Who held final authority under the Constitution?

Viper21

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As a history student from the UK, the USA looks like the EU to me: i.e. a continental union of independent states, with some international agreements.
Not a unified of dependent states, like Great Britain was.
So why couldn't they secede, just like the UK did in Brexit?
For starters, welcome. We're happy to have you, & look forward to your contributions to the forums.

You are not alone in your interest of this particular facet, of the time period discussed here. Discussions about secession have been many, & very informative. There are certainly lots of opinions, & facts on the subject shared here. Point being, you're in the right place to discuss such.
 

unionblue

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As a history student from the UK, the USA looks like the EU to me: i.e. a continental union of independent states, with some international agreements.
Not a unified of dependent states, like Great Britain was.
So why couldn't they secede, just like the UK did in Brexit?

First, welcome to the forum, @SarahTheGoodWitch , I hope you enjoy your time with us.

Second, the United States is nothing like the European Union, because the states are not independent nations like France and Germany are in the EU.

Third, the only international treaties of the US are directly from the US or national government with other independent nations such as England, France, Spain, etc.

This country fought a civil war to finally answer the question of a state unilaterally seceding from the Union of States that make up our country. It is settled law. But, it did not eliminate the idea of a State seceding if it gained the permission of the national government or of getting the approval of leaving the Union through other, legal, peaceful, means.

There are secession movements within certain States of the nation, but none advocate unilateral secession.

Sincerely,
Unionblue
 
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First, welcome to the forum, @SarahTheGoodWitch , I hope you enjoy your time with us.

Well, thank you very much.

Second, the United States is nothing like the European Union, because the states are not independent nations like France and Germany are in the EU.

Where do you read this, please? Everything I can find regarding the written history of the states, seems to regard them as individually independent. Never forming a unified state, but only a continental union of independent states: again like the European Union.
And I can find nothing that would preclude this, in the arguments made either before or after the fact.
 
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We have many threads on this, the counter-argument generally revolves around no directly stated mechanism that allows a state to unilaterally leave the Union, which to some means it cannot be done.
Such a contention would require supporting argument.
However I can find none; as each state began as an independent state, and it appears that none ever legally abrogated that status to become dependent member-states of a single unified state.
 
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huskerblitz

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However I can find none; as each state began as an independent state, and it appears that none ever legally abrogated that status to become dependent member-states of a single unified state.
Umm...no. Even someone, like myself, who feels states had the right to secede does not agree that they were ever totally independent.

But like I said, there are already plenty of threads on what you are asking for. I would suggest searching this forum.
 

NedBaldwin

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As a history student from the UK, the USA looks like the EU to me: i.e. a continental union of independent states, with some international agreements.
Not a unified of dependent states, like Great Britain was.
So why couldn't they secede, just like the UK did in Brexit?
Brexit was based on Article 50 of the Treaty of Lisbon which says "Any Member State may decide to withdraw from the Union ...."
There was no similar provision in the US
 

NedBaldwin

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Such a contention would require supporting argument.
However I can find none; as each state began as an independent state, and it appears that none ever legally abrogated that status to become dependent member-states of a single unified state.
John Calhoun (If you dont know who he is, just google his name) once wrote that " by an express provision of the Constitution, it may be amended or changed by three-fourths of the States; and each State, by assenting to the Constitution with this provision, has surrendered its original rights as a sovereign, which made its individual consent necessary to any change in its political condition, and has placed this important power in the hands of three-fourths of the States, in which the sovereignty of the Union, under the Constitution, does now actually reside."
The point being, that when they accepted the Constitution, they abrogated their status as independent sovereigns (if they ever had that status to begin with)
 
Such a contention would require supporting argument.
However I can find none; as each state began as an independent state, and it appears that none ever legally abrogated that status to become dependent member-states of a single unified state.

When the states individually agreed and ratified the Constitution, they gave up their individual sovereignty. Article I, Section 10 limits the sovereignty of the states:

Section 10


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 its 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.
 
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When the states individually agreed and ratified the Constitution, they gave up their individual sovereignty. Article I, Section 10 limits the sovereignty of the states:

Section 10


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 its 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.


That's fully within the language of an agreement between independent states.
Nothing in the Constitution changes their respective independence.
 
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It is?

Even the phrase "without the consent of Congress" has no impact on that "respective independence?"
Only in the context of an agreement between independent states.
The Articles of Confederation enumerated similar conditions.
The chief difference of the Constitution, was that it was between the people of each independent state, rather than their legislatures.
They were the same independent states, but they were two completely different unions with different terms. But the states were still independent in every other respect of final authority; however now lay with each state's people.
This is a confusing concept, since it's been so bandied, but the sole issue is that each state was still independent; not dependent on a single a unified state, which therefore held final authority over them all.

