"All men having power ought to be distrusted to a certain degree." ~ James Madison
Not in Liberty Born
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Liberty was in the thoughts of many American colonials, probably often combined with an assumption that liberty was somehow compatible with the presence of a political government. But there were also many who wanted real liberty, with no national government to compromise it. Things did not turn out that way.
Certainly by the standards of classical liberals, the actions that led to the formation of the American governments were done without the consent of the governed.
Liberty was an ideal with many people, but with few among those who gained office. Liberty was not their objective. They were creating a government that would encompass the colonies as a national government. Their discussions typically revolved about the extent of that government's authority, not its existence. But they had in fact not been given a mandate by all of the colonials, not even by all of the land-owning white males of the colonies.
The First Continental Congress convened in September 1774. Its members came from often informal appointments made without ratification or colony-wide voting. Some representatives were appointed by colonial state legislatures, while others were by informal groups that came together on their own cognizance without legal authority, selected representatives from their group, and sent them off to the congress. This amounts to usurpation of office and political power.
This congress did little in the way of action, but just its existence set a precedent that was to have a major effect on the development of America .
The shots heard around the world were fired in Lexington and Concord in April 1775 by British soldiers and American militia men, in a modest beginning to the war that followed.
The Second Continental Congress first convened in May 1775 with deputies from 12 colonies, still a quite period in the nascent war with Britain . This congress was made up mostly of the same individuals who were in the First Continental Congress, so there was not a major change of philosophy between the two congresses.
This congress assumed the functions of a national government without explicit legal authority to do so ' and without the consent of the people who were subjected to it. If consent had been sought, we can be sure that only land-owning white males would have been consulted. But even that was not the case.
The assembly began drafting the Articles of Confederation and the Declaration of Independence in June 1776.
The Declaration of Independence was approved by this congress in July, and signed in August. It contains the phrase "deriving its just powers from the consent of the governed." This is a wonderful-sounding, highly principled but false phrase since neither the congress nor the declaration were consented to by the governed. Throughout the whole process of forming the federal government, nearly everything that happened was between state assemblymen and their representatives sent to the congress. Except for some of the land-owning, white male adults, the governed (males, females, children, whites, blacks, natives, land owners, non-land owners, etc.) were not allowed to select congressional representatives and were allowed no opportunity to consent to either the congress or the declaration. Since the governed did not consent, there were no just powers handed to the delegates.
George Washington was appointed head of the army by this congress, which also took upon itself the right to issue currency and debt instruments, among other authorities. This congress continued meeting throughout the war and afterward.
The Second Continental Congress, to strengthen itself, prepared the Articles of Confederation and Perpetual Union in 1777 and sent it to the state (colonial) governments for ratification, which was completed in 1781. The assembly was then renamed the Congress of the Confederation. This congress had no authority to impose taxes, a deliberate limitation from the colonial states. An influential faction called the Federalists, including Washington , pushed for a strong federal government able to impose taxes instead of a confederation. The war ended in 1783 and, with that, the British claims over the colonies.
The interregnum: Five years of freedom? Or just time in which to get organized? For the five years of the interregnum, those Americans enjoyed more freedom than any other Americans have. Many, especially those on the western frontier, experienced no government involvement in their lives. But government officials were not sitting still. States' representatives met in Philadelphia in 1787 (the Philadelphia Convention) to discuss ways to improve the Articles of Confederation. They were only authorized to amend the Articles, but the representatives held secret, closed door sessions and wrote a new constitution that created a strong federal government essentially identical in form with the British State . Once again, they took actions for which they had no legal authority, nor consent from those to be governed. Washington presided over the drafting of the Constitution. The Constitution was sent to the state assemblies for their ratification. Adoption of the Constitution was not subject to approval by the governed, the people themselves. The Anti-Federalists, including Patrick Henry, Samuel Adams, and George Mason, opposed adoption of the Constitution because of its broad powers for the federal government, foreseeing an inevitable massive growth of the government and loss of individual liberty. In the end, the only real concession to the Anti-Federalists was the adoption of the Bill of Rights.
