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Source link: http://archive.mises.org/5682/the-antifederalists-were-right/

The Antifederalists Were Right

September 27, 2006 by

The Antifederalists were opponents of ratifying the US Constitution. They feared that it would create an overbearing central government, while the Constitution’s proponents promised that this would not happen. As the losers in that debate, they are largely overlooked today. But that does not mean they were wrong or that we are not indebted to them. FULL ARTICLE


Stephan Kinsella September 27, 2006 at 9:56 am

Great article, Gary. Yes, the Constition was a mistake–a coup d’etat, really. Re the Bill of Rights insisted on by the antifederalists… I’ve often wondered if that was a mistake too. It probably has kept the feds within some loose limits. OTOH, it has been used, via the Fourteenth Amendment, as an excuse to weaken federalism and increase the power of the feds over the states. See When Did The Trouble Start; Libertarian Centralists.

Cecil Ray September 27, 2006 at 10:07 am

It’s a shame that the South lost the Civil War over states rights as earnesty towards the founders views would have supported the 2nd but failed American Revolution. I suggest to true friends of Liberty to pick up some of Boston T. Party’s books such as “Boston on Guns and Courage”, “You and the Police”, “Boston on Surviving Y2k”. Folks intellectual debate will only go so far when dealing with irresistible, globalist, elitist collectivist tyrants. Look above to Calvary’s Cross and keep your MBR zeroed.

Cecil Ray September 27, 2006 at 10:08 am

It’s a shame that the South lost the Civil War over states rights as earnesty towards the founders views would have supported the 2nd but failed American Revolution. I suggest to true friends of Liberty to pick up some of Boston T. Party’s books such as “Boston on Guns and Courage”, “You and the Police”, “Boston on Surviving Y2k”. Folks intellectual debate will only go so far when dealing with irresistible, globalist, elitist collectivist tyrants. Look above to Calvary’s Cross and keep your MBR zeroed.

Mark Brabson September 27, 2006 at 10:35 am

The argument can be made that the Constitution is not the legitimate government at all. The Convention of 1787 far exceeded their instructions, which merely called for revising the Articles. Secondly, revising the Articles required the consent of all thirteen states. It was declared in operation without the consent of New York, North Carolina and Rhode Island. Rhode Island’s consent was finally obtained under severe duress, under the threat of a trade embargo. Thus, it is a good argument, to say that the Articles of Confederation are still the rightful charter, not the Constitution. That being as it may.

The anti-federalists were absolutely correct and accurately predicted what would come of the new government. The “general welfare” and “necessary and propery” clauses were indeed abused, just as predicted. Obviously, they could not have predicted the addition of the 14th amendment, which destroyed any semblence of federalism. The 16th and 17th amendments were the last final gunshots through the heart of states rights.

Setting aside, for the moment, notions of returning to a state of anarchy. In lieu of the current, corrupt, Constitution, I would advocate a return to the Articles of Confederation, or something similar. There would be no national “state”. Merely a loose confederation, each state holding an equal vote in Congress and free to leave the confederation at whim and will. Essentially the only mandate from the confederation would be absolute free trade between the states. Citizenship would be held at state level, no national citizenship.

JIMB September 27, 2006 at 10:59 am

Mark – I wonder if we had done a dozen other “experiments” whether any of them would have turned out better; including the libertarian alternative.

Mark Brabson September 27, 2006 at 11:04 am

It’s hard to say. I would expect that the Articles would have turned out better than the experiment that followed, that being the Constitution.

David Spellman September 27, 2006 at 11:31 am

Personally, I think the constitution is a brilliant plan and I wish we still followed it.

The two biggest problems were the amendments to allow direct election of senators and the income tax. Take that away and the system would work much better with the original checks and balances and a lack of funding.

On the other hand, any government will work if the people are virtuous; no government will work if they are not.

Reactionary September 27, 2006 at 11:47 am


I used to think the document was brilliant but after several years thinking about it I’m convinced otherwise. A document that creates a separate federal government that can trump the supposedly sovereign States (by the canard of individual rights no less) can only be a blueprint for centralized government. Several key phrases are so vague as to suggest an ulterior motive by the drafters. It’s a useful exercise to compare the federal document with the Confederate Constitution.

Mark Brabson September 27, 2006 at 11:53 am


I concur in your sentiments. I was once an ardent Constitutionalist, but as I got a more insightful view of that period of history, I realize that the Constitution was itself flawed from the very beginning. I think two of the best features of the Articles was lack of centralized executive and also the fact that delegations to Congress were under control of the states and were recallable at will by the states.

