I’m Coming Out: I’m a Unionist

Support Our Troops (and the Union!)When a close friend brought this to my attention, I believed it to be nothing more than a lame joke. You know, the kind that seems so absurd that it just can’t be true; it’s the joke you make when mocking Arizona, Georgia and Texas. So when I was told my state senator, Bill Ingebrigtsen (R-SD11), introduced a constitutional amendment along with David Hann (R-SD42) last April that would require a 2/3 vote by the state legislature to ratify a federal bill that affects the state, I laughed and continued on with my day. Surely no one would seriously be pushing a political philosophy that was historically used to oppress the African-American community and was all together resolved by both the Civil War (1861-1865) and the Civil Rights Movement (1955-1968).

But could I be so sure in my dismissal? After all, this is the Age of the Tea Party.

Later, taking the time to look it up, I was blown away to find out that it was true. Yes,the gentleman who represents me in St. Paul wants to give the legislature the power to nullify federal law, which in effect would grant full independence to Minnesota. This kind of talk has got me thinking.

Are we really so entrenched in our partisan ways that we are willing to dissolve the United States over one piece of legislation that will end the pariah-hood of the pre-existing condition and that will end lifetime coverage limits in its first year of enactment?[1] The (I’ll say it) noble pursuit of liberty for the individual has taken a turn so dramatic that I feel as though I must now adopt a label I once thought – until now – forever implied for every American: Unionist.

Yes, I support the Union; there, I said it. I have surrendered myself to the republican ideals of President Lincoln and find myself rejecting the nullification first proposed by President Jefferson. Though the proposed (and since then failed) constitutional amendment tried to justify itself by (redundantly) pointing out that “Minnesotans enjoy inherent, natural, God-given rights”, I cannot bring myself to accept its conclusion. Though it claims that we “are sovereign individuals, subject to Minnesota law and immune from any federal laws that exceed the federal government’s enumerated constitutional powers”, I truly do not believe Minnesota to be an independent nation. We’re just not. Minnesota is another Union star in a constellation that is democracy’s last best hope of earth.

Lending an open ear to those who seriously espouse such radical ideas gives a credence undeserving of the 21st century. Would you be willing to listen to an argument in favor of feudalism? What about an argument encouraging the deregulation of child labor laws? No, you wouldn’t because these are ideas proven wrong and long resolved in the canon of history.

Or so we hope.[2]

[1] To see more of the many benefits afforded by the health care bill, a nice list can be found here.

[2] If you are interested in reading a short history of Minnesota’s past squabbles over the 10th Amendment and States’ Rights, I recommend this little gem from Talking Points Memo.


3 thoughts on “I’m Coming Out: I’m a Unionist

  1. Mark Halverson-Wente says:

    Great and witty piece. I was not aware of the efforts of these two fine Minnesota legislators. Three things strike me off the bat that I want to address.
    First, Hann and Ingebrigtsen should be made aware that ours is NOT a Constitution of “enumerated” powers. In fact, if one wants to become originalist about it, there was great debate over whether or no the word “expressly” would be included in the 10th amendment–“The powers not expressly delegated to the United States….” Had this been the case and it was included, their states rights position would have more clout. As you know, the powers given to Congress in Art. I, sect. 8 extend far beyond those few enumerated–and notice the “necessary and proper clause,” and, oh, the supremacy clause of Article VI.
    Second, their attempt to base our inherent, natural, unalienable rights upon anything in the Minnesota Constitution (present or proposed) is quite ludicrious. As Americans and as human beings simply, as the Declaration of Independence makes points out, we possess such rights. Such rights do not come into existence by any amendment to our state constitution–besides, it would be a redundency, as you astutely point out. Now, perhaps as Minnesotans we are superior people who deserve better–but that argument is not made.

    And since the Declaration was mentioned, it is fitting we turn to Lincoln, who believed the Declaration to be our founding document. As such, it is older than the states. Lincoln makes much, contrary to the real adversary here (Calhoun, not Jefferson or Madison during their Virginia and Kentucky Resolutions days), of the fact that the Preamble to the Constitution had announced that “We the People” (not “We the States” were ordaining and establishing the Constitution).
    Thus, Lincoln spoke at Gettysburg of the fathers who brought forth a new nation, not a mere compact, in 1776 (four-score and all that). And the Civil War and its aftermath provided a decisive affirmation of the fundamental unity of Americans as one people (We are a Union, not a compact of states)–though if one were to proclaim oneself a “Unionist” today, no doubt a misunderstanding would result.–I think it an archaic term, a unionist is one who is behind workers forming unions. That we are a union does not occur to most people, because they do not understand what we are a union of…namely, states.
    Lincoln knew that, even after the Civil War, the Speaking of States, they retained considerable authority under the Constitution. In fact, the states can always insist upon an Article V Convention for purposes for proposing Constitutional amendments, thereby circumventing any Congressional reluctance to do so–and look what happened the last time a Constitutional Convention was called!
    Calhoun’s approach meant that any states that felt strongly about any issue could always exercise an effective veto against the judgment of the majority of the people of the Country (did Jefferson+Madison go that far in a situation where individual liberties were in fact being infringed upon by the national government?). However tyrannical any majority rule may be at times, is there any justification for what would be, in effect, permanent minority rule? One is reminded of minority rule and its perils when one notices that Calhoun’s demands are made ultimately in behalf of individual slaveholders who insisted on their right to continue undisturbed in their enslavement of multitudes of their fellow human beings. How ironic that Calhoun himself repudiates, by implication, the very institutions he so desperately attempts to defend when he repeatedly condemns as SLAVERY the effects upon certain states of the powers claimed by the national government…..

    One more point. It would be good for us to keep in mind why–the reasons– such practices as “child labor law,” the outlawing of unions, etc. were “proven wrong.” For example, if one were to read Chief Justice Taney’s majority opinion in Dred Scott (1857) the portion on the Declaration of Independence, one would find a remarkable similarity between his argument concerning the truth of the Declaration–its statement of fundamental equality and unalienable rights–and that held by the consensus of modern day social science and contemporary society in general…after all, surely Lincoln could not have meant that ALL humans are created equal; rather, he meant that all white upper class men were created equal–and do we as humans really have such pride and temerity to think that we have unalienable rights apart from human made law specific to culture and time?

    I do not think that “history” has a “canon”, a “dustbin,” or an “owl of minerva” that flies at dusk. History, in and of itself, is no FORCE.

    So, be a proud American; what these misguided people are ignorantly spouting off is a “fashionable” twist of the head towards sedition and treason…subtle and not so subtle threats to “turn” to the Second Amendment to “take out” so-and-so. They know not whereof they speak.


  2. benrush says:


    And of course, you would immediately spin it as racist.

    How much you gettin’ paid by your soviet buddies to rake the muck in America?


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