so harmful to the average citizen.
After the Seven Years War with France the king of England needed to pay off his war debts, so he stepped up the application of the corrupt mercantilist system to the American colonists. He did so with numerous taxes and interferences with international trade that benefited British businesses and the British state while treating the colonists like tax serfs. The “train of abuses” delineated in the Declaration of Independence were mostly abuses of the colonists for the purpose of plundering them with the British mercantilist system.
There was always a group of men in American politics who were not opposed to the evil mercantilist system in principle. They recognized it as a wonderful system for accumulating power and wealth as long as they could be in charge of it. Being victimized by it was another matter. These men, led by Alexander Hamilton and his fellow Federalists, strived to implement an American version of British mercantilism as soon as the Revolution was over. In doing so they were traitors to the American Revolution and the worst kind of corrupt, power-seeking political scoundrels.
Americaâ€™s would-be economic dictators strived mightily to “justify” their corrupt scheme by rewriting the history of the American founding. They made the bizarre argument that, having just fought a revolution against a highly centralized tyranny, the founders at the constitutional convention supposedly embraced the same kind of tyranny in the form of a highly centralized or national government.
The Virginia statesman John Taylor of Caroline smoked out these political scoundrels in an 1823 book entitled New Views of the Constitution of the United States (reprinted in 2005 by The Lawbook Exchange, Ltd, of Union, New Jersey). Making extensive use of the recently published Secret Proceedings and Debates of the Constitutional Convention by Robert Yates, who attended the constitutional convention, Taylor shredded the false notions of “nationalists” like Hamilton (and later, Clay and Lincoln).
Focusing on Hamilton as the chief culprit, Taylor explained how the “nationalists” did try at the constitutional convention to create a completely centralized government, but failed. For example, he quotes Hamilton himself at the convention as proposing a form of government such that “All laws of the particular states, contrary to the constitution or laws of the United States [government], to be utterly void. And the better to prevent such laws being passed, the governor . . . of each state shall be appointed by the general government, and shall have a negative upon the laws about to be passed in the state of which he is governor.”
Hamiltonâ€™s scheme was rejected, of course, and Taylor correctly commented that “this project comprised a national government, nearly conforming to that of England . . .” (p. 27). “By Colonel Hamiltonâ€™s project, the states were fairly and openly to be restored to the rank of provinces, and to be made as dependent upon a supreme national government, as they had been upon a supreme British government” (p. 28). Moreover, under Hamiltonâ€™s scheme “A power in the supreme federal court to declare all state laws and judgments void” would be “a supremacy exactly the same with that exercised by the British king and his council over the same provincial departments” (p. 28). Thankfully, Hamiltonâ€™s plan was rejected.
Quoting Yatesâ€™s journal, Taylor also noted that on June 25, 1787 “it was proposed and seconded to erase the word national, and substitute the words United States [in the plural] in the fourth resolution, which passed in the affirmative” (p. 29). “Thus,” Taylor wrote, “we see an opinion expressed at the convention, that the phrase “United States” did not mean â€˜a consolidated American people or nation,â€™ and all the inferences in favour of a national government . . . are overthrown” (p. 29).
Taylor understood that the reason why Hamilton and other Federalists wanted a centralized or consolidated government was that statesâ€™ rights would forever stand in the way of their accumulation of power and wealth through the mercantilist system that they hoped to impose on America. Therefore, statesâ€™ rights must be crushed, in the eyes of Hamilton and his followers (despite occasional lip service paid to the notion of statesâ€™ rights).
Relying again on Yatesâ€™s notes, Taylor wrote of how the Hamiltonians proposed to empower the Congress to engage in a variety of economic interventions, including “the promotion of agriculture, commerce, and manufactures” (p. 29). A “monopoly in currency” by the central government was another of Hamiltonâ€™s schemes that alarmed the senator from Virginia. This was their plan for bringing British mercantilism to America: First, consolidate political power in the central government and destroy any semblance of divided sovereignty; then, use that power to replicate the mercantilist British monarchy hidden behind the rhetorical fog of American “democracy.” As Taylor described it, it was “Monarchy, its hand-maiden consolidation, and its other hand-maid, ambition, all dressed in popular disguises . . .” (p. 45). And, “National splendor, national strength, and a national government, were the arguments they [the Hamiltonians] used; but personal considerations, suggested by the prominence of their stations, or the hopes suggested by their talents, really forged their opinions” (p. 46). The “pretended national prosperity, was only a pretext of ambition and monopoly . . . intended to feed avarice, gratify ambition, and make one portion of the nation tributary to another” (p. 46).
