Day By Day

Thursday, March 11, 2010

This Day In History

Today is "Tool Day", a celebration of those wonderful toys you can use to make things. It doesn't have to be a power tool -- a simple hammer or screwdriver will do -- but take a moment today to contemplate the many ways in which tool use informs our existence. So central are tools to our lives that at one time anthropologists defined humans as tool-using apes. That definition has fallen out of favor since studies have shown that chimpanzees and octopi and even crows can make and use simple tools, but it illustrates an important fact -- human beings use tools constantly to do just about everything. So hie thee to the nearest hardware store and browse the aisles contemplating the wonderful things on display there. You might even want to softly sing a few bars of "If I Had A Hammer"..., no..., on second thought, don't. Whatever.

On this date in 1861 delegates to the Montgomery Convention adopted a Constitution for the Confederate States of America. The standard historical interpretation of this document, as it emerged during the civil rights era, is that it was all about slavery. Historians rightly note that the bulk of the Confederate Constitution was a word-for-word copy of the Federal Constitution (including the first twelve amendments) but point out that the Confederate version contained a number of specific provisions that served to protect the institution of slavery. Certainly slavery was very much on the minds of the delegates to the Montgomery Convention, but the text of the constitution they produced shows that they were worried about much more than that.

A comparison of the texts of the two constitutions, federal and confederate, reveals that they differed on a number of issues. In addition to slavery, which was protected under the Confederate constitution, there were provisions limiting the political rights of immigrants [aimed mostly at people from the USA who might migrate into the CSA]; limiting the government's ability to control commerce [an attempt to restrict the influence of big business]; removing the wording in the federal constitution that suggests that the government has a duty to provide for the common welfare [thus restricting the legitimate scope of government interference in the private sector]; prohibiting the government from financing internal improvements or disbursing funds that would promote specific industries; prohibiting protectionist tariffs; a ban on omnibus bills; a permanent prohibition on the international slave trade; allowing a line item veto for the President; strict limitations on government spending and many other things. The general tenor was to limit the powers of the central authority over the States, to assert the ultimate sovereignty of the States, and to drastically limit the power of the government to interfere in the private sector. There is no space here to discuss the provisions in detail, however you can view an item by item comparison of the Federal and the Confederate Constitutions here. Check them out -- there's a lot of food for thought in the comparison.

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