United States: Why ‘States’ Is Plural

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Posted: Apr 30, 2019 10:28 AM
United States: Why ‘States’ Is Plural

Source: W.L. Ormsby/Library of Congress

Separate and sovereign states, or not, is argued to this day.  Often the result of the War of the States, 1861 to 1865, is used to determine the type of nation America is.  The problem with this analysis is quite simple.  The war from 1861 to 1864, and President Lincoln’s actions, did not change the American Compact.  It may have changed people’s opinions, but the Social Compact stayed and continues to be the definition of America.  In particular, the Moral Compact has never changed.  It, and it alone, determines the Union.  As will be discussed below, the Structural Compact determined the operational structure of the Union, in order to uphold the Moral Compact, and the War of the States did not change this, though our behavior may elude to otherwise.

The Declaration of Independence notes the unanimous Declaration of the thirteen united States of America; where “united” is used as an adjective, not as part of the proper name.  Also, the font size of “united” is significantly smaller than the font size scripted for “State of America.”  This use of font size and capitalization illustrates authority of the States as thirteen separate and sovereign nation-States united under a Compact under God; thus a confederacy or union.  This position was demonstrated again in 1783 at the end of the Revolutionary War when the Treaty of Paris was signed.  In Article 1 of the Treaty, the States are named and declared “to be free sovereign and independent States.”  The Treaty of Paris also opens with the statement, “In the Name of the most Holy & undivided Trinity,” followed by “It having pleased the Divine Providence.”[1]  Not only was the new Union formed under God, but the Founders believed that His Providence is what delivered them from the tyranny of King George and England.  They understood they were no match against England’s military might and that they had to depend of God’s deliverance just as the ancient Hebrews had thousands of years prior.

The thirteen colonies under the Declaration had formed a Confederacy.  It is substantiated in Anti Federalist Nos. 41-43 when The Federal Farmer lists a litany of references to this establishment of a Confederation of States.  Additionally, the Federal Farmer repeatedly sites America as a confederation, confederacy, union, federal republic, confederacy of states, and confederated republic.[2]

During the State Convention debates on the adaption of the federal Constitution, Patrick Henry reminded the Virginia ratifying convention that “Liberty [was], the greatest of all early blessings,” and as such “The Confederation” must continue to protect them as it did “through a long and dangerous war…[that]…rendered us victorious   in that bloody conflict with a powerful nation.”[3]

Furthermore, the great Virginian jurist Abel Upshur noted in 1840 that “Ours is a confederated government.  Ours is a government of ‘delegated’ powers, limited and specifically enumerated.”[4]  Upshur references America as a confederation throughout his analysis and commentary.

The great Colonial historian Jack Greene opens his in-depth treatise on the Constitutional origins of America’s war for independence stating that “The failure to reconcile [the legal discrepancies between rights and sovereignty] led in 1775 to open warfare and in 1776 to the decision of thirteen of Britain’s more than thirty American colonies to declare their independence and form an American union…[as a result of the American’s] imperial legal and constitutional thought and practice over the previous century and a half.”[5]  The die had been cast over the previous 15 decades and set into a motion that even the empire where the sun never sets could reconcile it or set it into submission.   This Spirit of America carried forward to our time.  Americans have always shone God’s Light in such a bombastic manner the world can never comprehend it until we do it.  And we absolutely do do it.  God’s Light beams from the Shining City like never before in history.  We often do it as simply a manner of behavior, rarely realizing we are perpetuating God’s Light in the process of our actions.

A very insightful source to peer into the heart of the American Union’s separate and sovereign state of existence comes from our 6th President John Quincy Adams; the son of our second President, and Founding Father, John Adams.  John Quincy Adams gave two speeches in celebration of the anniversary of the Declaration of Independence; one on July 4, 1821, the 45th anniversary of our Independence, and the other on July 4, 1837, the 61st anniversary of our Independence.  Both speeches were wrought with passion, Biblical references, our history, and Adams’ strong opinions on the matter.  In fact, throughout both speeches Adams continually refers to the compacts, covenants, the Union, united colonies, the republic, free and independent states, the Confederacy, and God’s Laws. Moreover, he does it all while citing Scripture verses.  John Quincy Adams articulates exactly the same language and references as the colonial clergy used throughout the 1600s through the 1700s and up through the 1800s.  According to Adams, Providence is central and active in the lives of the American people and business of the Union.

