Restricted The meaning of "Perpetual" in The Articles of Confederation and Perpetual Union

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WJC

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Lincoln is being very clear, and I'm not misreading it. There is no difference between counties and states ("If a State, in one instance, and a county in another, should be equal in extent of territory, and equal in the number of people, wherein is that State any better than the county? Can a change of name change the right?"), they are just administrative subdivisions of the larger "nation". Notice his dismissive notion that the difference between the two is just a difference in what they're named. One has no more power than the other. It's a very clear comparison and very clear intent on Lincoln's part.

In Lincoln's view, the states have no power that the Constitution doesn't grant them within the Union ("that position assumed, that a State can carry with it out of the Union that which it holds in sacredness by virtue of its connection with the Union"), which contradicts the ninth and tenth amendment notion of "retained" powers that the states and the people still had from before ratification of the Constitution. The reality is that it's the Federal government that has no power that the Constitution doesn't grant, but Lincoln is standing Constitutional reality on its head.
Thanks for your response.
Lincoln was very clear what point he was making- you even included his 'setup' in the text you provided:
I speak not of that position which is given to a State in and by the Constitution of the United States, for that all of us agree to---we abide by; but that position assumed, that a State can carry with it out of the Union that which it holds in sacredness by virtue of its connection with the Union. I am speaking of that assumed right of a State, as a primary principle, that the Constitution should rule all that is less than itself, and ruin all that is bigger than itself.​
Some here may not like it, often objecting to the word: but context is everything.
 
Joined
Jun 24, 2019
The idea that the constitutional meaning of the term "perpetual" under the AoC is identical to "eternal" or "never-ending" is patently absurd. The very idea that an artificial, imperfect, man-made, political union should last millions upon millions of years is incoherent and utterly impossible. Accordingly, the constitutional meaning of "perpetual", under the AoC simply communicates the idea that there is no fixed term for the life of the Union. In turn, this ultimately means that the AoC was a union subject to the will and good faith of the States that were parties to it.
 

OpnCoronet

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Feb 23, 2010
The idea that the constitutional meaning of the term "perpetual" under the AoC is identical to "eternal" or "never-ending" is patently absurd. The very idea that an artificial, imperfect, man-made, political union should last millions upon millions of years is incoherent and utterly impossible. Accordingly, the constitutional meaning of "perpetual", under the AoC simply communicates the idea that there is no fixed term for the life of the Union. In turn, this ultimately means that the AoC was a union subject to the will and good faith of the States that were parties to it.

Almost, But Not Quite. The Power and Authority exercised by the individual state's legislatures was, and is, derived from the peoples they govern. It was the Peioples of the indiividual states, acting through their state's gov'ts, that declared their Union(a Union they were already an integral part)'Perpetual' .

As noted by you, the proclamation of all the peoples of all the states, can be suverted, overthrown, rendered null and void, etc., etc., etc., buut, that was not the intennt of the peoples of their own Union and government.

The Union is , and was meant to be, perpetual, until specifically denied or changed by the same authority and power that authorized and empowered it, i.e., all the peoples of all the states of all the states under he governmennt they authorized and empowered.
 
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Almost, But Not Quite. The Power and Authority exercised by the individual state's legislatures was, and is, derived from the peoples they govern. It was the Peioples of the indiividual states, acting through their state's gov'ts, that declared their Union(a Union they were already an integral part)'Perpetual' .

As noted by you, the proclamation of all the peoples of all the states, can be suverted, overthrown, rendered null and void, etc., etc., etc., buut, that was not the intennt of the peoples of their own Union and government.

The Union is , and was meant to be, perpetual, until specifically denied or changed by the same authority and power that authorized and empowered it, i.e., all the peoples of all the states of all the states under he governmennt they authorized and empowered.

Nope. Article VII explicitly allows for the establishment of the Union by a fraction of the states; 9/13's (69.2%). And the word "perpetual" cannot be found anywhere in the Constitution. Never mentioned. Not once, not ever.
 

John Fenton

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To my knowledge the meaning of “perpetual “ has not changed , even if our vernacular has.

