What This Book Is About
Now it is proposed to form a Government for men and not for Societies of men
or States. -- George Mason in the American Union's Constitutional Convention.
I am convinced that this is the safest course for your liberty, your dignity
and your happiness. ... I frankly acknowledge to you my convictions, and I will
freely lay before you the reasons on which they are founded. ... My arguments
will be open to all, and may be judged of by all. They shall at least be offered
in a spirit which will not disgrace the cause of truth. -- Alexander
Hamilton, opening The Federalist.
Now when man's future seems so vast, catastrophe threatens to cut us from
it. The dangers with which depression, dictatorship, false recovery and war are
hemming us in have become so grave and imminent that we no longer need concern
ourselves with proving how grave and near they are. We need concern ourselves
instead with the problem of escaping them and the cruel dilemma we face; Whether
to risk peace or freedom? That is the problem with which this book is concerned.
I believe there is a way through these dangers, and out of the dilemma, a way to
do what we all want, to secure both peace and freedom securely, and be done with
this nightmare. It promises not only escape, but life such as I, too, never
hoped could be lived in my time.
It is not an easy way -- who expects one? -- and to many it will seem at
first too hard to be practical. But this is because its difficulties and dangers
are greatest at the start; other ways that seem easier and safer to begin with,
grow increasingly hard and dangerous, and lead nowhere. How could we feel hemmed
in if the way through were so easy to take, or even see at first? For my part,
to find it I had to stumble on it. Once found it soon opened so widely that I
wondered how I had failed so long to see it. I shall not be surprised, then, if
you begin by being skeptical or discouraged. But I ask you to remember that the
essential question is: Which way will really lead us through?
Since 1933 when I stumbled on this way I have been exploring it all I could
and trying, in the writing of this book, to clear away the things hiding it. By
all the tests of common sense and experience I find it to be our safest, surest
way. It proves in fact to be nothing new but a forgotten way which our fathers
opened up and tried out successfully long ago when they were hemmed in as we are
The way through is Union now of the democracies that the North Atlantic
and a thousand other things already unite -- Union of these few peoples in a
great federal republic built on and for the thing they share most, their common
democratic principle of government for the sake of individual freedom.
This Union would be designed (a) to provide effective common government in
our democratic world in those fields where such common government will clearly
serve man's freedom better than separate governments, (b) to maintain
independent national governments in all other fields where such government will
best serve man's freedom, and (c) to create by its constitution a nucleus world
government capable of growing into universal world government peacefully and as
rapidly as such growth will best serve man's freedom.
By (a) I mean the Union of the North Atlantic democracies in these five
a union government and
a union defense force
a union customs-free economy
a union postal and
By (b) I mean the Union government shall guarantee against all enemies,
foreign and domestic, not only those rights of man that are common to all
democracies, but every existing national or local right that is not clearly
incompatible with effective union government in the five named fields. The Union
would guarantee the right of each democracy in it to govern independently all
its home affairs and practice democracy at home in its own tongue, according to
its own customs and in its own way, whether by republic or kingdom,
presidential, cabinet or other form of government, capitalist, socialist or
other economic system.
By (c) I mean the founder democracies shall so constitute The Union as to
encourage the nations outside it and the colonies inside it to seek to unite
with it instead of against it. Admission to The Union and to all its tremendous
advantages for the individual man and woman would from the outset be open
equally to every democracy, now or to come, that guarantees its citizens The
Union's minimum Bill of Rights.
The Great Republic would be organized with a view to its spreading
peacefully round the earth as nations grow ripe for it. Its Constitution would
aim clearly at achieving eventually by this peaceful, ripening, natural method
the goal millions have dreamed of individually, but never sought to get by
deliberately planning and patiently working together to achieve it. That goal
would be achieved by The Union when every individual of our species would be a
citizen of it, a citizen of a disarmed world enjoying world free trade, a world
money and a world communications system. Then Man's vast future would begin.
This goal will seem so remote now as to discourage all but the strong from
setting out for it, or even acknowledging that they stand for it. It is not now
so remote, it does not now need men so strong as it did when Lincoln preserved
the American Union "for the great republic, for the principle it lives by
and keeps alive, for man's vast future." It will no longer be visionary
once the Atlantic democracies unite. Their Union is not so remote, and their
Union is all that concerns us here and now.
The American Way Through
These proceedings may at first appear strange and difficult; but, like other
steps which we have already passed over, will in a little time become familiar
and agreeable. -- Thomas Paine in Common Sense.
