A successful War of Independence established 13 free and independent states in North America in 1783.  This was followed, unfortunately for us, by the French Revolution and then by the 19th century, preeminently a time of violent government centralization.  Subsequent events, as well as nationalist emotion and propaganda, have seriously damaged our ability to see what the American Revolution meant to the people who carried it out.

From the founding of Jamestown in 1607 to the outbreak of hostilities in 1775 is 168 years.  In that long period each colony developed its own society.  They shared Christianity and an inheritance of English law, but also had a consciousness of their differences in interests and values.  An imperial threat to their well-established tradition of virtual self-government brought them all, finally, to resist an attempted increment of British power over their internal affairs.  It was, as the great M.E. Bradford observed, not a revolution made but a revolution averted—a counterrevolution to preserve their existing societies.

Anyone who reads the debates on the ratification of the U.S. Constitution will see that its purpose was the same: the preservation of the existing societies.  This was true for most, although there were centralist rent-seekers and imperialists lurking on the margins whose dubiously constitutional agenda came forward as soon as the federal government got under way.  An alliance to institutionalize cooperation in certain common concerns of the free and independent states seemed to be called for, although giving more power to a central authority presented potential dangers to be guarded against.  That was the purpose of the first ten amendments, subsequently known as the Bill of Rights.  Americans had a considerable degree of patriotic fellow-feeling, but their association was not a nation but a confederacy.  And the best of them feared what they called “consolidation”: too much power at the center.

Here are a couple of simple truths, unknown to presidents and Supreme Court justices.  Before the War Between the States, “United States” was always a plural in every legal document and public discussion.  The United States are, not the United States is, was the universal usage, as in the Constitution itself.  Second, nobody today ever calls the Constitution by its correct name, which is, as it says, “a Constitution for the United States”—not “the U.S. Constitution” or “the Constitution of the United States.”

Let us see how this conception of the American Union was alive and well into the 19th-century heyday of centralized and supreme government.

Thomas Jefferson was an American patriot.  He was not a nationalist advocate of “one nation, indivisible.”  During and after his time nationalism was becoming a dominant force in the Western world, including the plural United States.  Nationalism meant a territory politically and economically controlled by a central state and an emotional attachment to that state.  For Jefferson as for nearly all the Founding Fathers, one could be an American patriot without requiring unreserved obedience to the central government or believing that the people and their freedoms were spiritually inseparable from that government.

American nationalists glory in imagining Jefferson, having consummated the Louisiana Purchase, sitting in the presidential mansion celebrating the growing power and majesty of the mighty new nation, the United States.  Not a bit of it.  This picture is an invention of the imperialist late 19th century.  At the time, Jefferson writes to a close associate,

The future inhabitants of the Atlantic and Mississippi States will be our sons.  We leave them in distinct but bordering establishments.  We think we see their happiness in their Union, and we wish it.  Events may prove otherwise; and if they see their interest in separation, why should we take side with our Atlantic rather than our Mississippi descendants?  It is but the elder and the younger son differing.  God bless them both, and keep them in union, if it be for their good, but separate them, if it be better.

A letter to the English savant Joseph Priestly from about the same time carries the same idea.  After expressing relief that the worrisome problem of a Napoleonic empire on the Mississippi has been solved, Jefferson writes,

The denoument [sic] has been very happy; and I confess I look to this duplication for the extending a government so free and economical as ours, as a great achievement to the mass of happiness that is to ensue.  Whether we remain in one confederacy, or form into Atlantic and Mississippi confederacies, I believe not very important to the happiness of either part.  Those of the western confederacy will be as much our children and descendants as those of the eastern . . .

Note that Mr. Jefferson envisioned a future of self-governing commonwealths made up of the descendants of Americans, not a global melting pot.  And the new societies to the West would be created by the people, not by the federal government.  The Union was not sacred and eternal.  It was an arrangement that could be changed.  What was important was the principle of self-government.  Jefferson firmly opposed the Northern effort in Congress to dictate the constitution of the sovereign people of Missouri on the pretense of antislavery, and in the last months of his life he wrote that it would be better for Virginia to secede than to succumb to the centralization pushed by Northern rent-seekers under John Quincy Adams.

