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

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Patrick Sulley

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So far we are in agreement, and I said nothing contrary to the above. In fact, my focus has been on the Constitution, and I haven't even brought US laws and treaties into it.

And of course, there are only two parties authorized to declare a law or part of a law or an act of the Fed unconstitutional and therefore "void." The first is SCOTUS, and the second are the sovereign people of the US.


The SC does both. I don't know how much more crystal clear it can be, especially when you cut away the irrelevant (to my point) words:

This Constitution . . . shall be the supreme Law of the Land, . . . any Thing in the Constitution or Laws of any State to the Contrary notwithstanding.

Shall (auxiliary verb) - 3b—used in laws, regulations, or directives to express what is mandatory.

I mean, do secession-minded members want to pretend that unilateral secession complies with the SC? Hey, if you're version of unilateral secession complies with the supremacy of the Constitution, go ahead. But those of us living in the real world understand quite well that unilateral secession is the unilateral act of a state to overthrow the supremacy of the Constitution. It is the most extreme example of exactly what the SC precludes.


And this is exactly the wrong way to look at a fundamental law. Backwards in fact. A fundamental law is the manner in which a society of free, self-governing people establish their political society. They are the only ones who have any unspecified powers over their constitution and, by extension, the political society and government they thereby establish. And that sovereign power is exercised, as always within such a society, by majority rule. Everyone else has only what specific powers over the people's constitution/political society/government that they expressly delegate via their constitution (like the power of Congress to admit new states). By this simple fact of constitutions alone, the Constitution creates an indissoluble Union, as the only legal transfers of sovereignty are consensual ones, the only way for any state or states to legally regain the sovereignty they surrendered via ratifying the Constitution is by the consent of the sovereign people, which is no where granted to anyone in the Constitution. The effect of national sovereignty is the consolidation of the Union. These points were described in the Federal Conventions official letter:

"It is obviously impracticable in the federal government of these states, to secure all rights of independent sovereignty to each, and yet provide for the interest and safety of all: Individuals entering into society, must give up a share of liberty to preserve the rest. . . . In all our deliberations on this subject we kept steadily in our view, that which appears to us the greatest interest of every true American, the consolidation of our Union, in which is involved our prosperity, felicity, safety, perhaps our national existence."
[/QUOTE]
anything not expressly forbidden in the constitution (secession) is left up to the states.
 

John Fenton

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thanks for your response.
you entirely missed the point. You defined "perpetual" as "never changing", You also didnt..as most people do...finish the declaration of "articles of confederation and perpetual union...BETWEEN...etc etc.
Not only did the AOC clearly state with whom the "perpetual union" was between, you supplied a then and now amended definition of perpetual. Previously you correctly defined "perpetual" as "never changing".
no you missed the point. The union could change and article 11 allowed for new states but the states listed were the states at the time. A pendulum swinging in perpetual motion changes but the motion is perpetual. I amended the definition with all definitions to show this character . The authors of the document could not name states that did not exist. It seemed oblivious to me but , “my bad”.

So two issues defeat your assertion.
1) The AOC was restricted to 13 states by declaration.
The AOC was not restricted to thirteen states as per the 11th article
2) The definition, as you originally provided, of "perpetual Union", also restricted it to 13 states as it can not, by definition, change.
The union was perpetual not it’s laws. They could change to allow dissolution of the union but were not. There was never a proposal to dissolve the union.

If it can change...its not, by definition, perpetual.
The AoC it’s self was not perpetual, the union was and that union carried over to the constitution. Same union , different form of government.
You cant have your cake and eat it too.
I do it all the time and it does not ruin my appetite

Also, i didnt ask the difference between perpetual and dissoluble. I said the later was not referenced in the constitution but would have better defined what you incorrectly assert.
You tried to substitute one for the other. Please explain the difference.

You then further bury your argument by not knowing that all states need not agree to change the constitution...only 3/4 of them do.
I am pretty sure that i was talking about the AoC in one case and a majority in the other (i do not know how many are needed for an amendment. Only that it can be amended). However my statement below is correct.
The point is that neither document allows for unilateral secession in it’s text.


"the constitution can be changed. so could the AoC. disolving (sic) the perpetual nature of the union must be agreed to by ALL (my emphasis) states (AoC) or by amendment (constitution)."
Once bound they are bound until they are legally unbound. Although the Supreme Court did not rule until after the war they found unilateral secession illegal.
In the case of McCollugh vs Maryland unilateral secession was found illegal in the sense that Maryland could not trump federal law or interpret the constitution.
 