One hundred and fifty years ago a few American democracies opened this Union
way through. The dangers of depression, dictatorship and war, and the
persuasiveness of clear thinking and courageous leadership, led them then to
abandon the heresy into which they had fallen. That heresy converted the
sovereignty of the state from a means to individual freedom into the supreme end
itself, and produced the wretched "League of Friendship" of the
Articles of Confederation. Abandoning all this the Americans turned back to
their Declaration of Independence -- of the independence of Man from the State
and of the dependence of free men on each other for their freedom -- the
That all mon are created equal, that they are endowed by their creator with
certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit
of happiness, that to secure these rights governments are instituted among men,
deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, that whenever any
form of government becomes destructive of these ends it is the right of the
people to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new government, laying its
foundations on such principles and organizing its powers in such form as to them
shall seem most likely to effect their safety and happiness.
Finding they had wrongly applied this philosophy to establish Thirteen "free
and independent States" and organize them as the League of Friendship so
that "each State retains its sovereignty, freedom and independence,"
they applied it next as "We the people of the United States" to "secure
the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity." To do this they
invented and set up a new kind of interstate government. It has worked ever
since as the other, league, type has never worked. It has proved to be an "astonishing
and unexampled success," as Lord Acton said, not only in America but
wherever democracies have tried it regardless of conditions, -- among the
Germans, French and Italians of Switzerland, the English and French of Canada,
the Dutch and English of the Union of South Africa. It is the kind of interstate
government that Lincoln, to distinguish it from the opposing type of government
of, by and for states, called "government of the people, by the people, for
the people." It is the way that I call Union.
To follow this way through now our Atlantic democracies -- and first of all
the American Union -- have only to abandon in their turn the same heresy into
which they have fallen, the heresy of absolute national sovereignty and its vain
alternatives, neutrality, balance of power, alliance or League of Nations. We
the people of the Atlantic have only to cease sacrificing needlessly our
individual freedom to the freedom of our nations, be true to our democratic
philosophy and establish that "more perfect Union" toward which all
our existing unions explicitly or implicitly aim.
Can we hope to find a safer, surer, more successful way than this? What
democrat among us does not hope that this Union will be made some day? What
practical man believes it will ever be made by mere dreaming, or that the longer
we delay starting to make it the sooner we shall have it? All it will take to
make this Union -- whether in a thousand years or now, whether long after
catastrophe or just in time to prevent it, -- is agreement by a majority to do
it. Union is one of those things which to do we need but agree to do, and which
we can not possibly ever do except by agreeing to do it. Why, then, can we not
do it now in time for us to benefit by it and save millions of lives? Are we so
much feebler than our fathers and our children that we can not do what our
fathers did and what we expect our children to do? Why can not we agree on Union
Are not liberty and Union, now and forever, one and inseparable as in
Webster's day? We can not be for liberty and against Union. We can not be both
for and against liberty and Union now. We must choose.
Democracy I would define more closely than the dictionary that defines it as
"government by the people," (though I would not attempt needless
precision and would indicate an ideal rather than an average). I would add with
Lincoln, and I would stress, that democracy is also government for the people
and of the people -- the people being composed of individuals all given equal
weight, in principle.
Democracy to me is the way to individual freedom formed by men organizing
themselves on the principle of the equality of man. That is, they organize
government of themselves, in the sense that their laws operate on them
individually as equals. They organize government by themselves, each having an
equal vote in making law. They organize government for themselves, to secure
equally the freedom, in the broadest sense of the term, of each of them.
By democracy I mean government of the totality by the majority for the sake
equally of each minority of one, particularly as regards securing him such
rights as freedom of speech, press and association. (If merely these three
rights are really secured to all individuals they have the key, I believe. to
all the other rights in all the other fields, political, juridical, economic,
etc., that form part of individual freedom.)
Union to me is a democracy composed of democracies -- an interstate
government organized on the same basic principle, by the same basic method, and
for the same basic purpose as the democracies in it, and with the powers of
government divided between the union and the states the better to advance this
common purpose, individual freedom.
