It's not actually true, but it could be: It is closer to the truth than many things that pass as absolutes today, and in any event, the part which is an exaggerate is the least significant part of it. So whether or not it was Mark Twain who first described the Civil War as the time when the words "United States" went from being a plural to the singular what is true is that the what took place on this date in 1776 was the several colonies, each declaring their own, independent statehood and joining together for the purpose of securing their independence from the Crown.
Thereafter, and certainly until the Civil War, the "union" was of sovereign states, bound together to a greater degree than, say, the United Nations or the European Union today, but not in a way that made what was housed in Washington, D.C. to be the main government which served the public's needs. Schools, roads, police protection and the like were the province of state government, and the federal government simply the way these multiple states dealt with the rest of the world.
It was the Civil War and the Fourteenth Amendment that changed all that, though it was not completely clear that it had until the New Deal changed the relationship of the federal government to that of the state and its citizens, irrevocably. One nation, indivisible.
With their fife and drums and nostalgia for a "simpler time," when foreigners were kept at bay and women and especially "Negroes" knew their place, the tea partiers and their fellow travelers whole just love a good (and sellable) story, have convinced our fellows that this debate rages on. The argument before the Supreme Court was not, as almost everyone seems to think, whether government can require the purchase of health insurance; it was whether the federal government could. State government requires you to send your child to school, but also to be immunized from various diseases before the child can go to school.
After the Supreme Court threw out the NRA during the early days of the New Deal, and President Roosevelt accused the Court of hearkening back to the horse and buggy era and threatening the Court's legitimacy, the Court famously re-thought its position and decided that the commerce clause permitted the federal government with authority over practically anything that could impact interstate commerce. By the early 1940s when interest over this issue had waned into practical insignificance (there was a world war going on at the time, too) so that it was almost a footnote when the Court held that a wheat farmer, who sold nothing out of state, and kept a fair amount of what he grew for his own personal use, was nonetheless subject to federal regulation:
The effect of the statute before us is to restrict the amount which may be produced for market and the extent, as well, to which one may forestall resort to the market by producing to meet his own needs. That appellee's own contribution to the demand for wheat may be trivial by itself is not enough to remove him from theWickard v. Filburn, 317 U.S. 111 (1942)
scope of federal regulation where, as here, his contribution, taken together with that of many others similarly situated, is far from trivial.
There is no going back. When Congress enacted the Civil Rights Act in tribute to the murdered president, it told restaurants wholly contained in a single state that it had to serve men and women of all races because, of course,
refusals of service to Negroes have imposed burdens both upon the interstate flow of food and upon the movement of products generallyKatzenbach v. McClung, 379 US 294 (1964)
So the Chief Justice, or new hero, can keep babbling nonsense, such as this little ditty:
To an economist, perhaps, there is no difference between activity and inactivity; both have measurable economic effects on commerce. But the distinction between doing something and doing nothing would not have been lost on the Framers, who were 'practical statesmen,' not metaphysical philosophers.National Federation of Independent Business v. Sebelius
but still vote with a four other justices who are a bit less politically minded, to hold that Congress can regulate health care.
E pluribus unum, y' know.
and to my friends wanting to refight the civil war, and the New Deal and thinking they have five justices who will fight it with them, may it be noted simply that dicta is dicta is because what a judge writes when it has no bearing on outcome of the case, does not bind that judge (or justice) to say the same thing when it matters(or when, perhaps, someone makes a better argument.
We have also gone 70 years since Wickard without the federal government trying to regulate "non-activity" so the teeth gnashing is certainly not worth it. None of this means much to most people in the 21st century, but the argument is not, as people think it to be, whether government should be limited, but whether the federal government should be limited. New York can require me to buy broccoli, but not Congress.
We are in this together folks, whether we like it or not.
This my first post in awhile, and my last for another while. The time has passed when there were a few minutes to wax on what this holiday means and it is hard to imagine when this might happen again.
In the meantime, don't worry about our president's re-election, and when you feel you must, just go here, where facts predominate over gut feelings, emotion or Marc Halperin.
But you have to elect a Democratic House and keep the Senate at least nominally Democratic. If you do not, President Obama will have four years to stare out of the window.
and make sure you watch Rachel Maddow, Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert and take nobody else seriously.