The Sovereignty You Gain by Atlantic Union

The American Way of Life has become the religion of the masses in five continents: as with so many other religions, the nature of its Deity remains a mystery. ... The greatest achievement of American civilization is not the opulent standard of living, nor even the economic machine that created it; It is the political system that made both of them possible. The U.S., it is often said, is a young country, immature and even adolescent. Culturally, it may be. Politically, it is the oldest and most mature democracy, in the modern world. Americans like to think of themselves as practical people with a genius for gadgets. In fact, they are idealists with a genius for politics almost unequaled in history. But why? -- David Marquand, reviewing W. R. Brock's The Character of American History in Manchester Guardian Weekly, March 17, 1960.

If there is a country in the world where the doctrine of the sovereignty of the people can be fairly appreciated, where it can be studied in its applications to the affairs of society, and where its dangers and its advantages may be judged, that country is assuredly America ... It is unencumbered by those fictions that are thrown over it in other countries, and it appears in every possible form, according to the exigencies of the occasion ... The people reign in the American political world as the Deity does in the universe. They are the cause and the aim of all things; everything comes from them, and everything is absorbed in them. -- Tocqueville, Democracy in America (1835)

When the signers of the Federal Constitution posed to their fellow citizens the simple, revolutionary idea that the way to secure and to advance their lives and liberties was to unite themselves, and divide their governments, the better to rule them, the cry that this meant "sacrificing" their sovereignty was raised even more loudly than in the Convention -- though perhaps not more than now by opponents of an Atlantic Union. Mercifully for Patrick Henry -- but unfortunately for themselves -- most Americans have forgotten how confused this great Virginian patriot was on this issue. He warned that by ratification of the Constitution not merely "the sovereignty of the States will be relinquished" but "the rights of conscience, trial by jury, liberty of the press, all your immunities and franchises, all pretensions to human rights and privileges, are rendered insecure, if not lost, by this change." He commiserated his fellow Virginians "who, by the operation of this blessed system, are to be transformed from respectable, independent citizens to abject, dependent subjects or slaves." He continued down this line, day after day, from June 4 through June 25, 1787, when the convention which the people of Virginia had elected to ratify or reject the Federal Constitution, voted down the country's most famous orator 88 to 80, and voted in the Union, 89 to 79.

How Both Virginians and Delawareans Gained Sovereignty

The majority in every state was wise enough to see that it was not the citizens who sacrificed sovereignty when they shifted certain powers of government from their state government to other men they elected to represent them in the Federal Government. Each of Virginia's sovereigns had one vote in electing the members of the state government, and each enjoyed the same equal power with all the sovereigns of all the Thirteen States in electing representatives to the Federal government.

Since there were many more Virginians than Delawareans, the people of Virginia thus gained ten times the votes they had enjoyed in the old Confederation which, we have seen, gave each sovereign state the same single vote. The change, however advantageous to Virginia, seems at first glance to the disadvantage of the sovereign citizens of Delaware -- but they saw, even sooner than the Virginians, that in reality they had lost nothing. In fact, they had gained, if anything, even more than the Virginians.

Although little Delaware alone had sent delegates to the Federal Convention who were explicitly instructed to reject any surrender of the state's equal vote in the Confederation it was the first to ratify the abolition of this principle -- and it ratified the Federal Constitution unanimously. Yet the latter also deprived the state governments of their right to be the sole representative of their people in the Confederation. They could no longer name their delegates to its Congress, instruct them on how to cast the state's vote, and recall them at will. In their federal union -- as in all federations -- the state governments as bodies politic had no voice whatever in the affairs of the Union; it was independent of them, and they were no less independent of it. The citizens of Delaware saw, however, that the new Union guaranteed them as complete an independence in their purely state affairs as did the Confederation -- but did this much more effectively. To them Virginia seemed big enough to maintain its independence amid the Confederation's anarchy, but Delaware was much too small to survive in such conditions.