Carlos Pronsato September 27, 2006 at 12:05 pm

One big, inflexible, overwhelming central government is (like the one and only God of Christianity, Judaism and Islam) more appealing to the average people who is looking for a father figure at any cost -not freedom.

N. Joseph Potts September 27, 2006 at 12:13 pm

I think one of the biggest things keeping down the size of state governments is the federal government. That’s a good result of a bad cause. Some states today are larger, at least in population, than the United States of 1783. They might very well have large, oppressive governments if not for their subjugation to the federal (some do, anyway).

Decentralization (federalism) is hardly a be-all, end-all. But I believe it helps, and would have helped. Oh, well – the empire WILL fall, and boy, will that be a harrowing time for all concerned.

Paul Marks September 27, 2006 at 12:44 pm

Of course the words “common defence and general welfare” (to be found in the preable to the Constitution and at the start of Article One, Section Eight of the Constitution) are the PURPOSE of the powers granted to Congress in Article One, Section Eight – they are NOT a catch-all power in themselves.

However, at least since the resistance of the Supreme Court fell away in the mid 1930′s, the words “general welfare” have indeed been used as a catch-all power.

Resistance to using the “commerce clause” as a catch-all power fell away during World War II (with the absurd doctrine that even a good or service sold, by an individual or organization, in only one State could be regulated, because a seller influenced the interstate market).

Well those who wished to have a “liberal” (broad) interpretation of the powers given to the Feds have had two centuries to find and abuse what words that can be so abused – so there is no need to write a whole new Constitution (or break up the country), just eliminating the words “general welfare” and “regulate interstate commerce” would reduce the size and scope of the Federal government to a tolerable level. The statists are not totally without shame (although they are close to it) – they need the words in the Constitution that they abuse (without them they would have no justification).

[We all know of the problems of the 14th Amendment, but this is not used to justify Federal spending or Federal economic regulations - of course I am not pretending that either the 14th Amendment or the 16th (income tax) Amendment were correctly ratified].

Of course even getting rid of few words (or rather getting an Amendment to say that those words no longer apply) is rather difficult (to say the least).

However, the situation is worse in Britian where there is no Constitution to amend (the “unwritten” Constitution is really an nonexistant Constitution).

I suppose secesson is an option – England could declare itself independent from the more socialist Scotland and Wales (as well as from the European Union) – at least this would please the Scottish and Welsh Nationalists (they would get their socialist People’s Republics by default).

But even an independent England would not be particularly libertarian.

M E Hoffer September 27, 2006 at 2:57 pm

I’d suggest that this article discussing the “Anti-Federalists” be the start of a weekly series.

It’s, to me, rather amazing the depths of ignorance, to be found in the U.S., at least, about this period, 1787-1789, of our History.

In our day, ~2006, when “strict” Constitutional Constructionists are thought to have descended from the 4th Planet of our Solar System, knowledge of the “Anti-Federalists”, along with the idea that our current Constitution has so many Amendments that the Constitution is now Un-Constitutional, would go far toward rationalizing the debate over the State’s proper bounds.

Stephan Kinsella September 27, 2006 at 4:15 pm

Hoffer: not a bad idea. Go for it. You can’t just throw this out there and expect someone else to take the ball and run! :)

Spellman: “Personally, I think the constitution is a brilliant plan and I wish we still followed it. … The two biggest problems were the amendments to allow direct election of senators and the income tax. Take that away and the system would work much better with the original checks and balances and a lack of funding.”

If it were brilliant it would not have been so easilly corrupted. It started being corrupted from day one virtually. It was inevitable. IT permitted the amendments you oppose. Come on.

John Ries September 27, 2006 at 4:17 pm

If the nascent Republic had maintained its relative ethnic and linguistic homogeneity through a strict policy of immigration restriction (both in terms of numbers and origins), the ensuing scenario would have more than likely have been a bit more felicitous for all concerned. A “melting pot” republic is surely an oxymoron.

M E Hoffer September 27, 2006 at 4:30 pm


Are you merely voting, Yea!, or soliciting contributions?

Jacob Steelman September 27, 2006 at 4:40 pm

After years of studying, writing and speaking about the freedom philosophy, Austrian economics, the libertarian philosophy and the private property-free market system the late Leonard Read,founder of the Foundation of Economic Education, concluded the problem was a moral issue. I agree. As Read said it was not that the freedom philosophy was found wanting – it was found difficult to maintain and abandoned.

