We, the People of the United States, have been educated to ignorance. From our first days in any public school, and many private ones as well, we are taught that we declared our independence from the evil King George in 1776, then King George sent soldiers and we went to war, and we finally won that war and wrote the Constitution of the United States. Over the years, as we get older, they add tidbits of the truth. The midnight ride of Paul Revere, the “Boston Massacre,” taxation without representation, along with a whole host of other tasty morsels for inquisitive young minds to consume. As much as I would like to say that they never lied to us, just omitted bits of the truth, that is simply not true. Paul Revere, for example, would never have ridden through the countryside shouting, “The British are coming! The British are coming!” They were already here. We were here, subject to the British crown, making us all British! His cry was, “The regulars are coming! The regulars are coming!” as the British army was known then. Still, a minor sin contrasted to the sins of omission.
Nowhere in our primary education are we taught that the United States came into being as a confederacy, that would confuse the narrative we are taught as our history (or social studies depending upon your age) that “the Confederacy” belongs to those nasty southerners, who had no other motive to their confederacy than to maintain the institution of slavery. Unfortunately for that narrative, the first government for the United States came into being under a document, with associations to Benjamin Franklin, entitled the Articles of Confederation and Perpetual Union, and begins thus…
To all to whom these Presents shall come, we the undersigned Delegates of the States affixed to our Names send greeting.
Articles of Confederation and perpetual Union between the states of New Hampshire, Massachusetts-bay, Rhode Island and Providence Plantations, Connecticut, New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Delaware, Maryland, Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina and Georgia.
The Stile[sic] of this Confederacy shall be “The United States of America”.
Each state retains its sovereignty, freedom, and independence, and every power, jurisdiction, and right, which is not by this Confederation expressly delegated to the United States, in Congress assembled.
The said States hereby severally enter into a firm league of friendship with each other, for their common defense, the security of their liberties, and their mutual and general welfare, binding themselves to assist each other, against all force offered to, or attacks made upon them, or any of them, on account of religion, sovereignty, trade, or any other pretense whatever.
It was ratified March 1, 1781.
You will note that, at this point in our history, the British colonies were acting in the capacity of nation-states. Thirteen tiny nations banded together into a confederacy against the British empire. Further proof of this status comes within the Treaty of Paris, signed September 3, 1783 and ratified by the Confederate Congress of the United States on January 14, 1784. The preamble is filled with references of the “United States” and the naming of the representatives present; David Hartley, Esqr, a member of the British Parliament representing King George III and John Adams of Massachusetts and other offices, Benjamin Franklin of Pennsylvania and other offices, and John Jay of New York and other offices (It’s long winded.) acting as plenipotentiaries of the United States, as well as other stipulations that include a treaty with France.
Following the preamble it begins…
His Brittanic[sic] Majesty acknowledges the said United States, viz., New Hampshire, Massachusetts Bay, Rhode Island and Providence Plantations, Connecticut, New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Delaware, Maryland, Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina and Georgia, to be free sovereign and Independent States; that he treats with them as such, and for himself his Heirs & Successors, relinquishes all claims to the Government, Propriety, and Territorial Rights of the same and every Part thereof. (Emphasis is mine.)
Thus far all sovereignty is represented or understood to reside in the King or governments of any nation-state. This changes with the ratification of the Federal Constitution for the United States. Further edification on the people’s view of the transfer of sovereignty to the people of the United States can be found in John Jay’s opinion in Chisolm v. Georgia (1793.)
The people’s first act as sovereigns of the United States of America is the ratification of the Federal Constitution. This was a necessity due the structure and requirements of any changes under the Articles of Confederation and Perpetual Union. While the Federal Constitution used the same nine State requirement to reach its ratification as the Articles of Confederation had outlined to accomplish it’s regular business, the Articles of Confederation called for the higher, unanimous agreement, to alter the Articles of Confederation themselves, as shown in the following block quotes:
Articles of Confederation and Perpetual Union
Every State shall abide by the determination of the United States in Congress assembled, on all questions which by this confederation are submitted to them. And the Articles of this Confederation shall be inviolably observed by every State, and the Union shall be perpetual; nor shall any alteration at any time hereafter be made in any of them; unless such alteration be agreed to in a Congress of the United States, and be afterwards confirmed by the legislatures of every State. (Emphasis mine)
The Ratification of the Conventions of nine States, shall be sufficient for the Establishment of this Constitution between the States so ratifying the Same.
It was in the conventions of the people of the separate States where We the People first shouldered the responsibilities of sovereigns. First, through the ratification of the Federal Constitution and then by demanding immediate alterations, historically known as the Massachusetts Compromise, coming in the form of amendments under the Federal Constitution‘s Article V.