The Delawareans saw, too, that the Federal Union also gave them equality of representation with Virginia in the Senate where each had two votes, but on a different basis -- one which strengthened them. For one thing, Federal Union gave the Senate the sole voice in ratifying treaties and important executive appointments. Moreover, whereas it gave the House a veto over all other legislation passed by the Senate, it gave the Senate a veto over all bills passed by the House.1 Since there were more small than large states in the Union, the people of the smaller states could be sure that they would always command a majority in the Senate, and could thus veto any move the large states might make through the House to upset this balance between the states.

Citizen Sovereignty in a Federal Senate and House

It should be noted that the Senators were then to be elected by their state legislatures -- not directly by the people as the Members of the House have always been. But since even then the two Senators were elected separately, at intervals of two years, for a term of six years (not subject to recall), and were paid by the Federal Treasury, not by their state government, the latter, as a body politic, lost all control over them in practice.2 Moreover, the Federal Constitution authorized each Senator to cast his vote independently of the other. Since the two may be from opposing political parties, and necessarily always differ on many measures, their two votes often cancel each other out.

None of this works, however, to keep the Senate, whenever the essential federal balance is involved, from being an effective upholder of it and a strong brake against overcentralization. It does work instead to give more citizens of each state a vote they could not otherwise have, on all the multitude of inter-state measures on which they differ. For example, if the citizens of a state are divided about equally between two parties, those in each party can, by federal union, have their own Senator. Again, if many citizens in a state favor a given treaty whose ratification many others in it oppose, both the pro and con may have a spokesman and an equal vote in a Federal Senate. In NATO, or in a confederation, only the party in power in each nation can speak or vote.

These gains for the citizens are, of course, even greater in the Federal House. The citizens elect their Representatives in it from the district in which they live. The populations of these districts are differently composed, and may have quite opposing interests -- as, for example, city districts and rural ones do. It results that small groups of sovereign citizens in Virginia, who had no spokesman and no vote in the Confederation, gained representation on interstate affairs through Federal Union. In like manner, the huge groups and interests in the United States, Britain, France, and all the other NATO nations who have none now in it, would gain representation on Atlantic affairs through an Atlantic Union. What the citizens of the larger states thus gain from federalism is obvious -- but it is also an asset to those of the smaller states.

Certainly, the people of Delaware understood this, even though their smaller number allowed its citizens only one representative in the House. In the convention the Delaware delegates had pleaded that "it would not be safe for Delaware to allow Virginia" so many votes. They found, however, that even this was in the end an improvement over the Confederation. For the fact that the representatives from the larger states were elected in different districts guaranteed that the ten votes from Virginia would rarely if ever all be cast against the interests of Delaware -- as was inevitable in any conflict of interest in the Confederation, where the state government put all of Virginia's weight behind its one vote. By the federal system, it became possible that, whenever the interests of the people of Delaware happened to be the same as that of the people in various districts in Virginia the votes of those Representatives would be cast on the same side as Delaware's lone vote. There was the possibility too that the party that commanded a majority in Delaware might also elect a majority of the Representatives from Virginia, Pennsylvania and other large states.

This may suffice to show why Federal Union's transfer of voting power on interstate affairs from the state government back to the citizens proved so attractive to the people, and most of all in the small states. It is significant that New Jersey, whose delegation led the opposition in the Federal Convention to any "surrender of state sovereignty," was the third state to ratify the Federal Constitution -- and New Jersey, like Delaware, ratified it unanimously. All the major battles against ratification and all the close votes for it came in the larger states: Pennsylvania, 46 to 23; Massachusetts, 187 to 168; Virginia, 89 to 79; and New York, 30 to 27.

Those Who Lose and Those Who Win by Union

The truth was, and is -- and it can hardly be stressed too often -- that whether or not the change from alliance or confederation to federal union results in loss of sovereignty depends entirely on whether one considers as supreme the "sovereignty" of the state or that of the citizen. If one shares the Communist idea that the state is supreme, then one is right in concluding that federal union involves a sacrifice of sovereignty by the states included in it. But if one shares the American concept that the citizen is the true sovereign, then federal union involves no sacrifice whatever of his sovereignty, and brings only gain.

