the quartet orchestrating the second american revolution 1783 1789.pdf

Confederation congress was never supposed to function

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Confederation Congress was never supposed to function as a government, Henry observed, but as a clearinghouse for the political agenda of the states, and it had performed that limited mission quite well: “It carried us through a long and dangerous war. It rendered us victorious in that bloody conflict with a powerful nation. It had secured us a territory greater than any European monarchy possesses. And shall a government that strong and rigorous be accused of imbecility for want of energy?” 43 This was revisionist history in a Virginia-writ-large vision of America, and Madison was quick to pounce on it as the kind of incredulous remarks made by someone who’d been living on another planet. Had Henry not noticed that, throughout the war, the states—Virginia included—had failed to meet their quota of money and men? Voluntary state requisitions had become a joke, producing a national debt approaching $70 million with no way to pay it, making American credit worthless among European bankers. All the European governments regarded the very term United States as a laughable irony, since each state made its own foreign policy. 44 Madison then unfurled his familiar argument against the systemic weakness of the German, Swiss, and Dutch confederacies: “Does not the history of these confederacies coincide with the lessons drawn from our own experience?” He went on to answer his own rhetorical question: “A Government that relies on thirteen independent sovereignties for the means of its existence is a solecism in theory, and a mere nullity in practice.” 45 These were not arguments familiar to Henry, nor arguments often heard within the precincts of Virginia, which were the only precincts Henry cared about. He was an ardent confederationist who presumed that Virginia would remain the dominant nation-state and that both his own political power base and, as he saw it, the majority of Virginians had more to lose than gain by joining a larger union. In a very real sense, Henry and Madison were talking past each other, for they harbored fundamentally different views of America’s future. The great virtue of the Henry-Madison debate was to make that fundamental difference abundantly clear. Henry did not believe that there was such a thing as “the American people,” only Virginians, Pennsylvanians, New Englanders, or South Carolinians. And on this score he was, once again,
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historically correct. He spoke eloquently and passionately for the hallowed conviction that the American Revolution committed the United States to a version of republican government that was proximate and personal. And any larger union of states that made representation distant and impersonal defied the political experience of most Virginians and the core principles of ’76. Again, the facts were on his side.
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