Evolutionary History of Federal Nation-States:
A Proposed Program of Study in Economic & Political History
Charles Edward Lincoln, IV
November 17, 2009
It is my goal to have the broadest possible education in history. My purpose is to develop an understanding of the complex economic, political, and social hierarchies which have evolved between nation-states and the “superorganic” political conglomerates which evolve from compacts or agreements which create more-or-less unitary states out of many. In other words, I want to study how Virgilian salads become vast structures of long duration in history, E Pluribus Unum (Moretum 103: color est e pluribus unus).
In particular, I want to focus on the concept of Federalism. So many events in my life have focused my attention on this issue. First, my Anglo-American father took me around various historical sites on our vacation trips when I was growing up, museums and houses all over the Southern United States, Galveston, New Orleans, Vicksburg, Natchez, Biloxi, and Montgomery in particular where the “Confederates” were revered almost like semi-mythological heroes. My father told me that all of his ancestors (and therefore all of mine on his side) had fought for something called the “Confederacy”.
Even in elementary school in Texas, we learn and study about the Texas Revolution and how Texas had been a part of “The United States of Mexico,” then revolted against Mexico, become a separate individual “nation state”, and then joined the “United States of America” and then the “Confederate States of America” and then the “Federal” United States again. States were one thing, Countries were another. The difference between one and the other, however, is a “state of mind” regarding independence or interdependence which seems to change over time.
I was born in Palm Beach, Florida but lived most of my life growing up in Austin, Texas. I also learned there had once, very briefly, been a “Republic of West Florida” centered at Baton Rouge in what’s now Louisiana, north of New Orleans, and that was another state where I spent a lot of time when I was little. It turns out that that “Republic of West Florida” had the original “Lone Star” Flag which Texas ultimately took up as its own.
While I was in New Orleans I studied French at the Alliance Francaise and got to spend some time on a French Destroyer which was docked along the Mississippi River right by the part of the City called “the French Quarter.” I also learned, of course, by travel and in high school, that France is a country where something called the “European Union” is based in the city of Strasbourg, although there are other European Community Centers in Brussels, and that is a kind of Federal Union also, one whose character and strength is the subject of a great deal of political debate in Europe these days, as the relative strength of the “Union” over the “Member States” is tested in referendum after referendum, and some say that nationalism in Europe, even the separate structures and identities of countries such as England, its Queen, and distinctive court systems, are rapidly being “assimilated” into the standardized Federal “cookie cutter.” For example, until October of this year, 2009, the House of Lords was the court of last appeal in England. In October of this year, however, an English “Supreme Court” took the judicial role of the House of Lords away, even though the hereditary peerage was expelled from the House of Lords ten-twelve years ago by Prime Minister Tony Blair, who also jazzed up national anthems such as “God Save the Queen” and “Rule Britannia” into nearly unrecognizable pop tunes.
My mom went to school, and my dad used to spend and still spends a lot of time in California, and they have a flag there that says, “Bear Flag Republic.” And I’ve heard in the news over and over again that if California were a “country” by itself, it would have one of the world’s largest economies, and that there are more people in the State of California than in the whole “country” of Canada, which is also “Federal” in the sense of being composed of ten or eleven “provinces,” most of which are even bigger than Texas, which is almost a thousand miles from east (Beaumont) to west (El Paso) along a highway called “Interstate” 10. So the words State and Federal Nation kept cropping up in my life and education as something definitive, yet somehow very controversial, something that people had fought wars about and died for.
It also makes travel more interesting to try to understand how every place relates to every other place by ties of community, as defined by brand names, languages, and styles of construction with historical significance—French Colonial and “Confederate” in New Orleans, Spanish Colonial in San Antonio, El Paso, Albuquerque, Santa Fe, and Southern California.
But my mom was actually born in Greece, and she has this interesting passport which is marked “Demokratia Hellinika” on the one hand and “European Community” on the other. So Greece and France are part of a Federal Union, although they are still independent countries. The United Kingdom, Ireland, and Denmark have ties to the European Union, but each country negotiates its affiliations with the European Union in a different way, and so far there’s no generally accepted constitution for the European Union, so it’s not a real “Federal Republic” like the United States.
