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Join the conversation! There are now 31 comments on “What were they thinking? pg 3
  1. Librarian says

    Interesting that the Confederacy is “The United States of America,” while the Constitution is “The United States,” you’d think maybe there was a little more going on than just mixing up pluralities…

    • Might want to read that founding document a bit more closely. The end of the Preamble says, “…ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America”

      • Read it again, and count how many other times it actually says “United States of America” in contradistinction to “Unites States.” You may be surprised at what you find.

          • That writing out “United States of America” a bunch of times makes the writing clunky, hard to read, and is completely unnecessary?

            • In a setting where people said what they meant and nothing more? Where lawyers were trained extensively in legal maxim?

              The inclusion of one is the exclusion of another.

              But I suppose I can’t change what you want to see.

              • Before the Declaration of Independence, the colonies had banded together and formed a Continental Congress. (Twice, actually.) When referring to themselves as a group, the usual term was “The United Colonies.” They also used “The United Colonies of America.” The terms were synonymous and interchangeable.

                In the Declaration of Independence, the Continental Congress referred to the group as “The United States of America.” It wasn’t the official name yet, though.

                A few months later, the Continental Congress passed a resolution saying that from now on, any time they would have used the term “United Colonies,” they would now “stile” (call) the group the “United States.”

                The Articles of Confederation repeated this naming. Making it clear that they weren’t anybody’s colonies any more. People used “United States” and “United States of America” interchangeably when referring to the confederation.

                When the Constitution was written, they didn’t need to put in a specific clause clarifying what to call the country. Everybody’d been using U.S. and U.S.A. for so long by that point. At the beginning of the Constitution, at the end, and once in the middle, they used the full “United States of America.” The rest of the time they just used the shorter “United States.” (Just as they spelled out “Congress of the United States” a couple of times and then just said “Congress” the rest of the time.) Nobody drew any distinction between the terms U.S. and U.S.A. They were synonymous.

                They still are synonymous. There are a handful of misguided, but vocal, people out there who claim that the U.S. government was replaced with a corporation after the Civil War, named the United States of America, and that therefore whether you call it the U.S. or the U.S.A. matters. They are absolutely wrong. Didn’t happen. Doesn’t matter. U.S. and U.S.A. have always been interchangeable and synonymous, and anyone who tells you differently doesn’t know what they’re talking about.

  2. jzx0 says

    Possible aside or footnote: There are people generally known as “Sovereign Citizens,” although they go by many names, who believe that the entirety of US law somehow ended at this point. This tends to land them in all kinds of trouble. Trouble which they usually attempt to defend on their own behalf using pseudo-legalistic tactics loosely based on these historical documents. This always ends poorly for them.

    • I find the Sovereign Citizens funny. They think that the government ignores the constitution. They also think that their appeals to the constitution won’t get ignored by the same government. Slight contradiction there.

      • A relative of mine worked for a mental hospital for many years, and once told me about a patient who was doing legal research in the library to try to find the magical law that would force the CIA to take the mind control devices out of his brain. Confronted with this and flustered, he asked, “If they have the power to do that, why would they let a law that made them stop get passed?” Apparently this satisfied the patient enough that he gave up on that angle.

      • I don’t find the sovereign citizen movement funny at all- particularly since they trace their authority to ancestors who were US citizens prior to adoption of the Fourteenth Amendment. In other words, there’s a huge chunk of white supremacy and neo-Confederate support in the sovereign citizens.

    • Honestly I find those people to be generally hilarious, barring when they get violent. They don’t just rely on pseudo-legalistic tactics, they believe in literal alchemy. Legalistic alchemy. Transmuting words into fat stacks of cash. It’s mind boggling, especially if you read court cases about them. I strongly recommend looking up the Canadian Meads vs. Meads case, the judge really goes full bore into this.

        • That…actually makes a staggering amount of sense.
          We covered in an earlier chapter how the law has become so vast and complex that it is literally unknowable.
          Meanwhile, the proliferation of computers (and maybe bureaucracy, too) is training everyone to think of rules as self-enforcing. Back when most rules were upheld solely by the direct action of humans, it was intuitive that a rule that people didn’t know about, didn’t understand, or strongly opposed would simply not be enforced. Now that the computer will stoically refuse to let you click “next” until you pass its validation check (no matter how ridiculous), it’s becoming more and more *intuitive* (whether correct or not) to think of rules less like agreements about how things *should* work and more like descriptions of how they *do* work (like the laws of physics, rather than the laws of government).
          So you’ve got peoples lives being governed by vast network of arcana, meeting a growing perception that rules have intrinsic power.
          It might actually be shocking if there were NOT people trying to do literal magic with the legal system.

