Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Separate But Equal

History has the strangest way of abusing the most innocent of concepts. For example, anyone reading the above listed title from my generation undoubtedly had thoughts of the the racial practices finally ended during the fifties and sixties. At that time, "Separate but Equal" was used for things like facilities that were considered acceptable (even legally) for such things as public restrooms and public schools, even in many cases by those who would not be considered racist. 

Few growing up today would understand that people of any color would accept such practices or that people of different colors sought such a world.
I was not looking at the racial issue in thinking about this concept however. Most of the history that I read these days is more likely to concern the 1760's or the 1860's than the 1960's. As such, Separate but Equal means something entirely different to me.

You see, the 1st Continental Congress, convened in 1774 did so as separate but equal colonies. By the time that the 2nd Continental Congress met in 1775, these colonies were already at war with Great Britain, and when they issued the Declaration of Independence one year later, they did so as "The unanimous Declaration of thirteen united States of America". (Note in the text of this document that the term united is not capitalized, but State is.) 

The Continental Congress gave way to the Congress of Confederation in 1781 and passed the Articles of Confederation, ratified once again by the States. This Congress was finally replaced when the Articles were replaced in 1789 with the United States Congress and the adoption of the Constitution of the United States.

Each of these documents; the Declaration, the Articles, and the Constitution were ratified with the approval not of the citizens, but of the States. Even today, when modification of the Constitution is attempted (more commonly known as an Amendment), such modification is not considered ratified even when gaining a 2/3 majority in both Houses of Congress, but must further be ratified by 3/4 of the States in order to become the law of the land. 

From this, it should be abundantly clear that the Founding Fathers considered the government of those States to be separate from the federal government and equal in responsibility. In fact, the Constitution clearly spells this out in the 10th Amendment stating: "The power not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people."

Even the design of the Congress can be shown to illustrate this principle. While representation in the House is determined by population, it is equally distributed in the Senate, with each State having 2 Senators. That this equal representation can see to be important is likewise obvious in the longer terms of office and the fact that it is the Senate which: approves treaties, confirms cabinet appointments and federal judges, approves military promotions, and has the power to impeach federal officials. It should also be noted that until the passage of the 17th Amendment in 1911, that Senators were in fact appointed by State legislatures rather than by popular election.
This concept of separate but equal united States changed forever in 1860 however, when some of those States attempted to assert that sovereignty and secede from the Union. This was not the first time that States considered such secession, with many of the New England States considering the possibility twice in the early 1800's. Both the New England States and later those of the South, cited language from the Declaration of Independence to justify such separation, considering that the abuses committed by the federal government at the time were similar to those committed by King George leading up to the original secession from the government of Great Britain. President Lincoln however, considered such secession as an act of insurrection and called up federal troops to put it down. Thus began a Civil War which was to redefine the roles of federal and State governments, a redefinition that we are still attempting to come to grips with today.
And as the federal government today assumes an even larger role in our everyday lives, often replacing freedom with government sponsored limitation, as Statism continues to subvert the role of the States through the extortion of withholding federal funds or outright usurpation of power by assuming control specifically denied it under the 10th Amendment, I have to wonder. As discussion by some States of the principle of secession becomes a topic of discussion by Governors and State Legislatures, it will be interesting indeed to see how this principle of "Separate but Equal" is today interpreted.


Hooda Thunkit (Dave Zawodny) said...


Apparently the "feral" government needs a reminder that we in the united States are growing more resolved daily to reassert the powers not granted to the "feral" government and stop allowing them to encroach on the rights/responsibilities which we still reserve for ourselves.

Even a "benevolent" dictator needs a reminder at times...

I would like to suggest that we (the "57" States), all secede from the current government and start all over again.

Tim Higgins said...


You may be on to something here (though I vote that we leave California behind), and we may be closer than many think.

Roland Hansen said...

Sounds like some one has been thinking.

Tim Higgins said...


I feel sure that you are not talking about me, as I know you to be too much of a gentleman to cast such aspersions.

Having time to read however is often a dangerous thing.