The Union

When we are laying the foundation of a building, which is to last for ages, and in which millions are interested, it ought to be well laid. -- James Wilson in the American Union's Constitutional Convention.

American genius does not show itself in its Fords and Wall Streets; it appears in its vital force only in its political constitution which balances so well decentralization and unity. -- Count Sforza.

To balance a large State or society ... on general laws is a work of so great difficulty that no human genius, however comprehensive, is able by the mere dint of reason and reflection to effect it. The judgments of many must unite in the work; experience must guide their labor; time must bring it to perfection, and the feeling of inconveniences must correct the mistakes which they inevitably fall into, in their first trials and experiments. -- Hume.

To what degree should the democracies in organizing inter-state government apply the union principle of government of the people, by the people, for the people?

Government of the people: Here the principle must be fully applied: The inter-state government where it governs at all must govern people, never states. It must have the power to maintain itself by taxing all the people of The Union. Its revenue must not depend in any way on the governments of member states. It must have the power to raise and rule directly the armed forces of The Union and be entirely independent of the state governments in this field, too. Whatever laws it makes must never bear on the member states as states but only on all the inhabitants of The Union as individuals. It must have its own independent machinery for enforcing these Union laws throughout The Union. Insofar population divided as individuals not as states.

"Insofar as it governs" -- that brings another question. The union principle, we have seen, requires the fields of government to be divided between The Union and member states. Just which shall be the fields where The Union shall govern the people and which those where the nation shall govern them is, of course, a great and abiding federal problem. The answer depends on which government, Union or National, will best promote in any given field at any given time the object for which both were made, namely, the freedom in every sense of the individual. We shall therefore consider this question later when we reach the third point, government for the people.

Government by the people: Here again no exception to the union principle must be allowed in favor of the National government, but some exceptions may well be allowed in favor of the nations as peoples. That is, all the organs of The Union government, legislative, executive, judicial, and the machinery for amending The Union constitution, must be based directly on the people. Their National government must have nothing to do with these organs. But the Union government does not need to be based entirely on the population with the individual taken as equal unit; it can be based partly on the population divided by nations. It must however be based predominantly on the former, as, for example, in the American Union. How the balance between the two should be struck is one of several questions in constitutional mechanism raised by the principle of government by the people; these will be discussed when we reach the problem of method.

Government for the people: This must be fully applied. The constitution should make explicitly clear that The Union is made for the sake of the people themselves, for the individual freedom of each person equally. Practically, this means the constitution should provide (a) a list of individual rights that the people retain and that the government is made to preserve, and (b) a list of the rights which the people give to The Union to enjoy exclusively or to share with the National governments, -- the division of powers, in short, between The Union and National governments.

The Bill of Rights which The Union would guarantee all inhabitants would contain those rights of the individual which all the founder democracies now separately guarantee. The people of member democracies that guarantee rights not included in the Union Bill would continue to enjoy them. Union would prevent no nation in it from giving new rights to its citizens. Instead new rights would be expected to grow and spread among the member nations just as woman suffrage spread from one state to another in the American Union till it became general.

The Great Federal Problem

What shall be the division of rights or powers or fields of government between The Union and the National governments?

If to each field of government we apply the test, Which will serve our individual freedom best, to give The Union or leave the Nation the right to govern in this field? we find five main rights that we need to give to The Union. They are:

  1. The right to grant citizenship.
  2. The right to make peace and war, to negotiate treaties and otherwise deal with the outside world, to raise and maintain a defense force.
  3. The right to regulate inter-state and foreign trade.
  4. The right to coin and issue money, and fix other measures.
  5. The right to govern communications: To operate the postal service, and regulate, control or operate other inter-state communication services.

Manifestly, The Union must provide citizenship in The Union. Obviously this brings each of us an enormous gain in individual freedom. Since we remain citizens of our nations in becoming citizens of The Union we lose nothing and only gain. Union citizenship must involve inter-state citizenship in the sense that a citizen in moving from one state to another retains all his Union rights and can change his state citizenship easily. The case for giving the other four rights to The Union is no less clear. We are seeing every day in all these fields that the rights we have granted our National governments to maintain separate armed forces, separate customs areas, separate currencies and separate communication systems have become not simply unnecessary to individual freedom but increasingly dangerous interferences with it.

