Those who eye a nationalist agenda, desiring to finally complete the subjugation of states to mere mid-management levels, have long embraced the notion states are subordinate while the federal government is always supreme.
This idea has been presented long enough many who may consider the idea of states’ rights, or powers, stop short when they remember what they have been taught. There are documented instances those who teach state subordination can point to, after all.
Rarely do I present a live seminar on the 9th and 10th Amendments where someone in the audience does not finally raise their hand and ask a question similar to the one above. Sometimes the question is phrased; “Aren’t the states subordinate, after all the Constitution says it is the supreme law of the land?” Or if they are well researched on the subject a person may even challenge state rights, or powers, by referring to the words of one of the staunchest defenders of the states, Thomas Jefferson. The question then may sound like; “Thomas Jefferson himself said states, and all governments under the great government, are subordinate so how can you challenge his words?”
No matter how the question is phrased it still comes down to a question of supremacy and subordination. By the founding generation’s own understanding, to be subordinate is to be lower in power or subject to higher authority. When progressive nationalists today talk of this, there is an often unspoken ending to their comments on subordination. Those unspoken words enter our mind and skew the very understanding of what the Constitution and other written words are talking about. The unspoken words are ‘in all things’ and that is where the argument breaks down while clarity can be found.
The U.S. Constitution does state clearly it is the supreme law of the land, there is no argument there. Also, Thomas Jefferson, in an 1816 letter to Joseph Cabell, did write the following;
“The way to have good and safe government is not to trust it all to one, but to divide it among the many, distributing to everyone exactly the function he is competent to. Let the National Government be entrusted with the defense of the nation and its foreign and federal relations; the State governments with the civil rights, laws, police, and administration of what concerns the State generally; the counties with the local concerns of the counties, and each ward direct the interests within itself. It is by dividing and subdividing these republics from the great national one down through all its subordinations, until it ends in the administration of every man’s farm by himself; by placing under everyone what his own eye may superintend, that all will be done for the best.”
Just like his letter to the Danbury Baptist Association, where the famous phrase regarding a separation of church and state can be found, the comments must be taken in context to clarify understanding. Keep in mind the Constitution, Thomas Jefferson, and all others writing about supreme law and subordination were not referring to all things. What the federal government is supreme in is those areas the states transferred political power to it, the enumerated powers. In addition, an unconstitutional law is not supreme, only laws that are constitutional. The intent was not to create a supreme national government, even though some founders were in favor of such an arrangement it was defeated time and again.
Turn your attention first to the preamble in the Bill of Rights. In the first part of the preamble you will find the following clarifications;
THE Conventions of a number of the States having at the time of their adopting the Constitution, expressed a desire, in order to prevent misconstruction or abuse of its powers, that further declaratory and restrictive clauses should be added: And as extending the ground of public confidence in the Government, will best insure the beneficent ends of its institution
RESOLVED by the Senate and House of Representatives of the United States of America, in Congress assembled, two thirds of both Houses concurring, that the following Articles be proposed to the Legislatures of the several States, as Amendments to the Constitution of the United States, all or any of which Articles, when ratified by three fourths of the said Legislatures, to be valid to all intents and purposes, as part of the said Constitution; viz.:
ARTICLES in addition to, and Amendment of the Constitution of the United States of America, proposed by Congress, and ratified by the Legislatures of the several States, pursuant to the fifth Article of the original Constitution. (Emphasis added)
The states were very concerned about the usurpation of power by the federal government. There was uneasiness and suspicion among many people and espoused by the anti-federalists. It was believed the Constitution could be manipulated in too many ways without the addition of a Bill of Rights and the final amendment ratified by the state conventions was the 10th Amendment. “The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States, or to the people.”
In order to be supreme, federal laws must be made pursuant to the Constitution. There are only specific, delegated powers that fall under that supremacy. Beyond those specific powers supremacy defaults to the states or to the people. Our heritage is not built upon a supreme federal government no matter what the structure may look like today and no matter how much progressive nationalists today would like us to believe it is. Study our history and carefully listen to the words of both the founding generations and the modern progressives. Although their arguments can, on the surface, sound as if they are fundamentally correct you will find more often they will not stand the scrutiny of critical thinking.
- Federal Bureaucrats: Agents of Constitutional Chaos - July 29, 2016
- The Ninth and Tenth Amendments: Keystones of Liberty - July 14, 2016
- Federal Law is Always Supreme. Right? - January 15, 2010