Union and league I use as opposite terms. I divide all
organization of interstate relations into two types, according to whether man or
the state is the unit, and the equality of man or the equality of the state is "the
principle it lives by and keeps alive." I restrict the term union
to the former, and the term league to the latter. To make clearer this
distinction and what I mean by unit, these three points may help:
First, a league is a government of governments: It governs each
people in its territory as a unit through that unit's government. Its laws can
be broken only by a people acting through its government, and enforced only by
the league coercing that people as a unit, regardless of whether individuals in
it opposed or favored the violation. A union is a government of the
people: It governs each individual in its territory directly as a unit. Its laws
apply equally to each individual instead of to each government or people, can be
broken only by individuals, and can be enforced only by coercing individuals.
Second, a league is a government by governments: Its laws are made
by the peoples in it acting each through its government as a unit of equal
voting power regardless of the number of individuals in it. A union is a
government by the people: Its laws are made by the individuals in it acting,
each through his representatives, as a unit of equal voting power in choosing
and changing them, each state's voting power in the union government being
ordinarily in close proportion to its population. A union may allow in one house
of its legislature (as in the American Senate) equal weight to the people of
each state regardless of population. But it provides that such representatives
shall not, as in a league, represent the state as a unit and be under the
instructions of, and subject to, recall by its government, but shall represent
instead the people of the state and be answerable to them.
Third, a league is a government for governments or states: It is
made to secure the freedom of each of the states in it, taken as units equally.
A union is a government for the people: It is made for the purpose of
securing the freedom of each of the individuals in it taken as units equally. To
secure the sovereignty of the state a league sacrifices the rights of men to
justice (as in the first point) and to equal voting power (as in the second
point), whereas a union sacrifices the sovereignty of the state to secure the
rights of men: A league is made for the state, a union is made
This may suffice to explain the sense in which the terms democracy,
union and league are meant in this book.1
Fifteen Founder Democracies
In the North Atlantic or founder democracies I would include at least these
Fifteen (or Ten): The American Union, the British Commonwealth (specifically the
United Kingdom, the Federal Dominion of Canada, the Commonwealth of Australia,
New Zealand, the Union of South Africa, Ireland), the French Republic, Belgium,
the Netherlands, the Swiss Confederation, Denmark, Norway, Sweden and Finland.
These few include the world's greatest, oldest, most homogeneous and closely
linked democracies, the peoples most experienced and successful in solving the
problem at hand -- the peaceful, reasonable establishment of effective
interstate democratic world government. Language divides them into only five big
groups and, for all practical political purposes, into only two, English and
French. Their combined citizenry of nearly 300,000,000 is well balanced, half in
Europe and half overseas. None of these democracies has been at war with any
of the others since more than 100 years.
These few democracies suffice to provide the nucleus of world government
with the financial, monetary, economic and political power necessary both to
assure peace to its members peacefully from the outset by sheer overwhelming
preponderance and invulnerability, and practically to end the monetary
insecurity and economic warfare now ravaging the whole world. These few divide
among them such wealth and power that the so-called world political, economic
and monetary anarchy is at bottom nothing but their own anarchy -- since they
can end it by uniting to establish law and order among themselves.
Together these fifteen own almost half the earth, rule all its oceans,
govern nearly half mankind. They do two-thirds of the world's trade, and most of
this would be called their domestic trade once they united, for it is among
themselves. They have more than 50 per cent control of nearly every essential
material. They have more than 60 per cent of such war essentials as oil, copper,
lead, steel, iron, coal, tin, cotton, wool, wood pulp, shipping tonnage. They
have almost complete control of such keys as nickel, rubber and automobile
production. They possess practically all the world's gold and banked wealth.
Their existing armed strength is such that, once they united it, they could
reduce their armaments and yet gain a two-power standard of security.
The Union's existing and potential power from the outset would be so
gigantic, its bulk so vast, its vital centers so scattered, that all the
autocracies even put together could not dream of defeating it. Once established
the Union's superiority in power would be constantly increasing simply through
the admission to it of outside nations. A number would no doubt be admitted
immediately. By this process the absolutist powers would constantly become
weaker and more isolated.
When the really powerful members of a community refuse to organize effective
government in it, when each insists on remaining a law unto himself to the
degree the democracies, and especially the United States, have done since the
war, then anarchy is bound to result, and the first to feel the effects of the
chaos are bound to be the weaker members of the community. When the pinch comes
the last to be hired are the first to be laid off, and the firms working on the
narrowest margin are the first to be driven to the wall or to desperate
expedients. That makes the pinch worse for the more powerful and faces them with
new dangers, with threats of violence. It is human for them to blame those they
have unwittingly driven to desperation, but that does not change the source of
So it has been in the world. The younger democracies have been the first to
go. The first of the great powers driven to desperate and violent measures have
been those with the smallest margin. There is no doubt that their methods have
since made matters worse and that there is no hope in following their lead.