But the nationalists failed in their endeavor; the Constitution created a confederacy of states that delegated only a few enumerated powers to the central government, which was to act as their agent, and for their benefit. All other powers were reserved to the people or the states. It was a federal, not a “national” government. Subsequently, “Colonel Hamilton . . . seems to have quitted the convention in despair, soon after the failure of his project” (p. 32).
Yatesâ€™s notes on the convention prove definitively that “the whole people” never had anything whatsoever to do with the ratification of the Constitution, which was done by state conventions. There was never any national election that created a national government. As his journal states, quoted by Taylor (p. 32): “that the constitution was transmitted to Congress, and by it to the state legislatures; that these legislatures, by separate laws, appointed state conventions for the consideration of the constitution; and that it was ratified by the delegates of the people of each state.”
Thus, “every step in its progress,” writes Taylor, “from beginning to end, defines [the Constitution] to be a federal and not a national act. . . . It was ratified by each state, because each state was sovereign and independent” (p. 32, emphasis added). Furthermore, “no negative upon state laws was delegated to the federal government, or any department thereof, and the absence of such a power had been enforced by its rejection.”
What motivated Taylor to write New Views of the Constitution of the United States was the alarming fact that, by the 1820s, the men in American politics who still dreamed of reigning over a mercantilist empire began mis-educating the public about the true history of the founding. They did so by repeating Hamiltonâ€™s arguments, which were so thoroughly rejected by the convention. As Taylor described it, the public was being told that “the devil, thus repeatedly exorcized, still remains in the church” (p. 36). The “devil,” of course, was the notion that the states were not sovereign over the central government that they had created as their agent. The truth, as Taylor explained, was that “by the constitution, the states may take away all the powers of the federal government, whilst that government is prohibited from taking away a single power reserved to the states” (p. 36).
It was assumed that state sovereignty included a right of secession from the constitutional compact. “In the creation of the federal government, the states exercised the highest act of sovereignty, and they may, if they please, repeat the proof of their sovereignty, by its annihilation” (p. 37). The states “could never have conceived that they had, by their union, relinquished their sovereignties; created a supreme negative power over their laws; or established a national government . . .” (p. 37). In fact, according to Yatesâ€™s journal, the states were described at the convention as essentially being independent nations. So much so that the journal stated: “It may safely be received as an axiom in our political system, that the state governments will, in all possible contingencies, afford complete security against invasions of the publick liberty by the national authority” (Taylor, p. 70, emphasis added).
Yatesâ€™s journal further states: “Each state, in ratifying the constitution, is considered to be a sovereign body independent of all others, and only to be bound by its own voluntary act. In this relation, then, the new constitution will be a federal and not a national constitution” (Taylor, p. 83). This means that any one state would have the right to secede from the constitutional compact. It would have been considered an absurdity to argue that the right of secession only existed by the permission of other states (which was Lincolnâ€™s argument).
But why all the secrecy? Why did the framers of the constitution take an oath not to reveal to the public what they were up to until after they were all dead? (Madisonâ€™s notes were not published until after his death). In a recent LRC article entitled “The Most Successful Fraud in American History” Gary North suggested that “the perpetrators [of any fraud] must be bound by an oath of non-disclosure, which all of them keep until they die, yet which leaves no trail of paper for historians to discuss.” John Taylor would agree. It was all kept secret so that “the vindicators of a federal construction of the constitution are deprived of a great mass of light, and the consolidating school have gotten rid of a great mass of detection” (p. 41). Thus, “it was necessary to keep the people in the dark” so that “the people should be worked as puppets” (p. 41).
Taylor also dissects and ridicules the “paradoxical arguments” of the Hamiltonians of his day (who would soon form the Whig Party of Henry Clay and Abraham Lincoln). The advocates of “consolidated sovereignties,” Taylor noted, contend that
The greater the [government] revenue the richer are the people; that frugality in the government is an evil; in the people a good; that local partialities are blessings; that monopolies and exclusive privileges are general welfare; that a division of sovereignty will raise up a class of wicked, intriguing, self-interested politicians in the states; and that human nature will be cleansed of these propensities by a sovereignty consolidated in one government.