When Leonard Read founded FEE in the late forties there were few proponents of the freedom philosophy. Now as a result of the work of proponents such as Read, Henry Hazlitt, von Mises, Hayek, Rothbard, Hans Sennholz, Ayn Rand and others such as Lew Rockwell, there are scores of proponents and students of the free market philosphy and Austrian economics. Articles and writers appearing in the publications of the Mises Institute, FEE, Reason, Cato appear in the mainstream media almost everyday – something unheard of 25 or more years ago. We cannot rest.

The statists continue to work hard to eradicate freedom and individualism around the world. Like a passage from 1984 or an Ayn Rand novel statism is recasted in new terms – new regulation is called deregulation, foreign wars are termed fights for freedom and liberation, free spending policitians are called advocates of limited government and the free market, management and operation of state owned property is called privatization connoting private ownership, the list goes on. Only elimination of the Central Banks, elimination of confiscatory taxation, elimination of all restrictions on the ownership of private property, elimination of labor laws, elimination of regulation of commerce and the marketplace will be deemed a victory over statism. There is still a long road ahead until individual freedom is restored in the United States.

Stephan Kinsella September 27, 2006 at 5:08 pm

Steelman: “When Leonard Read founded FEE in the late forties there were few proponents of the freedom philosophy. Now as a result of the work of proponents such as Read, Henry Hazlitt, von Mises, Hayek, Rothbard, Hans Sennholz, Ayn Rand and others such as Lew Rockwell, there are scores of proponents and students of the free market philosphy and Austrian economics. Articles and writers appearing in the publications of the Mises Institute, FEE, Reason, Cato appear in the mainstream media almost everyday – something unheard of 25 or more years ago.”

Yayyyy! Meanwhile, our taxes are higher. Some progress.

eric September 27, 2006 at 5:44 pm

I think the problem with the constitution is that it is not self-enforcing. There is nothing that provides jail time (or worse) for politicians that violate it. But even that probably wouldn’t work, since as we can see, the words of the document are ignored because, well, they can be.

The reason they can be ignored is that in the end, it is force that counts. Any group of people that are not subject to force themselves, but who are able to use force on others without any consequences will eventually do whatever they want to do. It’s like the little kid, Anthony, in the twilight zone story who could send people to the cornfield with a thought – because nobody could stop him.

The libertarian dilemma is that the only counter to force is force. Another way to put it is: Who polices the police? Almost from the start, the Supreme Court granted themselves powers that were not in the constitution (see Marbury vs. Madison). Some think it stops at absolute or natural law, but then it depends on which religion you believe in. In cosmology this could be likened to the “It’s turtles all the way down” retort to the makeup of the universe.

banker September 27, 2006 at 7:07 pm

Just a point I would like to raise, pieces of paper never stopped anyone from doing bad things. The only check against any government is the freedom to walk away (seccession). Once that freedom has been abridged then it does not matter what the Articles of Confederation or Constitution says.

Nick Bradley September 27, 2006 at 7:32 pm

Mark Brabson, Reactionary, M E Hoffer, All,

I believe that the best course of action for libertarians (and conservatives to an extent) is de-legitimization of the Constitution and a return to he Articles of Confederation. The Revolution was fought in opposition to Economic and Political Mercantilism; yet the Constitution made strong mercantilist corrections to the Articles. Very few people know that Hamilton was actually working to reverse the effects of the Revolution and return us to a British system.

The Articles would have developed into a Parliamentary system that severly restricted the role of the Central government, except in times of severe foreign threat (to play out a counterfactual, let’s think of Napoleon’s aborted invasion of the US).

Other events in American History would have played out quite differently as well. With such a decentralized system, it is quite possible that other states braking free from colonialism in the 19th Century would have joined the US. The Constitution may have well scared off the Canadians from joining (the Articles actually had an exception allowed for quick and easy Canadian membership in the US). If the US stayed under the Articles and never took part in the Louisiana Purchase, it is possible that the land would have been ceded by the French after the treaty of Vienna and newly-indepentant frontier states would have joined the US under the Articles. Private settlers would have probably went West, establisehd their own states, and then join under the Articles. Heck, such an attractive decentralized state may have even encouraged Mexican states to join the US.

