The states matter. Obvious, right? But how many of us know that the founding fathers always intended that the states would play a more important role in our everyday lives than the central, federal government? With the never-ending growth of the federal government monster, it is time to revisit this idea that is central to our founding document, the Constitution.
The first fact we need to remember is that the states came first. The thirteen original colonies became thirteen states by virtue of defeating Great Britain. Then these thirteen states came together to create the federal government. First through the Articles of Confederation and then through the Constitution. The several states created the federal government. Not the other way around. We would all do well to remember this.
The original thirteen colonies fought the Revolutionary War to become free and independent states. For most of us, our concept of the meaning of “state” has changed due precisely to the relationship between the federal government and the states. Webster’s dictionary defines a state as “a politically organized body of people usually occupying a definite territory, especially one that is sovereign.” That is the original meaning. The thirteen colonies fought to become thirteen free and sovereign states. And then, these sovereign states voluntarily joined together in a union. I repeat this because it is so important that it bears repeating. The states formed the central government. And, these same states took great pains to explicitly limit the central, federal government. The founding fathers limited the central government in two primary ways. First, they put in place a carefully considered and ingenious system of checks and balances to internally limit the federal government. Then, not satisfied with this, the fathers still went back and added the Tenth Amendment for good measure.
Next we can look at how the founding fathers worded the Tenth Amendment. “The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people.” Simple and to the point. Unless, of course, you are a Constitutional “scholar”, judge, or an attorney in general, my apologies to a certain few (very few) exceptions. Quite simply, what this means is that all, and yes, we mean all, powers not delegated to the central federal government by the Constitution are reserved to the States or to the people. Again, very simple, right? Just refer back to the Constitution (Gasp! What a concept!)
The Constitution lists no more than 30 enumerated powers. This may be as many as 35, depending on how they are grouped and or numbered. Think about this. 30. We all know that the federal government has literally thousands of laws and regulations on the books. As of 2013, the Federal Register contains over 80,000 pages of rules, regulations, and notices. 80,000 pages! And let us not forget the Federal Tax code of 73,000+ pages (also for 2013). All this from 30 powers? No one can seriously think this acceptable. And yet, we do accept this. At least, the vast majority of us do.
So, let us now look at these few, specific, enumerated powers, shall we?
- To lay and collect Taxes, Duties, Imposts and Excises, to pay the Debts and provide for the common Defense and general Welfare of the United States; but all Duties, Imposts and Excises shall be uniform throughout the United States;
- To borrow Money on the credit of the United States;
- To regulate Commerce with foreign Nations, and among the several States, and with the Indian Tribes;
- To establish an uniform Rule of Naturalization, and uniform Laws on the subject of Bankruptcies throughout the United States;
- To coin Money, regulate the Value thereof, and of foreign Coin, and fix the Standard of Weights and Measures;
- To provide for the Punishment of counterfeiting the Securities and current Coin of the United States;
- To establish Post Offices and post Roads;
- To promote the Progress of Science and useful Arts, by securing for limited Times to Authors and Inventors the exclusive Right to their respective Writings and Discoveries;
- To constitute Tribunals inferior to the Supreme Court;
- To define and punish Piracies and Felonies committed on the high Seas, and Offences against the Law of Nations;
- To declare War, grant Letters of Marque and Reprisal, and make Rules concerning Captures on Land and Water;
- To raise and support Armies, but no Appropriation of Money to that Use shall be for a longer Term than two Years;
- To provide and maintain a Navy;
- To make Rules for the Government and Regulation of the land and naval Forces;
- To provide for calling forth the Militia to execute the Laws of the Union, suppress Insurrections and repel Invasions;
- To provide for organizing, arming, and disciplining, the Militia, and for governing such Part of them as may be employed in the Service of the United States, reserving to the States respectively, the Appointment of the Officers, and the Authority of training the Militia according to the discipline prescribed by Congress;
- To exercise exclusive Legislation in all Cases whatsoever, over such District (not exceeding ten Miles square) as may, by Cession of particular States, and the Acceptance of Congress, become the Seat of the Government of the United States, and to exercise like Authority over all Places purchased by the Consent of the Legislature of the State in which the Same shall be, for the Erection of Forts, Magazines, Arsenals, dock-Yards, and other needful Buildings; And
- To make all Laws which shall be necessary and proper for carrying into Execution the foregoing Powers, and all other Powers vested by this Constitution in the Government of the United States, or in any Department or Officer thereof.
