the quartet orchestrating the second american revolution 1783 1789.pdf

The vast majority of americans lived and died locally

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representation lurked a more fundamental disagreement about distance and scale. The vast majority of Americans lived and died locally. Representative government as they experienced it was a face-to-face affair. So that above and beyond—or rather beneath and beyond—questions of political architecture lay a residual psychological reality that was severely circumscribed and that imposed geographic limits on the political imaginations of the vast bulk of ordinary Americans. Feeding into the small-scale perspective were all the political arguments that colonists had thrown at the British ministry from 1765 to 1775, stigmatizing parliamentary power as illegitimate because it was distant and disconnected from their local and state interests. The greater the distance, in effect, the greater the distrust. The geographic boundaries of a state, as Sherman had so nicely put it, were as far as they were prepared to go. A decade later, this apprehension about governments beyond immediate surveillance became the primal source of Antifederalist opposition to the Constitution, and it was unquestionably the perspective of most American citizens. Almost as an appendix to the debate between nationalists and confederationists was the debate over the ill-defined western borders of states, like Virginia, with claims that reached to the Mississippi or, even more preposterously, to the Pacific. There was a consensus in the Congress that these extravagant claims were based on colonial charters that had been drafted before anyone realized the size of the North American continent. (One map put the Alleghenies within one hundred miles of the Pacific.) Admission to the Articles of Confederation required a state to cede its territorial claims to western lands, but left ambiguous how that cession would occur and whether the state could determine its own borders. This
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alienated the “landless” states, which worried that large states like Virginia, Pennsylvania, and New York would become even larger upon arrival. In an effort to assure his colleagues from Maryland that the Old Dominion would behave responsibly, Thomas Jefferson insisted that “no Virginian intended to go to the South Seas,” an apparent reference to the Pacific. But only Virginians found this assurance convincing. 14 Knowing as we do that these huge political and constitutional questions over sovereignty, slavery, and size would define the history of the emerging American republic well into the next century, the belief that these problems could be solved in a few weeks of earnest effort during the summer of 1776 seems unrealistic in the extreme. Looking back from the edge of the grave over forty years later, Adams recalled that it was “a standing miracle” that the delegates could agree on anything: The colonies had grown up under conditions so different, there was so great a variety of religions, they were composed of so many different nations, their customs, manners, habits had so little resemblance, and their intercourse had been so rare, and their knowledge of each other so imperfect, that to unite them in the same principles in theory and the same system of action, was certainly a difficult enterprise.
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