Samuel Johnson's A Dictionary of the English Language, the 1773 edition (his last).
Never ceasing; eternal with respect to futurity.
Continual; uninterrupted; perennial.

Webster’s 1828 version : 1. Never ceasing; continuing forever in future time; destined to be eternal; as a perpetual covenant; a perpetual statute.

Merriam-Webster current version : : continuing forever, : valid for all time

Why address something that cannot be changed ? The constitution actually made us more united not less.

While the constitution did form a new government it did not form a new union. The union already existed into perpetuity .
 

Andersonh1

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Nope. Article VII explicitly allows for the establishment of the Union by a fraction of the states; 9/13's (69.2%). And the word "perpetual" cannot be found anywhere in the Constitution. Never mentioned. Not once, not ever.
Indeed, and for those who continue to argue that "the people of the United States", as opposed to the people of the several states, established the Constitution and the Union, consider that one of the reasons the Constitution only requires a 2/3 majority is precisely because it had become nearly impossible to get all the states to agree on anything!

We cannot believe that the Founders removed the requirement for unanimity from the foundational law for being impossible to achieve, while at the same time believing that same impossible unanimity gave us the Constitution and the Union.

And of course, the absence of Rhode Island from the Constitutional Convention kills the "it was all the people of the United States" argument simply by their absence from proceedings.
 
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OpnCoronet

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Nope. Article VII explicitly allows for the establishment of the Union by a fraction of the states; 9/13's (69.2%). And the word "perpetual" cannot be found anywhere in the Constitution. Never mentioned. Not once, not ever.




The people of the Perpetuual Union, changed their government, not their Union, which was already perpetual; until such time, as they choose, to change that status, the Union is permanent as far as the will of all the people of all the states of that Union is concerned.

The proclamation of the truth of the Union's permanence is clear and needsto be rescinded with equual clarity and by the same power and authority that proclaimed its permanence.
 

trice

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May 2, 2006
It might be a good idea at this point to repeat the OP:

Just in case anyone wonders what the meaning of "perpetual" might be in US law, here is what the accepted meaning of the word would have been in 1777 when The Articles of Confederation and Perpetual Union were written:​
So at the time of the writing of The Articles of Confederation and Perpetual Union, the possible meanings of the word perpetual would be:​

  1. Never ceasing; eternal with respect to futurity.
  2. Continual; uninterrupted; perennial.
The delegates who developed and wrote the Articles in 1777 were educated men and the document was based on an original draft submitted by Benjamin Franklin. When they said "and the Union shall be perpetual", they would mean "never ceasing" / "eternal" / "continual" / "uninterrupted" /"perennial".​
The definition is from Samuel Johnson's A Dictionary of the English Language, the 1773 edition (his last). His first edition came out in 1755. The 1773 edition was regarded as the gold standard of English dictionaries until the publication of the Oxford English Dictionary (compiled from 1884 on and finally published in 12 volumes in 1928).​
Also, in case anyone asks, I could not find an American dictionary published until 1806 when Noah Webster produced A Compendious Dictionary of the English Language and began work in 1807 on his An American Dictionary of the English Language which was finally published in 1828.​

That is the common usage of the word "perpetual" at the time the Articles of Confederation and Perpetual Union were written and approved.
 

JohnJW

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Jun 25, 2019
Just in case anyone wonders what the meaning of "perpetual" might be in US law
This isn't a bad argument to make against Southern secession.

But it's gross fallacy is that the same could be said of every government ever founded. And a quick look at history (List Of Civil Wars) shows that most European nations experienced civil wars. England certainly did. So did the Roman Empire.

But I'm going to toss in a different idea that may shed light on this.

The Founding Fathers were trying to create a perpetual union. That is different than saying they believed the union was perpetual.

In other words . . . the intent was not perpetuity for perpetuity's sake. The intent was to achieve a balance of powers and balance of regional interests which would result in a union that would (logically) remain a union forever. In other words . . . if the foundation is built properly, shouldn't the structure last forever?

In still other words . . . they saw America as an experiment. In fact, in 1787 a woman asked Benjamin Franklin what the convention had produced and he responded:

"A republic, madam, if you can keep it."

