Merchants played an important role in the creation of the U.S. Constitution. Several provisions of the Constitution served the interests of merchants by reducing states rights and concentrating power with the central government. Because states lost the right to issue paper money and control their commerce, the transaction costs for merchants was greatly reduced.
Thus in June 1786, Rufus King, a co-author of the Constitution that had extensive mercantile and other business interests, declared "the merchants through all the states are of one mind, and in favor of a national system." The Constitution swept away the sovereignty of states with regard to coining money, emitting bills of credit, and impairing the obligation of contracts, and regulating commerce. However, states retained the right to deny basic human rights such as freedom of speech, of religion, and of assembly since the Bill of Rights limited only the national government.
The Constitution did not only protect interstate markets for merchants; it was used to create and expand international markets. From 1800 on, the U.S. military was used to serve merchants' interests. In the 1830's, when our national government was respecting states rights by allowing Missouri to execute its "Extermination Order" against Mormons, it intervened five times, below the equator and thousands of miles away, to protect our merchants interests. Specifically:
* In 1831-32 our navy was sent to the Falklands to investigate the capture of three U.S. sealing vessels and protect U.S. interests.
* In 1832 in our military punished natives in Sumatra for depredations on U.S. shipping.
* In 1833 the US sent a force ashore to Buenos Aires Argentina to protect U.S. interests during an insurrection.
* In 1835-36 US Marines protected US interests during a Peruvian insurrection.
* In 1838-39 our military again punished natives in Sumatra for depredations on U.S. shipping.
Even though this type of punitive expeditions caused many to view the US as an imperialist bully, between 1800 and 1900 the U.S. did 100 of the above type expeditions. From 1900 to 1933, when Franklin Roosevelt assumed the Presidency, we did over 50.
In 1931, Marine Major Smedley Butler summarized his career before a legionnaires convention: "I spent 33 years being a high class muscle man for Big Business, for Wall Street and the bankers. In short I was a racketeer for capitalism..." After recounting the details of the nations, dates, and specific U.S. businesses that he helped do collections for he concluded: "I helped in the rape of half a dozen Central American republics for the benefit of Wall Street."
Franklin Roosevelt largely stopped that kind of involvement and turned his attention to helping the majority of Americans. While his critics felt it was unconstitutional for government to help ordinary Americans, few had questioned the Constitutionality of government helping merchants, even when that meant occupying other nations such as Haiti for years. It is amazing that throughout most of our history it was considered an appropriate role for our national government to protect the property and lives of important Americans thousands of miles away, but it was not proper for it to protect common citizens who were racial minorities or religious minorities, or those who could not find work.
The history raises questions for the Tea Party:
1. John Quincy Adams, our sixth president, wrote in his diary that the Constitution was "calculated to increase the influence, power and wealth of those who have any already." If Adams was correct, why should the majority of voters support a return to the nineteenth century interpretation of the Constitution?
2. How can the Tea Party so deeply resent Washington interfering with our states affairs, but be so unwilling to renounce and apologize for the interference and violence Washington has done to so many other nations? Why does Washington have little right to tell states what to do, but it is fully entitled to dictate to weaker nations what type of economic policies they should adopt?
Jones lives in West Haven.