A while back, I read “Reverse Revenue Sharing” by Public Choice Economist Dwight R. Lee at the CATO Journal. Lee examined how the Articles would have been reformed and the Central Government would have been funded by “reverse revenue sharing” instead of voluntary donations by the states. Under this scenario, the Central Government gets a defined percentage from State Revenue, flat across the board:

“Under reverse revenue sharing, the federal government has no power to tax. All power to tax resides within the states. Such an arrangement harkens back to the fiscal federalism established by the Articles of Confederation which served as a compact among the states during the Revolutionary War (although it was not officially adopted until March 1781) and was replaced by the United States Constitution in 1789. Counter to almost universal opinion, the most serious problem under the Articles of Confederation was not the lack of an independent power to tax by the federal government. The real problem was that the states were under no legal obligation to share their tax revenue with the federal government. Without this obligation, each state faced a strong temptation to free ride on other states’ contributions to federal activities that provided general benefits–such as carrying out the war against Britain. My reverse revenue sharing proposal eliminates this free-rider problem by requiring that each state share a proportion of the tax revenue it raises with the federal government, with the proportion being uniform over all states.

“To acknowledge that a return to the fiscal federalism represented by reverse revenue sharing will not occur in response to special-interest pressures is not to dismiss the possibility of such a return. Significant political reforms are seldom, if ever, driven by the thrust of ordinary politics. But when it is widely believed that the political process is malfunctioning, and politics as usual has consistently frustrated hope for improvement, the combination of aggravated citizens, nervous politicians, and some precipitating event, or series of events, can lead to fundamental political reform. As the likelihood of such reform increases, so do the advantages of promoting discussion on reforms that hold promise for genuine improvement in the political process. With this in mind I put forth my proposal for reverse revenue sharing.”

This both (1) severly restricts the size of the Central Government and (2) discourages state government growth because a chunk of their revenue goes up to the Central Government. I was brainstorming about this a while back and came up with a fascinating idea: What if this process was continually extended down? What if the states could only tax the revenues of counties, and the counties could only tax the revenues of towns and cities? Why, a single state, county, city, or town could vote to absolve itself of any taxes due to government AT ALL.

The result would be mind-boggling: BORDERLINE ANARCHOCAPITALISM EXISTING WITHIN A STATE SYSTEM! As tax-free jurisdictions would be far superior economically and socially to statist jurisdictions, peopel would flock to these areas and more jurisdictions would follow suit (by “opting out”). If such a “reverse revenue” plan was reached to reform the Articles, perhaps this is what we would have now. In the least, it would be permanent limits on the size of government (which the Articles privided anyway).

Let’s look to the Founding Principles as inspiration for the way to our goals.

Kenneth R. Gregg September 27, 2006 at 9:59 pm

I always liked “Rough Hewer” Yates and NY Gov. George Clinton (who wrote as “Cato”), both in their writings and in their tragic battle for the heart of New York against the evil Hamilton. The Clintonians (the good Clinton, that is) were up against all sorts of trickery, bribery, blackmail and acts of violence in Hamilton’s efforts to derail their opposition to the constitution. Just detailing the MINOR actions that Hamilton’s forces took would take up volumes.

It took several generations for the anger to dissipate in the later unorganized “Antis”. The ordinary folks would remember during political campaigns. Even when not mentioned by the later political leaders, the anger remained. They remembered the American Revolution even if they were not part of the Revolutionary War, and paid the Federalists back with the Jeffersonian Revolution of 1800.

Would that we remember the tricks done to the forces of freedom and beware of a repetition.

Just a thought.
Just Ken

adi September 28, 2006 at 2:41 am

My own experience with different legal traditions is quite limited; I started as a legal positivist a la Bentham, Austin, Hart and Kelsen. I dont know if there is a natural law in any other than Hayekian sense (preserving social order and so on). Natural law is more Anglo-Saxon tradition than European since Roman law has been a huge source of influence with the legal traditions of continental Europe.

To preserve individual rights you need to have a weapons. Only by use of violence can rights be secured against potential threats.

Vincent Poncet September 28, 2006 at 4:07 am

adi, you’re right when you say that Euopean law is based on Roman law which is a kind of positivist law… But in fact, it is a deviation from the
When we speak about Roman law, we generally speak about the corpus juris civilis codex of Justinian. But this codex was only a collection of jurisprudence of private judges. After, this codex was used as kind of positivist law. But it was not its goal.

