by Gary Wood, Utah Tenth Amendment Center

Federalism is a form of governing in a republic that was launched in earnest, for the first time, through the efforts of the 1787Washington and his CabinetConstitutional Convention.   The men who gathered for the convention did not agree on everything and the states’ citizens they represented also disagreed on many things.  This is not unusual then or now, we humanoids are known to disagree.  The science of government is not a perfect science.  People have different agendas, alliances, and concerns.  Yet, when the doors opened on Sept. 17th, 1787 a concept emerged that would be debated across the young country, in the sovereign States’ conventions gathered to consider ratification.

Those who embraced the document as it was written were committed to establishing a federalist republic with a fundamental foundation in the rule of law over the rule of kings.  Those who did not embrace the document were also committed to establishing a federalist republic formed on the same concept yet felt the original document still lacked the safeguards necessary for protecting the people of all States through the addition of a Bill of Rights with the keystone set in the duty of states to check the general government as well as the general government having a check on states.  Both understood it was an attempt to develop a republican government that protected against factional largess and majority abuse over minorities while providing people an opportunity to live in a free environment.

From New York to Virginia, New Hampshire to the Carolinas there was one thing many came to agree on in their respective conventions.  Federalism’s success depended on the vertical separation of powers as much as the horizontal separation.  Maintaining government over the daily concerns of people at the lowest level possible was necessary for self-government to thrive and kingly government to have no place in the future of the United States.  Listen to a few of the proposals added to their ratification (as quoted from United States: Formation of the Union, GPO, 1927):

“This Convention doth also declare that no Section or paragraph of the said Constitution warrants a Construction that the states do not retain every power not expressly relinquished by them and vested in the General Government of the Union.” (South Carolina Ratifying Convention, May 3rd, 1788)

“First That it be Explicitly declared that all Powers not expressly & particularly Delegated by the aforesaid Constitution are reserved to the several States to be, by them Exercised.” (New Hampshire State Ratifying Convention, 1st Amendment Proposal, June 6th, 1788)

Constitution Ratification Timeline“First, That each State in the Union shall respectively retain every power, jurisdiction and right which is not by this Constitution delegated to the Congress of the United States or to the departments of the Federal government.” (Virginia State Ratifying Convention, 1st Amendment Proposal, June 7th, 1788)

“I. THAT each state in the union shall, respectively, retain every power, jurisdiction and right, which is not by this constitution delegated to the Congress of the United States, or to the departments of the Federal government.” (North Carolina State Ratifying Convention, 1st Amendment Proposal, Nov. 21st, 1789)

“1st The United States shall guarantee to each State its sovereignty, freedom and independence, and every power, jurisdiction and right, which is not by this constitution expressly delegated to the United Sates.” (Rhode Island State Ratifying Convention, 1st Amendment proposal, May 29th, 1790)

All of these states, and more, caused the very first Congress of the United States to take action.  This action resulted in the proposal of 12 amendments to the Constitution.  Why?  Turn to the preamble of the resolution submitted to the States, on March 4th, 1789, and read the answer;

“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:”

What were the States attempting to prevent?  “Misconstruction or abuse of it’s (the National Government) powers.”  What was necessary?  Simply “that further declaratory and restrictive clauses should be added!”  The twelfth proposal (which became the tenth amendment) was the keystone that set at ease the many States, and their citizens, that had made separation of vertical powers their first proposal as part of the ratification process.

Historians tell us Alexander Hamilton was a strong nationalist, even perhaps a monarchist.  Surely such a man disagreed on the need for State duty or power.  If we can find no other voice among the founders who felt the States had no business checking theAlexander Hamiltonnational government it would be his.  We get a full insight into his view of federalism during the 1788 New York Convention.  He extolled;

“This balance between the National and State governments ought to be dwelt on with peculiar attention, as it is of the utmost importance.  It forms a double security to the people.  If one encroaches on their rights they will find a powerful protection in the other. Indeed, they will both be prevented from over passing their constitutional limits by a certain rivalship, which will ever subsist between them.” (Alexander Hamilton, speech to the New York Ratifying Convention, 1788)

Plainly all those who disagreed on so many aspects of government found common ground in the need for each State to maintain their duty to protect their citizens.  Citizens of each State had a duty to insure their States retained their constitutional sovereignty, a duty to support legislators who put a check on general power, who interposed on the citizens behalf.  It is for this reason James Madison words make sense when writing, in Federalist 39, “Each State, in ratifying the Constitution, is considered as a sovereign body, independent of all others, and only to be bound by its own voluntary act. In this relation, then, the new Constitution will, if established, be a FEDERAL, and not a NATIONAL constitution.”