It is easy to imagine any of the free peoples going to war again to maintain their rights as men. But can one imagine the American, British, French, or any other free people flocking to the colors merely to defend their present practice of taxing without representation each other's citizens who happen to live with them? Can one imagine any of their governments being able to raise an army to fight simply for its right to impose tariffs against the other free peoples?

No free people lacks a proud record of heroes who gave their lives at the stake so that men might have religious freedom. Is there among them any record of heroes who burned alive so that men might have military discipline and wear military uniforms? Do we call liberators or militarists those who fight for the sake of an army or navy, to whom armed force is a glorious end in itself, not a means to freedom, dreadful even when necessary? The free whatever language they speak hold dear the memory of martyrs who died for freedom of speech and of the press. If there be men among them who would sacrifice their lives merely to establish and maintain different kinds of bits of paper representing money or postage, who would hold them dear?

Common sense, however, advises strongly against giving The Union even minor rights that the older and most successful existing unions do not have. The essential thing now is to get The Union established, not to draw a perfect line between the things that belong to The Union and those that belong to the nation. Our immediate aim must be to remove the most immediate dangers to our freedom, and the easiest way to do this is to make no change that is not urgently or clearly needed. Once The Union is established time will remain for other changes.

Our object in uniting, we need to remember, is not to see how much we can centralize government but rather how much we can decentralize it or cut it out entirely as unnecessary. Though over-decentralization in five fields drives us now to Union, it by no means follows that centralization is the friend of freedom. The fact is, paradoxically, that what little centralizing we would do in uniting would really be done in order, on balance, to have more decentralization; we transfer five rights to The Union in order to curb the centralizing tendency in each of our nations which its possession of these rights now causes. We create some new government in order to get rid of much more existing government, to gain on balance more freedom from governmental interference in our lives.

We create The Union to free ourselves from some fourteen governmental barriers to our selling dear and buying cheap, to reduce the expense of booming bureaucracy and monstrous armaments, to cut our way out of government gone jungle. The acme of decentralization is, after all, complete individual freedom. It is to come nearer to the democratic ideal where each man governs himself so perfectly that no other government is needed that we make our Union.

The five rights we would transfer to The Union are merely means of defending those individual, local and national rights that democrats hold dear, -- means, that is, of defending what decentralization we have attained. Far from weakening these dearer rights, we protect and strengthen them by this transfer. Failure to make this transfer forces each democracy to centralize, to reduce individual and local rights so as to keep these five national rights, to sacrifice the end to the means.

The Union will give de jure status to all the existing decentralization that democrats value -- to national home-rule for national affairs by whatever system of government, republic, monarchy, or whatnot that each nation desires, to each national language, each national education system, each distinctive trait that makes each nation, and to the whole distinctive system of local liberties and customs and individual rights within the nation for which each nation stands. All these things now really have only de facto status as regards the world outside each nation. Only by uniting to recognize and guarantee all these national, local and individual rights can the democracies legalize them even in the democratic world. The practical result of their doing this, moreover, is to make these rights much more secure as regards the outside nations to whom they would remain only a de facto claim until these nations themselves entered The Union.

In connection with centralization we need to remember that The Union would be unique among unions because of its colossal material strength. The strongest existing union, the United States, needs now to have much stronger central governmental powers and to develop much more homogeneity in its population than does this Union. The United States needs to insist on more and more homogeneity among Americans, to invade more and more the fields reserved to their states, to put more and more power in the hands of one man, and to provide a growing array of costly meddling central government organs, if its aim is not merely to defend the individual freedom of Americans against foreign centralizers, but to keep the American Union constantly pitted against other powerful free peoples, such as the British and the French. The United States must centralize more and more if it aims to battle all the time economically and monetarily and financially with all the rest of mankind, and to prepare always to battle separately from them by sea, land and air, cannon, gas and bomb. There is no end to the amount of government required when the aim of government is not only to live in world chaos but to keep the chaos alive too.