Their autocratic governments are adding to the world's ills but they are not the
real cause of them. They are instead an effect of the anarchy among the powerful
The dictators are right when they blame the democracies for the world's
condition, but they are wrong when they blame it on democracy. The anarchy comes
from the refusal of the democracies to renounce enough of their national
sovereignty to let effective world law and order be set up. But their refusal to
do this, their maintenance of the state for its own sake, their readiness to
sacrifice the lives and liberties of the citizens rather than the independence
of the state, -- this we know is not democracy. It is the core of absolutism.
Democracy has been waning and autocracy waxing, the rights of men lessening and
the rights of the state growing everywhere because the leading democracies have
themselves led in practicing, beyond their frontiers, autocracy instead
The rising power of autocracy increases the need for Union just as the
spread of a contagious disease increases the need for quarantine and for
organizing the healthy. But it is essential to remember that though the victims
carry the disease they did not cause it, and that quarantine of the victims and
organization of the healthy are aimed not against the victims but against the
epidemic, the purpose being to end it both by restricting its spread and by
curing its victims.
It is wrong, all wrong, to conceive of Union as aimed against the nations
under autocracy. There is a world of difference between the motives behind Union
and those behind either the present policy in each democracy of arming for
itself or the proposals for alliance among the democracies. For such armament
and such alliance are meant to maintain the one thing Union does attack in the
one place Union does attack it -- the autocratic principle of absolute national
sovereignty in the democracies. Unlike armament and alliance policies, Union
leads to no crusade against autocracy abroad, to no attempt to end war by war or
make the world safe for democracy by conquering foreign dictatorship. Union is
no religion for tearing out the mote from a brother's eye -- and the eye, too --
while guarding nothing so jealously, savagely, as the beam in one's own eye.
Union calls on each democracy to remove itself the absolutism governing its
relations with the other democracies, and to leave it to the people of each
dictatorship to decide for themselves whether they will maintain or overthrow
the absolutism governing them not only externally but internally. Union provides
equally for the protection of the democracies against attack by foreign
autocracy while it remains, and for the admission of each autocratic country
into The Union once it becomes a democracy in the only possible way -- by the
will and effort of its own people.
The attraction membership in The Union would have for outsiders would be so
powerful, and the possibility of conquering The Union would be so hopeless that,
once The Union was formed, the problem the absolutist powers now present could
be safely left to solve itself. As their citizens turned these governments into
democracies and entered The Union, the arms burden on everyone would dwindle
until it soon disappeared.
Thus, by the simple act of uniting on the basis of their own principle, the
democracies could immediately attain practical security, and could proceed
steadily to absolute security and disarmament.
They could also increase enormously their trade and prosperity, reduce
unemployment, raise their standard of living while lowering its cost. The
imagination even of the economic expert can not grasp all the saving and profit
democrats would realize by merely uniting their democracies in one free trade
They need only establish one common money to solve most if not all of
today's more insoluble monetary problems, and save their citizens the tremendous
loss inherent not only in depreciation, uncertainty, danger of currency upset
from foreign causes, but also in the ordinary day-to-day monetary exchange among
Merely by the elimination of excessive government, needless bureaucracy, and
unnecessary duplication which Union would automatically effect, the democracies
could easily balance budgets while reducing taxation and debt. To an appalling
degree taxes and government in the democracies today are devoted only to the
maintenance of their separate sovereignties as regards citizenship, defense,
trade, money and communications. To a still more appalling degree they are quite
unnecessary and thwart instead of serve the purpose for which we established
those governments and voted those taxes, namely, the maintenance of our own
freedom and sovereignty as individual men and women.
By uniting, the democracies can serve this purpose also by greatly
facilitating the distribution of goods, travel and the dissemination of
knowledge and entertainment. With one move, the simple act of Union, the
democrats can make half the earth equally the workshop and the playground of
each of them.
Creation of The Union involves difficulties, of course, but the difficulties
are transitional, not permanent ones. All other proposals in this field, even if
realizable, could solve only temporarily this or that problem in war, peace,
armaments monetary stabilization. These proposals would, be as hard to achieve
as Union, yet all together they could not do what the one act of Union would --
permanently eliminate all these problems. These are problems for which the
present dogma of national sm is to blame. We can not keep it and solve them. We
can not eliminate them until we first eliminate it.