One absolute affirmation Adams makes throughout both speeches is the fact that America was founded upon the laws of nature and of Nature’s God.  Not only does Adams refer to this frequently in his 1821 and 1837 speeches, but he also contributes abiding to God’s Laws as giving America “full enjoyment of its fruits” and that its citizens at the time of his speech should “bless the Author of our being for the bounties of his providence, in casting our lot in this favored land,” calling upon them to adhere to “the genuine Holy Alliance of its principles, to recognize them as eternal truths.”  Adams affirms Natural Law’s direct source as Scripture, stating that Americans “were bound by the laws of God, which they all, and by the laws of the gospel, which they nearly all, acknowledged as the rules of their conduct.”[6]  Thus, Adams is tying together just laws and personal behavior of virtue and righteousness.

Adams strongly expresses his own opinion that the Federal government should have been made more powerful, in that the States could not have the freedom and sovereignty to function as they choose fit on most acts of state which balance between state government and a national government – he believed the national government must have jurisdiction of all such matters.  “State pride, State prejudice, State jealousy, were soon embodied under the banners of State sovereignty,” asserts Adams, “and while the cause of freedom and independence itself was drooping under the calamities of war and pestilence, with a penniless treasury, and an all but disbanded army, the Congress of the people had no heart to proceed in the discussion of a confederacy.”[7]

While during the debates for both the Articles of Confederation and the Constitution strong opinions from both sides raged through a resolution to this matter, with Adams squarely fallen on the more national side; he concedes that the separate and sovereign states ultimately triumphed at the end of both debates.  He even discusses, in the 1837 speech, how several proposed articles to the Articles of Confederation would have removed the separate and sovereign power of the States, but those were ultimately removed and modified from the compact prior to ratification.  Adams did not approve of the Articles of Confederation, but does give absolute praise to the Constitution as a structural compact.

[1] Treaty of Paris, 1783.

[2] Antifederalist Paper Nos. 41-43, The Federal Farmer (thought to be either Richard Henry Lee or Melancton Smith), date not given, Taken from Patrick Henry, Robert Yates, and Samuel Byron, The Anti Federalist Papers, 2010 (originally published 1787-1790), “, (Lexington, KY:  Pacific Publishing Studios), pp. 80-83.

[3] Jonathan Elliot, 1827, The Debates in the Several States Conventions of the Adaptation of the Federal Constitution, Vol. 3, (Indianapolis, IN: The Liberty Fund, Inc.), p. 36 and 37, [http://lf-oll.s3.amazonaws.com/titles/1907/Elliot_1314-03_EBk_v6.0.pdf].  Also referenced in William J. Watkins, Jr., 2008 (originally published in 2004), Reclaiming the American Revolution:  The Kentucky and Virgainia Resolutions and their Legacy, (The Independent Institute, Palgrave Macmillan:  Oakland, CA, New York, NY), p. 62.

[4] Abel Parker Upshur, 1840, A Brief Inquiry into the True Nature and Character of our Federal Government:   Being a Review of Judge Story’s Commentaries on the Constitution of the United States, (Kessinger Publishings), p. 103.

[5] Jack P. Greene, 2011, The Constitutional Origins of the American Revolution, (New York, NY: Cambridge University Press), p. 1.

[6] John Quincy Adams, July 4, 1821, “An Address, Delivered at the Request of the Committee of Arrangements for Celebrating the Anniversary of Independence,” (Washington, D.C.), TeachingAmericanHistory.org, [http://teachingamericanhistory.org/library/document/speech-on-independence-day/].

[7] John Quincy Adams, July 4, 1837, “An Oration Delivered before the Inhabitants of the Town of Newburyport, at their Request, on the Sixty-First Anniversary of the Declaration of Independence,” (Newburyport Herald Office: Printed by Morss and Brewster).