Federalism was to become known as a grand and noble experiment.  The very document and structure created would cause debates and discussions around the globe.  It would require the people to stay actively involved locally, especially within their homes and communities, while electing statesmen who would honor an oath and defend their rights whether elected to represent them in the general, state, or local government.  Human nature was going to be put to a test and those who disagreed on the finer points within the science of government were going to be tasked with finding agreements as well as compromises when necessary.

Federalism not nationalism, the debate did not end in the 1780s or 1790s.  It raged on as men struggled with temptations.  Even the staunchest believers in federalism gave way when pressed as Jefferson did with the Louisiana Purchase and embargos that brought the wrath of northern states upon him.  It was also Jefferson, even earlier, along with Hamilton that spawned the rise of the first major factional divide we refer to as political parties.  Political parties are just factions; special interest groups with a platform that shifts with the whims of its members as it struggles for footholds into political power.  Yet, as early as these struggles occurred there was not a single effort to end federalism or repeal the 10th Amendment of our U.S. Constitution.  Long after Hamilton and Jefferson had left this world Joseph Story showed there was still a large level of belief in the institution.

“The state governments have a full superintendence and control over the immense mass of local interests of their respective states, which connect themselves with the feelings, the affections, the municipal institutions, and the internal arrangements of the whole population. They possess, too, the immediate administration of justice in all cases, civil and criminal, which concern the property, personal rights, and peaceful pursuits of their own citizens…”So that the executive and legislative branches of the national government depend upon, and emanate from the states. Every where the state sovereignties are represented; and the national sovereignty, as such, has no representation.” (Joseph Story, Commentaries on the Constitution, 1833)

Yet our course has been altered despite checks and balance, despite separation of powers, and despite having a history to learn from, improve upon, and grow in self-governing liberty.  The 10th Amendment still has never been repealed yet people have long allowed the notion of separation to slip their minds.  Sold on an idea of democracy, majority rule, and a federal government is the governing body that holds the answers (if our chosen party’s personality sits as executive) politics is that area of life few want to hear about and fewer still want to study.

10th Amendment

Keystone to our liberty

We still disagree on many things yet when is the last time anyone even debated federalism or nationalism, democracy or complex republic?  Recently?  Indeed, recently the debate is starting to gain steam once again.  Not among the many but definitely among the few, similar in our history to the 1760s and early 1770s.

Those debating are finding plenty to disagree upon yet more and more are beginning to once again realize there is agreement to be found in federalism’s arms.  A nation so large can only be free when politically approached locally, it simply makes sense to those who study as no society has prospered long under democracy and freedom never thrives under the rule of kings.

Are you studying once again?  Are you reading the words of those men who developed our fundamental principles?  Have you listened to the words of Jefferson, when written to Judge William Johnson back in 1823, and found truth when he stated;

[T]he States can best govern our home concerns and the general government our foreign ones. I wish, therefore … never to see all offices transferred to Washington, where, further withdrawn from the eyes of the people, they may more secretly be bought and sold at market.

Gary Wood is the Education Advisor for the Utah Tenth Amendment Center. He works with the Utah 912 States’ Rights Coalition and Hosts March of Liberty Radio every Saturday and Sunday evening at 7pm EST on Blog Talk Radio. He is a lifetime member of the VFW among other groups but more important to him is his title of grandpa. “According to Thomas Jefferson the 10th Amendment is keystone to our Constitution. We must restore the keystone so we can secure the blessings of liberty for our posterity, a goal of our Founders and a goal we must still strive to achieve.”

Copyright © 2010 by Permission to reprint in whole or in part is gladly granted, provided full credit is given

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 respectively, or to the people.”



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