In working up a chapter for my American Government book, I’m stressing that contra popular American belief, the United States as a country was not founded in 1776, that under the Articles of Confederation, the United States was a “they” not an “it,” a confederation of sovereign and independent states (as the Articles themselves say). And in reading James Madison’s “Vices of the Political System of the United States”–his critique of the Articles of Confederation–I came across the following quote, which not only makes my argument from a respected contemporary author, but does so in a way that riffs perfectly off my use of Weber’s focus on force as a defining feature of government (as I discussed here previously).
A sanction is essential to the idea of law, as coercion is to that of Government. The federal system being destitute of both, wants the great vital principles of a Political Constitution. Under the form of such a Constitution [i.e., the Articles], it is in fact nothing more than a treaty of amity of commerce and alliance, between so many independent and Sovereign States.
[Note: I thought I’d throw in an egregiously academical post title this time. All it’s lacking is a colon and a another phrase. Perhaps I should have written, “Force, Government, and Early Post-Colonial America: James Madison, Max Weber, and the Articles of Confederation.” That’s pretty much what you’ll see if you peruse the titles in any political science journal. Now aren’t you glad you studied something else?]