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

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unionblue

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"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:




NO TREASON.
No. I.

The Constitution of No Authority.
BY LYSANDER SPOONER.

BOSTON:
1870.
"LYSANDER SPOONER?"

Is this man a constitutional scholar or expert? A federal judge on the Supreme Court? A professor of constitutional law and history?

Help me out here.

Just who is Lysander Spooner?
 

trice

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"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:




NO TREASON.
No. I.

The Constitution of No Authority.
BY LYSANDER SPOONER.

BOSTON:
1870.
What is it you think you are saying here? Lysander Spooner was a very intelligent man and also a bit of a whacky theorist.

Contracts continue to exist after the death of the people who signed them, unless the contract itself specifies that as a condition. Nothing in the Constitution indicates that; nothing in the Articles of Confederation and Perpetual Union does either.

But this thread is about the meaning of "perpetual" in the Articles of Confederation and Perpetual Union. Lysander Spooner was born in 1808 -- nothing he said would influence what the Founding Fathers meant.
 

Patrick Sulley

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"LYSANDER SPOONER?"

Is this man a constitutional scholar or expert? A federal judge on the Supreme Court? A professor of constitutional law and history?

Help me out here.

Just who is Lysander Spooner?
apparently a very well read individual....i do know he was an abolitionist. i can google for you. So only a constitutional scholar or expert. a federal judge or a professor can articulate a sound opinion?
 
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Patrick Sulley

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"LYSANDER SPOONER?"

Is this man a constitutional scholar or expert? A federal judge on the Supreme Court? A professor of constitutional law and history?

Help me out here.

Just who is Lysander Spooner?
Lysander Spooner was an American political philosopher, essayist, pamphlet writer, Unitarian, abolitionist, individualist anarchist, legal theorist, a member of the socialist First International and entrepreneur of the 19th century
 

Patrick Sulley

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What is it you think you are saying here? Lysander Spooner was a very intelligent man and also a bit of a whacky theorist.

Contracts continue to exist after the death of the people who signed them, unless the contract itself specifies that as a condition. Nothing in the Constitution indicates that; nothing in the Articles of Confederation and Perpetual Union does either.

But this thread is about the meaning of "perpetual" in the Articles of Confederation and Perpetual Union. Lysander Spooner was born in 1808 -- nothing he said would influence what the Founding Fathers meant.
influence the founders?...so only people that had influence can opine? Kinda destroys Chase's opinions. When was Chase born?
 

unionblue

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apparently a very well read individual....i do know he was an abolitionist. i can google for you. So only a constitutional scholar or expert. a federal judge or a professor can articulate a sound opinion?
No, only the idea that a referenced source should be supportive of one's views with a tad of historical authority vice that source's personal speculation.
 
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unionblue

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Lysander Spooner was an American political philosopher, essayist, pamphlet writer, Unitarian, abolitionist, individualist anarchist, legal theorist, a member of the socialist First International and entrepreneur of the 19th century
So, we're listing his opinions on the matter vice any legal or constitutional background, correct?
 
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CW Buff

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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.
This response is rather puzzling, seeing how you’ve already recognized that Johnson’s definitions do not fit this particular, specific use of "perpetual."

Here's your original assertion, based on Johnson's definitions:
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".
Here's the problem with that:
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.
Here's your response, which replaces Johnson’s definitions with something completely of your own making:
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.
And what does “as far as we can see into the future” mean? 20 years? 100 years? That sounds rather
indefinite with respect to time
to me.

Any proposed definition must pass the sniff test. It must comply with the things we know about the AoCs when it comes to duration. First, as Carronade seems to be pointing out (I don't want to put words in his mouth), and as I believe others tried to do earlier, there’s the universal fact that nothing man made will actually last forever, so the statement clearly does not mean the AoCs shall literally be perpetual.

Second, the states could of course collectively dissolve the AoCs whenever they wanted (in fact, this would be the only proper way to terminate the Confederation under normal circumstances). So in fact, duration was to be determined by the collective states on an ongoing basis, at some unspecified time in the future, and there was therefore no duration requirement whatsoever upon the states of the Confederation as a whole.

Then there’s the manner in which the AoCs were actually terminated. A party to a treaty can consider it null and void if the other party violates it. This, however, could be considered one of many possible failures related to the simple fact that nothing man made will last forever. But the point is, this method of termination is proper once the improper, significant violations, have occurred.

I don’t see any other way of interpreting these facts, except that the duration was unspecified, undetermined, and subject to the will of the whole, whenever they collectively decided to terminate the agreement. The "perpetual" nature of the AoCs therefore applies to the individual parties, not the collective parties. And even then, it still is not literally perpetual. This is no different than Madison saying “The Constitution requires an adoption in toto, and for ever.” He does not believe the Constitution will literally last forever. He has not abandoned the republican principle that the people may abolish their government at will. But once the individual parties complete a perpetual agreement, it’s out of their hands. For them, the agreement is essentially (though still not literally) forever.