The Jeffersonian conception of a Union founded as a disposable alliance lasted a long time.  In the 1830’s the famed observer Alexis de Tocqueville wrote in Democracy in America,

The Union was formed by the voluntary agreement of the States; and these, in uniting together, have not forfeited their sovereignty, nor have they been reduced to the condition of one and the same people. If one of the States chose to withdraw its name from the contract, it would be difficult to disprove its right of doing so . . . 

And the New Yorker and American patriot James Fenimore Cooper writes in The American Democrat (1838) that the Union is “a compact between separate communities.”  “The union of these States is founded on an express compromise, and it is not its intention to reach a benefit, however considerable, by extorting undue sacrifices from particular members of the Confederacy.”  This last is a remark against the Whig tariff, which profited wealthy Northerners at the expense of the South.  Cooper is suggesting that the South might justly consider such to be a violation of the compact.

In 1863 Abraham Lincoln declared in pseudobiblical language that our forefathers had brought forth “a new nation, conceived in liberty and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal,” and that “we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation or any nation so conceived and so dedicated can long endure.”  Lincoln at Gettysburg committed a quadruple lie that has since become standard American doctrine about the Revolution.  First, what was created in 1776 was not a nation but an alliance.  At that time there was not even the Articles of Confederation.  Second, he elevated the bit of obiter dicta about equality above the Declaration’s fundamental assertion of the right of societies of men to govern themselves by their own lights, attaching a phony moralistic motive to the invasion and conquest of the South—what Bradford called “the rhetoric of continuing revolution.”  Third, Lincoln was not engaged in preserving the Union.  The Union was destroyed the moment he had undertaken to overthrow the legitimate governments of 15 states by force.  He was establishing the supremacy of the government machinery in Washington, which he controlled, over the many self-governing communities of Americans.  Fourth, he cast the Revolution in a mystical way, as if the forefathers had met on Mount Olympus and decreed liberty.  But governments, even of the wisest men, cannot decree liberty.  The Americans were fighting to preserve the liberty they already had through their history, which many saw as a benevolent gift of Providence.

The American Revolution was reversed, its meaning disallowed, and its lesson repudiated.

Did not Jefferson Davis have a better grasp of the Revolution when he said that Southerners were simply imitating their forebears, and that the Confederacy “illustrates the American idea that government rests upon the consent of the governed”?

The desire for “consolidation” on the part of some Americans, perhaps not a majority, had reached the point that the observations made by Tocqueville and Cooper were no longer relevant.  Lincoln could launch war against a very substantial part of the people.  To this end he was willing to kill 300,000 Southern soldiers and civilians and even more of his own native and immigrant proletariat.  The crackpot realist General Sherman said it well: “We are now in the enemy’s country, and I act accordingly. . . . The war will soon assume a turn to extermination, not of soldiers alone, that is the least part of the trouble, but the people.”  Clearly, the government, the machinery controlled by the politicians in Washington, who had been chosen by two fifths of the people, now had supremacy over the life and institutions of Americans.

Note that Lincoln has rendered the founding and the agony and death of the great battle, and the American people, into abstractions.  There is a mention of forefathers, but they are unreal.  Centralized power, which is a matter of domination by coercive force, can only be defended by abstractions that ignore real people.  Lincoln’s refounding won the agreement of another great abstractionist, Karl Marx.  In a public statement, Marx lamented that an evil rebellion had sprung up in “the one great democratic republic whence the first Declaration of the Rights of Man was issued.”  Marx also considered that the war was being fought to defend “the labour of the emigrant,” the German refugees from the 1848 revolutions—fervid Lincoln supporters, with whom Marx was in close contact—evidently being better Americans than Southerners.  The preservation and self-government of real American communities, North as well as South, has been reinterpreted as an all-powerful government enforcing an agenda of imaginary equality.