So if history showed that the most civilized nation could descend into civil war . . . . where does a Founding Father get the idea that America could be different.

I'm going to go out on a limb here . . . but I believe the idea of "perpetuity" and thus perfection and purity . . . are religious in nature.

The Catholic Church believed that Mary, the Mother Of Jesus, was a "perpetual virgin."

I'm not arguing that the founding Fathers accepted Catholic dogma or that they were necessarily even very religious. I'm saying that in western European culture, God is the source of all perfection and perpetuity. And we do know that the Founding Fathers, regardless of the strength of their beliefs in Christianity or any religion did link the founding of America to God.


"that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights"

"appealing to the Supreme Judge of the world for the rectitude of our intentions,"
In total the Declaration mentions God four times and although the word God absent in the Constitution, it is expressly signed . . . "in the year of our Lord" . . .
 
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Patrick Sulley

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Just in case anyone wonders what the meaning of "perpetual" might be in US law, here is what the accepted meaning of the word would have been in 1777 when The Articles of Confederation and Perpetual Union were written:
View attachment 309970

So at the time of the writing of The Articles of Confederation and Perpetual Union, the possible meanings of the word perpetual would be:
  1. Never ceasing; eternal with respect to futurity.
  2. Continual; uninterrupted; perennial.
The delegates who developed and wrote the Articles in 1777 were educated men and the document was based on an original draft submitted by Benjamin Franklin. When they said "and the Union shall be perpetual", they would mean "never ceasing" / "eternal" / "continual" / "uninterrupted" /"perennial".

The definition is from Samuel Johnson's A Dictionary of the English Language, the 1773 edition (his last). His first edition came out in 1755. The 1773 edition was regarded as the gold standard of English dictionaries until the publication of the Oxford English Dictionary (compiled from 1884 on and finally published in 12 volumes in 1928).

Also, in case anyone asks, I could not find an American dictionary published until 1806 when Noah Webster produced A Compendious Dictionary of the English Language and began work in 1807 on his An American Dictionary of the English Language which was finally published in 1828.
the articles of confederation was superseded by the constitution...if the founding fathers...same guys that wrote the articles of confederation...wanted "perpetual" in it...why didnt they add it?
 

Patrick Sulley

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Aug 8, 2019
The perpetual Union that accepted the AoC, was the same perpetual Unionn that accepted the Constitution.

The exists until such tiime as the People of the Perpetual Union decides that it is not Perpetual. Until such time, it is Perpetual.

Similarly, the Court's ruling confirming the Perpetual Union, ispart of the Law of the Land, until such time as the Court itself, or the People of that same Union, themselves, says that it is not.
we have added states since the constitution, how could the union be "perfect" or "perpetual" when it was flexible at the same time?
 
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Patrick Sulley

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Over the years, I have seen people on this forum dispute the meaning of the word "perpetual" in the Articles. That is why I started this thread, so there would be a clear explanation of what the word meant in 1777-1781 when the document was written, debated, and adopted.

That is why attempts to discuss the Constitution should be off-topic in this thread, IMHO. There are literally dozens of other threads on that available to anyone who wants to do so and it would be better to leave this one to a limited discussion of the topic.
this is "civil war talk". the AOC is off topic....it had zero to do with the civil war
 

Patrick Sulley

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There has been no claim that our Constitution is perpetual. It could be changed or even replaced if the people decided. 'Perpetual' describes the Union.
if the "Union" was either "perfect" or "perpetual", it would have remained 13 states. "perpetual" as you have defined it...is "unchanging"...."unending". the 13 state union died when a 14th state was created...making it a 14 state union...etc...etc...etc
 

Patrick Sulley

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I have already answered this for you in another thread: "The Union is the nation. The nation is the country. The country is the United States of America. The United States of America is the Union. This was the common usage of the American people, including the men we call the Founding Fathers. " Please stop this useless posturing.
"The Union is the nation. The nation is the country. "...AND NEITHER DIE WITH THE ADDITION OR SUBTRACTION OF MEMBER STATES.
 
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Patrick Sulley

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Thanks for your response.
I apologize for assuming that since I have a copy of our Constitution in my desk drawer and another at a bookmarked site that you have the same easy access.

