More significantly, however, the American Right has inculcated in its followers a bogus idea of what the U.S. Constitution did. Typically, the Right’s founding narrative jumps from the Declaration of Independence in 1776 to the Constitution, which was written in 1787 and ratified in 1788. What is usually left out is the nation’s experience with the Articles of Confederation, which governed the new nation from 1777 to 1787.Much more.
By ignoring the Articles, the Right can pretend that the Constitution was written with the goal of establishing a system dominated by the states with the central government kept small and weak. That version of history then is cited to support right-wing claims that federal officials, such as Roosevelt and Obama, violate the Constitution when they seek national solutions to the country’s economic and social problems.
However, in the real history, the Framers of the Constitution, particularly George Washington and James Madison, were rejecting the structure of “independent” and “sovereign” states (with a weak central government or “league of friendship”) as established by the Articles of Confederation. The Framers had witnessed how that system had failed and how it was threatening the future of the newly independent nation.
Thus, Washington and Madison led what amounted to a coup d’etat at the Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia. Though their instructions were simply to propose amendments to the Articles and refer those suggestions back to the state legislatures, Washington and Madison instead threw out the Articles entirely and produced a dramatically different structure.
Gone was the language in the Articles about “sovereign” and “independent” states. Instead, national sovereignty was shifted to “We the People of the United States.” The new Constitution made federal law supreme and granted the central government sweeping new powers over currency and commerce as well as broad authority to act on behalf of the “general Welfare.”