Confederalist Paper #3
Making a Case for a New American Confederacy under the New Articles of Confederation (NAC)
To the People of all the States of Union:
IT IS not a new observation that the people of any country, if they are well-informed, seldom adopt an erroneous opinion respecting their interests. That consideration naturally tends to create great respect for the high opinion which the people of America have so long and uniformly entertained of the importance of their continuing firmly united under some type of common government, vested with sufficient powers for all general and national purposes. But which type? A loose Confederation, such as we had under the Articles of Confederation (AOC), or a tight Confederation, such as the one proposed by the New Articles of Confederation (NAC), or tight Consolidation, such as the one we have right now under the United States Constitution (USC)? The facts seem to support a tight Confederation under the NAC as the PLAN that has America’s best interests in mind.
The more attentively I consider and investigate the reasons which appear to have given birth to this opinion, the more I become convinced that they are cogent and conclusive.
Among the many objects to which a wise and free people find it necessary to direct their attention, that of providing for their safety seems to be the first. The safety of the people doubtless has relation to a great variety of circumstances and considerations, and consequently affords great latitude to those who wish to define it precisely and comprehensively.
At present I mean only to consider it as it respects security for the preservation of peace and tranquillity, as well as against dangers from foreign arms and influence, as from dangers of the like kind arising from domestic causes. As the former of these comes first in order, it is proper it should be the first discussed. Let us therefore proceed to examine whether the NAC’s tight Confederation or the USC’s tight Consolidation, affords Americans the best security that can be devised against hostilities from abroad, trusting that the people will be right in their opinions on these matters if they are properly informed.
The number of wars which have happened or will happen in the world will always be found to be in proportion to the number and weight of the causes, whether real or pretended, which provoke or invite them. If this remark be just, it becomes useful to inquire whether so many just causes of war are likely to be given by tightly confederated America as by tightly consolidated America; for if it should turn out that Confederated America will probably give the fewest, then it will follow that in this respect the Confederal Union tends most to preserve the people in a state of peace with other nations.
The just causes of war, for the most part, arise either from violation of treaties or from direct violence. Under the USC, America has already formed treaties with very many foreign nations, and many of them are maritime, and therefore able to annoy and injure us. She has extensive commerce with almost the entire world and has the circumstance of neighborhood to attend to for some of them.
It is of high importance to the peace of America that she observe the laws of nations towards all these powers, and to me it appears evident that this will be more perfectly and punctually done by one confederal government than it could by the current consolidated national government. For this opinion various reasons may be assigned.
When once an efficient confederal government is established under the NAC, the best men in the country will not only consent to serve, but also will generally be appointed to manage it; for, although town or country, or other contracted influence, may place men in State assemblies, or senates, or courts of justice, or executive departments, yet more general and extensive reputation for talents and other qualifications will be necessary to recommend men to offices under the confederal government, — especially as it will have the widest field for choice, and never experience that want of proper persons which is not uncommon in some of the States. Hence, it will result that the administration, the political counsels, and the judicial decisions of the confederal government will be more wise, systematical, and judicious than those of individual States, and consequently more satisfactory with respect to other nations, as well as more safe with respect to us.
Under the confederal government, treaties and articles of treaties, as well as the laws of nations, will always be expounded in one sense and executed in the same manner, for they all must agree with the New Articles of Confederation, otherwise we cannot deal with them, — whereas, adjudications on the same points and questions, in the consolidated national government under the United States Constitution, have not always accorded or been consistent, for there is no stipulation in the Constitution that such must agree with it, but contrarily, such treaties have actually altered or removed the Constitutional limitations. Also, the variety of independent courts and judges appointed by different and independent governments, should remain in their separate jurisdictions, which derive from the different local laws and interests which may affect and influence them. This is as it should be; therefore, the New Articles of Confederation do not consolidate these local matters into more general hands that have no business adjudicating in them. The tight Confederation then only judges between States, but under the tight Consolidation we have currently, the Supreme Court oversteps these proper jurisdictional bounds, blurring the lines, or casting too far a jurisdictional net over the nation. This is one of the main problems caused by consolidation: it tends towards centralizing all things, creating an environment of homogeneity and monopolization, instead of diversity and variety. There is no wisdom, then, in committing such intra-State questions to the jurisdiction and judgment of courts appointed by and responsible only to one national government, and this cannot be emphasized too much.