Not only would our world Union, because of its unrivaled strength, need homogeneity in its citizenry and centralization in its government much less than does the United States now, but it would gain added strength to protect the rights of its members by this very lack of homogeneity and centralization. By encouraging the existing diversity among the democracies The Union would protect the citizen from the danger of hysteria sweeping through The Union.

How Shall We Unite?

We come to the problem of method: How, concretely, shall we unite our democracies to this desired degree? We can divide this problem in two. There is, primarily, the underlying political problem of putting these general principles into constitutional form, establishing The Union and its governmental machinery. There is, secondarily, the practical problem of meeting the various transitional and technical difficulties raised by transfer of each of the five rights to The Union. The better to distinguish between first things and matters of secondary importance we shall consider the former here and the latter in Annex 2.

The Constitution of the Union

The only detailed or concrete plan that The Union can need is a draft constitution. For the establishment of The Union eliminates many of the problems for which we now think we need plans and planned management, and it provides itself the mechanism -- government -- for solving the various problems of transition.

The Convention that framed the Constitution uniting the Thirteen American democracies not only framed no plan except the Constitution, but it had no draft even of a constitution when it began, nothing but the broad outline of the Virginia plan for one -- and New Jersey and Hamilton soon produced opposing plans. Unlike us they had no existing federal constitution on which to base their planning.

Those who would constitute unions can turn now to many time-tested successes. For reasons that will be seen when we study carefully the American Union I believe that we should turn particularly to the American Constitution and experience for guidance.

The drafters of the constitution of our world Union, however, will have the great advantage of including authorities from every successful democratic union, each of which has its own valuable contribution to make. The Swiss themselves are best fitted to tell what they have learned in uniting solid geographical and historical groups of Germans, French and Italians. The Canadians can tell of their union of French and English, the South Africans of their union of Boers and English, -- and in the United Provinces and the United Kingdom the Dutch and English have a much older experience to relate.

These examples may suffice to indicate the rich store of constitutional experience which, since Hamilton cited the passage from Hume heading this chapter, has been placed at the disposal of union constitution-makers. They may indicate too the long tradition and discipline and training in self-government on which our democracies can count to aid them in uniting. We have only to organize The Union of unions. Our constitutional problem is not so much the difficult one of creating as the relatively easy one of selecting, adapting, consolidating, perfecting. It is not the venturesome task of sowing but the safer task of reaping the crop already grown by reason and chance, trial and error.

It would seem now practically necessary to distinguish in The Union territory between the parts that are already fully self-governing and those that are not, and restrict the right to vote in Union elections and to hold elective Union office to those born or naturalized citizens of the former. This would not mean that those born in the rest of The Union would be deprived of the other rights guaranteed individuals by the constitution, nor of the right to vote and hold office in their country. Instead, The Union's policy should be to train them for admission to The Union as fully self-governing nations. It is true that one can destroy democracy by seeking to spread it too quickly and over-loading the state with too many voters untrained for self-government. It is also true, however, that the only way to acquire such training is to practice self-government, and that an old and well-trained democracy can safely and even profitably absorb a much greater proportion of inexperienced voters than seems theoretically possible.

This whole problem is one of striking a balance, of deciding what proportion of the peoples that for one reason or another are politically weak shall be admitted at the outset to full citizenship. Common sense would seem to suggest both that we start with a low proportion, and that we explicitly state at the start that The Union's aim shall be to increase this proportion thereafter as much as prudent experiment justifies. A policy that deliberately and unequivocally aims at preparing everyone in The Union for full citizenship should transform existing colonial psychology and make the colonial problem much easier to handle. It would be treating the politically inexperienced peoples much the same as we treat politically our own immature sons and daughters. These know that when they come of age they will enjoy full citizenship rights, and this great section of the unfranchised has never rebelled against the state nor taken the attitude the colonially unfranchised often do.

The Union Legislature

The chief technical problem in drafting the Union constitution is the organization of its governmental machinery, its legislative, executive and judicial departments, and its mechanism for amending the constitution.

