SOVEREIGNTY IN THE AMERICAN REVOLUTION: AN HISTORICAL STUDY
It is the purpose of this paper to learn, if possible, from contemporary material just what ideas were in men's minds during the American Revolution when they thought of Congress, of the Union, of the states and their governments, of the Confederation, and of independence, and, further, to learn their true reasons for obeying Congress or their state governments. Then with some definite conclusions based upon facts and not general impressions, I wish to examine again the much-mooted question as to whether there was an American national state in the Revolution, and whether Congress or the state governments exercised the sovereign power. As we all know, this question derives its importance from the long and bitter historical controversy over state sovereignty, nullification, and secession. Personally, I believe that the solution, either in favor of state sovereignty or of Congressional sovereignty during the Revolution, has little or no bearing in establishing the legal right of nullification or secession, but so many able writers have laid such stress on proving the Continental Congress sovereign that the truth is worth a search.
Since the earliest time claimed for the existence of an American national state is the time of the assembling of the First Continental Congress, I begin with a consideration of that. Story speaks of this Congress as coming from "the people, acting directly in their primary, sovereign capacity, and without the intervention of the functionaries, to whom the ordinary powers of government were delegated". The facts are that delegates from two colonies were chosen by the legislatures, elected by the people in the ordinary
- That question can be settled by studying what the Constitutional Convention thought it had done and actually did, and to what the people of the states or the people of the nation (as one pleases) bound themselves when they accepted a Constitution which provided that the Constitution and laws made in accordance therewith should be the law of the land, enforcible in the courts, and that the government thereby established might operate directly upon every individual. By accepting this they left themselves nothing but the right of revolution.
- Some of these are Lieber, Story, Pomeroy, Hare, Bancroft, Lincoln, Von Holst, Fiske, Burgess.
- Joseph Story, Commentaries, fourth edition, I. 140.
- Rhode Island and Pennsylvania.
- Force, American Archives, fourth series, I. 416, 607.