But inside the European Union there’s Germany, which is officially called the BundesRepublik Deutschland, which means the Federal Republic of Germany.
So I want to study history and try really and fully to understand “what exactly does Federalism mean? How does it work? What are the economic and social advantages or disadvantages to Federalism?”
I have not studied ancient history as much as I would like, but I know that the Delphic Amphictyony is probably the oldest and most famous “Confederation” of States in the Ancient World. The City States of Greece were viciously envious of each other, but when it came to fighting the Persians from the East or the Barbarians from the North, the Greek City States allied with one another and maintained their identity and culture against conquest and assimilation. The final loss of Greek independence to foreign conquest, first by Macedonia and then Rome, was more a case of the conquerors becoming increasingly Hellenized than the Greeks becoming Macedonian or Latinized.
But I want to start my study of Federalism with learning more about how the Delphic Amphictyony worked, because I know that the Founding Fathers of the United States of America, in particular James Madison, John Jay, and Alexander Hamilton, all wrote a great deal about Ancient Greek Federalism in their Federalist Papers written, basically, as advertising to the people of a new nation to persuade them to adopt a new, “Federalist” Constitution, in which the “several states” gave up a great deal of their identity to the “Federal” government, which was set up in three branches, an executive, legislative, and judicial branch, analogous in some regards to the “Etats-General” of pre-Revolutionary France, which consisted of “Lords Spiritual” (analogous to the Judiciary), “Lords Temporal” (analogous to the Executive), and the Bourgeois City-Dwellers and Land holders (analogous to the Congress, charged with legislating for the “general welfare”).
Also in the Federalist Papers, I recall reading about the Swiss Confederation and the Holy Roman Empire as examples of long-lived “federal” structures of various types, with extreme longevity in historical terms. The Act of Union of 1707 ended any possibility of real Federalism between England and Scotland, which became one single “Nation State”, although I understand that recently a Scottish Parliament has been resuscitated. The Act of Union of 1800 was not nearly so successful, as Ireland had always felt like a poor and unequal cousin in the British Family, whose people were historically oppressed and given essentially “second class” status by the ruling Anglo-Saxons of the larger island to the east.
Other “Federal” states include the old Soviet Union and its successor the “Commonwealth of Independent States.” The Austro-Hungarian “Dual Monarchy” had some Federalist characteristics related to the immense ethnic heterogeneity subsumed under the Hapsburg Crown. And as noted above, the longest-lived of all “Confederations” was probably the Holy Roman Empire, dating either from the time of the Emperors Charlemagne in 800 A.D. or Heinrich der Voegler, King of the Eastern Frankish Kingdom “Ostfrankenreichs” in 919-936 A.D..
I have become especially interested in German history over the past several years and I am intrigued to study in greater depth the nature of the Germany principalities and “German Federalism” over the past twelve hundred years. Obviously, the Electors of the Holy Roman Empire were very different from the Electors of the Presidents of the United States, but the onomastic equivalences or parallels merit structural analysis and comparison.
How did the “Federal structure” of the First “Thousand Year” Reich compare with the “Confederation of the Rhine” formed by Napoleon after the dissolution of the Holy Roman Empire? How did the Confederation of the Rhine compare with the post-Napoleonic German Confederation of 1815-1866? Even after German unification under the Prussian/Hohenzollern dynastic of the three Wilhelms, the Kingdoms of Prussian, Bavaria, Wurttemberg, and Saxony continued to coexist with the Duchies or “Grand Duchies” of Baden, Mecklenberg, and Oldenburg, and many smaller principalities, such as Ansbach, “margravates” and “counties”, such as along with several “Free Cities” such as Danzig.
In Unity there is strength, but there is also the struggle between centralized and decentralized power. In Mexico, Centralism has always predominated over Federalism, so that except for a few short-lived experiments such as were made in Yucatan in the 1830s-40s and again (under Maxmillian) in the 1860s, all real power in the “United States of Mexico” has been concentrated in Mexico City. Yucatan sought to join Texas in separating from Mexico as an independent Republic, but lacked the foreign backing of Great Britain, France, and the United States which insured the success of the Texan experiment.