Article 1 - The Legislative Branch
Section 10 - Powers Prohibited of States
No State shall enter into any Treaty, Alliance, or Confederation; grant Letters of Marque and Reprisal; coin Money; emit Bills of Credit; make any Thing but gold and silver Coin a Tender in Payment of Debts; pass any Bill of Attainder, ex post facto Law, or Law impairing the Obligation of Contracts, or grant any Title of Nobility.​
No State shall, without the Consent of the Congress, lay any Imposts or Duties on Imports or Exports, except what may be absolutely necessary for executing it's inspection Laws: and the net Produce of all Duties and Imposts, laid by any State on Imports or Exports, shall be for the Use of the Treasury of the United States; and all such Laws shall be subject to the Revision and Control of the Congress.​
No State shall, without the Consent of Congress, lay any duty of Tonnage, keep Troops, or Ships of War in time of Peace, enter into any Agreement or Compact with another State, or with a foreign Power, or engage in War, unless actually invaded, or in such imminent Danger as will not admit of delay.​

<https://usconstitution.net/xconst_A1Sec10.html >
ONCE THEY SECEDE...THEY ARE NO LONGER BOUND TO THAT ARTICLE.
 

Patrick Sulley

Sergeant
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No. When the State ratifies the Articles it makes a promise to the Union as well as to the other States. They have agreed to be part of a "perpetual Union". They have agreed to follow the dictates of the agreement they have signed, the Articles of Confederation and Perpetual Union. If they wish to leave that agreement, they may attempt to do so using the procedures in the agreement itself. They have no unilateral legal ability to break the agreement.

Nations do, of course, sometimes break treaties in real life. This leads to consequences for their bad behavior, such as war.
New York, Rhode Island and Virginia...made no such promise to be perpetual. They had only agreed to ratify the constitution if their right to leave "upon their own motion" was granted. hardly perpetual.
 

CW Buff

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the articles of confederation was superseded by the constitution...if the founding fathers...same guys that wrote the articles of confederation...wanted "perpetual" in it...why didnt they add it?
Hi Patrick, welcome to the Forum.

They didn't need to add it because it was already there. The Constitution is a true, fundemantal law constitution. The AoCs were a treaty, and treaties can be temporary or perpetual, and it was good practice to specify which was the case:

"§29. Perpetual or temporary treaties, or treaties revocable at pleasure. Nations may in their treaties insert such clauses and conditions as they think proper: they are at liberty to make them perpetual, or temporary, or dependent on certain events." – Vattel, The Law of Nations, Book II, Chpt. I.

The 1778 Treaty of Amity with France and the Treaty of Paris also specify perpetuity. In addition, perpetual confederation was itself a specific term:

"§10. Of states forming a federal republic. Finally, several sovereign and independent states may unite themselves together by a perpetual confederacy, without ceasing to be, each individually, a perfect state." – Ibid., Book I, Chpt. I.

However, the Constitution is a fundamental law, not a treaty, and fundamental laws are inherently perpetual. Are or were the states, founded upon fundamental laws as they were, temporary? Why should it be any different for the Union? Especially w/o any mention of such. I still have not gotten any response on that question from ANY secession-minded member. This point was the FIRST argument Lincoln used in his First Inaugural.

The SECOND argument he used dealt with the history of the Union. My treatment of it will be more detailed than Lincoln's to leave even less doubt. The Union began as an ad-hoc alliance among the colonies. They knew the could not hope to resist British tyranny except together. When they declared independence, it of course became an alliance among the states. They knew they could not hope to win independence except together. It then became an official, defined union/confederation under the AoCs, which declared the Union perpetual. The original draft of the AoCs was prepared by Franklin. He presented it to Congress in 1775, at which time it was tabled. Franklin's original was for a confederacy of colonies that would continue until reconcilliation, or would otherwise be perpetual. So right there the eminent Dr. Franklin seems to feel independence inherently requires a perpetual union. That specification is of course picked up by Congress. The independence of 13 small, petty states in a world of greedy, overdominent European colonial powers requires perpetual union. Just four years after the conclusion of the Revolution, the AoCs are declared a failure and are replaced by the Constitution. Your theory seems to be that the same 13 petty states, no larger or stronger than they were in 1783, suddenly decided they no longer needed perpetuity. It's possible I suppose. There could have been some reason to remove the previously highly desired quality of perpetuity, perhaps the amount of power being vested in the Union/Fed. But certainly NOT without any discussion or mention of it.