Which Way Advances Freedom More?
This does not mean eliminating all national rights. It means eliminating
them only where elimination clearly serves the individuals concerned, and
maintaining them in all other respects, -- not simply where maintenance clearly
serves the general individual interest but also in all doubtful cases. The
object of Union being to advance the freedom and individuality of the
individual, it can include no thought of standardizing or regimenting him, nor
admit the kind of centralizing that increases governmental power over him. These
are evils of nationalism, and Union would end them. Union comes to put
individuality back on the throne that nationality has usurped.
Everywhere nationalism, in its zeal to make our nation instead of ourselves,
self-sufficing and independent, is centralizing government, giving it more and
more power over the citizen's business and life, putting more and more of that
power in one man's hands, freeing the government from its dependence on the
citizen while making him more and more dependent on it -- on the pretext of
keeping him independent of other governments. Everywhere the national state has
tended to become a super-state in its power to dispose of the citizen, his
money, job, and life. Everywhere nationalism has been impoverishing the citizen
with taxes, unemployment, depression; and it is poverty -- the desert, not the
jungle, -- that stunts variety, that standardizes. Everywhere nationalism is
casting the citizen increasingly in war's uniform robot mold.
Union would let us live more individual lives. Its test for deciding whether
in a given field government should remain national or become union is this:
Which would clearly give the individual more freedom? Clearly the individual
freedom of Americans or Frenchmen would gain nothing from making Union depend on
the British converting the United Kingdom into a republic. Nor would the British
be freer for making Union depend on the Americans and French changing to a
monarchy. There are many fields where it is clear that home rule remains
necessary for individual freedom, where the maintenance of the existing variety
among the democracies helps instead of harms the object of Union.
It is clear too that a Union so secure from foreign aggression as this one
would not need that homogeneity in population that the much weaker American
Union feels obliged to seek. Our Union could afford to encourage the existing
diversity among its members as a powerful safeguard against the domestic dangers
to individual freedom. Just as the citizen could count on The Union to protect
his nation from either invasion or dictatorship rising from within, he could
count on his nation's autonomy to protect him from a majority in The Union
becoming locally oppressive. The existence of so many national autonomies in The
Union would guarantee each of them freedom to experiment politically,
economically, socially, and would save this Union from the danger of hysteria
and stampede to which more homogeneous unions are exposed.
Clearly, individual freedom requires us to maintain national autonomy in
most things, but no less clearly it requires us to abolish that autonomy in a
few things. There is no need to argue that you and I have nothing to lose and
much to gain by becoming equal citizens in The Union while retaining our
national citizenship. Clearly you and I would be freer had we this Great
Republic's guarantee of our rights as men, its security against the armaments
burden, military servitude, war. It is self-evident that you and I would live an
easier and a richer life if through half the world we could do business with one
money and postage, if through half the world we were free to buy in the cheapest
market what we need to buy, and free to sell in the dearest market what we have
In five fields -- citizenship, defense, trade, money, and communications --
we are sacrificing now the individual freedom we could safely, easily have. On
what democratic ground can we defend this great sacrifice? We make it simply to
keep our democracies independent of each other. We can not say that we must
maintain the state's autonomy in these few fields in order to maintain it in the
many fields where it serves our freedom, for we know how to keep it in the
latter without keeping it in the former. We have proved that in the American
Union, the Swiss Union, and elsewhere.
What then can we say to justify our needless sacrifice of man to the state
in these five fields, a sacrifice made only to maintain the nation for the
nation's sake? How can we who believe the state is made for man escape the
charge that in these five fields we are following the autocratic principle that
man is made for the state? How can we plead not guilty of treason to democracy?
Are we not betraying our principles, our interests, our freedom, ourselves and
our children? We are betraying, too, our fathers. They overthrew the divine
right of kings and founded our democracies not for the divine right of nations
but for the rights of Man.
Clearly absolute national sovereignty has now brought us to the stage where
this form of government has become destructive of the ends for which we form
government, where democrats to remain democrats must use their right "to
abolish it, and to institute new government."
Clearly prudence dictates that we should lay our new government's
foundations on such principles and organize its powers in such form as have
stood the test of experience. Clearly democracy bids us now unite our unions of
free men and women in The Union of the Free.
