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Join the conversation! There are now 19 comments on “What were they thinking? pg 6
  1. Gregory T Bogosian says

    How exactly did those extreme limitations on politicians work legally? Did all actions of the legislature need to be ratified by referendum? Or was it some other mechanism?

    • Depends on the state. Remember that these thirteen post-revolutionary sovereign republics were essentially making shit up as they went along – you know, like most revolutionary states do.

      • You are not wrong. But every state is making it up as it goes along. Its not like there is a manual on how to run a country.

        • Speaking as a Canadian sure there was. British Parliament! They had it long before the American Revolution. (I freely acknowledge that I am being an ass saying this. The whole point of America is that you wanted to do something new.)

          • But the British government itself is making it up as they go. How else do you explain how they keep changing their minds about things like colonialism and EU membership?

            • Yeah, I mean, it’s ridiculous how our government keeps changing its mind about colonialism. I mean, no sooner do we give Canada independence, we go and conquer it again. I mean, just last year we invaded Ireland, don’t you know! Australia and New Zealand are clearly next.

              (I mean, what? When have we been anything other than against colonialism? When have we failed to offer an overseas territory who requested it independence, since the general anti-colonialism policy was first implemented?)

              (Besides, pretty sure the government hasn’t changed its mind about EU membership. The public might have done, but the government was overwhelmingly pro-remain.)

              • You are thinking on too short a timescale. Britain used to have a colonial empire. So they were obviously pro-colonialism then. Then later they abandoned it. So obviously their foreign policy changed. If it hadn’t changed, then they would still refuse to recognize the independence of their former colonies now. The government may still be pro-remain. But that just means that their policy changed from telling the truth about it to lying about it, since the current PM says that she is pro-leave now, at least last time I checked. Lest we forget, as old governments get thrown out and new governments get elected, the priorities of the state are necessarily going to change because that is the entire point of having elections. So there cannot be a manual on how to run a country, that is, an algorithm for correct governance, because what people think government is for varies across both space and time.

                • Well, yes. “Changed their mind once” != “keep changing their mind”… I do agree though that the British Government has changed its mind once (more accurately, slowly from one extreme to the current position over a period of time, but more or less steadily with little backtracking) about colonialism.

                  • Sure the trend is clear. But go back in time far enough and even that stops being the case, because Britain’s former colonial ambitions did not emerge all at once, but by increments. But don’t get to hung up on the colonialism thing. I was just using it as an example. The point is not that Britain in particular is making stuff up as they go along. The point is that every country is making stuff up as they go along because the set of political and social institutions that are in effect now everywhere in the world were put in place not by the application of rigorous logic, but rather by trial and error.

                    • I think we need to make a distinction here.

                      Policies and even directives changing is one thing, But from what I have seen the early American colonies were asking themselves a much more fundamental question which is HOW should decisions be made.

                      The British concept of Common Law basically says “Do as you did before, except where change becomes necessary.” But the formation of the United States tossed a lot of that concept aside, I am told this is why the US political process is sometimes called the Great Experiment. They were trying to create a better way of governance, and rejected a lot of what came before.

                    • I would say that the Reform Act of 1832, and even more the Act of Settlement of 1701, were the major examples of the British ‘making it up as they went along’, as both of them made major changes in the basic principles of the government.

        • The Founding Fathers actually had several manuals. They were most experienced with the unwritten constitution of Great Britain, but there were also the Republic of the Netherlands, the Swiss cantons, and the ancient republics of Athens and Rome, and (to a much lesser extent than some would have it) the Iroquois Confederacy. But in a lot of cases, the politicians of that generation said, “We can do better than them!” and tried things which just plain didn’t work.

          • Well, having “several manuals” is much the same as having none at all. I can go on YouTube and search for “fix my lawnmower” and get a lot of advice and principles, but it’s not at all the same as following the directions in the manufacturer manual for my White LT-1650.

            The Founding Fathers were remarkably adept at learning from the various sources available to them, and designing a system with some ideas from Column A and some from Column B. Sure, it’s a little flip to call this “making it up as they go along,” but it’s fundamentally correct.

            (It turns out that, during westward expansion in the US, there were “manuals” published about how to lay out towns and establish their local governance, and you can see the lasting effects of those books enacted by rote in town after town. But no such document exists on the country level, AFAIK.)

  2. Jason says

    Why did the states even maintain the Confederation after winning the Revolutionary War? They needed to stick together to win independence from Great Britain, but after that was accomplished, what was the point of the whole confederation thing anyway?

    • It’s no stretch at all to imagine that the newly independent states wanted to present a unified front to the rest of the world. What did any one of the thirteen have going for it that would compel the powers of Europe to deal with it equitably? Among other things, Britain had a treaty obligation to evacuate certain forts in the territory that it ceded to the United States, but they pretty much thumbed their nose at implementing it, ostensibly in response to the treatment of Loyalists. Now if one nation decided that it could act that way towards another nation with a (clearly weak) central government, imagine how it would presume to act against thirteen even weaker individual entities in the absence of any central government at all?

  3. Gregory T Bogosian says

    Here in Colorado we have a provision in our constitution called the Tax Payers Bill of Rights that requires all tax increases to pass a referendum before they come into effect. Is that at all similar to the restrictions that were put on politicians under the Articles of Confederation? Wikipedia|Taxpayer Bill of Rights

  4. Gregory T Bogosian says

    @Kevin That is what American history and civics teachers would have us believe. But it is wrong. The American constitution was really just the British constitution but tweaked to function without a hereditary aristocracy. The house of representatives is our take on the house of commons. The senate is our take on the house of lords. The presidency is our take on the monarchy. The federalists were not subtle about wanting their own empire. So who do you think they took their inspiration from?

    • Ehhhhh, there’s a few tweaks. For example, they were very concerned about giving too much power to the President for fear he may become a king. “Elected every 4 years” is a very different way to choose a ruler than “On the throne for life, then his kid rules”. But for the most part, they cribbed off the English, and why wouldn’t they? For the most part, THEY were English. They took the parts of the government they did like, and changed the parts they didn’t.

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