“The United States are not a nation.” A conversation with the original pastoral republicans.

Col. Taylor

Summary: “An American nation, able to make a national Constitution, is not to be found in The Declaration of Independence, in the Confederation of 1777, in The Constitution of 1787, or in its mode of ratification. * * * An American nation, able to make a national Constitution [never existed].”—Col. Taylor of Caroline.

Col. Taylor Introduced by Mr. Jefferson:

Mr. Jefferson: [Good evening viewers. I should like to introduce to all of you the greatest republican thinker of the early days of the Republic and perhaps of all time. He is a man for which no introduction should be necessary, but, alas, in these waning days of our Republic, his is a voice crying in the wilderness of modern discourse.] “[He and I] have rarely, if ever, differed in any principle of importance. Every act of his life, and every word he ever wrote, satisfies me of this.”[1] I give you the preeminent, the one, the only, Col. John Taylor of Caroline.

Col. Taylor: [Thank you. Thank you very much. Tonight I shall be very brief, a difficult task for me. I should like to dispell the common constitutional myth that The United States are a nation. They are not. [Crowd gasps.] Each state is a separate nation in an alliance or federation of 49 other separate, nation states. In short,] “establishing the constitution was a federal and not a national act.” [More gasping and gaffawing.] “And the United States are not a nation.”

Mr. Jefferson: My dear Colonel, would you be kind enough just to give us the basics of your contention?

Col. Taylor: As you wish, my dear Jefferson.

“Inexplicit as words may be, they are untoward instruments for proving contradictions. Mr. Madison asserts, that ‘the assent and ratification of the people of America,’ is the foundation of the constitution, and that the assent and ratification was not to be the act of individuals, as composing one nation, but of the people of each distinct and independent state. The contradiction is explicit.

The existence of an American people is conceded to the project for a national government, and the existence of a distinct sovereign people in each state is conceded to the constitution. Yet if there was no American people, the abstract idea of such a people, could not make a constitution or union for real state nations; and if there was really such a people, the municipal authorities, as he [elsewhere] calls the states, could not make a constitution for them. It was necessary to premise the existence of an American people, to sustain the semi-national physiognomy ascribed to the federal government; and it was necessary to admit the distinct and separate sovereignties of the states, to find a sound ratification of the constitution.”[2]

Mr. Jefferson: [You deny the existence of an American nation?]

Col. Taylor of Caroline: [Yes.] “An American nation, able to make a national constitution, is not to be found in the Declaration of Independence, in the Confederation of 1777, in the Constitution of 1787, or in its mode of ratification. And if no such nation existed, having the right to make a whole national government, can the idea of such a nation make half a national government? To form a national government, the state nations must first dissolve themselves, and these fragments must constitute themselves into one nation; but instead of any such dissolution, the contrary is established by the constitution, and the mode of its ratification.

To obtain a semi-national government, Mr. Madison supposes ‘a people of America,’ as assenting to and ratifying the constitution, though he proves that both acts were done by a people of each state; and [he elsewhere] asserts that the house of representatives of the federal legislature, derives its powers from ‘a people of America.’ But if there never was, nor yet is, such a people, able to make a national constitution, or to alter that made by the states, how can there be such a people for this house to represent? Had there been such a people, state conventions would only have been a mode for collecting their ratifications of the constitution, similar to that practised by states for collecting the opinions of the counties into which state nations are divided, when a majority decides for the nation, and a dissenting county cannot establish a distinct government for itself. But the constitution was to result from the unanimous assent of the several states that are parties to it, expressed, not by the legislative authority, but by the people themselves.This language contains an insinuation to sustain the ideas of an American people and a national government, utterly groundless, although it has been often repeated. No distinction between the legislatures and conventions of states, as organs for expressing the assent of the states to their federal compacts, was meditated. Conventions were recommended by the framers of the constitution, to avoid the disinclination which the state legislatures might feel to part with power, and not to recognise the existence of an American nation. As a proof of this, the constitution may be altered [i.e., amended] by the assent of state legislatures, because they represent the state nations who assented to it. Had it been ratified by an American nation, the legislatures of these state nations could not have altered it. The extract exhibits a distinction by a mere tautology. The states, and the people of the states (as Mr. Madison has ably proved in the extracts) are expressions completely equivalent when applied to the ratification of the constitution; and the antithesis between them is therefore without foundation. If it was made by the people of a state, it was still a state ratification, as Mr. Madison has proved. If the states are parties to the constitution, the individuals of an American nation are not so. If it was established by the assent of states, however expressed, that assent cannot be turned into the assent of individuals, for the sake of creating a national government, by changing a federal, into a national act.”

[1] To Thomas Ritchie, December 25, 1820, Jefferson Writings, The Library of America: Literary Classics of the United States, Inc.: New York, p. 1445 @ http://odur.let.rug.nl/~usa/P/tj3/writings/brf/jefl263.htm

[2] New Views, p. 104; http://www.constitution.org/jt/jtnvc.htm

Published in: on September 3, 2009 at 8:33 pm  Leave a Comment  

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