Tenth Amendment Center

More than Just Words

by Delegate Christopher Peace (VA-97th)

The following is excerpted from a speech given at a recent event sponsored by the King William Republican Committee

While I am an elected Republican, I want to try to address tonight’s subject from a bi-partisan position: as an American and a Virginian. I am also a constitutionalist and I believe in this great Union. My goal tonight is to help the residents of King William and surrounding counties, as an accountable elected official, educate and inform this community about those American doctrines of liberty and freedom rooted in Federalism and the nationwide efforts working to send a message to those who wish to retreat from America’s first and founding principles.

We are all familiar with the famous yellow Gasden Flag with the words DON’T TREAD ON ME. This flag in many generations has represented a patriotic anxiety about the direction of government. We are seeing more pop up every day. But we may not all know that The Gadsden flag is a historical American flag with a yellow field depicting a rattlesnake coiled and ready to strike. In 1775, the flag was designed by and is named after American general and statesman Christopher Gadsden.

Similarly, many Americans are uninformed of other noteworthy or seminal events which fashioned together our great nation from several and similarly great states.

An understanding, much less a working knowledge of the principle of Federalism, also interpreted as State Sovereignty under the 10th Amendment, eludes our general population as well as those who are elected to seats of government and political authority. Over the past 8 months and some could argue over the past year or even twenty years, the American people witnessed and unfortunately condoned an enormous consolidation of power and authority in the federal government.

This amassing of power was done in the name of national defense or economic security. Remember that Ben Franklin said “Those Who Sacrifice Liberty For Security Deserve Neither.”

But I believe that there is a movement which will save us from a 21st tyranny. Let me briefly review just the recent actions of the current Administration:

This amassing of debt will be visited on all of us and lead to even greater dependence on – and control in Washington without regard to how states wish to manage themselves. The “Stringy legs” concept employed frequently by Congress shows a disdain for how states and their people hope to self-determine in a free market.

But in many ways we get what we have asked for or at least let happen. A people’s apathy and the government’s self-indulgence have combined to eat away at the concepts expressed in the Tenth Amendment laid out by the Founders. Economist Walter Williams wrote that

The Founders petitioned and pleaded with King George to get his boot off  their throats. He ignored their petition and rightfully they declared a unilateral declaration of independence and went to war.

Today it’s the same story but it’s Congressional usurpations against the rights of the  people and the states that make King George’s actions look like child’s  play. Our constitutional ignorance, coupled with the fact that we’ve  become a nation of wimps, sissies and supplicants, has made us easy prey for Washington’s tyrannical forces. But that might be changing. There is a long overdue re-emergence of American’s characteristic spirit of rebellion.

This type of patriotic spirit begins with a desire to learn more about the origins of our republic. People are beginning to understand that much like the Second Amendment is designed to protect the citizen from the encroachments of the federal government, the Tenth Amendment stands in the gap for states (and their citizens) by saying 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.

Joseph Story, a Supreme Court Justice and a son of a member of the Sons of Liberty, in his Commentaries on the Constitution, 1833, said “… the state governments are, by the very theory of the constitution, essential constituent parts of the general government. They can exist without the latter, but the latter cannot exist without them.”

In Virginia’s American Revolution:  From Dominion to Republic, 1776-1840, the author‘s primary purpose traces Federalism from the mid-1760s inception of disputation between Virginia and the Mother Country down through the death of the last Virginia Founding Fathers in the late 1830s. He asserts that Virginia ratified the US Constitution under the express understanding that the powers of Congress would extend only to those that were, as Governor Edmund Randolph explained in the 1788 Richmond Ratification Convention, “expressly delegated.”

This idea of Virginia as primary and the central government (first the British, then the Continental Congress, then the Confederation, and finally the Federal Government) as secondary underlay the Revolution in Virginia and are reflected in the Federalist Farmer essays of the Anti Federalist papers attributed to Richard Henry Lee. Echoes of our current trend to serfdom – Federal Farmer, Antifederalist Letter, October 10, 1787

Besides, to lay and collect internal taxes in this extensive country must require a great number of congressional ordinances, immediately operation upon the body of the people; these must continually interfere with the state laws and thereby produce disorder and general dissatisfaction till the one system of laws or the other, operating upon the same subjects, shall be abolished.

