What is States’ Rights? Part 5

by Mike Crane of Morgantown, Georgia

In Part 1 of this series a concept was presented that runs a bit contrary to current public conception – that the term States’ Rights can be used more for partisan benefit than a true effort to protect the God-Given Rights of the people. Part 2 demonstrated that as early as 1801 incursions attacking American Liberty and State’s Rights had already started and have continued to this day. Part 3 gave details on an obvious expansion of central government powers (authority) by legislative action. Part 4 began listing the causes of the failure of State’s Rights.

Part 5 is a continuation of: Cause # 2: Misconceptions about original Constitution of 1787 (prior to Bill of Rights) from Part 4.

Most of us – especially myself – have believed most of our lives – the intent of the Framers of the Constitution was to give us a “federated” form of government. If you too have believed this during your life you will either find this series of article educational or will dislike them very much.

The italicized portions below are quotes from the historical record of the Constitutional Convention 1787:

On May 29, 1787

Mr Randolph, one of the Deputies of Virginia, laid before the House, for their consideration, sundry propositions, in writing, concerning the american confederation, and the establishment of a national government.

[See Note 1 – Edmund Randolph]

Since Virginia was instrumental in first the calling of the Annapolis Convention and later the Constitutional Convention of 1787, the Virginia delegation submitted the first plan to be debated as the “model” of the proposed new government, which became known as the Virginia Plan. Mr. Randolph was the delegate submitting the Virginia Plan which was the main subject of the debate in the convention.

In the Virginia Plan, the word “national” was used frequently. National Legislature is used 6 times. National Executive, National Judiciary, National Officers, National Revenue, National Peace and Harmony and National Laws are all used once. National is one of the most frequently used words in the document.

This was a plan for a national government a consolidated government; it was not a plan for a federated form of government with shared sovereignty with the States. In this plan the States were reduced to a very subordinate role.

Ladies and gentlemen, like myself I am sure that you have been told throughout most of your life that the intent of the Framers of the Constitution was to create a federated or federal form of government. The Framers were educated men and here in the words of the delegates from Virginia, mostly crafted by James Madison, is a plan for a national government – a consolidated government – NOT A FEDERATED government.

Some or many will say that the word “national” was just a casual reference to the central government. I truly wish that were true. But it isn’t as the historical record will demonstrate:

The Virginia Plan was a national form of government, one designed to create a consolidated government. Three parts of this Plan tell the story:

1) The first is item number 5 from the stated objectives of the Virginia Plan

Read carefully: “to be paramount to the state constitutions.

2) The second is Resolution 6 of 15 in the submitted Virginia Plan

“moreover to legislate in all cases to which the separate States are incompetent, or in which the harmony of the United States may be interrupted by the exercise of individual Legislation; to negative all laws passed by the several States, contravening in the opinion of the National Legislature the articles of Union; and to call forth the force of the Union agst. any member of the Union failing to fulfill its duty under the articles thereof.”

3) The third is Resolution 15 of 15 in the Virginia Plan

“Resd. that the amendments which shall be offered to the Confederation, by the Convention ought at a proper time, or times, after the approbation of Congress to be submitted to an assembly or assemblies of Representatives, recommended by the several Legislatures to be expressly chosen by the people, to consider & decide thereon.”

These are attributes of a “national”, not federated form of government.

  • The objective was for the National Constitution to be paramount to the State Constitutions,  
  • that the National Legislature would be Supreme and be able to repeal State laws and  
  • that ratification not be by the governing bodies of the States, but by conventions other than the legitimate government of the States! 

This Ladies and Gentlemen is the draft plan or model used to start their debate on what became our Constitution. Let’s look at these three points:

  • National Constitution to be paramount to the State Constitutions. In a federated form of government the National Constitution would be paramount to the State Constitutions in those areas that were mutually agreed. This was not the objective of the Virginia Plan; the National Constitution was to be paramount to the State Constitutions period.
  • That the National Legislature would be Supreme and be able to repeal State laws. It was the intent of the Virginia Plan for the National Legislature to have a direct “veto” of ALL laws passed by State Legislatures and there were NO provisions to over-ride the veto. The “veto” power proposed was very broad – “the opinion of the National Legislature.”
  • That ratification not be by the governing bodies of the States, in the Virginia Plan as submitted the existing States and their governing bodies were given as little status as possible. In a federated form of government ratification would be by the legitimate current seated government of the States.

At this point some still cling to the opinion that the usage of the term “national” was just a casual reference to make it distinctive from the State governments. The debate on May 30, 1787 will clarify precisely what the Virginia Plan meant:

Mr. Govr. Morris explained the distinction between a federal and national, supreme, Govt.; the former being a mere compact resting on the good faith of the parties; the latter having a compleat and compulsive operation. He contended that in all Communities there must be one supreme power, and one only.

[See Note 2 – Gouverneur Morris]

This certainly should remove any doubt about a casual use of the word “national.” “compleat and compulsive operation” is very obvious and certainly not compatible with the concept of State’s Rights or a federated form of government. “one supreme power, and one only.” certainly does not sound like shared sovereignty and a lot like what we have in Washington DC today and in the colonies in 1776!

What these terms meant was explained by Mr. Morris to the delegates of the Constitutional Convention of 1787 on May 30, 1787 as documented above. That is a direct quote from the historical record on the Convention of 1787. What these terms mean should be obvious to each and every one of you reading this article; just it was obvious to each and every sitting delegate.

The definition of a federated form of government (The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia® Copyright © 2007):

“ … The distribution of powers between the federal and state governments is usually accomplished by means of a written constitution, for a federation does not exist if authority can be allocated by ordinary legislation. …”

A federated form of government was clearly NOT the intent of the Virginia Plan. Without a doubt the Virginia Plan proposed the capability for “authority to be allocated by ordinary legislation …”

If you ask that question or if you just don’t believe that the model for what became the Constitution of 1787 was based upon a national government with “compleat and compulsive operation.” – You should find the debate and votes immediately following the submission of the Virginia Plan of great interest and possibly educational.

To be continued …

[Note 1] Edmund Randolph, then governor of Virginia, who submitted the Virginia Plan refused to sign the resulting convention report or proposed Constitution. He claimed in October 1787 – that it did not contain sufficient checks and balances. But then flipped again and voted for the proposed Constitution at the Virginia Ratification Convention. He was a member of the Federalist Party and was appointed the First Attorney General of The United States by President George Washington.

[Note 2] Gouverneur Morris, a delegate from Pennsylvania. In 1779, was defeated for re-election to Congress in New York, largely because his advocacy of a strong central government was at odds with the decentralist views prevalent in New York. Defeated in his home state, he moved to Philadelphia to work as a lawyer and merchant. He was a member of the Federalist Party. In an era when most Americans thought of themselves as citizens of their respective states, Morris advanced the idea of being a citizen of a single union of states.

What is States’ Rights – Part 1
What is States’ Rights – Part 2
What is States’ Rights – Part 3
What is States’ Rights – Part 4
What is States’ Rights – Part 6

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