Rethinking The American Union For The Twenty-First Century edited by Donald Livingston
November 1, 2012 by Bob Livingston
All of these questions and more are considered in Rethinking the American Union for the Twenty-First Century. This book is a collection of seven essays that cover the idea that America has grown too large, too indebted and too divided to maintain a republican form of government, and that it is time to separate the Nation into a group of independent federations. It covers the issue from the historical aspect of the Nation’s founding and how the Founders felt about secession, to the legal ramifications of secession, to the practical aspect of how a divided Nation might work.
Each essay is written by a different author. The idea for the project came from a meeting at Charleston, S.C., in February 2010 called the Abbeville Institute Scholars’ Conference. Editor Donald Livingston (no relation) wrote the introduction, “The Old Assumptions No Longer Apply.”
In it he lays the groundwork for each of the subsequent essays. The authors of the other sections are: Ken Masterson Brown, “Secession: A Constitutional Remedy that Protects Fundamental Liberties”; Thomas DiLorenzo, “The Founding Fathers of Constitutional Subversion”; Marshall DeRosa, “The Tenth Amendment Awakening, the Supreme Court Be Damned”; Donald Livingston, “American Republicanism and the Forgotten Question of Size; Kirkpatrick Sale “‘To the Size of States There Is a Limit’: Measurement for the Success of a State”; Yuri Maltsev, “Too Big to Fail? Lessons from the Demise of the Soviet Union”; and Rob Williams, “Most Likely to Secede: U.S. Empire and the Emerging Vermont Independence Effort.”
Brown writes that the Founders intended for the States to have the right to secede if the Federal government overreached. They believed the union was a compact of the States and that if either side breached the compact, secession was a lawful remedy. He backs his position with words recorded during the ratification conventions of each State and other historical references.
But the ink was barely dry on the Constitution when there were those who were already at working changing the meaning of the words used during the ratification process. By 1833, Senator Daniel Webster of Maryland, in arguing against three resolutions introduced opposing the extension of the Tariff of 1828, was using pretzel logic regarding the agreement that resulted in the Constitution.
“The Constitution, Sir, is not a contract, but the result of a contract; meaning by contract no more than assent. Founded upon consent, it is a government proper. Adopted by the people of the United States, when adopted, it has become a constitution. The people have agreed to make a Constitution; but when made, that Constitution becomes what its name imports. It is no longer a mere agreement,” Webster said.
That is directly contradictory to Article VII which states it is a “Constitution between the States so ratifying the same.”
Others, like Abraham Lincoln and Salmon P. Chase, argued the Union was perpetual, though they could point to nothing in the Constitution that provided for it to be perpetual, nor any utterings from any of the ratification proceedings.
Total war — not the bloviations of Webster, Lincoln, Chase, John Marshall or Joseph Story — cemented into the place the nationalist theory of the American founding as advocated by Alexander Hamilton, DiLorenzo writes in his section, “The Founding Fathers of Constitutional Subversion.”
He covers the activities of Hamilton, Story, Webster and others to subvert the Constitution and centralize government. But he also writes in great detail about the activities of Lincoln and his speeches (and the Lincoln worship that has developed around him) that cemented the nationalist view of the Constitution in the public’s psyche.
In “Tenth Amendment Awakening, the Supreme Court Be Damned,” DeRosa examines the 10th Amendment movement and the effect it is having on generating interest in politics on the local level. But in detailing the history of the movement, DeRosa also delves into Lincoln’s logical fallacies concerning the legality of secession.
On the one hand, Lincoln argued (and made executive orders based upon) the illegality of secession. Yet he recognized that the Confederate States of America was an independent nation (and therefore the legality of secession) when he blockaded Confederate ports. Under international maritime law, a nation can close but not blockade its own ports.
In “American Republicanism and the Forgotten Question of Size,” Livingston discusses what makes a republic too large. He concludes that a large republic, one the size of the current United States, loses its ability to remain a republic and government power grows. Republican governance is much more suited to smaller population sizes.
Kirkpatrick Sale delves deeper into the idea of size and what makes a republic successful. He compares the United States with other nations and ponders whether a United States divided into a number of federations would be successful.
In “Too Big to Fail? Lessons from the Demise of the Soviet Union,” Maltsev explores whether peaceful secession is possible. He posits that, based upon the successful breakup of the Soviet Union, the answer is yes.
Finally, in “Most Likely to Secede: U.S. Empire and the Emerging Vermont Independence Effort,” Williams discusses where the movement is, where it is headed and how it might be a model for the other States.
The book is chock-full of history, and the writers all make interesting and persuasive points that the Union has outgrown itself and some remedy must be undertaken if the increasing centralization is to be checked.