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trice

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Finish out the "perpetual union" declaration. There are now 50 states...strictly adhering to your claim of "perpetual union" only the 13 states listed after "perpetual union" would be bound by it....and under the compact theory...if one state can do a thing...all states can also do it.
No, that simply isn't so. In order to become part of the United States, all 37 of those states joined the already existing perpetual Union of the United States and agreed to abide by the laws of that Union. In doing this, they bound themselves to the Union of the United States of America. This is the bargain they made, and they cannot break it unilaterally, at their own whim.

If they had not agreed to that, at least 34 would never have existed as sovereign states of any kind; two (Texas and Vermont, which possibly never did exist) might have simply ceased to exist or been taken over by the US or others; the last (Hawaii) had no choice in the matter since it was annexed by armed force and political shenanigans (for which actions the US government would later formally apologize).

If Tennessee, for example, were to break or nullify the agreement that created the State of Tennessse, logic might say it reverts to the status it had before the agreement: Tennessee would become once again Territory of the United States of America, subject to whatever laws the Congress might pass to govern it.
 
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trice

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anything not expressly forbidden in the constitution (secession) is left up to the states.
[/QUOTE]
Well, no, that is not what the Constitution says.
 
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Patrick Sulley

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anything not expressly forbidden in the constitution (secession) is left up to the states.
Well, no, that is not what the Constitution says.
[/QUOTE]
Well yes...it really does...unless you are saying the tenth amendment isnt a part of the constitution. i have to remember to surrender to subjective opinions instead of researching facts and posting the results as my posts my get moved to a non existent thread because they cripple someones misguided view.
 
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OpnCoronet

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problem is...you dont need all of the people in all of the states...just 3/4. defeats your argument as 3/4 of a whole is a "subgroup" of the whole.


Problem is ... every statein the permanent Union of the United States of America, has an equal stake(interest) in what happens to their Union. I would think the 1/4 would be the subgoup and that would be the losing side.

Constitutional Amendment, would only be one course for legal secession might be addressed through the Law, and the decision all of those others would almost necessarily be decided by some kind of majority vote, i.e., NOT, by a minority vote.
 

CW Buff

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anything not expressly forbidden in the constitution (secession) is left up to the states.
[/QUOTE]

Can we deal with the Constitution as it’s actually written:

The powers 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.

First, the word “expressly” is not there (and the Supremacy Clause is, of course, as express and clear as it needs to be; again, do any secession proponents want to suggest that sucession preserves the supremacy of the Constitution?). Second, the amendment includes “the people” as a holder of reserved powers separate and distinct from “the States respectively.” What I’ve been talking about is the sovereign power of the people of the US. They established the Constitution, and they have the sole sovereign authority over the Constitution, and therefore the political society and government they thereby establish. This is how ALL fundamental laws work.

“ ‘We the people of the United States, do ordain and establish this Constitution.’ Here we see the people acting as sovereigns of the whole country, and, in the language of sovereignty, establishing a Constitution by which it was their will that the State governments should be bound, and to which the State Constitutions should be made to conform. Every State Constitution is a compact made by and between the citizens of a State to govern themselves in a certain manner, and the Constitution of the United States is likewise a compact made by the people of the United States to govern themselves as to general objects in a certain manner.” – SCOTUS, Chisholm v. Georgia, 2 U.S. 419, 1793

Separate fundamental laws at the state and national levels creates a system of duel sovereignty, neither of which can be canceled out by the other:

The idea of a national government involves in it, not only an authority over the individual citizens, but an indefinite supremacy over all persons and things, so far as they are objects of lawful government. Among a people consolidated into one nation, this supremacy is completely vested in the national legislature. Among communities united for particular purposes, it is vested partly in the general and partly in the municipal legislatures. In the former case, all local authorities are subordinate to the supreme; and may be controlled, directed, or abolished by it at pleasure. In the latter, the local or municipal authorities form distinct and independent portions of the supremacy, no more subject, within their respective spheres, to the general authority, than the general authority is subject to them, within its own sphere. In this relation, then, the proposed government cannot be deemed a NATIONAL one; since its jurisdiction extends to certain enumerated objects only, and leaves to the several States a residuary and inviolable sovereignty over all other objects.” – James Madison, The Federalist No. 39.

So, while national sovereignty (the sovereignty of the people of the US) is limited via the concept of enumerated powers, as it applies to the Constitution, it is completely separate and secure from the state sovereignties (the sovereignty of the people of the respective states). So you decide, either each is independent of and secure from the other, or neither is.
 
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trice

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anything not expressly forbidden in the constitution (secession) is left up to the states.
Well, no, that is not what the Constitution says.
Well yes...it really does...unless you are saying the tenth amendment isnt a part of the constitution
The Tenth Amendment does not say that either -- although the Tenth Amendment is actually regarded as neither adding nor subtracting anything from the Constitution. It merely makes plain what is already there.