Almost half a century later Teddy Roosevelt invoked the Louisiana Purchase and the Monroe Doctrine as Jeffersonian precedents for imperialism.  In my invariably humble opinion, Mr. Jefferson (and Washington, too) would not be pleased to become an icon on Mount Rushmore along with the blood-and-iron nationalists Lincoln and Roosevelt.  Jefferson’s vision of peopling the North American continent with American farmers is something very different from Northern capitalists using the Armed Forces to seize Cuba and the Philippines.  When Jefferson looked westward he saw succeeding generations of Americans creating new self-governing commonwealths joined in such confederacies as they wished.  Lincoln’s Republican defenders of “the Union” saw something very different when they looked in that direction.  They saw natural resources to be exploited, new markets to be developed behind a tariff wall that diverted wealth to favored Northern interests, more political offices to be filled by their party, more immigrants to be lured, which would keep down the wages of native labor and enhance the value of the lands to be given to corporations by the government.  That is what they meant by “preserving the Union.”

Let’s compare Lincoln’s version of the founding with John C. Calhoun’s, delivered in 1841.  Calhoun points out that Providence had made ideal conditions for the development of American liberty.  The resistance of the Indians and the settling of a wilderness were challenging enough to require “hardy and enterprising emigrants,” but not harsh enough to require the power of centralized government.  “It is to settlements formed by individuals so influenced, and thrown, from the beginning, on their own resources, almost exclusively, that we owe our enterprise, energy, love of liberty, and capacity for self-government.”  No Olympian wisdom at the center decreed American liberty.

Carolina began as a grant by Charles II to eight Lords Proprietors.  In 1720 the South Carolina colonists had just fought a bloody Indian war and found that the agents of the Proprietors were intent on engrossing for themselves the lands that had been cleared as a result.  The elected assembly and the militia, reflecting the consensus of South Carolina society, simply refused to obey the legal but foreign authority and effectively terminated the Proprietors’ power.  That was 1720, a half-century before the Revolution.

Before the joint Declaration of Independence, the South Carolinians were already independent.  They alone defeated a large British fleet trying to capture Charleston.  The city did not fall until it was surrendered by a Yankee general sent by the Continental Congress.

Resistance continued under the partisan bands of Francis Marion, Thomas Sumter, and Andrew Pickens.  These were all volunteers fighting to defend their state, irregulars not eligible for the pensions that Massachusetts men later lined up for more numerously than had ever seen active service.  This was all done without the least participation by any central government power.  It was this resistance, along with Southern continental regiments, that led to Guilford Courthouse and Yorktown and forced the British to give up.

Real societies produce real leaders—farseeing statesmen who serve their people.  Think of the incredible supply of world-class leadership produced by the American Revolution.  But centralized power can only produce politicians—ambitious people contending for possession of the government machinery that conveys them benefits.

The struggle for independence produced leaders willing to sacrifice for the liberty of their people.  All patriots were threatened with, and many suffered, the loss of property. The pledge of “lives, fortunes, and sacred honour” was very real.  Two of South Carolina’s signers of the Declaration were imprisoned in a vile British fort in St. Augustine, and another leader in the Tower of London.  Col. Isaac Hayne was executed in Charleston.  Gov. John Rutledge spent much of the war as a fugitive on horseback.  He did not need a capitol building and a bureaucracy to make his writ run because he was the acknowledged leader of a people.  The same was true later of the governors of several occupied Confederate states.  Communities in the Upcountry were massacred by Tories and Indians.  John C. Calhoun’s aunt was carried off into captivity by the savages.

Obiter dicta: While many Southern units served in the Northern campaigns of the war, no unit from north of Delaware ever fought in the South.  Regiments of Tories from New York and Connecticut fought in South Carolina—on the British side.  The same was true for the War of 1812.  Both wars were won in the South and by Southerners.  One of the obstacles to proper understanding of the Revolution is that in the 19th century New England dominated historical writing and deliberately and maliciously ignored or falsified the role of others in the fight for independence.  So most of what Americans know today about the Revolution is New England mythology, accompanied by ignorance of the most important features of the war.

South Carolina acted in 1720 as a sovereign society.  It acted exactly the same when it declared and fought for independence from Britain, when it ratified the U.S. Constitution, when it nullified the Tariff of Abominations in 1832, and when it dissolved its ties with the Union in 1860.  All of these matters were hotly debated, and when the decision was taken the people rallied round to defend their society.  Centralized governments like the United States do not have debate and deliberation to establish what is best.  They merely have verbal stunts among those contending for power.