Before the Federal Convention met, George Washington wrote a letter to Henry Knox on February 3, 1787; in explaining his grave doubts that it could possibly succeed, he put his finger on the only persons who actually lose power in such a change:

I believe that the political machine will yet be much tumbled and tossed, and possibly be wrecked altogether, before such a system as you have defined will be adopted. The darling Sovereignties of the States individually, the Governors elected and elect, the Legislators, with a long train of et cetera whose political consequence will be lessened, if not annihilated, would give their weight of opposition to such a revolution.

Though some of the state executives and legislators helped instead to bring about the change, others did seek, as Washington foresaw, to prevent the change to Federal Union by representing their loss of power as a sacrifice by the people of their own sovereignty. But the people were not fooled -- not the majority of them. They grasped the basic truth which James Wilson of Pennsylvania had hammered home in the Federal Convention. Speaking on June 16, "he could not persuade himself," Madison noted, "that the State Governments and Sovereignties were so much the idol of the people, nor a National government so obnoxious to them, as some supposed.... Will each Citizen enjoy under it less liberty or protection? Will a Citizen of Delaware be degraded by becoming a Citizen of the United States?" (His emphasis.)

Again, on June 20 Wilson argued: "A private Citizen of a State is indifferent whether power be exercised by the general or State Legislatures -- provided it be exercised most for his happiness." And Hamilton chimed in on June 29: "The state of Delaware, having 40,000 souls, will lose power, if she has 1/10 only of the votes allowed to Pennsylvania, having 400,000 [people]; but will the people of Delaware be less free, if each citizen has an equal vote with each citizen of Pennsylvania?" (His emphasis.)

The sovereign citizens proved Wilson and Hamilton right by ratifying the Constitution -- and so did Federal Union by its results. Under it no citizen lost his citizenship in his own state, but each gained citizenship in the United States. Each remained sovereign in his state, but won a sovereignty he had never had, for he became an American sovereign, too. This gave him far greater dignity and power than even the citizens of the largest states enjoyed before. Nor was this all. The citizens also gained in sovereignty by each of the transfers of power they made from their state governments to their Union.

Five Powers Citizens Gain by Federal Union

Consider how much the people have gained in all the fifty states by having a common United States force to defend their individual liberties and their state rights. What if each state had to uphold the liberty and state rights of its citizens all by itself, be prepared to fight not only Old World dictators but neighboring states? Before the Thirteen federated, troops of New York and of Massachusetts were moving to their frontier, threatening war over Vermont. What taxes, military service and war we would suffer now if each of our fifty states had to defend its rights alone!

Consider the gain to all the citizens of all the fifty states from having a common foreign policy. Let any American ask himself: What if my state could have a tough policy toward Soviet Russia, while neighboring states could appease Moscow? Before the Thirteen federated, when Massachusetts closed its ports to British ships, Connecticut welcomed them, made the most of this chance to get business -- much as the British recognized Red China when the United States refused to ... while the master of the Kremlin chuckled scornfully, and attacked the divided democracies, first in Korea, then in Indo-China, and has since advanced through their division, in Suez as in science.

Consider the gain to all the citizens of the Thirteen States when federation freed them from the vexation and cost of doing business with thirteen currencies. Think of the enormous advantages we Americans now have from having one currency throughout the fifty states....

Consider how much American citizens everywhere gained when federation removed the tariffs between their states, and allowed every American to sell whatever he had to sell in the highest market in the United States and buy whatever he needed in its cheapest market -- without any state government interfering with his trade. How our American standard of living would be cut down if our states regained the "sovereign right" to vex the citizens with trade barriers as do the states of Africa, Latin America and Europe's Seven and six....

Consider, finally, how much even the Texans admit they gain by being citizens of the United States as well as of their own state, with no passports or visas to impede their travel, business, study or change of residence anywhere in the Union ...

By every one of the United States transfers of power from the state to the Federal Government, the citizens in every state gained immensely, became much stronger, freer sovereigns.

In achieving for each of us all these -- and other -- gains in sovereign equality, dignity, freedom, power, the citizens of the Thirteen States sacrificed not only none of theirs, but no iota of the revolutionary American concept of national sovereignty. It is only our generation that has been sacrificing this concept. Like Cinderella confined to the kitchen by her ugly sisters who monopolize all relations with the neighbors, our revolutionary concept of sovereignty is now confined to purely domestic duties while we let the theory of sovereignty which Communism stands for -- in the Congo and in Cuba as in the Soviet kitchen -- govern our relations even with our closest friends.