However, I don't see where any of this has anything to do with the topic of the thread, the meaning of perpetual in the Articles of Confederation and Perpetual Union. There are plenty of other threads that talk about the Tenth Amendment, so if you want to talk about that please find one of those and post your thoughts on that thread.
 
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WJC

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***Posted as Moderator***
A reminder: this thread deals with the "meaning of perpetual" in the Articles of Confederation. Please limit your posts to discussing that topic.
A number of posts discussing tariff policy originally posted here have been moved to a new, more appropriate thread, "The Walker Tariff of 1847", in SecessionTalk.com. Anyone interested in that topic can continue discussing it there when SecessionTalk is available for posting.
 
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trice

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Isn't the real question whether any institution created by men can be considered perpetual?
IMHO, no. The Founding Fathers were setting up a government. The document was written in 1776-77, for specific purposes, by men who lived at the time and had to deal with specific real-life situations. It was then adopted by the States, again for specific purposes in order to deal with specific real-life situations. They made commitments in order to get what they needed to survive and prosper. The text of the Articles of Confederation and Perpetual Union shows the actual limitations they bound themselves to in that bargain.

The meaning of "perpetual" in that document is the meaning of "perpetual" to those men in 1776-1781 (when Maryland became the last to agree). That is why I started this thread with the definition from Samuel Johnson's A Dictionary of the English Language, the 1773 edition (his last). This shows us what the premier source of the time says is the meaning of "perpetual":
  1. Never ceasing; eternal with respect to futurity.
  2. Continual; uninterrupted; perennial.
To them, this was not a philosophical issue to be discussed over a small glass at leisure. This was, literally, a matter of life and death. They were in a war to survive. "Perpetual" meant you could not leave the others, that you were in this together and would not abandon your fellows.
 

Carronade

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IMHO, no. The Founding Fathers were setting up a government. The document was written in 1776-77, for specific purposes, by men who lived at the time and had to deal with specific real-life situations. It was then adopted by the States, again for specific purposes in order to deal with specific real-life situations. They made commitments in order to get what they needed to survive and prosper. The text of the Articles of Confederation and Perpetual Union shows the actual limitations they bound themselves to in that bargain.

The meaning of "perpetual" in that document is the meaning of "perpetual" to those men in 1776-1781 (when Maryland became the last to agree). That is why I started this thread with the definition from Samuel Johnson's A Dictionary of the English Language, the 1773 edition (his last). This shows us what the premier source of the time says is the meaning of "perpetual":
  1. Never ceasing; eternal with respect to futurity.
  2. Continual; uninterrupted; perennial.
To them, this was not a philosophical issue to be discussed over a small glass at leisure. This was, literally, a matter of life and death. They were in a war to survive. "Perpetual" meant you could not leave the others, that you were in this together and would not abandon your fellows.
As usual, a thoughtful post, but I think it actually supports the opposite position from what you may have intended. As you say, the Founding Fathers were concerned with getting through the immediate crisis, not what might happen a hundred or a thousand years in the future. They needed an immutable union, but can we say with certainty that that will still be true in the year 2500? Or AD 10,000? That's the meaning of perpetual. Unless we can say that the union created in 1781 must endure for as long as humans inhabit the earth, we can't say that it absolutely had to endure in 1861.
 

trice

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As usual, a thoughtful post, but I think it actually supports the opposite position from what you may have intended. As you say, the Founding Fathers were concerned with getting through the immediate crisis, not what might happen a hundred or a thousand years in the future. They needed an immutable union, but can we say with certainty that that will still be true in the year 2500? Or AD 10,000? That's the meaning of perpetual. Unless we can say that the union created in 1781 must endure for as long as humans inhabit the earth, we can't say that it absolutely had to endure in 1861.
I believe you are asking the wrong question, looking at this from a philosophical POV when their view was desperately practical. In relation to your questions, the meaning they had was essentially: as far as we can see into the future.

They understood that they were not omnipotent and could not foresee all that would happen. They were creating a government to go forward into that future, to adjust as it went. Their Confederation and Union was to be perpetual -- and the agreement contained a mechanism for modifying the terms of the Articles of Confederation and Perpetual Union within itself, just as the Constitution does, in case the situation and needs changed.

The perpetual obligation of the States to remain within the Union and abide by it is clear. The means to end that obligation is also clear: you need the agreement of the other members of the Union. The same obligation and means can be seen in the Constitution (exiting the Union legally is probably easier to do under the Constitution that the Articles).