Federal Nation States are often very large, such as the United States, the former Soviet Union, and Canada, but the Delphic Amphictyony and original Swiss Confederation of the Vier Wald Stetter (Four Forest Cantons) (and even the expanded Swiss Confederation of today) cover tiny areas by comparison.
Federalism is not unknown even to pre-State level societies. The Five Nations of the Iroquois of the Northeastern United States are credited by some as having served as a model for the United States Constitution, compare, for example, http://www.iroquoisdemocracy.pdx.edu/.
The Ancient Maya of Yucatan and Guatemala MAY have existed in some sort of “Confederate” association of cities, as indicated by hieroglyphic inscriptions at Copan in Honduras and a couple of other sites where multiple cities (usually a set of four, e.g. Palenque, Tikal, Copan, and El Peru) are listed together in sequence as reflecting the four corners of a culturally, socially, economically, and at least in some sense “politically” unified world, or “ecumene” (oikumene) possibly analogous to the cultural and religious union between the Greek City States. There is a hybrid Aztec-Maya word “multepal” “joint government” or “a pile of city states” used in some colonial period documents written in the Yucatec Maya language which has led some ethnohistorians to speak of the “League of Mayapan” which would have included city-states such as Izamal and Motul. And Mayapan itself as a center of centralized government may have been an heir to Chichen Itza, where processional scenes might be interpreted as reflecting “confederations” of chiefdoms or statelets coming together like Senators or delegates in one Federal capital city. Even earlier, north of the 20th parallel north latitute, ancient roads (sacbeob) linked Maya cities into political units of potentially federal character, such as Coba and Yaxuna, Izamal-Ake-Kantunil, Motul (Uci) and Cansahcab, and Uxmal, Nohpat, and Kabah.
I want to study the economic and socially centripetal forces which impel towards political union and then the counteraction centrifugal forces cause these unions to collapse. The American “Civil War” of 1861-1865 is doubtless one of the most interesting tests of the viability of Federal systems ever, and it is still worth asking whether the price of half-a-million war dead and the obliteration of the economy of one half of the states in the “Federal” union at that time was really worth the freeing of the American slaves, which in the British Empire was achieved 30 years before the American conflict by an act of Parliament with compensation to slaveholders and no significant violence, and which took place in Brazil 30 years AFTER the war of 1861-65 by an imperial decree which ultimately led to what is arguably the most racially harmonious and integrated society in the entire world which is the Brazil of today.
In the history of the world, it is possible that the Great Empires should be compared for greater or lesser degrees of “Federalism” and retained local autonomy as indicators (or predictors) of their success. The British Empire, as it existed from the time of Disraeli through Lord Mountbatten, certainly had “Federal” features to it, unifying the “Dominions” of Australia, Canada, Great Britain, India, and South Africa under the English Monarch in London, but India, South Africa, and even smaller subunits of the empire such as The Federation of Rhodesia & Nyasaland has short-lived “Federal” Integrity. British India was a multifaceted and complex kaleidoscope of unequal and incomparable political subunits more comparable and parallel to the Holy Roman Empire than to Australia, Canada, and the Union of South Africa, all of which consisted of a relatively small number of “states” or provinces of equivalent status, essentially subordinate to central power (although South Africa had the odd innovation of separating its three Branches of government into three capital cities, with its Parliament in Capetown, Cape Province, Judiciary in Bloemfontein, Orange Free State, and Executive or Administrative Capital in Pretoria in the Transvaal.
I believe that my focus on Federalism will permit me to study world history in a way that will uniquely provide me with the tools to address such political questions in the modern time as revenue sharing in the United States, the coalescence of economic, monetary, and political unities in NAFTA (Canada, Mexico, and the U.S.) the integration of the nation states of Europe into the European Union out of the European Community, the continued evolution of the former Soviet Block in general and Russia in particular, and even the prospect of “World Government” as exemplified in the United Nations, the World Trade Organization, the International Court of Justice and the I.C. of Human Rights, and even of relatively informal but regular international inter-governmental associations such as the G-7 and G-20. http://www.g20.org/about_what_is_g20.aspx.