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The Compact Theory of the Union—A Revolution Within a Form

  • Ivan JankovicEmail author
Chapter

Abstract

This chapter traces the evolution of the localist tradition in the early years of the American republic by a way of partially converging with the centralist thought and partially by subverting it and transforming it from within. The medium within which these two processes coalesced was a reinterpretation of the Constitution, a document conceived as an instrument of state-building that was so unpopular that it had to be sold by its proponents as a decentralist document. The result was a new compact theory of the American Union that claimed the union was a contract among the preexisting and sovereign states, with the federal government figuring as a limited government of designated powers. This picture sharply militated against the original idea animating its Framers in Philadelphia: consolidating the kaleidoscope of irrational local communities into a single national state. The resistance to the project forced them to explain away many inconvenient features and provisions of the Constitution; in turn, decentralists took these reservations and make a new orthodoxy out of it. Jefferson and Madison in 1798 with the doctrine of interposition/nullification and their followers in the coming decades just repackaged and philosophically refined the basic idea that independent states created the union and retained the most important powers for themselves.

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Copyright information

© The Author(s) 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.University of MaryBismarckUSA

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