Prelude to the Constitution

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Previously, we noted that “two of the federal government’s supposed weaknesses under the Articles of Confederation — its inability to regulate trade among the states and its inability to tax the states” — were examples of hype “…back then — as now — by the politically-minded (who) understood that their personal power would flow with the power inherent in being able to tax and regulate.”

And, while opining that “inevitably, the power to tax and regulate breeds the power to coerce and control,” we described that we found “very interesting” the sequence of historical statements and chain of events that unfolded as a pretext to amend the Articles of Confederation.

In reality, the Articles of Confederation (AOC) embodied the first U.S. constitution.


The Articles of Confederation most closely reflected the founding principles that, indeed, had “tried men’s souls” — to the point that our forebears signed the Declaration of Independence and fought the American Revolution.

Thus, the AOC is the original companion document to our Declaration of Independence.

Because the founders learned the negative lessons of encroachments, usurpations and remote control, while living under the centralized directives from the British crown, they understood the need for absolute limits on central government.

In other words, the Articles of Confederation were designed to define and align: define the relationship of each state to all others; and align states as a joint entity.

Equally important, the founders understood the wisdom and importance of self-government.

So they carefully crafted the Articles of Confederation to prevent the accumulation of power by federal officials and built the AOC on the cornerstones of individual freedom and state sovereignty.

But some saw a stronger central government as the way to more personal power. The AOC prevented that.

That meant — rather than amending — the Articles had to be supplanted.

They were.

As a result, power began to shift.

Over time, the shifts became periodic tidal waves.  Today, we would call these shifts “tsunamis.”

Here’s a direct comparison, using the two items most often cited as the AOC’s “weaknesses”:  “its inability to regulate trade among the states and its inability to tax the states.”

It’s true the Articles had no provision to regulate trade among the states.

Article I, Section 8, Clause 3 of the Constitution was included to give Congress the power “To regulate Commerce with foreign Nations, and among the several States, and with the Indian Tribes.”  During discussion of the proposed Constitution, many delegates foresaw that this clause, and others, granted “boundless power” to the federal government and objected to its inclusion in the final document.

But Alexander Hamilton vigorously supported it, as did James Madison.

They prevailed.

Because regulating international commerce makes sense, a simple amendment to the AOC would have been sufficient.  There was no need to regulate domestic commerce among the states — a referee to coordinate settlement among the states would have sufficed.

That remains largely the case today.

In fact, over time, the Commerce Clause has been, too often, too broadly interpreted by federal courts and notoriously manipulated by both federal politicians and agency bureaucrats.

The next “supposed weakness” of the Articles was that it did not give the central government the ability to tax the people, and because of that the government “could not govern efficiently due to a general lack of power to compel states to honor national obligations.”

There is some truth to that.  But, as with all manipulations, it’s the kernel of truth that gets turned inside out in order to achieve some other ends.

Here are the facts:

Under the AOC, the central government’s main activity was to conduct foreign policy and conclude treaties. Each state had the power to collect its own taxes and provide for its own militia.  In turn, each would contribute its share of the cost of the central government and, as warranted, increase conscripts.

Let’s pause here for a moment and — with the previous paragraph in mind — fast forward to today.

Consider this: Imagine a limited federal government operating only in alignment with responsibilities specified, sanctioned and funded entirely by the states?

How would the federal government be funded?

Each state would pay its share as a census percentage of the national population.

The implications of taking this approach today are indeed far-reaching.

Imagine the following: The operating costs of fulfilling specified responsibilities authorized to the feds drop dramatically, efficiency improves, federal earmarks disappear — the list of prospective savings and efficiencies seems almost endless — especially considering how much the federal bureaucracy has grown and how pervasive the government’s intrusion into people’s lives has become.

Would some of the discontinued federal programs be picked up by all the states; or would some programs be picked up by only some states?  Yes.  Importantly, in each and every instance in which that might be the case, this change would place both the decision and funding responsibility solely where it belongs: close to the people.

Richard Olivastro is president of Olivastro Communications, a professional member of the National Speakers Association and founder of Citizens For Change (www.CFC.us). He can be reached via email at RichOlivastro@gmail.com.