In addition, the Framers left us clues that such an abandonment of perpetuity was not the case:

"We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America."

Definition of posterity
1: the offspring of one progenitor to the furthest generation
2: all future generations


And then there is Art. VI, Sxn 2, which could be called the perpetuity clause as much as the supremacy clause:

"This Constitution, and the Laws of the United States which shall be made in Pursuance thereof; and all Treaties made, or which shall be made, under the Authority of the United States, shall be the supreme Law of the Land; and the Judges in every State shall be bound thereby, any Thing in the Constitution or Laws of any State to the Contrary notwithstanding."
This isn't a bad argument to make against Southern secession.

But it's gross fallacy is that the same could be said of every government ever founded. And a quick look at history (List Of Civil Wars) shows that most European nations experienced civil wars. England certainly did. So did the Roman Empire.
Hi John, Welcome aboard.

I believe you're treating the word/statement too much as a matter of fact. It's actually a matter of intent. That an arrangement is perpetual does not mean it is intended, or believed, to last forever, no matter what. It simply means it is intended to continue indefinitely, in which case it can only be terminated the way it was initiated, via consent (with some exceptions in some cases). Unless specifically provided for, no party to such an agreement can get out of the agreement on their own say so (ditto). Both documents, the AoCs and Constitution, have specified methods for their termination (and the AoCs, being a treaty, have additional established methods).
if the "Union" was either "perfect" or "perpetual", it would have remained 13 states. "perpetual" as you have defined it...is "unchanging"...."unending". the 13 state union died when a 14th state was created...making it a 14 state union...etc...etc...etc
This makes no sense. A quality of union would have to be desirable to be considered "perfect." The history of the Union proves that perpetuity was very much desired. And of course, growth would be too.
"The Union is the nation. The nation is the country. "...AND NEITHER DIE WITH THE ADDITION OR SUBTRACTION OF MEMBER STATES.
That's not for you to say. It's not YOUR nation (meaning it's not your's alone). The people of the US established the Constitution, a fundamental law. As with all such constitutions, the people who enact it retain sovereign control over it, and the polity ("more perfect Union") and Gov't it in turn establishes. As such, the sovereign people can do what they wish with their creations. As far as everyone else, a constitution specifically tells everyone else what they can or cannot do to those creations. In the case of a union/federation, it doesn't just put restrictions on the government, it puts restrictions on everyone. Only the sovereign people have the legal right to alter or abolish.

"This country, with its institutions, belongs to the people who inhabit it. Whenever they shall grow weary of the existing Government, they can exercise their constitutional right of amending it, or their revolutionary right to dismember or overthrow it." Lincoln, First Inaugural

"...my opinion is that no state can, in any way lawfully, get out of the Union, without the consent of the others; and that it is the duty of the President, and other government functionaries to run the machine as it is." – Lincoln to Thurlow Weed, December 17, 1860
ONCE THEY SECEDE...THEY ARE NO LONGER BOUND TO THAT ARTICLE.
Based on the supremacy clause, they cannot secede, at least unilaterally.

"This Constitution, and the Laws of the United States which shall be made in Pursuance thereof; and all Treaties made, or which shall be made, under the Authority of the United States, shall be the supreme Law of the Land; and the Judges in every State shall be bound thereby, any Thing in the Constitution or Laws of any State to the Contrary notwithstanding."

This trumps everytting, throughout "the Land," until the sovereign people specify otherwise.
 
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Potomac Pride

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The Constitution was adopted in order to form a more perfect Union not a "more perpetual" Union. All of the states would not have ratified the Constitution if they had believed that there was not a way out of the Union. The ratification documents of some of the states even included the possibility of withdrawing from the Union if the federal government became too oppressive.
 
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