The prospect of present loss or advantage has often tempted the governing party in the national government to swerve from good faith and justice, and this because of the consolidated nature of the beast; but those temptations can hardly exist in a Confederacy government, for there is no governing party to speak of, but merely a group of State delegates representing State interests, and consequently having little or no influence on the confederal government, the temptation will be fruitless, and good faith and justice be preserved.
If even the governing party in a national Congress should be disposed to resist such temptations, yet as such temptations may, and commonly do, result from circumstances peculiar to the nation, and may affect a great number of the inhabitants, the governing party may not always be able, if willing, to prevent the injustice meditated, or to punish the aggressors. Power under the United States Constitution has become so vastly great and centralized, as to make the national government essentially limitless, and therefore forces beyond the control of the governing party may stop any attempt at setting things right. But the confederal government set up by the New Articles of Confederation, not being affected by local circumstances or interests—for the Confederacy is not beholden to the people, but to the States—will neither be induced nor empowered to commit the wrong themselves, (for the NAC fully constrains and limits confederal power), nor want power or inclination to prevent or punish its commission by others. In fact, the New Articles of Confederation actually charges the confederal Congress to right such wrongs.
So far, therefore, as either designed or accidental violations of treaties and the laws of nations afford just causes of war, they are less to be apprehended under a tight confederal government than under a tight consolidated one, and in that respect the former most favors the safety of the people.
As to those just causes of war which proceed from direct and unlawful violence, it appears equally clear to me that one good confederal government affords vastly more security against dangers of that sort than can be derived from any other quarter. The New Articles of Confederation, in particular, is a PLAN that allows for only justified, defensive warfare, reducing the chances of such conflicts almost to zero, while the United States Constitution, with its standing army, has been sent to many nations throughout the world, on policing and peacekeeping and regime changes and other missions, which have vastly increased our chances of international conflict and retaliation by others for our invasive, warlike maneuvers on foreign soil.
Such violences are more frequently caused by the passions and interests of a part than of the whole; and thus, when a governing party rules the national congress, being a small body controlling a standing army, this potentially puts the whole Union in jeopardy. Some interests in government do not want peace, but war, and desire and are planning to use our standing military to create an American empire throughout the world. Not a single war has yet been occasioned by aggressions of our united people, or even of the whole of the States; but there are several instances of hostilities having been provoked by the improper conduct of the national congress and its executive branch, the President of the United States, a de facto kingly office if ever there was, who, either unable or unwilling to restrain or punish offenses, have given occasion to the slaughter of many innocent inhabitants.
Because of the NAC’s requirement that “the armed forces shall only drive an invading force from the Confederacy land and sea borders, and there shall be no retaliation,” the neighborhood of Mexican and Canadian territories, bordering on some States and not on others, naturally confines the causes of quarrel more immediately to the borderers. Yet the New Articles of Confederation fully prohibit the bordering States from exciting war with these nations; and nothing can so effectually increase that danger as a national government, whose distance from the border and indifference to conflict, (for it does not affect them), will not be diminished by the passions for peace which actuate the parties immediately interested. It might then be said that national governments which possess standing armies tend towards war, if they can benefit from it, while confederacies such as the NAC tend toward peace, because it provides no benefit to war, except to defend the land.