- No State shall, without the Consent of the Congress, lay any Imposts or Duties on Imports or Exports, except what may be absolutely necessary for executing it’s inspection Laws: and the net Produce of all Duties and Imposts, laid by any State on Imports or Exports, shall be for the Use of the Treasury of the United States; and all such Laws shall be subject to the Revision and Control of the Congress.
- The Congress may determine the Time of choosing the Electors, and the Day on which they shall give their Votes; which Day shall be the same throughout the United States.
- In Case of the Removal of the President from Office, or of his Death, Resignation, or Inability to discharge the Powers and Duties of the said Office, the Same shall devolve on the Vice President, and the Congress may by Law provide for the Case of Removal, Death, Resignation or Inability, both of the President and Vice President, declaring what Officer shall then act as President, and such Officer shall act accordingly, until the Disability be removed, or a President shall be elected.
- The judicial Power of the United States, shall be vested in one supreme Court, and in such inferior Courts as the Congress may from time to time ordain and establish.
- The Trial of all Crimes, except in Cases of Impeachment, shall be by Jury; and such Trial shall be held in the State where the said Crimes shall have been committed; but when not committed within any State, the Trial shall be at such Place or Places as the Congress may by Law have directed.
- The Congress shall have Power to declare the Punishment of Treason, but no Attainder of Treason shall work Corruption of Blood, or Forfeiture except during the Life of the Person attainted.
- Full Faith and Credit shall be given in each State to the public Acts, Records, and judicial Proceedings of every other State. And the Congress may by general Laws prescribe the Manner in which such Acts, Records, and Proceedings shall be proved, and the Effect thereof.
- New States may be admitted by the Congress into this Union;
- The Congress shall have Power to dispose of and make all needful Rules and Regulations respecting the Territory or other Property belonging to the United States; and nothing in this Constitution shall be so construed as to Prejudice any Claims of the United States, or of any particular State.
- The Congress, whenever two thirds of both Houses shall deem it necessary, shall propose Amendments to this Constitution, or, on the Application of the Legislatures of two thirds of the several States, shall call a Convention for proposing Amendments, which, in either Case, shall be valid to all Intents and Purposes, as Part of this Constitution, when ratified by the Legislatures of three fourths of the several States, or by Conventions in three fourths thereof, as the one or the other Mode of Ratification may be proposed by the Congress
- The House of Representatives shall choose their Speaker and other Officers; and shall have the sole Power of Impeachment…
The Senate shall have the sole Power to try all Impeachments. When sitting for that Purpose, they shall be on Oath or Affirmation. When the President of the United States is tried, the Chief Justice shall preside: And no Person shall be convicted without the Concurrence of two thirds of the Members present.
- The Times, Places and Manner of holding Elections for Senators and Representatives, shall be prescribed in each State by the Legislature thereof; but the Congress may at any time by Law make or alter such Regulations, except as to the Places of choosing Senators.
There you have it. That’s it. This is all the federal government is supposed to do. Do you see anything about education? Anything about the environment? Anything about healthcare? Anything about microwave ovens or cell phones? And yet, the federal government has its tentacles on every aspect of our lives.
The federal government (all three branches) has grossly overstepped their bounds for years. Decades.
The founding fathers understood that state and local officials, living among us, accountable to their neighbors, is the best way to limit the tendency of government to grow and grow and consume more and more of a nation’s economic output.
The federal government is completely out of control, ineffective at best, criminally corrupt at worst. The States utilizing nullification under the Tenth Amendment is one of our two best chances to slow down or stop the growth of the federal monstrosity. The other is through the growing Convention of the States Movement. And while I certainly agree that the federal government must be downsized and radically reformed, the Convention of the States has some frightening aspects as well.