Is the Constitution Really Inimical to States Rights?
Years ago, when I first became involved in conservative and patriotic endeavors I can recall many patriotic folks stating that we needed to get our government "back to the Constitution." For a little over a decade, I honestly believed that myself, so I am not faulting those that also believed it, or still believe it. However, over the years, events have changed my thinking. For many years, when I first got into all the events that have helped to shape the direction I have gone in, I had a good friend, and sometimes mentor, Pastor Ennio Cugini, of the Clayville Church in North Scituate, Rhode Island, half a country and a whole culture away from where I am now. Pastor Cugini had a radio broadcast in Rhode Island called "The Victory Hour" which he used vigorously to expose the machinations of Communists and socialists, both in government and in the churches (yes, they were, and are, in the churches). He was also an avid reader of history. You have to be able to deal with what has gone on in this country for over two centuries.
I remember talking with him on the phone one time, way back in 1980. I was living in Indiana at the time. Pastor Cugini was telling me about a book he had just read, Patrick Henry -- Patriot and Statesman by Norine Dickson Campbell, published all the way back in 1969. It's a biography of Patrick Henry, and toward the end of the book, actually on page 322, she delves into Mr. Henry's views on the U.S. Constitution and why he was such an ardent foe of the ratification of that document in Virginia. Just that fact alone startled me because none of the history books I had ever read bothered to mention that. Nowadays I am not surprised, but then I was. In fact, the history books never mentioned much about Patrick Henry, himself, for that matter. About all they ever gave you was his "liberty or death" speech, and after that he was pretty much dropped from the historical narrative (if you can call it that). After hunting around and finding a copy of Miss Campbell's book, I can understand why. In a nutshell, even in 1787, Patrick Henry was politically incorrect!
Pastor Cugini told me something I have never forgotten. He said that, while most political conservatives wish we could simply get back to following the Constitution, he had concluded that "the Constitution is the problem." Miss Campbell's book gives a lot of Henry's reasons for his opposition to it, as he put them forth in Virginia in his opposition to ratification. Henry was downright prescient in his predictions of what would happen to this country if the Constitution was ratified. One of his most prophetic statements was that the Union that was cobbled together by the Constitution would not last 100 years. He was right on -- it didn't. It didn't last ninety years.
Henry had a problem with the wording of the Preamble where it said "We the People" which he felt should have read "We the States" because it was states that eventually ratified the document. He also noted, correctly, that the delegates from the various states that assembled in Philadelphia in 1787 did not have instructions from their states to form a new government -- all they had been delegated to do was to amend the Articles of Confederation -- and so they way overstepped their bounds in what they ended up doing. Miss Campbell's book on Patrick Henry is excellent. If you can find a copy at a used book store or on Amazon.com, grab it up before someone else beats you to it.
A more recently published biography of Patrick Henry has been written by David J. Vaughan and is entitled Give Me Liberty. Mr. Vaughan echoes much of what Miss Campbell had earlier stated. He wrote: "Although the federal Convention that met in Philadelphia in May of 1787 was authorized only to revise the existing Articles of Confederation, the delegates devised an entirely new constitution that was subsequently sent to the states for ratification. Those who favored the new Constitution were named "Federalists' while their opponents were called "Anti-Federalists.' These labels were apt to be misleading, however. In fact, it would be more accurate to name the pro-Constitution faction as "nationalists' and the opposing group as the true "Federalists.' For it was Henry and those of similar sentiments who espoused the true sentiments of federalism -- a federation of independent and sovereign states..."
Vaughan also observed that the pro-Constitution group, led by James Madison, felt a stronger national government was needed. He said "The national government, they believed, needed the power to tax and to regulate commerce... The way to give energy to the national government was to give it power, but this required a change in its form. The Anti-Federalists (or Federal Republicans, as they often called themselves) were led by Henry, of course. In general the Republicans were united on the principle of confederation. In effect, Henry charged the Constitutional Convention with illegal proceedings. And he was right."
Robert Godwin is a graduate of Bob Jones University. He has taught Economics, American history and American government in Christian schools. He is also a retired Navy veteran and is very active in conservative causes in Oklahoma. You can e-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org