But not only fewer just causes of war will be given by the confederal government, but it will also be more in their power to accommodate and settle them amicably. They will be more temperate and cool, and in that respect, as well as in others, will be more in capacity to act advisedly than the national government, which often will require reparations or other retaliatory measures exacted of the losing party. The pride of nations, as well as of men, naturally disposes them to justify all their actions, and opposes their acknowledging, correcting, or repairing their errors and offenses. The confederal government, in such cases, will not be affected by this pride, but will proceed with moderation and candor to consider and decide on the means most proper to extricate them from the difficulties which threaten them.
Besides, it is well known that acknowledgments, explanations, and compensations are often accepted as satisfactory from a strong united confederacy, which would be rejected as unsatisfactory if offered by a nation or confederacy of little consideration or power. The New Articles of Confederation will establish a tight and strong confederation, not the loose and weak confederation we had under the Articles of Confederation, therefore all nations will perceive us every bit as strong as they perceive us now, under the Constitution, but without the belligerent attitude.
In the year 1685, the state of Genoa having offended Louis XIV, endeavored to appease him. He demanded that they should send their Doge, or chief magistrate, accompanied by four of their senators, to France, to ask his pardon and receive his terms. They were obliged to submit to it for the sake of peace. Would he on any occasion either have demanded or have received the like humiliation from Spain, or Britain, or any other powerful nation? To replace the Constitution with the NAC is to go from a position of antagonistic strength, to one of even greater, but peaceful strength. We have nothing to fear in the transition.
P.S. A fellow patriot, of considerable wisdom, asks to also be heard:
There are but two modes by which men are connected in society, the one which operates on individuals, this always has been, and ought still to be called, national government; the other which binds States and governments together (not corporations, for there is no considerable nation on earth, despotic, monarchical, or republican, that does not contain many subordinate corporations with various constitutions) this last has heretofore been denominated a league or confederacy. The term federalists or confederalists is therefore properly applied to themselves, by the friends and supporters of the proposed New Articles of Confederation, while those who support the current national government continue to call it the Federal Government. But I shall do no such thing. Confederalists support a confederacy, and in particular, the new PLAN of the New Articles of Confederation, while those who support the national government under the United States Constitution will be called nationalists. This correct use of language helps the cause of the NAC, serving to convince the masses. They who support the Constitution are national men, and their opponents, or at least a great majority of them, are federal, in the only true and strict sense of the word, but I will use the terms confederal and national to distinguish the two.
Whether any form of national government is preferable for the Americans, to a league or confederacy, is a previous question we must first make up our minds upon….
That a national government has added to the dignity and increased the splendor of the United States abroad, can admit of no doubt: it is essentially requisite for both. That it has rendered government, and officers of government, more dignified at home is equally certain. That these objects are more suited to the manners, if not [the] genius and disposition of our people is, I fear, also true. That it is requisite in order to keep us at peace among ourselves, is doubtful. That it is necessary, to prevent foreigners from dividing us, or interfering in our government, I deny positively; and, after all, I have strong doubts whether all its advantages are not more specious than solid. We are vain, like other nations. We wish to make a noise in the world; and feel hurt that Europeans are not so attentive to America in peace, as they were to America in war. We are also, no doubt, desirous of cutting a figure in history. Should we not reflect, that quiet is happiness? That content and pomp are incompatible? I have either read or heard this truth, which the Americans should never forget: That the silence of historians is the surest record of the happiness of a people. The Swiss were for some four hundred years during the Old Swiss Confederacy the envy of mankind, and there is yet scarcely an history of their nation. What is history, but a disgusting and painful detail of the butcheries of conquerors, and the woeful calamities of the conquered? Many of us are proud, and are frequently disappointed that office confers neither respect or difference. No man of merit can ever be disgraced by office. A rogue in office may be feared in some governments — he will be respected in none. After all, what we call respect and difference only arise from contrast of situation, as most of our ideas come by comparison and relation. Where the people are free there can be no great contrast or distinction among honest citizens in or out of office. In proportion as the people lose their freedom, every gradation of distinction, between the Governors and governed obtains, until the former become masters, and the latter become slaves. In all governments virtue will command reverence. The divine Cato knew every Roman citizen by name, and never assumed any preeminence; yet Cato found, and his memory will find, respect and reverence in the bosoms of mankind, until this world returns into that nothing, from whence Omnipotence called it. That the people are not at present disposed for, and are actually incapable of, governments of simplicity and equal rights, I can no longer doubt. But whose fault is it? We make them bad, by bad governments, and then abuse and despise them for being so. Our people are capable of being made anything that human nature was or is capable of, if we would only have a little patience and give them good and wholesome institutions; but I see none such, except the New Articles of Confederation, and very little prospect of such, unless Americans can become convinced. Alas! I see nothing in my fellow-citizens, that will permit my still fostering the delusion, that they are now capable of sustaining the weight of SELF-GOVERNMENT: a burden to which Greek and Roman shoulders proved unequal. The honor of supporting the dignity of the human character, seems reserved to the hardy Helvetians alone. If the body of the people will not govern themselves, and govern themselves well too, the consequence is unavoidable — a FEW will, and must govern them. Then it is that government becomes truly a government by force only, where men relinquish part of their natural rights to secure the rest, instead of an union of will and force, to protect all their natural rights, which ought to be the foundation of every rightful social compact.
