Thursday, November 24, 2011

The US Constitution as a Coup d'Etat

There is no any document or institution which is more blindly worshiped in the American culture than the US Constitution and the "Founding Fathers" who drafted and ratified it. Especially among the conservatives the Constitution is deemed to be not only the founding block of American nation but also the surest bulwark against the big government and corruption even today.

Still, the story about the constitution just once more confirms that history is always written by the winners and nothing more. The first thing we should bear in mind is that the US had a Constitution before the one drafted in Philadelphia - it's been called 'The Articles of Confederation'. This document was much better than the Philadelphia constitution - it provided for the complete sovereignty of the states, did not give the Congress power to tax, borrow, raise armies or regulate commerce. Yet, almost nobody mentions this document nowadays. How come that "constitutional conservatives" and "libertarians" prefer the Philadelphia document, with its aggressive centralization of power, over the Articles of Confederation?

Who were the Framers of the Philadelphia Constitution and what their motivations were to propose a new Constitution? They were the big government centralizers who despised the loose, confederate arrangement of the Articles and who wanted to "strengthen" it by centralizing legislature at the national level, creating the central bank to print the paper money and finance government expenditure as well distribute favors to their connected friends, power for the central government to collect taxes and tariffs, regulate trade and create the standing army.

The main proponents of this big government agenda were Alexander Hamilton and James Madison (a glorious "Father of the Constitution"). They conspired with their supporters to organize a conference in Philadelphia in 1787 to draft a completely new Constitutions with swiping enlargement of the powers of central government and actual abolishing of the states, in all but in name. They wanted to create the centralized state similar to that of France and other European absolute monarchies of the time. However, since majority of the American people despised strong central government (they just have defeated in a revolutionary war a distant tyrannical government which tried to govern them without their consent), the conspirators had to conceal their true agenda - instead of revealing that they were planning to create a completely new form of government, they invited the delegates just to "amend the Articles of Confederation".

Patrick Henry, a leading "anti-federalist" from Virginia saw what was coming and refused to go to Philadelphia (" I smell a rat" he said very prophetically). Since the very beginning of the Convention it became clear how much Patrick Henry was right. The conspirators first voted for George Washington to be the chairman of the Convention and than decided that all proceedings would be secret. When James Madison presented so called Virginia plan for discussion, it was obvious that the entire business was an attempt at Coup d'Etat and subversion of the existing order. Madison's plan included, among other things: a Congress elected by 'one man one vote' rule, and the Senate appointed by the Congress; a general police power of the national government - i.e. Congress could legislate in any area it chooses; the Congress should have a veto power over the states laws. In the case of disagreement the federal military could be sent to occupy the "rebellious" state. Yes, this was the same glorious James Madison, the father of the Constitution, of "federalism" and American nation itself, proposing a far stronger and more tyrannical central government that one the Americans just got rid of in the revolution. His friend Alexander Hamilton, another glorious figure, proposed the president elected for life, the Senators appointed by the president, and state governors for life. If Hamilton and Madison got their way in Philadelphia 1787 the American political system would have resembled much more the French absolute monarchy under the Louis the XVI, than any kind of system we usually associate with America.

Fortunately, this Coup d'Etat failed since the majority of the delegates rejected Madison-Hamilton plan and eventually created a document which included some of the centralizing features of the Virginia plan, but rejected the most cherished Madisonian designs; the veto power of the federal Congress over the states laws (for which he fought bitterly until the very end!), included the equal representation in the Senate (with the state legislatures appointing the Senators), and eventually with the Bill of Rights and 10th amendment even more drastically limited the power of central government. Although still centralizing government to a significant degree (by giving the Congress the power to raise army, collect taxes and regulate trade) the final product was a pale shadow of the original plan of the conspirators; it created a limited government of strictly enumerated powers, instead of a general, all-powerful, centralized government as Madison and Hamilton wanted.

Hence, the true heroes of the Founding period were not the "Framers", the people who designed the Constitution and called the Philadelphia Convention, but the opponents of the Constitution, led by George Mason, Patrick Henry and Richard Henry Lee, who thwarted the plan to create a consolidated government in the USA. Instead of wise Philosopher Kings who bequeathed to their posterity the most perfect document of liberty, the "Framers" were a bunch of power-hungry Machiavellian conspirators against liberty whose evil designs were, at least temporarily, thwarted by the true heroes of liberty, forgotten "antifederalists". And the Glorious Philadelphia Convention was not a landmark of American founding but just a failed Coup d'Etat.

1 comment:

  1. Except that they didn't fail. They did overthrow the law of the land. They succeeded in reducing states to provinces and the people to serfs.

    “But whether the Constitution really be one thing, or another, this much is certain - that it has either authorized such a government as we have had, or has been powerless to prevent it. In either case, it is unfit to exist.” -- Lysander Spooner