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OpEdNews Op Eds    H3'ed 1/29/12

The Founders' True Foresight

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Cross-posted from Consortium News

Benjamin Franklin's banner urging the American
colonies/states to unite against Great Britain

After the Constitutional Convention in 1787, Benjamin Franklin, its oldest and possibly most renowned delegate, recommended that the new American political framework could be a model for Europe, suggesting "a Federal Union and one grand republic of all its different states and kingdoms, by means of a like Convention."

Of course, Franklin's suggestion fell on deaf ears in Europe where nation states already had long histories of deep-seated grievances against one another. Forming an enduring union proved hard enough for the 13 American states with their much shallower differences.

Ignoring Franklin's advice, Europe remained sharply divided and those rivalries threw the world into periodic fits of bloody chaos. Two powerful dictators -- Napoleon and Hitler -- would try and fail to unify the Continent by force. It would not be until the last half of the 20th Century when a loose federation of democratic European states would take shape as the European Union.

However, the current European financial crisis highlights the shortcomings of the EU, particularly how the European nations retain much of their old sovereignty and keep control over key policies, particularly their budgets making it difficult to coordinate fiscal strategies behind a common currency, the euro.

Indeed, today's European Union resembles more the ineffectual Articles of Confederation, which governed the United States from 1777 to 1787, than the U.S. Constitution with its strong central government. The Confederation's Article II declared that "each state retains its sovereignty, freedom, and independence, and every power, jurisdiction, and right, which is not by this Confederation expressly delegated."

The United States wasn't really even a government or a nation then. It was called "a firm league of friendship" among the states. General George Washington was particularly contemptuous of this concept of "state sovereignty" because he had watched his soldiers freeze and starve when the states reneged on promised contributions to the Continental Army.

So, with George Washington in the lead and fellow Virginian James Madison serving as architect, some of America's most distinguished citizens, including Franklin, met in secret in Philadelphia to devise a governing framework that eliminated the independence of the states and subsumed their sovereignty into a binding Union.

The new American system concentrated the key national powers, from currency to defense to commerce, in the central government (though leaving more local matters to the states and municipalities). The framers wanted a vibrant central government that could tackle the present and future needs of a vast nation -- and that is what they achieved.

Despite some moral compromises like tolerating slavery -- and despite decades of struggle against forces that objected to the dominant power of the federal government -- the Constitution has worked pretty much as the Founders intended. It has proved, by and large, to be a flexible governing arrangement that enabled the United States to adapt to changes and to emerge as the world's leading nation.

Tea Party "History"

However, even today, influential political movements, such as the Tea Party and much of the Republican Party, continue to attack what has been the most effective feature of the Constitution, its potential for providing national solutions to national problems.

Earlier political attacks on the Constitution were more frontal -- such as the Nullificationists in the 1830s and the secessionists of the Confederacy in the early 1860s -- essentially reasserting the states' independence that had been lost in the drafting and ratification of the Constitution.

Today's assault is more modern, based on a combination of widespread ignorance about American history and disinformation spread through a pervasive propaganda network. Rather than defying the Constitution, today's nullificationists simply revise the history to their liking under the guise of divining the Founders' "originalist" intent.

It has become a touchstone of the American Right that the Founders wanted a weak central government and were big-time advocates of states' rights. Tea Partiers also dress up in Revolutionary War costumes and pretend that the enemy of that time must have been Philadelphia, not London. They seem to think that their coiled-snake "Don't Tread on Me" flag was aimed at fellow Americans, not the British.

In the real history, the banner that addressed the American colonists was one devised by Franklin showing a snake cut into pieces, representing the colonies/states with the warning, "Join, or Die."

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Robert Parry broke many of the Iran-Contra stories in the 1980s for the Associated Press and Newsweek. His latest book, Secrecy & Privilege: Rise of the Bush Dynasty from Watergate to Iraq, can be ordered at secrecyandprivilege.com. It's also available at

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