Such has been and is our confusion that some organizations of American veterans have led in demanding that the United States "surrender none" of ... this brand of national sovereignty on which Communism feeds. Their confusion is understandable, since most living veterans were drafted to fight for that concept in the two World Wars it has caused, whereas the veterans of the American Revolution fought to overthrow it.

One might expect that the descendants of these first veterans, who with filial piety and pride call themselves Daughters of the American Revolution, or Sons of it, would be the first to set our living veterans right on this vital point. Instead, these organizations have themselves been even more insistent champions of the same counter-revolutionary concept. They long opposed even calling an Atlantic Convention patterned on the Philadelphia one, to explore how far the federal principles of their Fathers might be applied now to unite the Atlantic peoples in upholding the revolutionary American concept which all these nations now share.

The Continuing Needless Sacrifice Of U.S. Sovereigns

Our generation has been sacrificing American sovereignty not merely in principle but concretely in practice -- increasingly, tragically. If you agree that the American people are equally the sovereigns of the United States, then every limitation on the citizen's life and liberty that he suffers to maintain merely certain powers he has delegated to the nation-state, is a needless sacrifice of his sovereignty.

Consider how much freer each of our lives would be if we did not have to pay the heavy taxes we pay now. P. F. Brundage, who retired in 1958 as Director of the Budget Bureau of the United States, testified before the House Foreign Affairs Committee on May 17, 1960 that at least $10 billion dollars could be saved each year by effective Atlantic Union as regards defense alone. There you have an example of needless sacrifice of each citizen's sovereign right to spend his hard-earned income as he pleases -- a sacrifice made to maintain not his own sovereignty but merely that of his national government. In his testimony, Mr. Brundage said:

In my work on the Federal Budget for four years, I was deeply concerned by the amount of duplication within the NATO group and the lack of uniformity in our Atlantic policies, in our equipment, in our training procedures and in our defense plans. I became convinced that a closer cooperation or coordination, even to the extent of a limited union of our NATO countries, would greatly reduce our over-all expenditures and greatly increase the effectiveness of our defense measures.

My own experience has indicated how difficult it is to put a dollar mark on any expected savings. I have estimated that the over-all saving, if we were to accomplish a real effective coordination to the extent of unified forces, common bases, common weapons and a common master plan, could amount to more than $10 billion a year. I still believe that this is a very moderate estimate of the potential savings.

This $10 billion economy was Mr. Brundage's estimate of the saving for American taxpayers alone. This would be about one-fourth of the present American expenditure on defense. A similar saving by the other NATO nations would make the economy for all fifteen of them total $12.8 billion a year. British and French taxpayers would also save the huge expenditures their governments are now making to catch up with the United States in atomic weapons. The French at this writing are planning to spend $2.4 billion more on their five-year atomic program -- or about one-fifth of the total of their previous general budget. Apart from the waste of money which results from the example of atomic nationalism which we Americans were the first to set, there is the even worse waste of scientific and technical knowhow which goes with it.

It should be noted, too, that Mr. Brundage's estimate was based on NATO merely achieving "effective coordination to the extent of unified forces, common bases, common weapons and a common master plan." Full federal union would permit even greater strength at still greater saving for the Atlantic community.

Every citizen who is drafted into the armed services is sacrificing another big portion of his share of our "national sovereignty." As with taxes, some such sacrifice is necessary -- so necessary that it is rather an investment than a sacrifice, as Union Now pointed out in Chapter VII. The only portion that is truly a sacrifice is the needless part. The power that lies in union is proverbially great and, being inherent in the principle, involves relatively no burden. The defensive power we fail to get thus by Atlantic Union, we now try to get from our citizens, not only in taxes but by drafting men. All the power thus gained which could be gained by Union at less cost in money and men represents a needless sacrifice of the citizen's share of the nation's sovereignty.

Every citizen who is slain in war that could have been prevented by Atlantic Union is sacrificing, of course, all the rest of his sovereignty as a citizen.

