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Letter: Return to the Articles

This November 15th marks the 233rd anniversary of the adoption of the Articles of Confederation, America’s first national constitutional document and, coincidentally, the 322nd anniversary of the arrival to England of William of Nassau-Orange and the dawn of constitutional monarchy. People these days, especially in the Tea Party movement; speak much of ‘returning to the original meaning/spirit of the Constitution.’ But maybe we should think about a return to the Articles of Confederation. I don’t think an American perestroika is likely within the current constitutional framework and I don’t think the United States can avoid a Soviet-type collapse without the kind of radical political and economic restructuring that the socialist Democrats and corporatist Republicans are never going to give us.

The Articles of Confederation has been all but forgotten. In high school, if it’s even discussed at all, it’s presented as some ad hoc, crude attempt to govern the thirteen colonies that resulted in weak national government. But the Articles did not give Americans weak national government; it gave them decentralized national government. Under the Articles, the United States fought a war on its own soil, established its armed forces, printed its first currency, and forged diplomatic ties and military alliances with other countries.

Every September 17th, National Constitution Day is celebrated in high schools and elementary schools throughout America. You’d never know it, but the Constitution was highly controversial, bitterly debated, rejected by many who supported the Revolution in 1776, believed a temporary fix by George Washington himself, and seen by many historians as being principally supported by the Federalists whose class interests favored the central banking and trade system a more centralized federal government would entail under the Constitution. The Constitution’s failure was on public display between 1861 and 1865 and in every courthouse today where the commonweal is usurped by the whims of politically connected lawyers on the bench.

I’ll confess that I’m bias against the Constitution in favor of the Articles. Had the Articles remained our founding document, America would be a commonwealth of more-or-less independent or semi-independent republics; autonomous regions the way France, Germany, and Italy function within the European Union and NATO; a Switzerland-on-steroids. What it has instead become is a military-industrial complex that wages wars against nations that never attacked it (Vietnam, Granada, Panama, Serbia, and Iraq), and a conduit whereby trans-global financial institutions exploit the world’s resources and labor. Worse still, a bureaucratic leviathan like the Soviet Union; an ungovernable empire of three hundred millions dispersed over multiple time zones and geographic regions composed of peoples of every race, color, creed, and tongue. And gigantic empires - for all their advantages - are inherently unstable and invariably fall into bankruptcy and collapse - leaving commonwealths of more-or-less independent states in their wake.

This November 15th let’s remember the Articles of Confederation. As lost in the past, as it seems, something like it might very well be the law of the land for our grandchildren.

Paul Manton