In 1823 John Taylor (of Caroline) wrote a book titled “New Views of the Constitution of the United States.” A strange title for a book written so close to the ratification of the US Constitution, I had originally thought, however, after reading the book the title is very appropriate. The secret journals of the Constitutional Convention were not published until 1821 and it was these journals, in my opinion, that spurred John Taylor into writing this book.
Had the journal of the convention which framed the constitution of the United States, though obscure and incomplete, been published immediately after its ratification, it would have furnished lights towards a true construction, sufficiently clear to have prevented several trespasses upon its principles, and tendencies towards its subversion. Perhaps it may not be yet too late to lay before the publick the important evidence it furnishes.
It was the opinion of John Taylor that the same men who promoted and argued for a consolidated national government during the convention were the same men who, after the ratification, were attempting to interpret and “construct” meanings from the document that were never intended. His book aimed to do one thing (albeit complicated):
I shall attempt to ascertain the nature of our form of government, and the existence of a project to alter it.
Prior to the release of the journals, Patrick Henry (who was not present at the Convention of 1787) warned against the consolidation of power and an end to the confederation in 1788 during the Virginia Ratifying Convention:
I am sure they were fully impressed with the necessity of forming a great consolidated Government, instead of a confederation. That this is a consolidated Government is demonstrably clear, and the danger of such a Government, is, to my mind, very striking. I have the highest veneration of those Gentlemen,–but, Sir, give me leave to demand, what right had they to say, We, the People.
It is this view of a consolidated National Government that John Taylor analyzes and exposes in his book. The new view is that instead of the limited, federal government the Constitution was meant to create, the constructionists “project” was to break down the barriers put in place and expand the powers of the Federal Government into a national consolidated body with power over the several states.
The Declaration of Independence states the founding principles upon which the States were created and John Taylor sees this as their “political birth place”:
We 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; 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.
The words in this passage can really only mean one thing: The colonies were to be sovereign political States, or in a more modern term, countries. John Taylor wrote that:
Such is the origin of our liberty, and the foundation of our form of government. The consolidating project ingeniously leaves unexamined the arguments suggested by this declaration, and commences its lectures at the end of the subject to be considered.
So what is it that John Taylor was trying to establish with this look at the Declaration of Independence?
If the declaration of independence is not obligatory, our intire political fabrick has lost its magna charta, and is without any solid foundation. But if it is the basis of our form of government, it is the true expositor of the principles and terms we have adopted.
John Taylor was establishing the fact that the Declaration of Independence established language that would come to be used throughout the Articles of Confederation and the Constitution and that the definitions of the words (still debated over today) can be found in the Declaration. This very language clearly puts forth a declaration by several States using representatives in a Union to establish each of themselves as free and independent countries. Taylor explores words we commonly use today in our discussions in his first few paragraphs, such as union, consolidation, Congress, federal, state, people, and many other words and phrases in order to clearly define the nature of the Constitution and the form of government it created.
It is with this beginning framework that John Taylor thoughtfully, eloquently, and so thoroughly destroys the common held beliefs that the Federal Government was meant to reign supreme over the states, govern in all manner of state affairs, that the Constitution established a national democracy, and that the Federal Judiciary is the final word on the boundaries of power. Many will argue that “original intent” is not the correct way to look at the Constitution, but I ask: If not original intent, then upon who’s intent are we to establish the truth of our form of government?