The Alternatives to Union
Fantastic? Visionary? What are the alternatives? There are only these:
Either the democracies must try to stand separately, or they must try to stand
together on some other basis than Union; that is, they must organize themselves
as a league or an alliance.
Suppose we try to organize as a league. That means seeking salvation from
what Alexander Hamilton called "the political monster of an imperium in
imperio." We adopt a method which has just failed in the League of
Nations, which before that led the original thirteen American democracies to a
similar failure, and failed the Swiss democracies, the Dutch democracies, and
the democracies of ancient Greece. We adopt a method which has been tried time
and again in history and has never worked, whether limited to few members or
extended to many; a method which, we shall see, when we analyze it later, is
thoroughly undemocratic, untrustworthy, unsound, unable either to make or to
enforce its law in time. Is it not fantastic to expect to get the American
people, after 150 years of successful experience with union and after their
rejection of the League of Nations, to enter any league?
Suppose we try to organize instead an alliance of the democracies. But an
alliance is simply a looser, more primitive form of league, one that operates
secretly through diplomatic tunnels rather than openly through regular
assemblies. It is based on the same unit as a league, -- the state, -- and on
the same principle, -- that the maintenance of the freedom of the state is the
be-all and the end-all of political and economic policy. It is at most an
association (instead of a government) of governments, by governments, for
governments. It has all the faults of a league with most of them intensified and
with some more of its own added.
The lack of machinery for reaching and executing international agreement in
the economic, financial and monetary fields in time to be effective did much to
cause the depression that led us through Manchuria and Hitler and Ethiopia to
where we are today. What could be more fantastic than the hope that any
conceivable alliance could provide this machinery, or that without this
machinery we can long avoid depression and war?
Only one thing could be more visionary and fantastic, and that is the third
possible alternative to Union, the one that would seek salvation in rejecting
every type of interstate organization and in pursuing a policy of pure
nationalism, -- the policy of isolationism, neutrality, of each trusting to his
own armaments, military and economic. For if the democracies are not to try to
stand together by union or league or alliance, the only thing left for them is
to try to stand alone.
The experience of the United States shows that even the most powerful
nations can not get what they want by isolationism. The United States sought
through the nineteen twenties to preserve its peace and prosperity by
The United States has never armed in peace time as it has since it adopted
this policy. And the end is not near.
The balance of power theory that prepared catastrophe now as then -- there
is no more sterile, illusory, fantastic, exploded and explosive peace policy
than the balance of power. Look at it. Take it apart. What does it mean in
common words? It means seeking to get stability by seeking to equalize the
weight on both sides of the balance. One can conceive of reaching stability this
way -- but for how long and at the cost of what violent ups and downs before?
And when the scales do hang in perfect balance it takes but a breath, only the
wind that goes with a word spoken or shrieked in the Hitlerian manner, to end at
once the stability, the peace that was achieved. Stability can never be more in
danger, more at the mercy of the slightest mistake, accident or act of ill will
than at the very moment when the ideal of the balance of power is finally
We do not and can not get peace by balance of power; we can and do get it by
unbalance of power. We get it by putting so much weight surely on the
side of law that the strongest law-breaker can not possibly offset it and is
bound to be overwhelmed. We get lasting stability by having one side of the
balance safely on the ground and the other side high in the air.
Even the moment's stability which the balance of power may theoretically
attain is a delusion since each side knows it can not last. Therefore neither
can believe in it and the nearer they come to it the harder both must struggle
to prevent it by adding more weight on their side so as to enjoy the lasting
peace that unbalance of power secures, -- and the race is to the strongest.
The race is to the strongest, and the democracies to win need only scrap
this balance of power and neutrality nonsense and directly seek peace in the
unbalance of power that Union alone can quickly and securely give them.
The Test of Common Sense
Because Union is a fresh solution of the world problem it appears to be
something new. The deeper one goes into it however, the better one may see that
there is in it nothing new, strange, untried, nothing utopian, mystic. The fact
is that we democrats have already strayed away from the road of reason and
realism into the desert of make-believe and mysticism. We strayed away seeking
the mirage utopia of a world where each nation is itself a self-sufficing world,
where each gains security and peace by fearing and preparing war where law and
order no longer require government but magically result from keeping each nation
a law unto itself. where the individual's freedom is saved by abandoning at the
national frontier the principle that the state is made for man and adopting
there the dogma that man is made for the nation. It is proposed here that we
have done with these dangerous delusions, that we return to the road of reason
and seek salvation by tested methods, by doing again what we know from
experience we can do. I ask nothing better than that we stick to the common
interests of us individual men and women and to the simpler teachings of common
Common sense tells us that it is in our individual interest to make the
world safe for our individual selves, and that we can not do this while we lack
effective means of governing our world.
