"Governments, in general, have been the result of force, of fraud, and accident. After a period of six thousand years has elapsed since the creation, the United States exhibit to the world the first instance, as far as we can learn, of a nation, unattacked by external force, unconvulsed by domestic insurrections, assembling voluntarily, deliberating fully, and deciding calmly concerning that system of government under which they would wish that they and their prosperity should live." -- James Wilson, November 26, 1787 in remarks in Pennsylvania ratifying convention.
By Douglas V. Gibbs
I began a recent article with the quote above. When I first read that quote, it struck me as fascinating that in the second sentence, after "United States," the word "exhibit" does not end with an "s". The missing "s" denotes that what comes before that word is in the plural, rather than the singular. In other words, the writer did not view the United States as a single entity as each nation of Europe is seen as, but as a collection of several sovereign states.
Every Thursday I host a Constitution Study in Temecula, California, and I often emphasize to the class the importance of state sovereignty, and how the idea of state sovereignty resonates throughout the U.S. Constitution. The early Americans saw themselves as citizens of their states before that of a citizen of the new nation.
Before the colonies declared their independence, they were as unique, and as quarrelsome, as siblings. Each colony had its own culture, currency, religion and customs. They quarreled over tariffs, commerce, borders, and travel routes. But, also like siblings, though they did not get along too well, they defended each other no different than a brother would for his sister. So, after the Articles of Confederation failed to provide the new country with a union capable of defending the new nation from an internal insurrection (Shays' Rebellion), the Founding Fathers decided they needed to form a more perfect union; one strong enough to protect, preserve, and promote the union, while still leaving the States with their sovereignty intact.
The Preamble, as an introduction to the U.S. Constitution, does not hold any legality, but it does establish the party that is giving authority to the new federal government (We The People of the United States - once again note that the United States is in the plural, not the singular) and the reasons for the creation of the Constitution. Also, the Preamble lists these reasons in order of importance, as was customary in the writings by the Founders.
When I ask people what the main reason for the writing of the U.S. Constitution is, most people state that the document was written to protect the rights and properties of the citizens of America. By creating a federal government, the Founding Fathers recognized the potential of such a government to exhibit tyrannical behavior and to ultimately pose a danger to the protection of a citizen's rights and allowance to own property, so they placed limitations in the Constitution to restrain government to functioning within only the authorities granted to it. Though protecting our rights and property was an important aspect during the writing of the U.S. Constitution, it was not the reason for the writing of the document.
As the Preamble lists, the primary reason for the Constitution was "in Order to form a more perfect Union." The union was necessary to protect the states so that they may be sovereign entities and handle their own affairs without having to worry about threats like foreign invasion, and the duties of promoting the general welfare of the republic as a whole. And as one reads the U.S. Constitution, while keeping in mind that the Constitution was written with the preservation of the union, and protecting state sovereignty, as its primary intention, it becomes apparent that all of the authorities granted to the United States Government are for the benefit of the union, while all other powers not granted to the federal government are reserved to the states so that they may handle their own affairs as sovereign entities.
This is why quotes, such as Mr. Wilson's, reference the United States in the plural, and not the singular. The States are a federation of sovereign states, not a single nationalistic entity as the opponents of the U.S. Constitution may claim. The union was designed to protect, preserve, and promote the sovereignty of the sovereign states, not rule over them.
Such is the beginning of understanding the principles that forged this great nation, and the principles we must maintain if we are to continue as the most exceptional, prosperous nation on the face of this Earth. . . God willing.
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