Even the most ardent proponents of a federal government at that time, those who penned The Federalist Papers, advocated for the preservation of state sovereignty as necessary to the success of the nation.

“But as the plan of the convention aims only at a partial union or consolidation, the State governments would clearly retain all the rights of sovereignty which they before had, and which were not, by that act, EXCLUSIVELY delegated to the United States.”
–Alexander Hamilton, Federalist No. 32

“The powers delegated by the proposed Constitution to the federal government are few and defined.  Those which are to remain in the State governments are numerous and indefinite.”
–James Madison, Federalist No. 45

Case law later expounded upon this fundamental principle of Federalism with respect to state sovereignty. Printz v. United States held that the federal system limits the ability of the federal government to use state governments as an instrument of the national government. But this traditional notion of federalism has devolved into “cooperative federalism,” where Congress creates new state programs by affixing certain conditions to the receipt of funding.

These acts may become so intolerable that long-term structural sustainability is in real question, and the ultimate danger is the erosion of the principles of federalism whereby Virginia and her sister states become, effectively, wards of the federal super state.

Based on this growing concern that Virginia may lose its priority role in the structures of our American republic, I introduced House Resolution 61 in the 2009 session. Resolutions honoring the 10th amendment stand in the tradition of Richard Bland, Thomas Jefferson, Edmund Randolph, Patrick Henry, Henry Lee, James Madison, and indeed virtually every other significant Virginia Revolutionary and/or Founding Father.

Its precepts may even be far older even than the Tenth Amendment, which according to scholars only made explicit that principle where Virginians were told what was already implicit in the US Constitution when they agreed to ratify it 221 years ago.

Over the past year, states around the country passed resolutions claiming sovereignty under the 10th Amendment and resolving to serve notice and to demand that the federal government cease and desist mandates that are beyond the scope of its constitutionally delegated powers. This movement in over 35 states demonstrates an imbalance and growing concern that the federal government is increasing its dominance over state policy affairs. Visit: legis.virginia.gov to read HR 61 which after several “whereas” clauses reads:

RESOLVES by the House of Delegates, That the Congress of the United States be urged to honor state sovereignty under the Tenth Amendment of the Constitution of the United States.  The Commonwealth of Virginia hereby claims sovereignty under the Tenth Amendment to the Constitution of the United States over all powers not otherwise enumerated and granted to the federal government by the Constitution of the United States.  The Commonwealth by this resolution serves notice to the federal government, as our agent, to cease and desist, effective immediately, mandates that are beyond the scope of these constitutionally delegated powers.  Further, the Commonwealth urges that all compulsory federal legislation that directs states to comply under threat of civil or criminal penalties or sanctions or requires states to pass legislation or lose federal funding shall be prohibited or repealed.

Some may discount this act as merely political or posturing — that a resolution is just words. Just words… Well to quote our President during last year’s elections he said  “Don’t tell me words don’t matter. I have a dream’ — just words… ‘We have nothing to fear but fear itself’ – just words. We have nothing to fear but fear itself. Just words. Just speeches.” I would add just these words:

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. — That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, — That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness

Our community and communities like ours around the state and nation must inspire others and it is our hope that with HR 61 these words will have a profound impact. In the words found on our Liberty Bell we must “Proclaim liberty throughout the land unto all the inhabitants thereof.”

I encourage you to visit my website at www.chrispeace.com and stay in touch with me and this committee to help me and my colleagues show support for the legislation in committee.   May god bless you and the USA

Delegate Christopher K. Peace represents the Virginia House of Delegates’ 97th District and serves on the prominent Courts of Justice, Health Welfare and Institutions, Science and Technology, and Finance Committees. The district spans parts of Hanover, Caroline, King William, King and Queen, Henrico, Spotsylvania Counties and all of New Kent County