Consider how much these sacrifices of the citizen's sovereignty on the altar of the state have been mounting:

In 1938 the bill for United States defense amounted to only $16 a citizen. Now it is $253 for every man, woman and child -- sixteen times as much as it was before the worst war in history. In 1938 no American citizen was subject to draft. Now millions are drafted and subject to draft. In World War I, the United States called into the services 4,609,190 men, of whom 53,403 were killed in battle. In World War II, 15,513,657 United States citizens were called into the armed services, and 293,105 sacrificed in battle their entire share of the nation's sovereignty. All this adds up to an appalling sacrifice of sovereignty by American citizens.

How much more will be sacrificed in military service before World War III, with so many drafted now?

How many, many more Americans will sacrifice all their share of the national sovereignty in the third World War toward which we are moving, despite all this taxing and drafting -- a war in which millions can be killed by a single H-bomb?

We Atlantic Federal Unionists are anxious to prevent more of this fearful, flesh-and-blood sacrifice of sovereignty which the citizens of our nation have already suffered. We want to save the real sovereigns of this republic, and of every democratic nation, from unnecessary sacrifice and make them stronger sovereigns. We believe this can be done only by extending America's federal principles around the North Atlantic.

Atlantic Union Guarantees Your Language, Culture And National Government

Whether you are an American or a Belgian, a Briton or a Dane, a Canadian or a Dutchman, a Frenchman or a German -- whatever the people of which you are now an equal sovereign, you would lose no sovereignty by federating your nation with others in an Atlantic Union; you would gain instead. You would gain even more than the people of the Thirteen States did by Union because this Union -- like the dangers now facing us -- would be a hundred times greater than their.

The creation of this greater Federation would involve no change whatever in the languages, customs, institutions that diversify Atlantica. The laws of the Union would operate in Danish in Denmark, in Dutch in The Netherlands, in French in France and Belgium, in English in Britain, Canada and the United States, just as the national laws do now. No one whether Icelander, German or other, would be under any more compulsion to learn any new language than he is now. True, debates of the Union Congress or Parliament would no doubt be conducted, for convenience sake, officially in only two of the major languages -- probably English for the Germanic ones and French for the Latin ones. But representatives who spoke neither of these would remain free to address the Congress in their native tongue and have their words translated, as in the United Nations. The Union would, of course, give much greater incentive to people in every one of its nations, large and small, to enrich their individual culture by learning to speak other languages.

Each nation would continue to educate its children as it saw fit, and regulate relations between church and state, and worship in the ways its own people wished.

The Union's creation would bring no change whatever in the existing municipal, county, state or other local governments within the member nations, nor any change in the structure of their national governments. Except for the few powers that would be transferred from each of them to the Union government, they would continue to operate under their existing constitutions as they do now. The American people would still elect their President and he would still be their President only. The British would still have their Queen, but she would reign only where she reigns now. The same, of course, would be true of the Presidents of France and of Germany, the King of the Belgians and the Queen of the Netherlands, and so on. The British would still govern their national affairs through their Parliamentary system, the Americans by their Presidential system of divided powers, the French through their intermediate system. The national governments of Britain, France, Italy, would remain unitary, while those of the United States, Canada and Germany would continue to be federations within the Atlantic Union.

You would, in short, continue to belong to your nation and it to you, just as now. You would retain all your sovereign right to govern your national affairs as you please, free from interference by the governments or people of any other nation, inside or outside the Union. But now you are able at the showdown to count only on the combined strength of your fellow Dutchmen (or your fellow Norwegians, or Frenchmen, or Americans) to uphold all this independence. By forming part of an Atlantic Union you can count on the united power of its 471,000,000 citizens to guarantee this. And they would guarantee it not merely against the British, French, Germans, or other nations in the Union whom your nation has had to fight for independence in the past, but -- far more important -- against any attack, or threat, or pressure, from the Communist empires.

Sovereignty -- Where Nations Deprive You of it Now

While thus strengthening immensely your sovereign right to govern directly and independently all the purely national affairs of your nation, you would gain similar citizen sovereignty in a much greater country in which you already live, but in which the tyranny of unlimited national sovereignty now gives you no citizenship and no sovereign rights whatever -- the Atlantic Community. All the 471,000,000 persons who form this community share in common certain affairs -- notably the defense and advance of their common concept of citizen sovereignty. To defend and advance it, what should be the common policy toward the Communist dictatorship?

