American Revolution — 1775-1783. The Colonies became sovereign States, bound by a compact (the Articles of Confederation) in which each State clearly retained its sovereignty. And yet, those sovereign States, bound by a common language and culture, successfully banded together to defeat a stronger enemy.
Drafting and ratification of the U.S. Constitution — 1787-1790. The States, relying on the hopes of the Framers, entered into a compact which created a national government that, inevitably, would subsume the power and authority of the States.
Nullification Crisis — 1832-1833. An attempt by South Carolina to reject an unconstitutional act of Congress was stifled by a threat of military intervention by the national government. This set the stage for…
Civil War and Texas v. White — 1861-1865 and 1869. Regardless of the motivation for secession, the Southern States acted legally in seceding. Mr. Lincoln’s romantic (if not power-hungry) quest for perpetual union led not only to the bloodiest conflict ever likely to be fought on American soil, but also undoubtedly deterred any future attempt to secede. The majority opinion in Texas v. White essentially ruled that might makes right when it converted a military victory into an (invalid) holding against the constitutionality of secession.
The assassination of William McKinley — 1901. This elevated Theodore Roosevelt to the presidency. Roosevelt’s extra-constitutional activism became the exemplar for most of the presidents who followed him — especially (though not exclusively) the Democrats.
Ratification of the 16th and 17th Amendments to the Constitution, and creation of the Federal Reserve system — 1913. The amendments enabled the national income tax and wrested control of U.S. Senate seats from State legislatures, thus ensuring the aggrandizement of the national government and the subjugation of the States. The creation of the Fed gave the national government yet another tool for exercising central control of the economy — a tool that has often been used with disastrous results for Americans.
The stock-market crash of 1929. The Fed’s policies contributed to the crash and helped turn what would have been a transitory financial crisis into the Great Depression. This one-off series of events set the stage for an unprecedented power grab by the national government — the New Deal — which was aided by several spineless Supreme Court rulings. Thus empowered, the national government has spent most of the past 80 years enlarging on the New Deal, with additional help from the Supreme Court along the way.
The assassination of John F. Kennedy — 1963. This assassination, like that of McKinley, led to the elevation of a hyper-active politician whose twin legacies were the expansion of the New Deal and the eventual demise of the ultimate guarantee of America’s security: military supremacy and the will to use it. Kennedy’s assassination also marked a cultural turning point that I have addressed elsewhere.
The Vietnam War — 1965-1973. The Korean War was a warmup for this one. The losing strategy of gradualism, and a (predictable) loss dictated by the media and academe was followed, as day follows night, by a wave of unilateral disarmament. Reagan’s rearmament and a quick (but incomplete) victory in the Gulf War merely set the stage for the next wave of unilateral disarmament, which was reversed, briefly, by the shock of 9/11. The wars that followed in Iraq and Afghanistan were fought with the same vacillation and vituperation (from media and academe) as the Vietnam War. Unilateral disarmament continues, even as Russia and China become militarily stronger and bolder in their international gestures.
The demise of economic and social liberty in the United States, which is the predictable result of the growth of the national government’s power, will matter not one whit when the U.S. is surrounded by and effectively dictated to by the great powers to its east and west.
As the world turns: from Colonies to colonies.