Consider Vattel’s discussion of the duration of treaties. Book II, Chapter II: “§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.

The only alternatives to perpetual treaties are temporary treaties and treaties that are unilaterally revocable. Revocable treaties would of course have to specify that. Temporary ones would have to set a terminal date, or perhaps a terminal event (a war alliance ending when the war ends). Perpetual is just the opposite, no terminal date is set, the individual parties cannot revoke the agreement, the agreement continues indefinitely, until the parties collectively choose to terminate it. Such a definition of perpetual was not unknown in 1777. Here’s a 1968 source describing the meaning of "perpetual" in a specific situation that dates back nearly 2,000 years:

PERPETUAL EDICT. In Roman law. Originally the term "perpetual" was merely opposed to "occasional" and was used to distinguish the general edicts of the praetors from the special edicts or orders which they issued in their judicial capacity. But under Hadrian the edict was revised by the jurist Julianus, and was republished as a permanent act of legislation. It was then styled "perpetual," in the sense of being calculated to endure in perpetuum, or until abrogated by competent authority. Aust.Jur. 855. – Black’s Law Dictionary, 4th edition

The fact is, Johnson's definitions would fail to capture this specific meaning of "perpetual," despite the fact it existed many hundreds of years before he wrote his dictionary. You can't rely on one source no matter what. Considering the variability of dictionaries, that's statistically unsoud and completely hit or miss. And in this case you are also trying to apply a standard definition to a non-standard case (a legal document). They make legal dictionaries for a reason. And any source is subject to logic, does it fit what we know?
 
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trice

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This response is rather puzzling, seeing how you’ve already recognized that Johnson’s definitions do not fit this particular, specific use of "perpetual."

Here's your original assertion, based on Johnson's definitions:

Here's the problem with that:

Here's your response, which replaces Johnson’s definitions with something completely of your own making:

And what does “as far as we can see into the future” mean? 20 years? 100 years? That sounds rather

to me.

Any proposed definition must pass the sniff test. It must comply with the things we know about the AoCs when it comes to duration. First, as Carronade seems to be pointing out (I don't want to put words in his mouth), and as I believe others tried to do earlier, there’s the universal fact that nothing man made will actually last forever, so the statement clearly does not mean the AoCs shall literally be perpetual.

Second, the states could of course collectively dissolve the AoCs whenever they wanted (in fact, this would be the only proper way to terminate the Confederation under normal circumstances). So in fact, duration was to be determined by the collective states on an ongoing basis, at some unspecified time in the future, and there was therefore no duration requirement whatsoever upon the states of the Confederation as a whole.

Then there’s the manner in which the AoCs were actually terminated. A party to a treaty can consider it null and void if the other party violates it. This, however, could be considered one of many possible failures related to the simple fact that nothing man made will last forever. But the point is, this method of termination is proper once the improper, significant violations, have occurred.

I don’t see any other way of interpreting these facts, except that the duration was unspecified, undetermined, and subject to the will of the whole, whenever they collectively decided to terminate the agreement. The "perpetual" nature of the AoCs therefore applies to the individual parties, not the collective parties. And even then, it still is not literally perpetual. This is no different than Madison saying “The Constitution requires an adoption in toto, and for ever.” He does not believe the Constitution will literally last forever. He has not abandoned the republican principle that the people may abolish their government at will. But once the individual parties complete a perpetual agreement, it’s out of their hands. For them, the agreement is essentially (though still not literally) forever.

Consider Vattel’s discussion of the duration of treaties. Book II, Chapter II: “§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.

The only alternatives to perpetual treaties are temporary treaties and treaties that are unilaterally revocable. Revocable treaties would of course have to specify that. Temporary ones would have to set a terminal date, or perhaps a terminal event (a war alliance ending when the war ends). Perpetual is just the opposite, no terminal date is set, the individual parties cannot revoke the agreement, the agreement continues indefinitely, until the parties collectively choose to terminate it. Such a definition of perpetual was not unknown in 1777. Here’s a 1968 source describing the meaning of "perpetual" in a specific situation that dates back nearly 2,000 years:

PERPETUAL EDICT. In Roman law. Originally the term "perpetual" was merely opposed to "occasional" and was used to distinguish the general edicts of the praetors from the special edicts or orders which they issued in their judicial capacity. But under Hadrian the edict was revised by the jurist Julianus, and was republished as a permanent act of legislation. It was then styled "perpetual," in the sense of being calculated to endure in perpetuum, or until abrogated by competent authority. Aust.Jur. 855. – Black’s Law Dictionary, 4th edition

The fact is, Johnson's definitions would fail to capture this specific meaning of "perpetual," despite the fact it existed many hundreds of years before he wrote his dictionary. You can't rely on one source no matter what. Considering the variability of dictionaries, that's statistically unsoud and completely hit or miss. And in this case you are also trying to apply a standard definition to a non-standard case (a legal document). They make legal dictionaries for a reason. And any source is subject to logic, does it fit what we know?
Johnson's definition is exactly in accord with this definition in Black's Law Dictionary, 4th edition (1st edition published in 1891; Black himself was born in 1860, so none of the Founding Fathers would have ever seen this.). So is my description "as far as we can see into the future." -- essentially unending as far as we know.

