The Constitution created a federal government with powers that, as James Madison said, were “few and defined.” Yet today the feds have their paws in almost every pocket of American life. How did that happen?
One reason is that if you don’t know much about the Constitution’s language, you can misread those “few and defined powers” to be much broader than they really are.
During the debates over ratifying the Constitution, its opponents predicted this kind of misinterpretation might arise. That’s the fundamental reason they demanded a bill of rights. It’s not enough, they said, to list what the federal government can do. To make the document clear, you also need a list of examples of what the federal government cannot do.
The bill of rights was one such list. But (and few people know this today) there were many others.
During the debates leading advocates for the Constitution enumerated functions mostly or totally outside the federal sphere—and therefore reserved exclusively