The Original Confederacy
The original governing document after the British colonies seceded from England was titled the Articles of Confederation, adopted on November 15, 1777, but not formally ratified by all thirteen States until March, 1781. Hence, the original American government was “Confederated,” the people (and their military arm) referred to as “Confederates,” and the flag they flew was a Confederate flag.
Interestingly, many of the Revolutionary leaders who formed this confederated government were not advocates of what they then knew as “democracy,” and they were unwilling to accept the idea that the Articles of Confederation were an expression of any eighteenth century democratic philosophy.
These leaders and creators of the Articles created a “separation of powers” which is often equated with today’s view of democracy and liberty. To James Madison and John Adams the purpose of such an instrument was to give both men of property and those without a voice in government as well as a check upon one another. Their fear was, that without this check, society could not prevent the exploitation which would probably ensue if either one got control of the government.
Also, the Articles were considered to be the constitutional expression of the philosophy of Jefferson’s Declaration of Independence, and what was considered to be “democracy” was written into the revolutionary State constitutions regarding legislative supremacy, governors and the judiciary subservient to legislatures, and churches losing their past privileges.
John Adams wrote in 1817 of those romanticizing the Revolution and forgetting the mighty political battles that took place then and afterward. “There is,” he wrote, “an overweening fondness for representing this country as the scene of liberty, equality, fraternity, union, harmony and benevolence. But let not your sons or mine deceive themselves. This country, like all others, has been a theater of parties and feuds for near two hundred years.”
That Revolutionary generation of English colonists had experienced the rule of the Mother Country for all their lives, and the newspapers of 1775-76 were rife with essays distrusting office-holders, insisting on annual elections, rotation in office and constitutional restrictions on holding political office. Americans of that time were lectured upon that men in power naturally lusted for more power and that restraints were needed on officeholders lest the peoples’ liberties be put in danger.
In 1787’s convention Edmund Randolph pointed out that the authors of the Articles of Confederation were wise and great men, but that “human rights were the chief knowledge of the time.” He followed this by stating that our chief danger arises from the democratic parts of our constitutions . . . that the powers of government exercised by the people swallows up the other branches . . . [and that none] of the [State] constitutions have provided sufficient checks against the democracy.”
As the governing document, or “constitution” of the United States from 1781 to 1789, the Articles simply dissolved (though deemed “perpetual” when ratified) in the latter year as 11 States then bound to it voluntarily seceded and formed a more perfect union – but initially without Rhode Island and North Carolina whose people were suspicious of the new constitution’s grant of additional power to the central government in Washington.
After those two States withdrew from the Articles and joined the other eleven, this new Constitution passed through serious ruptures such as New England’s threats of secession in 1814 and serious tariff crises, until finally collapsing in war between North and South in 1861.”