Whether national governments are unproductive of internal peace, is too certain to admit of undecided opinion. I only hazard a conjecture when I say, that our state disputes, in a confederacy, would be disputes of levity and passion, which would subside before injury. The people being free, government having no right to them, but they to government, they would separate and divide as interest or inclination prompted — as they did before this day, and always had done, during the Old Swiss Confederacy in Switzerland. In a national government, unless cautiously and fortunately administered, the disputes are the deep-rooted differences of interest, where part of the empire must be injured by the operation of general law; and then should the sword of government be once drawn (which Heaven avert) I fear it will not be sheathed, until we have waded through that series of desolation, which France, Spain, and the other great kingdoms of the world have suffered, in order to bring so many separate States into uniformity, of government and law; in which event the legislative power can only be entrusted to one man (as it is with them) who can have no local attachments, partial interests, or private views to gratify. And we know, historically, that this has been the case with us, merely looking at that great American Civil War, or War Between the States, and rise in power of our Presidents, as de facto kings.
That our national government has prevented the influence or danger of foreign intrigue, or secured us from invasion, is in my judgment directly the reverse of the truth. The only foreign, or at least evil foreign influence, has been obtained through corruption. Where the government is lodged in the body of the people, as in the Old Swiss Confederacy of Switzerland, they can never be corrupted; for no prince, or people, can have resources enough to corrupt the majority of a nation; and if they could, the play is not worth the candle. The facility of corruption is increased in proportion as power tends by representation or delegation, to a concentration in the hands of a few. . . .
As to any nation attacking a number of confederated independent republics … it is not to be expected, more especially as the wealth of the empire is there universally diffused, and will not be collected into any one overgrown, luxurious and effeminate capital to become a lure to the enterprising ambitious. That extensive empire is a misfortune to be deprecated, will not now be disputed. The balance of power has long engaged the attention of all the European world, in order to avoid the horrid evils of a general government. The same government pervading a vast extent of territory, terrifies the minds of individuals into meanness and submission. All human authority, however organized, must have confined limits, or insolence and oppression will prove the offspring of its grandeur, and the difficulty or rather impossibility of escape prevents resistance. Gibbon related that some Roman Knights who had offended government in Rome were taken up in Asia, in a very few days after. It was the extensive territory of the Roman republic that produced a Sylla, a Marius, a Caligula, a Nero, and an Elagabalus. In small independent States contiguous to each other, the people run away and leave despotism to reek its vengeance on itself; and thus it is that moderation becomes with them, the law of self-preservation. These and such reasons founded on the eternal and immutable nature of things have long caused and will continue to cause much difference of sentiment throughout our wide extensive territories. From our divided and dispersed situation, and from the natural moderation of the American character, it has hitherto proved a warfare of argument and reason.
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