In International Law/Political Science (neither of which existed as an established, formal discipline at the time of the American Revolution), Confederations and Unions can always be dissolved by the agreement of all the parties. The United States of America could have done that at any time since the founding, under the Articles of Confederation and Perpetual Union or the Constitution. The United States of America could still do that today.

(Added later: Just to be clear, the first two paragraphs above are largely IMHO. The mechanism to leave the Union is factual)
 
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CW Buff

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As usual, a thoughtful post, but I think it actually supports the opposite position from what you may have intended. As you say, the Founding Fathers were concerned with getting through the immediate crisis, not what might happen a hundred or a thousand years in the future. They needed an immutable union, but can we say with certainty that that will still be true in the year 2500? Or AD 10,000? That's the meaning of perpetual. Unless we can say that the union created in 1781 must endure for as long as humans inhabit the earth, we can't say that it absolutely had to endure in 1861.
In relation to your questions, the meaning they had was essentially: as far as we can see into the future.
It would seem Johnson's definitions don't get the job done. Context is important too. The definition must be compatible with what we know about the situation. The states could have collectively dissolved the AoCs anytime they wanted.

If we look at modern dictionaries, they also provide a smattering of different definitions and synonyms, just as Johnson did. Some of these definitions/synonyms are repeated in most if not all sources, others in about half, still others are less frequent. So one source isn't enough. I commend you for seeking a period definition, it's an established method of constitutional interpretation, but I think it requires much more than just one source. Some originalists also believe you must go beyond dictionaries, and comb through other period documents, particularly similar ones, in order to guage common usage. That's beyond my abilities (or at least my ambition), and I'm not sure it's necessary in this case. Many of the modern definitions/synonyms are the same or very similar to Johnson’s, so I’m not sure if we even need to get period-specific. And one modern definition not included in Johnson’s is “indefinite with respect to time.” In fact, this is the most common modern legal definition, and it is compatible with 1) the right of the states to collectively dissolve the AoCs, 2) you're above statement, and 3) the need for a long-term commitment in a confederation. The members of a confederation can collectively dissolve the system whenever they want, but for individual members the decision/agreement is essentially permanent, until the states collectively decide otherwise.
 

trice

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It would seem Johnson's definitions don't get the job done. Context is important too. The definition must be compatible with what we know about the situation. The states could have collectively dissolved the AoCs anytime they wanted.

If we look at modern dictionaries, they also provide a smattering of different definitions and synonyms, just as Johnson did. Some of these definitions/synonyms are repeated in most if not all sources, others in about half, still others are less frequent. So one source isn't enough. I commend you for seeking a period definition, it's an established method of constitutional interpretation, but I think it requires much more than just one source. Some originalists also believe you must go beyond dictionaries, and comb through other period documents, particularly similar ones, in order to guage common usage. That's beyond my abilities (or at least my ambition), and I'm not sure it's necessary in this case. Many of the modern definitions/synonyms are the same or very similar to Johnson’s, so I’m not sure if we even need to get period-specific. And one modern definition not included in Johnson’s is “indefinite with respect to time.” In fact, this is the most common modern legal definition, and it is compatible with 1) the right of the states to collectively dissolve the AoCs, 2) you're above statement, and 3) the need for a long-term commitment in a confederation. The members of a confederation can collectively dissolve the system whenever they want, but for individual members the decision/agreement is essentially permanent, until the states collectively decide otherwise.
When the Founding Fathers lived, wrote and ratified the Articles of Confederation and Perpetual Union, Samuel Johnson's A Dictionary of the English Language was the gold standard of English dictionaries. It remained so until the multi-volume Oxford English Dictionary was compiled (they started working on it in 1857, started publishing it as unbound serial pieces in 1884, started using the name The Oxford English Dictionary (or OED) in 1895 and finally republished the whole 10-volume thing in bound form in 1928). Noah Webster's American Dictionary of the English Language was first published in 1828.

As a result, there is no better source for the meaning of English words in the 1777-1789 period than Dr. Johnson's work. There is barely anything else to even compare it to as an English dictionary (Johnson's first edition was published in 1755, the last in 1773). It was regarded as essential in educated households in Britain for a century or so.

Yes, you can find his definitions in other, more modern dictionaries -- because new works started out by copying his definitions. As one of the editors of the first OED said: "When his definitions are correct, and his arrangement judicious, it seems to be expedient to follow him."

The point of not using definitions in modern works to decide what the Founding Fathers thought words meant is that they include meanings that did not exist at the time. Ben Franklin and the rest could not read Webster's work or the OED or modern legal texts because they simply did not exist yet. If we want to understand what they thought, we need to restrict ourselves to what they knew.
 