Taylor was being excessively polite when he labeled these absurdities as merely “paradoxical.”
Taylor also provides a clear explanation of the so-called “supremacy clause” of the Constitution, which many contemporary commentators (especially Lincoln worshipping neocons) insist gives the federal government the power to do whatever it wants to the citizens of the states. The truth is that the language in the Constitution about it being “the supreme law of the land” only applies to the seventeen specific powers enumerated to the central government in Article I, Section 8. Nothing more. The states remain the ultimate sovereigns by the Constitution. “The constitutional laws of the states are equally supreme with those of the federal government” (p. 78).
John Taylor issued his warning that “the devil is in the church” in 1823. In the coming years the new generation of “consolidationists,” led by the likes of Daniel Webster and Henry Clay, were hard at work repeating Hamiltonâ€™s “paradoxical” arguments in the apparent belief that a gullible public would come to believe such arguments if they are repeated enough. They never achieved much success, however, thanks to the strength of the Jeffersonian, statesâ€™ rights tradition in America, which was the nationâ€™s true political tradition.
The Constitution was essentially a failed attempt to overthrow the decentralized, federalist system that was created by Americaâ€™s first Constitution, the Articles of Confederation. The delegates to the constitutional convention were only instructed to revise the Articles, not replace them. The first thing they did was to ignore the instructions they were given and write an entirely new constitution. But as Yatesâ€™s journal and Taylorâ€™s book reveal, they failed. They only managed to get the citizens of the states to delegate a few enumerated powers to the central government, not to create a national government. They succeeded in replacing the Articles, but not with their ideal, monopolistic system.
It would require a brutal, uncompromising dictator to overthrow the federal system and adopt a British-style consolidated, mercantilist empire. As Taylor wrote (p. 237): “It seems to be natureâ€™s law, that every species of concentrated sovereignty over extensive territories, whether monarchical, aristocratical, democratical, or mixed, must be despotick. In no case has a concentrated power over great territories been sustained, except by mercenary armies; and whenever power is thus sustained, despotism is the consequence.” Furthermore, “the ignorance and partiality of a concentrated form of government, can only be enforced by armies; and the peculiar ability of the states to resist, promises that resistance would be violent; so that a national government must be either precarious or despotick” (p. 238).
Yatesâ€™s notes quote James Madison as warning at the constitutional convention that “the great danger to our federal government, is the great northern and southern interests of the continent being opposed to each other” (Taylor, p. 248). Taylor quotes Madison to predict the War for Southern Independence, which would occur almost four decades later. If northern, southern, or western interests are in sharp conflict, he wrote, and “if either can acquire local advantages from a national supremacy, it will aggravate the geographical danger apprehended by a Mr. Madison, a perpetual warfare of intrigues will ensue, and a dissolution of the union will result” (p. 249).
This is where the role of the brutal, uncompromising dictator enters into American political history. The crusade for a consolidated, monopolistic government began as soon as the Revolution ended. Some seventy-five years later Taylorâ€™s worst fear was realized: a consolidated, mercantilist empire was finally cemented into place, and it did require “a mercenary army” to succeed. Lincolnâ€™s army included literally hundreds of thousands of conscripts and European mercenaries who finally snuffed out the Jeffersonian, federalist system of statesâ€™ rights with the bloodiest war in human history up to that point.
The New England Yankees and their Midwestern brethren continued to rewrite history in the ensuing decades so that books like Robert Yatesâ€™s journal of the constitutional convention and John Taylorâ€™s book on the Constitution are virtually unheard of in America. The whitewash of American history has been very thorough indeed.
Thomas J. DiLorenzo [send him mail]Â is professor of economics at Loyola College in Maryland and the author of The Real Lincoln;Â Lincoln Unmasked: What Youâ€™re Not Supposed To Know about Dishonest Abe andHow Capitalism Saved America. His latest book is Hamiltonâ€™s Curse: How Jeffersonâ€™s Archenemy Betrayed the American Revolution â€“ And What It Means for America Today.
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