Alan Keyes
What has become of the union?
Greatest threat to the U.S. Constitution now comes from within
By Alan Keyes
November 16, 2015

The Constitution of the United States directs that the president of the United States "shall from time to time give to the Congress information of the state of the union...." These days, we take it for granted that this has to do with detailing the various causes that affect, for good or ill, the material condition of the country – mainly its economic prosperity and physical security. But just as the state of the body encompasses the wholesome integrity of the individual, doesn't the state of the union encompass the individual condition of the union itself?

I recently reread certain parts of the newspaper articles Hamilton, Madison, and Jay wrote in favor of ratification as the people of the United States deliberated adopting the Constitution. They discussed the ways in which the government envisaged in the Constitution was to affect the material condition and well-being of the American people. But in urging its adoption, the political union of the people (i.e., their congregation under a common government for purposes of securing the God-endowed unalienable rights they had defended during the War for Independence) was cited as the chief and essential prerequisite of their happiness.

If the union comes in for any discussion at all in our present politics, it mainly consists in claims and arguments about the condition of the U.S. government, as if the government and the union are the same thing. But, according to the principles of justice that justified the American Revolution, the union of the citizens, as they come together in light of their common good, is the source, ground, and substance of the just powers of the government. The union does not, therefore, come into existence as the result of any exercise of its powers.

As a matter of historic fact, the state governments were the first focal points of governance for Americans. Those governments were the means by which the people elected the representatives who deliberated upon and formally articulated the common principles that informed the American Revolution, and by which the America people undertook together the arduous exertions of war in pursuance of those principles.

But those very exertions proved the existence and effective character of the American people as a whole. The people came together successfully to defend the covenant of principle (the Declaration of Independence) that formally expressed their common sense of right and justice. They demonstrated their determination not to live under a form of government that failed to respect it. In this respect, the Revolutionary War was the first test of the union, and the effectual proof of the power justly derived from it. The American people passed with honors.

The U.S. Constitution emerged on account of the imminent failure of that union, as Americans faced their union's second, and perhaps more difficult test. They had to prove the power of their principles when the advent of peace removed the necessities of war. For war, albeit harshly, often facilitates the exertions people undertake together, because it represents a stark alternative. They must work together as a community or be done to death as individuals. As Benjamin Franklin put it before signing the Declaration, "We must all hang together, or assuredly we shall all hang separately."

But in the absence of the righteous indignation which alone impels decent people to endure and inflict the harsh vicissitudes of war, what remains to hold Americans together? Judging by the first stated goal voiced by the people in the Preamble to the Constitution, and by the inspiration people like Daniel Webster derived from it in the decades before the Civil War, the rational imperative of union is intended to replace the violent imperative of war. But if union has no rationale except the material benefits it produces, what becomes of it during the difficult times all human undertakings must inevitably endure? What becomes of it when material expectations fail, when threats arise and victory remains elusive, when material success itself has produced characters "enervated and impoverished by luxury" and "weakened by internal contentions and divisions"?

Time and again during our history, the American people have had to meet these challenges. But never before has the weakness bred by material success been so pronounced, or so encouraged at the national level by elitist forces bent on destroying constitutional self-government, for the sake of their own overweening ambition. Thanks to their current stranglehold on the political process in the United States, the greatest threat to the U.S. Constitution now comes from within. Finally and at last, however, more and more people are openly acknowledging this fact.

But if the threat from within seems likely to succeed, that's because it depends, as Franklin and other founders knew well, on the failing character of the people. These days, this not only involves the loss of republican virtue, but a growing disease of "pragmatism" that leads people to deny that there is any virtue except in power, and the success that it depends upon and produces. America's future is now haunted by the prospect of totalitarian dictatorship, extending not just to repressing rightful speech and action, but even to repressing attitudes and tendencies of thought, with forceful intimidation.

Once again the union of the American people is in crisis. But unlike the era of the last Civil War, it is not just a disagreement over the nation's moral principles. Rather it is a disagreement in the absence of moral principle, a disagreement that begins and ends with the delusion that there is nothing more to human existence than the accidental effects of forces without reason, purpose, or direction. Tragically, this is reflected in the profoundly shallow blather that these days passes for political discourse, discussion, and debate.

When it comes to our so-called politicians (I say so-called because fulfilling the vocation of citizenship, which is the root of politics, has so little to do with their ambition), I am constantly reminded of Jeremiah's lament in the Bible:
    They have healed also the hurt of the daughter of my people slightly, saying, Peace, peace; when there is no peace. Were they ashamed when they had committed abomination? Nay, they were not at all ashamed, neither could they blush: therefore they shall fall among them that fall.... (Jeremiah 6:14-15)
The politicians competing for the presidency today, without even one exception, preach "Unity, unity, when there is no unity." They are ashamed only when they oppose abomination. Otherwise, they shamelessly accept as "law" unreasonable opinions, or unconstitutional methods and agreements, intended to force people to praise or subsidize unrighteousness. Even those who profess to remember the reverence for God with which their nation began have forgotten the invitation with which the Lord proffers His forgiveness: "Come let us reason together."

Instead, they invite us to consider what they will do (pragmatism), giving no thought to the standard of right that condemns both their doings and the tyrannical means by which they pursue them. There is and will be no true choice in elections that involve such people. There will be nothing but dissolution: first of the good character of the American people, and then of the constitutional union that can never endure without that character. So Publius foresaw as he contemplated the certainty that "whenever the dissolution of the Union arrives, America will have reason to exclaim, in the words of the poet: "Farewell! A long Farewell to all my greatness" (Federalist No. 2).

To see more articles by Dr. Keyes, visit his blog at and his commentary at and

© Alan Keyes


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Alan Keyes

Dr. Keyes holds the distinction of being the only person ever to run against Barack Obama in a truly contested election – featuring authentic moral conservatism vs. progressive liberalism – when they challenged each other for the open U.S. Senate seat from Illinois in 2004... (more)


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