I’m from France. The main basis of our laws are the Napoleonian codex. But its the same, this codex is a collection of middle age jurisprudence of in-competition judgements (during middle age, we had several overlaping layer of juridiction, so we had a kind of competition in law “market”).
Napoleon built this codex because he was a dictator, so, he wanted to have a unique law all around his country.

So, positivist law are not so deeply rooted in European mind. I think it’s a consequence of the huge centralisation of our political entities.

TGGP September 28, 2006 at 8:01 am

Claim: The failure of the Constitution to preserve liberty proves that it was a flawed document.
Conclusion: The failure of the Articles of Confederation to preserve liberty proves that it was a flawed document.

The Mega-Confederation postulated above which would include Canada and Mexico gives me the heebie-jeebies.

Nick Bradley September 28, 2006 at 11:42 am


Why would you care? Other states would have very little impact on other states. Under the Articles, each state could veto a piece of legislation with a single vote (legislation had to have the unanimous consent of the states).

David K. Meller September 28, 2006 at 7:33 pm

We libertarians can advance our cause by promoting contemporary awareness of these trenchant and perceptive observers of the politics, economics, and the sociology of their time and place as enthusiastically as our critics and adversaries promote their opposite numbers in THE FEDERALIST PAPERS.

The Federalist (authoritarians) have had more than two centuries to show us their programs, and their consequences. It seems that there is a growing number of Americans who are disgusted with the growing and (apparantly irreversible) decay of our society and economy under the leadership of these “neo-federalists” and might be attentive to new voices.

Familiarize yourself and your friends with the wisdom of these “antifederalists”. Then help spread the word.

David K. Meller

C. Joseph September 28, 2006 at 9:23 pm

I gather that some of you believe that the Articles of Confederation was a better government for Mises style economics and political arrangement. That is foolishly narrow. The States’ governments prior to the Constitution were scenes of discord and violence; the ancient battle between the democrat and the oligarch was staged daily. Crazy paper money schemes and inflation were rampant. Property was seized; rights of association and free exchange were curtailed; mercantilism was the norm, etc. I cannot fathom at what point the operation of a host of petty democracies-turning-tyrannies would be beneficial to the Mises approach to sensibility.

Many of you complain that the Constitution has failed to limit the rise of the modern state. On the contrary, it seems to have been the most moderate of any in the world, and after the others bled themselves through world war and utopian hand-wringing, it has been the U.S. only that has set the example for a return to common sense. If that common sense is attenuated, so be it. But please try to keep it all in context. A brief glance through history or outside of the national borders should be enough to suggest that America, far from being some dangerous behemoth verging on totalitarianism, struggles with its self-image and cuts its own heart out at home before its enemies. This cannot possibly be the militant, nationalistic threat that it’s made out to be.

It is interesting to note, finally, that progressives and socialists like Woodrow Wilson and Charles Beard and Parrington, and the modern Robert Dahl have all justly blamed the Constitution for being a break on the democratic/socialistic impulse. They, like many of you it seems, have advocated for years the overthrow of the Constitution in order to institute the bright new future of leviathanic government that we’re all due. I must suggest that the progressives and the socialists have done their homework much better than many of you seem to have done. Since you Misesians seem to be working at the same purpose as your enemies, and even employing strikingly similar arguments; since you are busy dismantling or attacking the Constitution, perhaps it would be worth your while to do a little reading. I suggest anything by Wilson, Charles Beard’s “An Economic Interpretation…”, the Federalist Papers (Publius was very straight forward about what was intended with and the nature of the new Constitution), and perhaps Charles C. Thach’s “The Creation of the Presidency…”.

De-legitimizing the Constitution is and has been happening for some time. The result has been less constrained government. Asking for a flawless, word-perfect document incapable of abuse is, frankly, silly. There is little to be gained from complaining of a document “flawed from the start.” All things are flawed from the start. The function of the Constitution was to effect to as great an extent as possible a regime-wide education in liberty and order with competing avenues for political and moral virtue. The Constitution would be a new bench-mark to and from which all political and moral questions would have to be turned. Even today this is the case. Even the most specious of political arguments must be constitutionalized and every political actor repairs to the Constitution for direction and support. It is the standard by which all things are judged. Under-cutting the Constitution any more than it already has been will leave only power politics and graft. Libertarian principles will lose that battle, hands down.

Let us think a little longer before we abandon the only check on the government we have.

adi September 29, 2006 at 2:35 am

Banker and I have most realistic view about possibility of freedom when enemies of liberty are ruling. There is no piece of paper or unchanged idea which could protect individual rights when state is the ultimate power.