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Patrick Sulley

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IMHO, no. The Founding Fathers were setting up a government. The document was written in 1776-77, for specific purposes, by men who lived at the time and had to deal with specific real-life situations. It was then adopted by the States, again for specific purposes in order to deal with specific real-life situations. They made commitments in order to get what they needed to survive and prosper. The text of the Articles of Confederation and Perpetual Union shows the actual limitations they bound themselves to in that bargain.

The meaning of "perpetual" in that document is the meaning of "perpetual" to those men in 1776-1781 (when Maryland became the last to agree). That is why I started this thread with the definition from Samuel Johnson's A Dictionary of the English Language, the 1773 edition (his last). This shows us what the premier source of the time says is the meaning of "perpetual":
  1. Never ceasing; eternal with respect to futurity.
  2. Continual; uninterrupted; perennial.
To them, this was not a philosophical issue to be discussed over a small glass at leisure. This was, literally, a matter of life and death. They were in a war to survive. "Perpetual" meant you could not leave the others, that you were in this together and would not abandon your fellows.
"The Constitution has no inherent authority or obligation. It has no authority or obligation at all, unless as a contract between man and man. And it does not so much as even purport to be a contract between persons now existing. It purports, at most, to be only a contract between persons living eighty years ago. And it can be supposed to have been a contract then only between persons who had already come to years of discretion, so as to be competent to make reasonable and obligatory contracts. Furthermore, we know, historically, that only a small portion even of the people then existing were consulted on the subject, or asked, or permitted to express either their consent or dissent in any formal manner. Those persons, if any, who did give their consent formally, are all dead now. Most of them have been dead forty, fifty, sixty, or seventy years. And the Constitution, so far as it was their contract, died with them. They had no natural power or right to make it obligatory upon their children. It is not only plainly impossible, in the nature of things, that they could bind their posterity, but they did not even attempt to bind them. That is to say, the instrument does not purport to be an agreement between any body but "the people" then existing; nor does it, either expressly or impliedly, assert any right, power, or disposition, on their part, to bind anybody but themselves. Let us see. Its language is:


We, the people of the United States (that is, the people then existing in the United States), in order to form a more perfect union, insure domestic tranquility, provide for the common defense, 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."
NO TREASON.
No. I.

The Constitution of No Authority.
BY LYSANDER SPOONER.

BOSTON:
1870.
 
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Patrick Sulley

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When the Founding Fathers lived, wrote and ratified the Articles of Confederation and Perpetual Union, Samuel Johnson's A Dictionary of the English Language was the gold standard of English dictionaries. It remained so until the multi-volume Oxford English Dictionary was compiled (they started working on it in 1857, started publishing it as unbound serial pieces in 1884, started using the name The Oxford English Dictionary (or OED) in 1895 and finally republished the whole 10-volume thing in bound form in 1928). Noah Webster's American Dictionary of the English Language was first published in 1828.

As a result, there is no better source for the meaning of English words in the 1777-1789 period than Dr. Johnson's work. There is barely anything else to even compare it to as an English dictionary (Johnson's first edition was published in 1755, the last in 1773). It was regarded as essential in educated households in Britain for a century or so.

Yes, you can find his definitions in other, more modern dictionaries -- because new works started out by copying his definitions. As one of the editors of the first OED said: "When his definitions are correct, and his arrangement judicious, it seems to be expedient to follow him."

The point of not using definitions in modern works to decide what the Founding Fathers thought words meant is that they include meanings that did not exist at the time. Ben Franklin and the rest could not read Webster's work or the OED or modern legal texts because they simply did not exist yet. If we want to understand what they thought, we need to restrict ourselves to what they knew.
"They had no natural power or right to make it obligatory upon their children. It is not only plainly impossible, in the nature of things, that they could bind their posterity, but they did not even attempt to bind them. That is to say, the instrument does not purport to be an agreement between any body but "the people" then existing; nor does it, either expressly or impliedly, assert any right, power, or disposition, on their part, to bind anybody but themselves."
 

trice

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"They had no natural power or right to make it obligatory upon their children. It is not only plainly impossible, in the nature of things, that they could bind their posterity, but they did not even attempt to bind them. That is to say, the instrument does not purport to be an agreement between any body but "the people" then existing; nor does it, either expressly or impliedly, assert any right, power, or disposition, on their part, to bind anybody but themselves."
Nope. What you are saying they had no right to do has been done time and time and time again, by many, many peoples, over a time period stretching back to before we record what happened. It is normal.

What you should note is that there is a way out, as their always is: work with the other members and get them to agree to let you leave.
 
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