The Tenth 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.

In legal terms, the Tenth Amendment is what is known as a “rule of construction.”

It doesn’t add anything to the Constitution, nor does it take anything away. But it serves a very important function. It tells us how to interpret the document. Think of it like a lens through which we evaluate everything the federal government does..

The Tenth Amendment makes explicit two fundamental constitutional principles that are implicit in the document itself.

  1. The federal government is only authorized to exercise those powers delegated to it.
  2. The people of the several states retain the authority to exercise any power that is not delegated to the federal government as long as the Constitution doesn’t expressly prohibit it.

In a nutshell, the federal government has a very limited number of things it is authorized to do. These powers are listed throughout the Constitution.

Most power and authority remains with the states; either with the state governments or with the people themselves as they determine in each state.

St. George Tucker summed up this rule of Construction in View of the Constitution of the United States, the first extended, systematic commentary on the Constitution published after ratification:

“The powers delegated to the federal government, are, in all cases, to receive the most strict construction that the instrument will bear, where the rights of a state or of the people, either collectively or individually, may be drawn in question.”

Thomas Jefferson said he considered “the foundation of the Constitution as laid on this ground.”

If you apply these rules to anything and everything federal government does or proposes to do, your foundation will remain strong.

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James Madison

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.

10th Amendment: Introduction

“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.”

What does it mean, why did they think it was so important? And would we even have a constitution today if it weren’t for the 10th?

All this and more in this essential Path to Liberty episode on the origins of the 10th Amendment.

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John Hancock

The powers reserved by the people render them secure

Featured 10th Amendment Articles

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The Original Meaning of the Tenth Amendment and "Expressly" Delegated Power

The Original Meaning of the Tenth Amendment and “Expressly” Delegated Power

In an important law review paper, Kurt T. Lash delved into the original meaning of the Tenth Amendment. The following ...
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Constitutional Powers the States have, and the Feds do not

Constitutional Powers the States have, and the Feds do not

The Constitution enumerates the power of the federal government - there are also authoritative lists of those powers reserved to ...
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The Virginia Ratifying Convention and the Birth of the Tenth Amendment

The Virginia Ratifying Convention and the Birth of the Tenth Amendment

The modern debate over the meaning of the Constitution often devolves into a dueling opinions between legal experts and judges ...
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The Virginia Ratifying Convention and the Birth of the Tenth Amendment, Part 2

The Virginia Ratifying Convention and the Birth of the Tenth Amendment, Part 2

Again, we see the same principle reiterated; all federal powers originated in the states. Federal authority had to be specifically ...
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Why the 10th Amendment?

Why the 10th Amendment?

The recent rejuvenation of interest in State's rights, nullification, and secession has been a welcome result of the explosion of ...
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A Brief History of the Tenth Amendment

A Brief History of the Tenth Amendment

An essential history, from one of the leading scholars on the Founders' Constitution ...
Read More
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Thomas Jefferson

I consider the foundation of the Constitution as laid on this ground: That ” all 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.” [XIIth amendment.] To take a single step beyond the boundaries thus specially drawn around the powers of Congress, is to take possession of a boundless field of power, no longer susceptible of any definition.

Essential Videos

  • The 10th Amendment and the Virginia Ratifying Convention
  • The 10th Amendment: Sovereignty of the People of the Several States
  • Why the 10th Amendment? Federalism as a Tool to Advance Liberty
  • 10th Amendment: The Enumerated Powers of States
  • The 9th Amendment: Partner to the Tenth
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Roger Sherman

The powers vested in the federal government are particularly defined, so that each state retains its sovereignty.


Concordia res parvae crescunt


Small things grow great by concord...

Tenth Amendment Center


"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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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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