Theories which base their assumptions on kind of social contracts are just bed time stories. How can Sovereign voluntarily limit its own powers. Same as almighty god couldnt destroy himself since his powers are limited in this respect..

TGGP September 29, 2006 at 8:29 am

Why am I wary about a Mega-Confederation including Mexico and Canada? The Articles of Confederation did not survive because there was a movement of people (primarily in the New England/Mid Atlantic region) who felt the central government was too weak. I am thankful that while they did unfortunately replace the articles, they did so with the Constitution, which has been one of the greatest protections freedom has ever had. One reason Americans value things like freedom of speech are because after being placed in the Constitution they seem distinctly American to them, and removal of them seems damaging to the country. When polled, people are more supportive of legislation curtailing free speech when the question DOESN’T mention the first amendment. The Constitution has established good Schelling Points. Whew. Now that I’m done with that, back to the subject at hand. Mexico and Canada are more statist than the U.S, and the U.S today is considerably more statist than even the New England of the 1700s. That makes the survival of something like the Articles seem more tenuous. In addition, the inhabitants of these countries don’t generally believe they form a common “people” or nation. Heck, even Canada by itself has a hard time keeping itself together (I wish they’d just let Quebec go, but instead they chose to relax immigration laws to import enough voters to outweigh the seperatists, and the nationalists brag about this). A stable nation combining all three cannot be formed, so I say it should not be in the first place. Let each be its own confederation.

Nick Bradley September 29, 2006 at 10:03 am

C. Joseph,

Do you even know the history of pre-Constitutional America?

The paper currency you speak of was an outgrowth of the war effort. The Continental Congress thought it would be a good idea to print paper money and spend it. In turn, the states agreed to collect taxes, buy specie, and give it to the central government (nullifying the inflation). The states never did so, and the “Continental” experienced rapid inflation. Once that worked itself out of the system, the eoconmy recovered. Mercantlist schemes failed miserably: States tried to erect their own tarrifs, but that merely shifted traffic to cheaper ports! That’s why they had to get together and have a national tarrif to protect the mercantilists. Outside of Shays’ Rebellion, there was hardly any violence, other than that associated with the inflation. And shays’ rebellion was linked to inflation too. Lenders were so screwed by the rapid inflation, they were seizing property to make ends and forcing borrowers to pay up before future inflation hit. Upheaval is always associated with high inflation.

As for the Constitution and when I wrote about de-ligitimizing it, hear me out. We should hold the opinion that the Constitution is great, but the Articles were even better. Just like the Old Constitution before the Civil Rights Acts, Before the New Deal, before the 16th and 17th amendments, before the 14th amendment, before the Civil War and “legal tender”, before Marbury vs. Madison, before McCollough vs. Maryland, and, FINALLY, before the Constitution. Did you even read the legitimate gripes about the Constitution in the article (quoting anti-feds)?

The article focused on the criticism of anti-feds against the Supreme Court. Why on earth should the FEDERAL GOVERNMENT be the sole interpreter of what the FEDERAL GOVERNMENT is allowed to do? I have a pretty good guess on who they are going to favor with.

On another point, how much is the Constitution worth now anyway? I can run through the entire Constitution and find no sections tat are not routinely violated ouside of the 4th Amendment:

1st Amendment rights? – pleez! The right to bear arms? Ever heard of Federal gun laws? Article 1, Section 8, which explicitly lists what the feds can and cannot do? In the trash can of history for generations. The 13th Amendment? Ever heard of a draft? Even the 14th, which is a bad amendment, IMHO, isn’t even enforced. — Ever heard of racial preferences, affirmative action, and progressive taxation?

Ask youself why this happened. Well, The Federal Government had the power to determine its own limits. Not a real big mystery. That’s why Jefferson and others supported Nullification of federal laws by states.

I just think it’s rather odd that the Constitution re-introduced a system that we had just fought a war to break out of! Hamilton wanted to FULLY re-establish the British Empire in American name, with a King and everything. He wanted to completely abolish the states as well.

As I said, the Constitution is a nice document WHEN enforced, but the Constitution itself prevents that from happening!

If you want to read more, read the LvMI Institute Article entitled Rethinking the Articles of Confederation. It dispels a lot of the myths that you’ve propagated here about what America was like during the 1st Republic. The First Republic being post-Revolutionary War pre-Constitution. The 2nd Republic being post-Constitution, pre-Civil War. The 3rd Republic being post-Civil War, pre-Progressive Era/New Deal. The 4th Republic being what we are left with since then.