Practice is strongly in favor of a two-house Union legislature with one house based completely on the population and the other modifying this principle of equal men in favor of equal states. If the constitution allows one representative for every half million or million citizens, the result would be roughly:

Australia 13 7
Belgium 16 8
Canada 21 11
Denmark 7 4
Finland 7 4
France 84 42
Ireland 6 3
Netherlands 16 8
New Zealand 3 2
Norway 6 3
Sweden 12 6
Switzerland 8 4
Union of So. Africa1 4 2
United Kingdom 93 47
United States 258 129
________ ________
Totals 546 280

Those who fear this would give Americans too much weight in the House need to remember two things. One is that this weight would diminish with every new democracy that entered The Union. The other is that there is no more danger of the American deputies or those from any other nation voting as a bloc when elected individually by the people of separate election districts than there is of the New York members of Congress or the Scottish members of Parliament voting as a unit now. Party lines would immediately cut across national ones in this Union as in all others.

As for the Senate, its main purposes are to safeguard the less populous against the more populous states, the state governments against The Union government, and the people of The Union against over-centralization. In the American Union the method of achieving this purpose consists partly in allowing two senators to the people -- not the government -- of each state, no matter what the number of people in it may be. This might be copied in our Union. The difference in population between the United States and New Zealand, the most and the least populous democracies in our Union, is proportionately about the same as the difference between New York and Nevada.

For my part, however, I would favor a slight modification of this part of the American system. I would allow two senators to every self-governing nation of 25,000,000 or less population, two additional senators for every additional 25,000,000 or major fraction thereof up to a total population of 100,000,000, and thereafter two more senators for each 50,000,000 or major fraction thereof. This would give two senators to each of the fifteen democracies except France, the United Kingdom and the United States, the first two of which would have four and the third would have eight. The results of the two systems may be seen below:

Australia 2 2
Belgium 2 2
Canada 2 2
Denmark 2 2
Finland 2 2
France 2 4
Ireland 2 2
Netherlands 2 2
New Zealand 2 2
Norway 2 2
Sweden 2 2
Switzerland 2 2
Union of So. Africa 2 2
United Kingdom 2 4
United States 2 8
________ ________
Totals 30 40

The American method would give the small democracies a preponderance of five-sixths. The other would give them three-fifths the Senate at the start, and these proportions would grow with the admission of new member nations since nearly all potential members have less than 25,000,000 population. It would seem wise to allow the government of so vast a Union as ours to draw more than the American system permits on the experience of the democracies most accustomed to government on a big scale, so long as the Senate's function of safeguarding the small democracies and decentralization is not thereby endangered. Either way the Senators would be elected at large by each nation, and each senator would have one vote.

Parliamentary or President Government?

There are obvious arguments for the parliamentary and for the presidential system of government. The former is more responsive, the latter more stable. One can argue that in this new venture of establishing union on a world scale, and among so many historic nations, the first aim must be stability. Once The Union is firmly established its government can be made more responsive when the need becomes insistent, whereas if The Union is so responsive at the start as to be unstable it may be too late to remedy this defect and keep The Union together. It is safer to cut cloth too long than too short. Moreover, the establishment of The Union eliminates so much of the work of government today as to make responsiveness less necessary.

On the other hand, one can argue that by eliminating all the burden and waste of unnecessary government and by generally freeing the individual we stimulate enormously the most powerful sources of change. The drafters of the American Constitution had no way of knowing how rapidly the United States would grow under the free conditions they provided. We know now from this experience how conducive individual freedom is to rapid growth, invention, discovery, change in everything. We need only look back to see how the tempo of change has been accelerating every generation since government began to be made on the principle of the equality of man and for the Rights of Man. We cannot make this Union without speeding proportionately the tempo of change. Prudence once required for freedom stable rather than responsive government. Now prudence demands greater provision for adaptability.

My own view favors a combination of the responsive and the stable, of the parliamentary and presidential systems, -- a combination aimed at keeping the advantages of each, meeting the peculiar needs of our Union, and insuring that its government will not seem too strange to any of the democracies. This brings us to the problem of the executive power. Only here do I think that we need to invent or innovate in making this constitution, though not very much even here.