What should be our "foreign policy" toward all the nations of Latin America, Africa and Asia who are seeking to govern themselves in freedom -- and therefore offer so vast and promising a field for the growth of our revolutionary democratic concept of citizen sovereignty? What policy will best serve this, as regards both foes and friends, in military, economic, monetary, scientific and other fields of common Atlantic concern? And what policies and institutions for governing the intense relations of the Atlantic peoples with each other -- the inter-state trade, travel, communications of these 450,000,000 free Atlanticans with one another -- will best serve their lives, liberties and pursuit of happiness as individual men and women?

These fields are not national but Atlantic-wide. On them depend peace or war, the freedom or the slavery of each of us Atlanticans, the life and death of millions of us -- and of our concept of citizen sovereignty. Here is the area of government that most vitally concerns each of us Atlanticans -- yet it is precisely here that none of us sovereign citizens now enjoys any of the sovereign rights our forefathers won for us within our own nation. We each would gain all this sovereignty on an Atlantic scale by Federal Union. Only by being its Founding Fathers ourselves can we and our children enjoy the equal and direct voice in Atlantic affairs that we have in our national and local affairs -- plus (if we follow the American example) the extension throughout Atlantica of our sovereign right to work, play, trade, travel, study and live where and when we please. Only by Atlantic Union can we each gain this sovereignty to the degree we now possess it within our national fraction of the Land -- or perhaps we should say, the Ocean -- of the Free.

Wherever You Live in Atlantica -- You Gain by Union

Our gains in citizen sovereignty would vary, of course, with our nations. For example, in an Atlantic Union of 471,000,000 citizens, the 144,000 Icelanders would gain 3,000 times more strength, in manpower alone, to defend their freedom, both as individuals and as a nation than they now have. The 4,448,000 Danes would gain 100 times more strength by this one measure, the 44,500,000 Frenchmen ten times and the 180,000,000 Americans only 2.5 times. But all of us would gain.

The reverse ratio would be true by another measure: By shifting from the Atlantic Alliance's one vote for Iceland, Denmark, France and the United States to federation's one equal vote on Atlantic affairs for every Icelander, Dane, Frenchman and American, 3,000 Americans would gain a vote for every Icelander who did. In other words, each Icelander would no longer have the weight of 3,000 Americans. But, again, every one would gain a direct voting on Atlantic affairs, a power he does not have today -- without the Americans gaining any voice in purely Icelandic affairs, or vice versa. And since one vote could make a majority, in the Atlantic Union as in Iceland, each Icelander would gain as much from this standpoint as each American.3

One can measure the relative gains in other ways; the results vary even more than in the two opposite examples just given. For example, the gain the Union would bring each of our peoples, and each of us, by enlarging our domestic market could be measured in terms of wealth or productive power or knowhow as well as of population. On the population basis, Atlantic Union would increase the domestic market of the French from 44.5 millions to 471 millions, or more than ten times; it would increase that of the United States from 180 to 471 millions, or 2.6 times. But if the French gained four times more in domestic market by Atlantic Union than the Americans did on a population basis, the latter would gain more on another basis. Their greater financial power and experience in doing business in a vast market would give them a compensating advantage. Whatever the degree of gain in any respect, and whatever the varying totals might be if all the factors that enter into life, liberty, happiness and citizen sovereignty could possibly be measured, the important fact remains that each of us would gain in some degree in some way. And the total gain for us all would be incalculable.


  1. The veto of each House over the other results from the fact that our Constitution requires the concurrence of a majority of both Houses for any bill to become law. This veto, significantly, is the only absolute veto in the federal union system; not only does no citizen or state have a veto, but the "veto" which the Constitution gives the President is limited, since a two-thirds majority in both Houses can over-ride it.
  2. The state government's complete loss of control over the state's Senators has been made clear to all since 1913 when the 17th Amendment to the Constitution deprived the Legislatures of their right to elect them and gave this directly to the citizens.
  3. See Union Now, Chapter VII for more on this matter.

Contents -- Chapter 8 -- Chapter 10