BOISE - Promoting his state sovereignty resolution on the floor of the Idaho House of Representatives on Monday, St. Maries Rep. Dick Harwood declared that the United States is really a “confederacy.”
“To be accurate, we’re a confederated republic,” the fifth-term Republican then told the House.
Not everyone was buying it, though.
Rep. George Sayler, D-Coeur d’Alene, a retired high school government teacher, attempted a quick rebuttal. “The Constitution clearly states that … we the people do ordain and establish this government. Our government is a government of the people and by the people and for the people - it is not a compact of states,” he told the House. “I think that issue was further defined during the civil war … I think that this memorial is probably fighting a 200-year-old battle, and I’m not quite sure how it’s going to serve us.”
But Sayler’s comments did little to change the tenor of the debate, and Harwood’s resolution affirming Idaho’s sovereignty won easy approval in the Republican-dominated state House.
Now, some in Idaho are shaking their heads.
Political scientists, for example, said Harwood’s description of the U.S. as a confederacy is dead wrong, and a longtime Kootenai County human rights activist said the use of the term is offensive. “It’s a very offensive term for minority communities in our country, like African-Americans,” said Tony Stewart, a board member and co-founder of the Kootenai County Task Force on Human Relations, and a retired political scientist at North Idaho College. “That whole term refers to the period of slavery.”
Steve Shaw, a professor of political science at Northwest Nazarene University, said, “I don’t know if Harwood is intentionally blurring the categories or if he’s just confused.” Shaw said the United States is neither a unitary system, where the federal government is all-powerful, nor a confederacy, a loose organization of sovereign states which can secede at any time and have no central power. “We rejected a unitary system, we rejected a confederacy,” he said. “We have this federal system.”
He added, “The original thing the founders did was to create this so-called federal republic, because there wasn’t one like it at the time.”
Switzerland is an example of a confederacy today.
“Sometimes the terminology gets confusing,” Shaw said. “But I haven’t heard anyone talk about the confederacy since I went to school in the south.”
Shaw said Harwood may be in need of “remedial U.S. history courses.”
Harwood, for his part, said, “If I’m wrong, then I guess I’m wrong. But my understanding of it all was that we were a confederated republic.” He said he thought President Lincoln changed things so that states couldn’t secede, but that the nation remained a confederacy.
Stewart said the Articles of Confederacy governed the initial 13 colonies, but they were abolished in 1787 with the adoption of the U.S. Constitution. Only when the south seceded from the union in 1861 was a confederacy formed among the southern states; it ended in 1865 when the South lost the civil war.
Harwood said, “History changes a lot over the years, especially in our colleges. Lots of things that have happened in the history of our country never get told in college courses.”
The lawmaker, who didn’t go to college but did earn a community college vocational certificate, said he picked up on the “confederacy” term after reading a Pennsylvania legislative resolution, though the term doesn’t appear in his Idaho sovereignty resolution, HJM 4.
“What I’m saying is each state has its own constitution, that’s what I’m saying,” Harwood said, “and we have a right to govern ourselves.”
HJM 4, a non-binding memorial to Congress and the president, declares Idaho’s sovereignty from the federal government and ask the federal government to “cease and desist” from violating that sovereignty.
Harwood read from the 10th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, and told the House, “With them words, the states of this United States created the federal government.”
His resolution declares, “The scope of power defined by the 10th Amendment means that the federal government was created by the states specifically to be an agent of the states.”
Shaw said, “That’s historical error to say the states created the system. It’s actually the other way around.”
Harwood disputed that. “He’s wrong, totally wrong,” he said of the professor.
Harwood said his resolution is part of a “grass-roots movement” among legislators around the country, and several states are considering similar resolutions.
His bill, HJM 4 passed the Idaho House on Monday on a 51-17 vote, and now moves to the Senate.