Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Lou Brien: Move closer together or risk moving apart

Lou Brien: Move closer together or risk moving apartNorthern, WI 7/3/12 (StreetBeat) -- It is a big deal for a state to give up its sovereignty. In order to take such a decision the people of that state must believe that they will be better off in a union with other states, including some states that may be very different from theirs, than they would be in continuing on their own. It is of course possible for states to enter into important agreements with one another that fall short of signing away key sovereign rights, such as the prerogative to spend their resources as they see fit. States can be co-equal partners with other states in wide reaching endeavors but continue to assert that “each state retains its sovereignty, freedom and independence”, except for those things which they have expressly determined they are willing to cede. But if there comes a time when such an important agreement reaches its limit, then it could be that the decision that must be made in regards to the future path of the states involved becomes one of either, or. Either the states are willing to go further and cement the relationship by mutually surrendering their sovereignty for a perceived better outcome, or they must go their own way and step back from the original agreement.

This was the dilemma that faced the Federal Convention when it met at Independence Hall in Philadelphia in May 1787. The Articles of Confederation had been ratified by most states before the end of the 1770s; it was the basis of the government of the United States of America; a document that came from the gathering that also produced the Declaration of Independence in early July 1776. But the Articles were in need of drastic revision; there was no president, no executive agencies, no judiciary and no tax base, and that is why the delegates had once again gathered in Philadelphia. Aside from negotiating international diplomatic and commercial agreements or dealing with issues of war and peace with foreign countries, the states retained their sovereignty, especially when it came to the purse strings. For instance, if the US government needed money to pay off state or national debts from the war years they had to request the money from each individual state, which would then decide if they wanted to chip in or not. Given the condition of the government balance sheet today this might seem like an enviable system, but the system was inefficient at best, even when expenses were very justifiable. It was a convoluted way to run a country; at least that is how the Federalist contingent at the convention viewed the situation.

The key concern of the Federalists was that the Articles of Confederation did not go far enough and that if the states involved did not each agree to take the next step the whole project could fall back and the union would likely dissolve. During the summer of 1787 the convention in Philly discussed, debated and eventually drafted a new Constitution. But it still had to be approved by a vote of the people or the state legislators from each of the thirteen member states. In order to persuade the voters of the state of New York to ratify the proposed Constitution three men; James Madison, John Jay, and especially Alexander Hamilton, anonymously penned a series of eighty-five essays, presented in the state’s newspapers, expounding on the benefits of the new document.

In the first of these “Federalist Papers” Mr. Hamilton was clear with his concern that either the union must decide to move closer together, or risk moving apart.

To the People of the State of New York:

After an unequivocal experience of the inefficiency of the subsisting federal government, you are called upon to deliberate on a new Constitution for the United States of America. The subject speaks its own importance; comprehending in its consequences nothing less than the existence of the UNION, the safety and welfare of the parts of which it is composed, the fate of an empire in many respects the most interesting in the world. It has been frequently remarked that it seems to have been reserved to the people of this country, by their conduct and example, to decide the important question, whether societies of men are really capable or not of establishing good government from reflection and choice, or whether they are forever destined to depend for their political constitutions on accident and force. If there be any truth in the remark, the crisis at which we are arrived may with propriety be regarded as the era in which that decision is to be made; and a wrong election of the part we shall act may, in this view, deserve to be considered as the general misfortune of mankind.

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