States’ Rights, Debt, Interstate Commerce, Russia, Barbary Pirates, Spain, Britain, Shays Rebellion and Miracle of Philadelphia

Posted by PITHOCRATES - July 19th, 2012

Politics 101

After Winning their Independence from Great Britain the Common Enemy was no more Leaving them Little Reason to Unite

The South lost the American Civil War for a few reasons.  Perhaps the greatest was the North’s industrial superiority.  Her industry could make whatever they needed to wage war.  While the South suffered behind the Union’s blockade.  Unable to trade their cotton for the means to wage war.  And then there was the fact that the North was united.  While the states’ rights issue that they were fighting for prevented the South from being united.  The southern states (whose governments were dominated by the planter elite) did not like the federal government in Washington (except when they forced northern states to return southern slaves).  And as it turned out the states didn’t like the federal government in Richmond any better.  They fought Jefferson Davis from consolidating his power.  They put the states’ interests ahead of the national interest.  Such as winning a war to secure their states’ rights.  And any supplies a state had they wouldn’t share them with another state.  Even if they had a warehouse full of surplus shoes while troops from another states fought barefoot.

So the North won the American Civil War because they were united.  They had an advanced economy based on free market capitalism and free labor.  And they were wealthy.  Basically because of the prior two statements.  But it wasn’t always like this.  The United States of America is a large country.  Even before it was a country.  When it was only a confederation of sovereign states.  With independent republican governments.  Still it covered great tracts of land.  Allowing the states to keep to themselves.  Much like it would be some 75 years later in the South.

After winning their independence from Great Britain the common enemy was no more.  And they had little reason to unite.  Which they didn’t.  For the several states included a lot of disparate people.  Who agreed on little with the people beyond their state’s borders.  Which was one of the criticisms of republican government (i.e., an elected representative government).  And one held by perhaps the greatest influence on the Framers of the Constitution.  French philosopher Charles de Montesquieu.  Who believed that the larger the geographic size the more dissimilar the people’s interest.  And therefore making republican government more difficult.  As it was too difficult to arrive at a consensus with such a large electorate.  Which James Madison disagreed with, making this a heated topic during the Constitutional Convention and the ratification process.  But before that convention it would appear to be incontrovertible.  The United States were anything but united.

The Americans defeated one Distant Central Power and were none too keen on Answering to a New Central Power

The first American identity appeared in the Continental Army.  Where soldiers came from different states and fought together as Americans.  General Washington fostered this spirit.  Forbidding any anti-Catholic displays.  One thing that all the Protestant American colonists enjoyed.  No matter which state they came from.  But to fight the British Empire they needed a large army drawn from all the states.  And to get the French Canadians living in British Canada to join them they needed to embrace religious freedom.  Even for Catholics.  Which was even more important if they had any chance of getting support from the most likely foreign power.  The eternal enemy of Britain.  Catholic France.  Washington, as well as those who served in the Continental Army, understood the success of their cause required less infighting and more uniting.  That it was imperative to set aside their sectional interests.  Only then could the new nation join the world of nations.  Strong and independent.  And avoid the European nations pulling them into their intrigues.

But of course that wasn’t going to happen.  After the war no one called themselves American.  Except for a few.  Like Washington.  And some other veterans of the Continental Army.  No.  The country people belonged to was their state.  Thomas Jefferson, the author of the Declaration of Independence, called Virginia his country.  As did most if not all of the Patriots of ’76.  The war was over.  They defeated the distant central power.  And they were none too keen on a new central power to answer to.  Even if it was on their side of the Atlantic.  To these Revolutionary Patriots the Continental Congress was just another foreign legislature trying to infringe on their sovereignty.

The national congress had no power.  Delegates didn’t always show up leaving the congress without a quorum.  Which didn’t matter much as they couldn’t pass anything when they had a quorum.  For any legislation they wanted to pass into law required a unanimous vote of all thirteen states.  Which rarely happened.  They couldn’t levy taxes.  Which meant they couldn’t fund an army or navy to protect their states from foreign aggressors.  Or protect their international trade on the high seas.  Which was a problem as the British no longer provided these services.  And they couldn’t repay any of their debts.  Their prewar debt owed to a lot of British creditors (which they had to repay according to the treaty that ended the war and gave them their independence).  Or their war debt.  States owed other states.  And the Congress owed foreign creditors in Europe.  Especially their war-time ally.  France.  Who they owed a fortune to.  The states charged duties and tariffs on interstate commerce.  They made their own treaties with the Indians.  Some states defaulted on the debt they owed to out of state creditors.  States even fought each other over land.  The Untied States were anything but united.  And it showed.

The Delegates of the Continental Congress agreed to meet in Philadelphia in 1787 to revise the Articles of Confederation

Europe watched the Americans with amusement and contempt.  The Americans didn’t get much respect from Catherine the Great, tsarina of Russia.  The ruler of the world’s largest country viewed the Americans as a bit uppity and not worthy to join the European courts.  Besides, she was more interested in expanding her powers into Turkey.  And into Poland.  Who caught some of that spirit of liberty from the Americans.  That Catherine wanted to squelch.  Making her less of an America fan.  But it wasn’t only Russia.  The Barbary pirates were targeting American shipping in the Mediterranean.  Selling their crews to the slave markets of North Africa.  Western settlers using the Mississippi River to ship their produce were denied passage through the Port of New Orleans by Spain.  The British refused to vacate their forts in the Northwest.  Even worked with the Indians to cause some mischief in the borderlands.  Why did the Europeans do these things?  Because they could.  For the Americans could not stop them.

To make matters worse the Americans were drifting towards civil war.  The northern provinces were talking about leaving the confederation and forming their own.  The North feared the South would do the same.  Even aligning itself more with Europe than the American states.  Meanwhile the economy was tanking.  Trade was down.  People were out of work.  Farmers were unable to pay their debts.  Even losing their farms.  In western Massachusetts Daniel Shays gathered together disgruntled veterans and rebelled.  Again.  Only this time it wasn’t against the British.  It was against the legal authorities in Massachusetts.  Shays Rebellion spread to other states.  And grew violent.  Massachusetts asked the Continental Congress for help.  And the Congress asked the states for $530,000 to raise an army to put down the rebellion.  Twelve of the thirteen states said “no.”

With no other choice Massachusetts went to rich people for funding.  Used it to raise a militia of some 4,400 men.  In time and after some bloody fighting they put down this rebellion.  But some of the rebels continued a guerilla war.  Making many in the new United States live in fear.  Washington, despondent of what was happening to the republic he had fought for so long to secure, pleaded, “Let us look to our national character and to things beyond the present moment.”  And so they did.  The delegates of the Continental Congress agreed to meet in Philadelphia in 1787.  To revise the Articles of Confederation.  To reign in the chaos.  To get their finances in order.  And to gain the respect of the world of nations.  But to do that would require s stronger central government.  And that is exactly what emerged from Philadelphia.  So they did what the Confederates did not do nearly 75 years later.  Which is the reason why they lost the American Civil War.  Because of an ideal.  States’ rights.  That was so absolute that it weakened the Confederacy to the point she could not survive.  Something the Miracle of Philadelphia prevented in 1787.  Which left the states sovereign.  And the new federal government only governed that which extended beyond the states’ borders.  And it worked well.  For some 75 years.  When it hit a road bump.

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