Nick Bradley September 29, 2006 at 10:20 am


When I mentioned Canada and Mexico joining the US, I was talking aobut a counterfactual. A “what if” for the Articles of Confederation. The Canada of the late 1700s wasn’t too different from the US, and that is why the Founding Fathers fully expected Canada to join the US (there was a specific clause for Canadian membership in the US). After Mexico threw off Spanish rule a few decades after our independence, perhaps they would have been Amenable to union.

But today, I agree that both of our neighbors are far more statist than we are. But still, if it was undera decentralized system, where it’s irrelevant how different another state is (after all, one state can veto an entire bill). If the US were to decentralize today, I can see Canada joining, except for maybe Quebec :)

CAITM September 29, 2006 at 10:43 am


What’s wrong with Quebec?

CAITM September 29, 2006 at 11:03 am

The myth that only a WASP republic could sustain liberty and a free society is problaby the most entertaining; but nevertheless, it’s just a myth. In light of 2 full centuries of trying to erradicate all other cultures on the Continent by force (such as Ethnic Cleansing in Tennessee/Georgia in 1838 and imposing this baneful germanic tounge on the Acadians in 1920)is it any wonder they are so affraid that a supposed title wave on immigrants will do the same to them?

Ralph September 30, 2006 at 8:02 am

The Constitution’s authority was actually abolished after 1865, if we look at it as an agreement or contract among states. It is referred to as the “Great Compromise” between slaveholding and non-slaveholding states. The fugitive slave clause in Art.4, section 2, allows for the re-capture of runaway slaves into “free states”, wheras the Articles of Confederation made no such provisions. Once a slave entered free soil, that slave was free so long as s/he could avoid capture by the state from which s/he escaped.

In this sense, slavery was written into the Constitution. Aklso, the capitation tax mentioned in the Constitution was written to protect slave owners, giving a kind of “free enterprise” for slave trade.

The argument was that Chief Justice Taney has “nationalized” slavery with his Dred Scott decision, but slavery was inherent in the Constitution and recognized as a “states’ right”.

The Radical Republicans of the North stated that slavery was incompatible with republican form of government, and they were correct. But the Constitution weas built on an agreement that was a contradiction, agreed to by both parties, and there fore became null and void once slavery was abolished.

I suspect this was Lincoln’s reasoning when he issued the Emancipation Proclamation, freeing only slaves in Southern states. By allowing slavery in Northern areas, the basic agreement of the Constitution remained. By freeing slaves in rebel states, the result would be an embrace of the Constitution.

By making slavery the foundation of union, however, the Constitution was in directr contradiction to the principles of the Declaration of Independence and violated what was recognized as “natural law”. As such, it never had true authority except that which was given by agreement among the states, which was nullified after the Civil War and government by Martial law was instituted.

Nick Bradley September 30, 2006 at 2:28 pm


Great point on how the Constitution codified the slavery through Art.4, section 2.

The most significant piece of legislation under the Articles of Confederation was the Northwest Ordinance, wherein states gave up their colonies, so to speak, in the Northwest Territories(later formed Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Michigan, Wisconsin, and part of Minnesota). When Congress passed the Northwest Ordinance was passed, it declared that new states formed out of the Northwest Ordinance would be free states, with slavery illegal.

Now, one must remember that 100% of the states had to approve legislation under the Articles. That means that slave states approved the ban on slavery! Did they realize that Slavery was a dying institution under the Articles? That Slavery was saved in a way under Art. 2, Sec. 4 of the Constitution? One must remember that NY and NJ still had slaves at the time too.

Gavin September 30, 2006 at 9:15 pm

How much worse off would the US have been if the British had just granted us autonomy? Would we be like Canada now?

Nick Bradley October 1, 2006 at 4:54 am


That’s a good question that I’m not really sure about. Canada has changed drastically over the past 100 years, but even before that the two countreis were different. Canada took in a lot of American Tories who were quite fond of the British Mercantilist system during and shortly after the Revolutionary War. Canada also didn’t “have any Jeffersons”, so to speak; i.e. there was never an ideological, pro-liberty fervor in Canada’s intelligestia.

Looking at the Canadian state, it sort of nullifies that claims of those who believe that the state only has major growth spurts during times of war and “emergencies” (as Robert Higgs calls them). Canada has just been skipping down the Road to Serfdom with no real catalysts for doing so.