What is not confusing, is the concept of a dependent state, vs. an independent one.
The federal government claimed, some time after ratification, that the individual states had never been independent; but that the Union was always the only independent state, and that and that therefore there was only one "people" of it.
And that's simply not true. The states were always independent, and the issue is simply being ignored, or denied arbitrarily.
And that's not good history.
If they abrogated their independence to unite as a single independent state, then that must be proved not assumed; and there was precedent for such union, but which did not transpire among the states.
 
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unionblue

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Only in the context of an agreement between independent states.
The Articles of Confederation enumerated similar conditions.
The chief difference of the Constitution, was that it was between the people of each independent state, rather than their legislatures.
They were the same independent states, but they were two completely different unions with different terms. But the states were still independent in every other respect of final authority; however now lay with each state's people.
This is a confusing concept, since it's been so bandied, but the sole issue is that each state was still independent; not dependent on a single a unified state, which therefore held final authority over them all.

What is not confusing, is the concept of a dependent state, vs. an independent one.
The federal government claimed, some time after ratification, that the individual states had never been independent; but that the Union was always the only independent state, and that and that therefore there was only one "people" of it.
And that's simply not true. The states were always independent, and the issue is simply being ignored, or denied arbitrarily.
And that's not good history.
If they abrogated their independence to unite as a single independent state, then that must be proved not assumed; and there was precedent for such union, but which did not transpire among the states.

@SarahTheGoodWitch ,

In my own view, you're trying way too hard to put forth a personal opinion, not stated, recognized, accepted, constitutional law or practice, or even a historical fact. The States that make up this Union, surrendered their individual sovereignty long ago and confirmed this surrender at the conclusion of the American Civil War. It's historical fact no matter how fervent your views or argument.

The fact of the matter is the States that make up the United States of America are not individual, independent states. They have not been such for a very long time.

I concede you have a very strong view of the matter, but in the end, it does not equate to reality of the United States of today.

Pleasure talking to you.

Sincerely,
Unionblue
 

NedBaldwin

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... held final authority over them all ...

The Constitution says "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". Does that answer your question about who held final authority?


If they abrogated their independence to unite as a single independent state, then that must be proved not assumed
If they were always independent, that must be proved not assumed.
 
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The Constitution says "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". Does that answer your question about who held final authority?
No, that would be where it says "We the people;" followed by the citizens ratifying it in confirmation for their own independent states.
"Supreme law" is simply an agreement between independent states, to abide by federal laws in lieu of state laws; just like every such agreement among independent states, involves promising to do something different than before, but doesn't affect their respective independence.

If they were always independent, that must be proved not assumed.
Read it for yourself: from the Declaration of Independence, July 4, 1776:
We, therefore, the representatives of the United States of America, in General Congress assembled, appealing to the Supreme Judge of the world for the rectitude of our intentions, do, in the name and by the authority of the good people of these colonies solemnly publish and declare, That these United Colonies are, and of right ought to be, FREE AND INDEPENDENT STATES; that they are absolved from all allegiance to the British crown and that all political connection between them and the state of Great Britain is, and ought to be, totally dissolved; and that, as free and independent states, they have full power to levy war, conclude peace, contract alliances, establish commerce, and do all other acts and things which independent states may of right do.

So the states were initially declared as independent. Not dependent members of common independent unified state.

So if anything needs to be proved, it's the claim that they ever stopped being independent; rather than the plain historical fact of their principal sovereignty simply changing hands from the state legislatures to their people.
 
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In my own view, you're trying way too hard to put forth a personal opinion, not stated, recognized, accepted, constitutional law or practice, or even a historical fact.
Challenge accepted.

The States that make up this Union, surrendered their individual sovereignty long ago
That would require them to explicitly declare a new independent state, and surrender their independence to it themselves. And they plainly didn't do either one.
Instead, they just formed agreements between independent states, in which they agreed to certain terms; as with any agreements between independent states.
This is why the federal government said that they were never independent states: i.e. because the states plainly never surrendered any independence, and so nobody would have believed such an allegation that they had done so.
So instead, federal officials simply re-wrote history to claim that they were never independent in the first place.

Specifically, President Lincoln alleged in his July 4, 1861 Special Message to Congress, that the United Colonies originally declared their freedom and independence “not from the Union, or from each other, but only from Great Britain.”

But we're in agreement that the states were independently sovereign at the beginning, so that's a wash.
 
