by Josh Eboch
It is no surprise that America’s renewed focus on the separation between state and federal authority has created an almost hysterical rage on the Left. Collectivist ideologues are always necessarily threatened by divisions of power.
But rather than shame dissenters into silence with labels like “tenther,” the disdain shown by the political class and its sycophants for the Constitution has only heightened the growing tension between those in America who desire absolute central government, and those who still believe in the federalism and freedom of our founding.
Witness the charges leveled by Virgina attorney general candidate, Steve Shannon, during a recent debate against his opponent, Ken Cuccinelli, who has promised to protect Virginians’ freedoms by upholding the Constitution as it was written.
Which could mean refusing to enforce certain unconstitutional laws passed by the federal government.
From the Washington Post:
Shannon said that through history, Virginians who opposed federal law supported slavery, shut down schools instead of integrating them, prevented interracial marriage and sterilized mentally retarded people.
“When he’s talking about states’ rights, you have to understand the mistakes we have made in the past.”
This is a theme that has been echoed by many on the Left of late, and it represents an opening salvo in the brewing battle between state and federal power that will likely take center stage in upcoming election cycles.
But Steve Shannon and his ideological cohorts are either shockingly ignorant or being very selective in their version of American history. They seem to have chosen race-baiting over an honest discussion about the clear, albeit imperfect, connection between states’ rights and personal freedom.
The Tenth Amendment, states’ rights, and state sovereignty were invoked post-ratification as early as 1798 in response to the Alien and Sedition Acts, which were a direct affront to the constitutional freedoms of speech and association.
Thomas Jefferson himself made clear the relationship the framers envisioned between the federal and state governments when he penned the Kentucky Resolutions, one of the most liberating texts since the Declaration of Independence against those vile Acts:
Resolved, That the several states composing the United States of America are not united on the principle of unlimited submission to their general government…
[W]hensoever the general government assumes undelegated powers, its acts are unauthoritative, void, and of no force…
[T]his government, created by this compact, was not made the exclusive or final judge of the extent of the powers delegated to itself, since that would have made its discretion, and not the Constitution, the measure of its powers; but…each party has an equal right to judge for itself, as well of infractions as of the mode and measure of redress.
In other words, whenever there comes a question of constitutional authority, Americans should refer as final arbiter, not to the Supreme Court or the federal government’s inflated opinion of its own powers, but to the letter and spirit of the Constitution. If that fails, each party to this voluntary contract (read: the sovereign states) may decide for itself whether the terms of the agreement have been violated, and if so, what course of action to take.
Between 1798 and the start of the Civil War, there were a number of other instances in which states forcefully reasserted their constitutional rights under the Tenth Amendment, often using Jefferson’s own words. Many of those states were located in the North, where sovereignty was even cited as legal grounds to undermine slavery, through opposition to the (Lincoln-endorsed) federal Fugitive Slave Act.
Perhaps it truly is out of ignorance that Steve Shannon and others like him disparage the principle of states’ rights as defined by racial prejudice, despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary.
But even without a history book, they need look no further than California and the 12 other states that have passed medical marijuana laws in direct conflict with the federal Controlled Substances Act. Thanks to that defiance, hundreds of thousands of desperately sick Americans get access to relief that the federal government has denied them.
Or consider the Real ID Act passed by Congress in 2005. It has since been rendered null and void because more than 20 states exercised their sovereign rights in refusing to implement its patently unconstitutional provisions.
Clearly, America has enjoyed the benefits of dual sovereignty and states’ rights, not just historically but in the last decade, without dissolving into paroxysms of racial animosity.
Therefore it would seem that the logic of the Left regarding the supposed inherent bigotry of the states’ rights movement is flawed in the extreme.
Would they also hold that Islam itself is to blame for violence committed in the name of Allah?
Of course not. That violence is committed by people, just as past laws limiting the freedom of minorities were enacted by people (in the North as well as the South), and not by a political principle.
Leaders like Ken Cuccinelli have joined a growing movement by invoking the Tenth Amendment as it was written to protect individual freedom from the ravages of arbitrary power. Such principles are shared by all those who support a return to the decentralized, federalist government laid out by our Constitution.
These “tenthers” harbor no racist or oppressive motives. In fact, the modern states’ rights agenda is exactly and demonstrably the opposite. To imply otherwise is simply dishonest.
Americans should be proud of their federalist heritage, and they should defend it jealously. Constitutional federalism once changed the world, and, as the true source of America’s strength, it is the only well from which there can be any hope of drawing future greatness.
Josh is a proud “tenther”, freelance writer, and activist originally from the Washington, D.C. area.