It tells us that the wealthier, the more advanced in machinery, the more
civilized a people is and the more liberties its citizens enjoy, the greater the
stake they have in preventing depression, dictatorship, war. The more one has,
the more one has to lose.
Common sense tells us that some of the causes of depression, dictatorship,
war, lie inside the nation and that others lie outside it. It tells us that our
existing political machinery has let us govern strongly the conditions of life
within the nation but not outside it; and that all each people has done to
overcome the dangers inside it has been blighted by its failure to reach the
dangers outside it, or remains at the mercy of these ungoverned forces.
Common sense reminds us Americans that we are part of the world and not a
world apart, that the more we keep our lead in the development of machines the
more important to us we make the rest of the world, that we can not, without
catastrophe, continue, through good times and bad, improving these machines
while refusing to develop political machinery to govern the world we are thus
creating. It tells us that the principles of this Union of the Free are the
principles that America was born to champion, that Americans can not deny them
and still remain Americans. For the loyalty of the American is not to soil or
race. The oath he takes when he enters the service of the American Union, is
altogether to the principles of Union, "to support and defend the
Constitution." That Constitution is already universal in its scope. It
allows for the admission to its Union of any state on earth. It never even
mentions territory or language. It mentions race and color only to provide that
freedom shall never on that account be denied to any man.
American opinion has always been remarkable for seeing from afar danger to
democracy and quickly adopting the common sense solution, however remote and
radical and difficult and dangerous it seemed to be. What other people ever
revolted at less oppression? Independence was so remote from American thought at
the start of 1776 that it was not even proposed seriously until Jan. 10, when
Paine came out for it. Yet his Common Sense then so swept the country
that within six months the Declaration of Independence was adopted.
To understand how difficult and remote the Union of the Thirteen States
really was when 1787 began, and how encouragingly the example they set applies
to our democracies today, common sense suggests that we turn back and see the
situation then as contemporaries saw it.
"If there is a country in the world where concord, according to common
calculation, would be least expected, it is America," wrote Paine himself. "Made
up as it is of people from different nations, accustomed to different forms and
habits of Government, speaking different languages, and more different in their
modes of worship, it would appear that the union of such a people was
Conditions among the American democracies of the League of Friendship were
such that John Fiske wrote, "By 1786, under the universal depression and
want of confidence, all trade had well-nigh stopped, and political quackery,
with its cheap and dirty remedies, had full control of the field." Trade
disputes threatened war among New York, Connecticut and New Jersey. Territorial
disputes led to bloodshed and threat of war among New York, New Hampshire and
Vermont, and between Connecticut and Pennsylvania.
War with Spain threatened to break the League of Friendship in two camps.
The League could not coerce its members. Threats of withdrawal from it were
common. Its Congress rarely had money in the treasury, could no longer borrow.
The total membership of Congress under the League of Friendship was
ninety-one, but the average attendance in the six years preceding Union was only
about twenty-five. Often Congress could not sit because no quorum came. Things
reached the point where little Delaware, though it had the same voting power in
Congress as the largest state and though it was not thirty miles from
Philadelphia, where Congress met, decided it was no longer worth the expense to
send a delegate.
The states issued worthless currency, misery was rife, and courts were
broken up by armed mobs. When these troubles culminated early in 1787 with the
attempt of Shays's rebels to capture the League arsenal in Massachusetts, so
strong was state sovereignty and so feeble the League that Massachusetts would
not allow League troops to enter its territory even to guard the League's own
arsenal. Jay had already written to Washington in 1786, "I am uneasy and
apprehensive, more so than during the war."
Everything seemed to justify the words of the contemporary liberal
philosopher, Josiah Tucker, Dean of Gloucester:
As to the future grandeur of America, and its being a rising empire under
one head, whether republican or monarchical, it is one of the idlest and most
visionary notions that ever was conceived even by writers of romance. The mutual
antipathies and clashing interests of the Americans, their differences of
governments, habitudes, and manners, indicate that they will have no center of
union and no common interest. They never can be united into one compact empire
under any species of government whatever; a disunited people till the end of
time, suspicious and distrustful of each other, they will be divided and
subdivided into little commonwealths or principalities, according to natural
boundaries, by great bays of the sea, and by vast rivers, lakes, and ridges of
The idea of turning from league to union was so remote in 1787 that it was
not even seriously proposed until the end of May when the Federal Convention
opened. And the opening of the Convention had to wait ten days in order to have
even the bare majority of the Thirteen States needed for a quorum. The
Convention itself had been called by Congress merely to reform the League -- "for
the sole and express purpose of revising the Articles of Confederation." It
was not deflected away from patching and into building anew until the eve of its
session, -- and then thanks only to George Washington's personal intervention.