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Potomac Pride

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The issue of secession was an unsettled matter before the Civil War. The Constitution does not actually address the issue of secession in the document itself. The late historian Forrest McDonald was a Professor Emeritus and one of the foremost constitutional scholars of his time. He argued that after adopting the Constitution "there were no guidelines, either in theory or in history, as to whether the compact could be dissolved and, if so, on what conditions". However, during "the founding era, many a public figure . . . declared that the states could interpose their powers between their citizens and the power of the federal government, and talk of secession was not unknown".
 

Andersonh1

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Such a contention would require supporting argument.
However I can find none; as each state began as an independent state, and it appears that none ever legally abrogated that status to become dependent member-states of a single unified state.

Jefferson Davis would agree with you. He writes extensively about this topic in "The Rise and Fall of the Confederate Government". One of the things Davis and men like him were concerned about was a Federal Government that went beyond the powers that the Constitution gave it to become the judge of the limits of their own power. Davis was one who believed those who formed the compact had the ultimate say.

The object of this work has been from historical data to show that the Southern States had rightfully the power to withdraw from a Union into which they had, as sovereign communities, voluntarily entered; that the denial of that right was a violation of the letter and spirit of the compact between the States; and that the war waged by the Federal Government against the seceding States was in disregard of the limitations of the Constitution, and destructive of the principles of the Declaration of Independence. - first words of the preface to the book​

Volume 1 is filled with the idea that the States began as thirteen independent States (and think about the very term they chose for themselves to replace "colony", they chose a term which is the equivalent of "country" or "nation") and never gave that status up.

To those who knew that the Union was formed for specific enumerated purposes, and that the States had never surrendered their sovereignty, it was a palpable absurdity to apply to them, or to their citizens when obeying their mandates, the terms " rebellion" and " treason "; - vi.

For this purpose I have decided to present an historical sketch of the events which preceded and attended the struggle of the Southern States to maintain their existence and their rights as sovereign communities the creators, not the creatures, of the General Government. - p 1

He must have been a careless reader of our political history who has not observed that, whether under the style of "United Colonies" or "United States," which was adopted after the Declaration of Independence, whether under the articles of Confederation or the compact of Union, there everywhere appears the distinct assertion of State sovereignty, and nowhere the slightest suggestion of any purpose on the part of the States to consolidate themselves into one body. Will any candid, well-informed man assert that, at any time between 1Y76 and 1790, a proposition to surrender the sovereignty of the States and merge them in a central government would have had the least possible chance of adoption ? Can any historical fact be more demonstrable than that the States did, both in the Confederation and in the Union, retain their sovereignty and independence as distinct communities, voluntarily consenting to federation, but never becoming the fractional parts of a nation ? That such opinions should find adherents in our day, may be attributable to the natural law of aggregation ; surely not to a conscientious regard for the terms of the compact for union by the States. - p 2​
 
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Jefferson Davis would agree with you. He writes extensively about this topic in "The Rise and Fall of the Confederate Government". One of the things Davis and men like him were concerned about was a Federal Government that went beyond the powers that the Constitution gave it
That's the catch: the Constitution did not "give" the federal government any power, since it was not the government of any one independent state (as it claimed); but only existed among separate independent states, which have no power over each other.

Rather the supreme power in each state: i.e. the people of each independent state, simply delegated power to the federal government; and so the people of any state could revoke that power at any time, as with any agreement between independent states.

Davis's error, therefore, was his failure to identify actual history; and thus he conceded the long-running federal narrative that the states had never been independent.

For example, Lincoln alleged in his July 4, 1861 Special Message to Congress, that the United Colonies originally declared their freedom and independence “not from the Union, or from each other, but only from Great Britain.”

This was an absurd statement of no meaning; since their sole political dependence was as colonies of the state of Great Britain; and they severed this dependence expressly via declaring themselves to be "free and independent states--" while making no mention of doing so jointly as dependent states of a single new independent state, as Lincoln claimed.

On the contrary, they expressly held that “as free and independent states, they have the full power to levy war, conclude peace, contract alliances, establish commerce, and do all the other things that free and independent states may of right do.”

That requires no interpretation.

Thus instead, the federal government simply backed this narrative with force and censorship to suppress the truth; and it has continued to do so ever since, using more subtle versions of it such as laws, licensing, funding and accreditation (as well as press-passes); and letting the lapdogs lick the hand that feeds it.

And that's why it's so vital to expose the truth against propaganda, and the puppies who lap it up.
Specifically, the states never surrendered their independence; but only transferred final authority from their legislatures, to their people, who in turn delegated subordinate power to state and federal governments in order to carry out their directives.
 
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