The Articles of Confederation and Perpetual Union are designed to be "perpetual" in this sense. They contain a condition by which literally anything can be done, including the exit of one or more States from the Confederation and Perpetual Union. If you want to consider them as temporary in Vattel's sense because of that, then they are -- assuming you follow the procedures and gain the consent of the other States (the competent authority part). (The Constitution meets the same general description, but it would be easier to exit the Union legally under the Constitution than under the Articles.)

Vattel, however, does not base his reasoning on human law. In all cases, he bases his position on Natural/Divine law; when there is a conflict, he says that human law is wrong and Natural/Divine law is right.
 

WJC

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As I've mentioned before, the legal definition of 'perpetual'- not the scientific or religious meaning- simply means that the law, contract or alliance has no predetermined end date.
 
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huskerblitz

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As I've mentioned before, the legal definition of 'perpetual'- not the scientific or religious meaning- simply means that the law, contract or alliance has no predetermined end date.
And as post #26 counters, you cannot limit a definition just because you agree with part of it. The idea that something is permanent because you want it to be doesn't make it so. If and when humans no longer want it perpetual....it's no longer perpetual. It really is that simple.
 

GwilymT

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And as post #26 counters, you cannot limit a definition just because you agree with part of it. The idea that something is permanent because you want it to be doesn't make it so. If and when humans no longer want it perpetual....it's no longer perpetual. It really is that simple.
Certainly, but what was the meaning in use in the context with which the founders used it? That was definitely a legal and political sense, no? What did the phrase mean to a late eighteenth century lawyer?
 

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Certainly, but what was the meaning in use in the context with which the founders used it? That was definitely a legal and political sense, no? What did the phrase mean to a late eighteenth century lawyer?
Shrug...the word has origins dating back to Ceaser as being a 'perpetual dictator'. How did that work out for him? :O o:
 
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GwilymT

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Shrug...the word has origins dating back to Ceaser as being a 'perpetual dictator'. How did that work out for him? :O o:
It certainly didn’t work out for Caesar. It didn’t work out for the Union either... there was a nasty war after all. Still, what did the founders mean when they put that particular word not only in the body of but in the title of the Articles? Did they mean it as a leagal term? What was the definition of “perpetual” in the late eighteenth century?

Is there a definitive answer to the question of what the founders meant when they wrote “perpetual” into the Articles?
 

OpnCoronet

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The founders would, I think, have assumed that the AoC was the will of all the peoples of all the states, that they should be governed by those articles contained in it and who also(at the same time) deemed their Union to be perpetual, until such time as they, in their collective wisdom, decided that it was not.

It was the choice of the people of their Union that their Union should be acknoleged as perpetual and be so regarded, unti such time as the people of that same Union, in their collective wisdom, decided it was not and so proclaiimed.



P.S. most of the notable founders of the union and its gov'ts were,IMO, very legalistic in their outlook concerning gov'ts, so I think WJC's legal definition most nearly approximates the thinking of the Founders on this partcular matter.
 

trice

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And as post #26 counters, you cannot limit a definition just because you agree with part of it. The idea that something is permanent because you want it to be doesn't make it so. If and when humans no longer want it perpetual....it's no longer perpetual. It really is that simple.
As I have noted many, many times: the Articles of Confederation and Perpetual Union are "perpetual" in the words of the men who wrote and ratified them back in 1777-1781. Those Articles also include a means for a State to leave the perpetual Union, or for the States to dissolve it completely. When "humans no longer want it perpetual", all they have to do is use the methodology of Article XIII:

XIII.
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.

There is no other way to exit the Union or dissolve it. It really is that simple.
 
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byron ed

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(a) Whatever the actual Confederates may have thought on this topic back in the day, we here can only endure the contemporary play-Confederate view. Not for a second is it supposed the latter represents the former, or was ever deputized to the role.

(b) Constitutional law is a professional discipline requiring years of study and volumes of precedent records. It is well beyond the skill set of anyone here to actually establish a legal truth or falsity in it, but ok it's entertaining.
 
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Patrick Sulley

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As I have noted many, many times: the Articles of Confederation and Perpetual Union are "perpetual" in the words of the men who wrote and ratified them back in 1777-1781. Those Articles also include a means for a State to leave the perpetual Union, or for the States to dissolve it completely. When "humans no longer want it perpetual", all they have to do is use the methodology of Article XIII:

XIII.
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.

There is no other way to exit the Union or dissolve it. It really is that simple.
Who are they to speak for people now living? "perpetual Union"?
However, "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 ...AoC,... 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"
 
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