In the last months of his life, South Carolina’s greatest son, Calhoun, worked on a final bequest, his treatise “A Disquisition on Government.”  Calhoun’s immediate family history included the settlement of the Upcountry by those “hardy and enterprising immigrants” who created their own economy, justice, religious institutions, and self-defense without reference to any outside and superior government power.  Calhoun likewise was familiar with the Revolution, the ratification of the Constitution, and the South Carolina constitution of 1810, which created a workable compromise between the differing societies of the Lowcountry and Upcountry.

He begins his “Disquisition” by discarding the notion that all men are born free and equal, not because he wants to defend slavery, but because he wants us to begin in the right place.  All of us are born as helpless babes who cannot survive a day without society.  God has created man a social animal.  He needs society to survive, much less to realize his highest potential.  Societies are a given, created by history and human nature.  But men have selfish as well as social feelings, which demand inevitably a government of some kind to keep the peace and enforce justice.  While society is created by God, governments are only creations of men, existing for the protection of society.  And since those entrusted with government have selfish feelings like all other men, a good government will have a constitution, not so much a grant of power as a statement of the limits of power.

When a government is unrestrained, there is no constitution, by whatever name called.  Today, we have no constitution.

But we have a Bill of Rights, intended to limit the federal government’s depredations on the communities of men, turned on its head to authorize the federal government to reconstruct society according to the whims of the Bankers, Bombers, and Busybodies who govern us.

The American consolidated government rests on two pillars.  The first is economic.  A huge area concentrated as one market has a broad appeal and can be pictured as patriotic.  Of course, rent-seekers and ambitious politicians find central power much easier to control than diverse and dispersed authority, and central power provided a much larger field of loot.  That is why we find Alexander Hamilton disregarding the Constitution that had just been ratified and at the first opportunity paying off the inflated war debt at face value with interest-bearing federal bonds and setting up a private banking cartel with the profitable privilege of controlling the currency.  Jeffersonians denounced this as a “paper aristocracy” and a betrayal of the Revolution.  Through the early 19th century they were able to hold the line against the rent-seekers’ complete control of the federal government.  With the Lincoln revolution the Hamiltonian program triumphed.  Indeed, that was its purpose.  Today, all the politicians of both parties rally around so that the taxpayers and posterity can reward the Bankers, Too Big to Jail, for their evil deeds.

The second pillar is emotional.  Patriots love and are willing to defend their people and the portion of earth that their people inhabit.  Nationalists fail to understand a distinction between the people, the society, and the government machinery.  Urban populations without any real religion or culture, like much of the United States today, cling to government as the source of identity and the meaning of their existence.  Whenever I criticize the federal government, I get emails threatening to kill me just like my treasonous Southern ancestors.  I could make a whole book of the fulminations of these numerous protofascist American patriots.

Americans properly swear allegiance to the Constitution, not the government or its banner.

Nationalism is inevitably imperialistic.  It fosters competition between powerful governments.  An end result was the still incredible bloodletting of World War I.  You would think that would have cured people of nationalism.  If not that, you would think the craziness would have finally died with Hitler’s legions in the snows of Russia.  But, alas, it remains very much alive in the ruling class of the United States.  During the Cold War, the CIA had a plan to kill Americans and blame it on Castro.  America is not a value to these people, not a living thing to be preserved.  She is merely the power base from which they play games with the masters of other power bases.

President George W. Bush stated that it was the goal of America to rid the world of evil.  Yes, he actually said that.  And note that ridding the world of evil was not imagined as a crusade, or a mission, or a duty, but a goal, like in sports or salesmanship.  If we were not used to this kind of rhetoric and did not already know the speaker to be a simpleton, we would have to judge him a lunatic.  American citizens, it would seem, are not to go about their business—doing useful work, taking care of their families and friends, dealing justly and charitably with their neighbors, keeping the peace, and seeking their salvation as best they can.  They are merely the expendable raw material of an insane government project.  It is then perfectly good for the government to elect a new people as it is now doing with immigration.  The government is sacred and eternal and may do with the society whatever those who control its power can imagine.  All that is good and noble in the American Revolution’s establishment of self-government has been reversed to servitude.  A perverted Bill of Rights has been one of the sharpest weapons of the tyrant.