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November 15, 2004

Articles of Faith

When the Founders prepared the Articles of Confederation and Perpetual Union that initially governed the United States they did a pretty fair job of it. A consensus later emerged that a stronger central government was needed, giving rise to the Constitutional Convention and the wonderful document that has served us so well ever since it was ratified. In the course of hammering out the many compromises that were embedded in the Constitution there were however a few places where William wishes the balance had tipped differently. One example is in that part of Article IX of the earlier Confederation document which said:

The United States in Congress assembled shall never engage in a war, nor grant letters of marque or reprisal in time of peace, nor enter into any treaties or alliances, nor coin money, nor regulate the value thereof, nor ascertain the sums and expenses necessary for the defense and welfare of the United States, or any of them, nor emit bills, nor borrow money on the credit of the United States, nor appropriate money, nor agree upon the number of vessels of war, to be built or purchased, or the number of land or sea forces to be raised, nor appoint a commander in chief of the army or navy, unless nine States assent to the same: nor shall a question on any other point, except for adjourning from day to day be determined, unless by the votes of the majority of the United States in Congress assembled.

Article IX, Articles of Confederation and Perpetual Union

One doubts if retention of the requirement for a super-majority in the Constitution (in current terms it would now take 69 Senators instead of 51 to send the country to war or to increase the national debt) would have kept the nation out of many wars or reigned in the runaway government deficit spending we see today. Nevertheless, if that provision had been retained and had kept us out of one war, or imposed a modicum of fiscal responsibility, it might have been well worth the nuisance of mustering those additional votes.

Then too, it took us quite a while to get back to where we started via the Tenth Amendment that was not ratified until late in 1791. The original Articles formulation was:

Each state retains its sovereignty, freedom, and independence, and every power, jurisdiction, and right, which is not by this Confederation expressly delegated to the United States, in Congress assembled.

Article II, Articles of Confederation and Perpetual Union

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