Looking at Canada, however, the impulse of Canadians toward liberty is radically different from place to place. Ottawans and Quebecois are far more statist than their Western brethren; I guess they still have that “frontier spirit”.

Interestingly enough, many Canadian Historians believe that if it weren’t for the War of 1812, Canada would have eventually joined the United States; they believe that (unsuccessful) US attacks on Canada galvanized the disparate areas of the Province and fostered a sense of nationalism.

If the Articles of Confederation were never thrown out, I think that Canada would have joined the US, at least Upper Canada (present-day Canada sans Ottawa and Quebec). The Articles of Confederation had a clause in it that allowed Canada to unilaterally join the US, without requiring approval by the states. All other candidate states had to be approved by 9/13ths of the states. This is quite interesting because such a clause wasn’t even listed for the Republic of Vermont.

Okeefenokee Joe November 24, 2010 at 11:54 pm

i’ll restate a point stated in the anti-federalist papers that under the articles, the colonies defeated the most powerful imperial power in the world and secured for itself a nation larger than any european nation.

Okeefenokee Joe November 24, 2010 at 11:58 pm

i know this is long, but i’m gonna repost it here. if its size is a turn-off, just read the last paragraph.

i am a soldier from georgia and i just read your article titled, “the antifederalists were right.” for years all i’d known of the federalists was that, when shown in documentaries, people like george washington and john adams had it listed as their party. everything i’d seen on the constitution was produced with the mood that, although there was much resistance and debate during its creation, history agreed that it was right and the balance of powers it created ensured a fool-proof system. for the last few weeks i’ve been in night school at barstow community college, and while i know its not exactly prestigious, its a starting point. i’ve been getting a vibe from the professor that he shares in most of the sentiments of those who are weary of what governments can become if left to their own devices. he hasn’t come out and made any radical statements, but he’s shown early american history from more angles than i ever was taught in public school.

most of what we’ve been over so far is material i’ve never been taught; being that public school history curriculum jumps from the revolutionary war, to 1812 (which is a whole other conversation), to the civil war and then to the world wars. the first few classes were over colonial america and the rise in animosity between the colonies and england, which i was relatively well educated on. the last few weeks have brought on things like shays’ rebellion, the alien and sedition acts (which i had only known of as they were applied in the 1940′s), and in recent classes, the tariffs of 1828 and everything related to the nullification crisis and enabling acts. by moving forward through history in smaller steps than just jumping from war to war it brings on a sense that these things weren’t as long ago as they seem when one relates to centuries only by the major wars within them.

what has been solidifying within me is an opinion that corresponds with what you wrote. the weariness of the anti-federalists towards what the constitution might enable was well founded and it doesn’t take much to see that they had good reason. even in a lowly community college in barstow f-ing california i’ve seen over and over that the very few times the constitution has been used to settle a debate in D.C. it had been motivated by the continual power struggle. the supreme court didn’t use their judicial review to overturn the “writ of mandamus” until it was the only option they had to save face when placed between adams and jefferson. if it was unconstitutional at that time, why hadn’t they overturned it when it was written? this sentiment that, the constitution would be great in a perfect world, but we fear it will only empower gov’t and not limit it, seems to me to have been one of the clearest and most correct predictions in history. but as you alluded to, americans dont see any of this as valid or relevant to today’s gov’t. all of this is looked on as ancient history with no bearing on the problems of today. americans today have it shoved down their throat that the constitution is the greatest document ever written and greatest protection of liberty man has ever fashioned for himself, what is left out of that lesson is that it only gets dusted off in washington, not when the rights of the people are threatened, but the power of one of the three branches is threatened.

the scale of the cultural shift that would need to take place in this country to create a nation that concerned itself more with the operation of its government than it does the modern reincarnation of the roman circus, i believe, i fear, is beyond us. i relate this lack of proper perspective to the decisions i made as a teen, when the full gravity of my actions mattered little because i had not yet felt the pain of the coming consequences. while this ill-fated trend within our culture to concern ourselves only with our immediate desires and to relegate the authority and burden of governing to others has many times resulted in loss, i dont think we’ve hit that point where the consequences are so great that they bring upon a maturing effect that causes a sever redirection in our actions, mentality, and priorities. what worries me is that, in this world, that serious blow to our strength that would usher in a newer, wiser america, might not be followed by a second chance.

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