  3. Jonas says

    “[Under the Articles of Confederation] The United States have an indefinite discretion to make requisitions for men and money; but they have no authority to raise either by regulations extending to the individual citizens of America…. In theory their resolutions concerning those objects are laws consitutionally binding on the members of the Union, yet in practice they are mere recommendations which the States observe or disregard at their option.” Hard to have a rule of law when the law has no power.

    Also, how different were those United States from the modern U.N.? Isn’t it the same idea of an empire in an empire?

  4. Oddstar says

    Where are you getting the idea that the “only judiciary was for (inherently international) maritime cases”? Article IX made Congress “the last resort on appeal in all disputes and differences now subsisting or that hereafter may arise between two or more States concerning . . . any other causes whatever”; it then described the procedure by which Congress would delegate that authority to a court of judges chosen for that specific case. I found no mention of any separate judiciary to hear maritime cases. So the judicial power of the United States under the Articles, though highly limited in subject matter jurisdiction, was not limited to maritime or other inherently international cases, and was vested in Congress as well.

    • You’re not quite correct. The only courts that could be established were “for the trial of piracies and felonies committed on the high seas” and “for receiving and determining finally appeals in all cases of captures.”

      The appeals you mention are not to any court system, but to Congress. The states themselves would then appoint any commissioners or judges who would hear that one petition, creating an ad-hoc panel. Not a court system. Not a judiciary.

      An independent, national judiciary frankly hadn’t occurred to anyone at the time. Except, again, maybe Benjamin Franklin. Who was a definite one-off.

      • Since the idea of the United States first started with Ben it would be more correct to present Ben Franklin, rather than George Washington, as the true Father of Our Country (in more than one way, actually…:)) Still, Ben wouldn’t mind sharing the credit for an idea that ultimately was a collaborative effort.

  5. ze says

    I’m trying to find some modern comparison, because it’s kind of weird to think of the US as fifty separate mini countries. Would the government under the Articles of Confederation have been comparable to the EU?

    • Similar to the EU, yes. Still independent states, but they’ve ceded some of their sovereignty to a central institution (or institutions, plural, in the case of the EU).

      They’re not totally the same, though. The EU, for example, gives more powers to its central institutions — and in varying degrees. For some things, the EU institutions have significantly more authority than the Confederation’s Congress did. For other things, they share the authority with the member states. And still other things are up to the member states, but with EU guidance.

      The multiplicity of institutions in the EU is another important distinction. The European Commission is a kind of executive, though it also gets to propose legislation. The legislation is done by two branches, kind of like a House and Senate, only not really. The House equivalent is the Parliament, whose members are elected by the citizens directly. The Senate equivalent is the Council, made up of “ministers” (kind of like our “Secretary of…”) from each of the countries. Each has other functions, as well. They also have their own judiciary, their own diplomatic corps, their own central bank, and a “court of auditors.”

      But these distinctions aside, the setup is indeed similar to the Articles of Confederation.

      • Being that I think our own central government is about 100 years too big, I fear for the Europeans.
        I don’t count my self a sovereign citizen member, but I believe competition is a crucial factor in maintaining a balance of power between the customer and the provider, or the governed and the government.
        Or, more familiarly to some. The employee and the employer.
        When there’s only one game in town, the house tends to have a sizable advantage.

  6. nick012000 says

    It’s not quite related to the current course of the comic, but out of curiosity, have you seen this video by Adult Swim?

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pkFaIxpbHvM

    Apparently the dialog comes word-for-word from the court documents in a real murder trial, too.

  7. Robby says

    Reminds me of the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) formed out of the ashes of the USSR in 1991. The idea was that the former Soviet states would be both de jure and de facto independent, but would voluntarily work together for the common good of the CIS… This fell apart almost immediately, and the CIS means just about nothing today. With every member state acting independently on their various different issues, and no real powers held by the CIS at an international level, there just wasn’t anything to keep everyone working together instead of separately.

  8. Gregory T. Bogosian says

    Not sure how true this actually is. But I read in America’s Counter Revolution that the main objective of creating the constitution and ending the sovereignty of the several states was establishing a stronger military, with which the new nation could conquer Canada, Mexico, and all the native tribes, because the Federalists all thought that if we didn’t conquer them, then they would conquer us. https://www.amazon.com/Americas-Counter-Revolution-Constitution-Sheldon-Richman-ebook/dp/B01E0NOHRO/ref=sr_1_2?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1475531547&sr=1-2&keywords=American+Counter+Revolution

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