Even then the Union as we know it now was more than remote: It was unknown, it
still had to be invented.
Yet, once the Convention decided to build anew, it completed this
revolutionary political invention within 100 working days. Within two years --
two years of close votes and vehement debate in which Hamilton, Madison and
others, now called "men of vision," were derided as "visionary
young men" even by Richard Henry Lee, the revolutionist who had moved the
Declaration of Independence in 1776, -- within two years the anarchy-ridden,
freedom-loving American democracies agreed to try out this invention on
themselves. Twenty months after they read its text the American people
established the Constitution that still governs them, -- but now governs four
times as many democracies and forty times as many free men and women.
Can it be hard-headed reason that holds it easier for the American
democracies to invent and agree to try out Union in the infancy of
self-government than it is for our more mature democracies to adopt it now?
It does seem practical to ask first how all the difficulties in changing
from national sovereignty to Union are. to be met. Yet the makers of the first
Union were not delayed by such considerations. They abolished each State's
rights to levy tariffs, issue money, make treaties, and keep an army, and they
gave these rights to the Union without waiting for a plan to meet the
difficulties of changing from protection to free trade, etc. They did not even
bother trying to work out plans to meet all these difficulties of transition.
Yet they lived in a time when New York was protecting its fuel interests by
a tariff on Connecticut wood, and its farmers by duties on New Jersey butter,
when Massachusetts closed while Connecticut opened its ports to British
shipping, when Boston was boycotting Rhode Island grain and Philadelphia was
refusing to accept New Jersey money, when the money of most of the States was
depreciated and that of Rhode Island and Georgia was so worthless that their
governments sought to coerce the citizens into accepting it. In those days New
York was massing troops on its Vermont frontier while the army of Pennsylvania
was committing atrocities in the Wyoming valley against settlers from
Some factors, of course, made Union easier for the American democracies than
for us; others made it harder. It can be urged that they were all contiguous
states that had been colonies of the same country. Their peoples, though much
more divided than we now assume, did have a common language, a predominantly
British background and nationality, the same pioneering traditions and problems.
It can be urged on the other hand that they lacked some tremendous advantages
our fifteen democracies now enjoy. One of them is political experience, another
is speed of communications.
They lived in the infancy of modern democracy, when it was a bold experiment
to let men vote even with a property qualification. They had to invent federal
union. We have behind us now 150 years of experience with democracy and federal
union which they lacked. It took a month then for a message to go by the fastest
means from Philadelphia to the most remote state; a delegate took still longer.
A delegate can now reach Philadelphia in one-fourth that time from the most
distant of the fifteen democracies; a message can be broadcast to them all in a
Although it does seem to me, on balance, that Union is easier now than then,
I would grant that it is hard to strike this balance. But we can not have it
both ways. Those who say that I am wrong, that conditions were so much more
favorable to Union of the American democracies then than they are for Union in
our day, are also saying implicitly that conditions then were also much more
favorable than now to all the alternative solutions -- league, alliance, or
isolationism. If a common language, a common mother country, a common continent
and all the other things the American democracies had in common, made Union
easier for them than us, they also made it easier for them to make a league
succeed. If even they could not make a league work, then how in the name of
common sense can we expect to do better with a league than they did? Even if
Union is harder now than then, we know we can succeed with it.
Common sense leads to this conclusion: If we the people of the American
Union, the British Commonwealth, the French Republic, the Lowlands, Scandinavia
and the Swiss Confederation can not unite, the world can not. If we will not do
this little for man's freedom and vast future, we can not hope that Europe will;
catastrophe must come, and there is no one to blame but ourselves. But the
burden is ours because the power is ours, too. If we will Union we can
achieve The Union, and the time we take to do it depends only on ourselves.
- All that has been said here about
leagues applies with still greater force to alliances and cooperative
associations of states, for these, too, take the state as unit.
Contents -- Book II
-- Chapter VI