The Executive

My suggestion is that instead of establishing a single executive we vest executive authority in a Board of five persons, each selected for five years, one each year, or each elected for ten years, one every other year. This would assure constant change in the Board and constant stability. I would have three elected by direct popular vote. I think it highly essential that there be some officer or officers in The Union elected by and responsible to the people of The Union as a whole, as is the American President. The other two members of the Board I would have elected in between the popular elections, one by the House of Deputies, the other by the Senate. This should assure a more representative Board. The Board would establish a rotation whereby each member would preside over it one or two years. Three should form a quorum of the Board and it should act normally by the majority of those voting.

The Board, I would further suggest, should delegate most of its executive authority to a Premier who would exercise this power with the help of a Cabinet of his own choosing until he lost the confidence of either the House or the Senate. whereupon the Board would name another Premier. I would give the Board power to dissolve either house or both of them in order to call new elections, and I believe it should also have a power of veto somewhat similar to that which the American President has. I would make the Board commander-in-chief of the Union's armed forces, and empower it with the consent of the Senate to conclude treaties and name all the Union judges.

I would also have it report to the people and the Legislature from time to time on the state of human freedom and of The Union, and on the effects and need of change, and to recommend broadly measures and policies. In short, I would entrust the more general and long term duties of the executive to the Board and leave the more detailed and short term duties to the Premier and Cabinet.

The aim of this system is threefold: First, to assure the supremacy of the people and to provide strength, continuity, stability and foresight in the executive while keeping it responsible to and representative of the people. Second, to reassure all those who would be fearful of any one man having too much power in The Union, or of all executive authority being in the hands of, say, an American, or an Englishman, or a Frenchman. Third, to avoid the unhealthy burden now placed on one man by the American system, while enabling the head of The Union to fulfill the liaison functions which the British royal family do to some extent in the smaller British Commonwealth, and which would be much more necessary in The Union. All members of the Board would be expected to travel through the Union. It would be easy for the Board to arrange rotation whereby one would be visiting the more distant parts of The Union while another was visiting the less distant parts and the other three were at the capital. 2 Such, broadly, are the aims of the system I suggest. I believe few will object to these aims, and certainly I would not object to any other system that promised to secure them better than mine, or nearly as well.

The essentials to me here are that there be an independent Supreme Court, that no controversies among member states be excluded from its jurisdiction, and that the constitution be made explicitly the supreme law of The Union. To attain these ends I would favor copying broadly the method followed in the American Constitution. No doubt there would be controversy over whether the Supreme Court should have the right to invalidate laws as unconstitutional. I believe it should have this right. The essential purpose of this right is, however, to keep the constitution supreme -- to keep intact the division between the more fundamental law which can be changed relatively slowly, the Constitution, and the less fundamental law which can be changed relatively quickly, the statutes. It would seem wiser to accept any system that gives reasonable promise of attaining this purpose than to delay or sacrifice The Union by controversy over the question of method.

Connected with the problem of the judiciary is the problem of how the constitution shall be amended. Many of the objections made to the American Supreme Court would be more justly aimed at the American Constitution's amending mechanism. It makes that Constitution too hard to change, too rigid, and it has for me the further disadvantages of being based too much on the states as corporate bodies. All that has been said of our Union's need to adapt itself more quickly to change than the American Union needed to do when it began applies with special force to the present problem. I would suggest that the constitution be amended by majority vote of the voting citizens on proposals that had gone through some preliminary scrutiny, with several choices open as to the kind of scrutiny.

It would be expressly stipulated in the constitution, however, that certain constitutional guarantees, such as the right of each nation to conduct its own affairs in its own language and the right of each citizen to freedom of speech and of the press, could not be lessened without the consent of each nation.

Such are the main lines on which The Union could be constituted. Those who desire to see how these proposals look when actually applied will find in the annexes an illustrative draft constitution containing them. It may give a better idea of them as a whole, and it provides an easy means of indicating how various minor constitutional problems not treated here might be solved.


  1. Based on the white population since Negroes there lack the right to vote.
  2. Where should be the Union's capital? There would be advantages in having a permanent one, and also in having the Legislature alternate sessions there with sessions in each of the main parts of the Union. This is one of the many questions best left to the Union to decide.

Contents -- Chapter IX -- Chapter XII