Charter of no authority: Why the Baltimore City government is not legitimate

Lysander Spooner famously demolished the notion that the US Constitution was a legally binding contract on US citizens in his classic essay “No Treason“. The argument is basically this: the Constitution is only a binding contract on those who personally signed it. Those people, the delegates of the states to the original Constitutional Convention, were just a small minority of Americans at the time, so we have to ask on what grounds the document was held to bind all the other citizens of the several states. Not only that, we have to ask on what legal grounds the document binds all subsequent generations of Americans, none of whom have ever signed it or been given the option to refuse its authority.

What about the government of Maryland or of Baltimore City? Do these command the legitimacy that the US government lacks? By no means. Here is a brief summary of how the current state constitution was drafted and ratified:

“The Constitution of 1867 was drafted by a convention which met at the state capital, Annapolis, between May 8 and August 17, 1867. It was submitted to the adult non-black male citizens of the state for ratification on September 18 and was approved by a vote of 27,152 to 23,036. It took effect on October 5, 1867.”

So the constitution can at best be said to have bound those 27,152 adult non-black males who voted for it in 1867. It did not bind the 23,036 adult non-black males who voted against it and it did not bind any of those excluded from that narrow category, i.e. blacks, women and children. And since no subsequent generation has ever been asked to re-ratify the entire constitution (as opposed to individual amendments), it binds no one after the last of the original Yes voters died. At best it only binds those who have explicitly sworn to uphold it, such as those who have taken public office.

What about the city? Throughout the US, the authority of local governments is held to derive from their respective states. Baltimore is no different. The city government was created by Article X of the 1867 Maryland constitution. As far as I can tell, Baltimore residents were not even asked to ratify the provisions of the state constitution that pertained to the city; their form of government was simply handed down from Annapolis and the only popular ratification was the one held for the state constitution itself. Certainly subsequent amendments to the city charter have been subject to local popular votes, but only by the sufferance of the state. And even the amendments are only by right binding on those who actually voted Yes and only for the duration of the lives of those who voted Yes.

So it seems the city government is an emperor with no clothes.  Baltimore residents should learn about this history and recognize that those who rule over them even locally have no moral basis to that authority.