The Constitution of the United States was placed in effect in June 1788 with the ninth ratification, ending the interregnum. Congress had made itself legal by its own actions with the approval of state assemblies, and now had authority to impose taxes. The usurpation was complete. The governed, of course, were never asked to consent to the Constitution.
The first three presidents had been leaders in the movement for sovereignty, as were many of the people appointed to other federal offices.
Washington became president in 1789. Alexander Hamilton, with Washington 's approval, induced Congress to enact the alcohol and carriages tax of 1791 to strengthen the federal government, which led to the Whisky Rebellion of 1794. Washington commanded the army assembled to end the rebellion, which was nearly the size of the army he led against the British, but now he led it against Americans. This was the first use of an American army against American citizens under the Constitution.
The Fugitive Slave Act of 1793, signed into law by Washington , made assisting an escaped slave a federal crime, overruled all state and local laws giving escaped slaves sanctuary, and allowed slavecatchers into every US state and territory. The act denied constitutional rights to both slaves and freemen who were formerly slaves. Washington held over 300 slaves at Mount Vernon .
John Adams enacted a set of sedition laws that were beyond his authority, outside the Constitution, and in blatant conflict with the First Amendment. Criticism arose on the grounds that he exceeded his authority and violated the Constitution. The laws expired upon his leaving office at the end of his term, but his actions might have encouraged some later presidents to enact their sedition laws, notably those of Woodrow Wilson.
Thomas Jefferson made the Louisiana Purchase , which others argued, and he himself acknowledged, was outside his Constitutional authority. Technically, the purchase was of sovereignty over the land and its peoples.
An issue of the purchase that receives little attention is that of the forced citizenship. The French people in Louisiana were French in both culture and citizenship. Many of them did not want to be American citizens, but that was forced upon them. At the completion of the purchase, American warships were promptly sent to New Orleans , which left no doubt in the minds of the locals about their new citizenship. Those French people had been purchased along with the land as though they were serfs. A similar situation existed for Native Americans. Consent of the governed failed once again.
Jefferson established a blockade in 1807 under which American vessels were prohibited from landing in any foreign port unless specifically authorized by the president. As a result, New England suffered an economic depression with high unemployment. Government agents acted against citizens in enforcing the embargo. Businesses were destroyed and many people suffered loss of income, and even outright poverty as a result. Those affected by the blockade, and the citizens in general, did not consent to this action. Consent of the governed failed yet again.
At one time, Adams wanted the presidency to be hereditary. Hamilton wanted senators to be appointed for life. Under their preferences, even the few Americans allowed to vote would not be allowed to vote in these cases.
Whatever grandiloquent words these three presidents issued on the subject of liberty, their actions show beyond doubt that their interests were with a strong, sovereign federal government, and that the lives of citizens should be compromised in support of the interests of that government. The State existed, and was furthered by all three of these men. Two of the three went outside of the Constitution in their zeal, and, in doing so, they set a precedent for subsequent ambitious presidents. Not only does the Constitution enable a strong national government, but right at the beginning ambitious presidents showed that they could override what limits there are in the Constitution.
Thomas Paine held true to his principles. He wrote a series of eight letters, Letters to the Citizens of the United States and Particularly to the Leaders of the Federal Faction, in1802 and 1803. In the letters, he showed how people in the federal government were compromising the ideals held by Americans who supported the war thinking they were thereby supporting freedom. He wrote, '...the principles of the Revolution were expiring on the soil that produced them. ... The plan of the leaders of the [federal] faction was to overthrow the liberties of the New World , and place government on the corrupt system of the Old.'
The assertion that Americans gained their freedom through the War for Independence (War for Sovereignty) is a myth, one that is highly useful to the federal State. The assertion that Americans have remained free is one of the bigger frauds in history.
A pick-and-choose historical survey is not good history, but the intent here is to puncture some myths and to illuminate some inconvenient truths. The phrase consent of the governed exists only on paper, and has not been honored in practice. Usurpation of political power has been the guiding principle of the governing.