30n. 2 Confederacies

Generally, the word “Confederate” is used in only one context = The Confederate States of America / Confederate Battle Flag. Few appreciate that this was a re-run of history.

The ink was hardly dry on the Declaration of Independence when the Founding Fathers commissioned a committee to write a document to define the new country they had just founded and establish a method of governing it. It took nearly a year. What they produced was the Articles of Confederation. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Articles_of_Confederation

One only has to look at the opening of the Declaration of Independence to see the mindset of the committee. The seeds of the revolution were the monarchy and the taxes imposed “without representation”. The result was their view of a diffuse government with no central control what so ever. The one lasting legacy of the Articles of Confederation was that it established the name of the country as The United States of America. But, rather than being truly united, the colonies (now states) were more akin to 13 independent, sovereign entities. They were to be “confederated” but not exactly “united” and they were not about to be “led”! There was no executive leader; there was no federal judiciary; there was a simple 13 member “congress” with each state having one member to be appointed by the state’s legislature. Nine was established as a quorum to transact business.

It had little to do. The Articles of Confederation recognized the need for a “common defense” and authorized congress the raise an army, but gave it no taxing authority to pay it or the debt that the country was incurring in executing the war with England. Only congress could declare a war or enter into treaty discussions with other sovereign countries. It had to “petition” the states for funds to operate.

The expression “not worth a continental” came about from the worthlessness of the currency printed by that congress. Oddly enough, that was even a clause that allowed Canada to join the confederation if it so requested.

It allowed citizens to freely move between and among the states and allowed for extradition in cases of crime. Primarily, it strongly affirmed States Rights: “Each state retains its sovereignty, freedom, and independence, and every power, jurisdiction, and right, which is not by this Confederation expressly delegated.”[1] Since the limitations and taxes imposed by England were primarily directed at trade goods, shipping and international trade all such issues were the purview of the states. This rendered the “government” of the USA unable to guarantee trade agreements with even its allies.

Perhaps most importantly, without a judiciary, the congress was unable to adjudicate disputes between the states which were not infrequent. Alexander Hamilton led a group to petition Congress to call a convention to address these issues. The Constitutional Convention was born.

Fast forward to 1861, as the southern states were seceding, their representatives met in Mobile AL to formulate a new constitution. They simply copied the majority of the existing US constitution. The changes they made emphasized the state over the federal: “each state acting in its sovereign and independent character”. Obviously, it legalized slavery but continued the existing (since 1808) prohibition on the importation of new slaves. Seemingly, while attempting to re-create the relative independence of the states, they avoided the pit-falls of a weak (non-existent) central government of the earlier Articles of Confederation. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Confederate_States_Constitution

So, in reality, the CSA seems to have learned the lessons of the earlier confederation and walked a tighter line between state’s rights and a strong central government. Since it did not survive after the war, the long-term effectiveness of the document was never tested.

Oddly enough, about 100 years later, there arose what might be described as the antithesis of a “confederacy” = the USSR. It began with Stalin and evolved from there. Dozens of relatively independent countries were subjugated under the supreme central authority of the Kremlin and the Communist Party bosses. After only 50 years, the Soviet Union collapsed and these countries once again asserted their independence of the central authority while continuing (for the most part) to embrace socialism. 

[1] a harbinger of the 10th Amendment of the future Constitution?

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