Posted by: Rational Voice | September 15, 2010

States’ Rights

The issue of states’ rights is back again, and the issue is the most poisonous that it’s been since the Civil War. The notion of people wanting states to regain power in regards to the Federal Government has been getting twisted by the Left into a ridiculous notion that those who want states to reassert their power are nothing but a bunch of redneck racists who are still pining over the South losing the Civil War and wanting to go back to a time when whites controlled everything. They see this is nothing short of a resurgence of racism brought about by us having a black president. Like every issue with the Left, they cannot debate conservatives in the arena of ideas so they have to resort to the tired tactic of racism. For once I’d like to see them debate us on the issues but they won’t and can’t. I want to set the record straight here and dissect the issue of states’ rights from a historic perspective.

As a history major, I’ve studied antebellum America several times and without a doubt it was the argument over states’ rights that brought about that devastating war and that specific right was slavery. Some Liberals love to make the comparison between the current focus on state’ rights and those who argued for states’ rights before the Civil War (and funny enough, the ones back then who wanted to secure that specific states’ right were Democrats). The comparison is not valid though and I will outline why. Slavery, though protected by parts of the Constitution, was incompatible with it and our Declaration of Independence. We are the only country that’s ever gone to war with itself over slavery and we paid a terrible price with some 600,000 men dying during the course of the war. It was a high price to pay but with it we righted a wrong.

Our Founding Fathers sought to build a government where the people were the sovereign, not a king or dictator. They wanted a small national government, one that would be limited in its powers, as to prevent it from encroaching on the rights of the people. To do so, they set to put our foundation in Federalism, splitting our nation’s sovereignty between the Federal government and the governments of the several states. The Federal government would be limited in its roles: protecting the country against foreign aggressors, dealing with foreign policy and commerce, and, above all, protecting the rights of the people of the United States. In fact, James Madison, the acknowledged “Father of the Constitution” said in Federalist 45:

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. The former will be exercised principally on external objects, as war, peace, negotiation, and foreign commerce; with which last the power of taxation will, for the most part, be connected. The powers reserved to the several States will extend to all the objects which, in the ordinary course of affairs, concern the lives, liberties, and properties of the people, and the internal order, improvement, and prosperity of the State.

The operations of the federal government will be most extensive and important in times of war and danger; those of the State governments, in times of peace and security. As the former periods will probably bear a small proportion to the latter, the State governments will here enjoy another advantage over the federal government. The more adequate, indeed, the federal powers may be rendered to the national defense, the less frequent will be those scenes of danger which might favor their ascendancy over the governments of the particular States.

In our Founders’ vision, the states would have the most power. They were closer to the people than the Federal government and therefore more accountable. The people would decide what the government would do and each state would be able to do what its people wanted, not what the Federal government wanted it to do, within the confines of the Constitution of course. The issue of states’ rights is back because our Founders’ ideas have been flipped. The Federal government is now the one with all the power, ignoring the states, themselves sovereign in our system of split sovereignty. It has broken free of the chains of the Constitution, as Thomas Jefferson put it, is now acting outside of the Constitution, accumulating far more than the “few and defined” powers Madison wrote about.

Today, the states have no say in the Federal government. They used to have a say until we passed the 17th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution which gave the people the power to elect their senators. Before the state legislatures picked the senators, giving them a voice in the Federal government. The senators were still supposed to represent the will of the people but were also to be a check on them as well. I’ll outline why in the next paragraph. Now, I’ll admit even until recently I supported that change because I believe in the will of the people, and, don’t get me wrong here, I still do. But with the passage of healthcare I’ve come to better appreciate what the Founders did by allowing the states to choose their own senators. The people of every state had the right to elect their representatives in the House to make their voices heard in the Federal government. In our system of split sovereignty the states used to have a voice in what the Federal government did.

Our Founders did this because they did not want all the power in the hands of the people because they knew how quickly a single event can spark a firestorm of controversy. They wanted to limit the will of the people, actually, to ensure we did not just enact laws and policies on a whim, which is why they created the Senate and why their terms are six years instead of two like in the House. They were to focus on the country and adhering the the Constitution rather than campaigning. That is also part of the reason why we are a representative republic, not a democracy. The Senate was supposed to the part of Congress which was more removed from the will of the people, making it more rational and a check on spontaneous legislation that could potentiality be harmful to the United States. With the 17th Amendment all that changed. The states no longer had a direct say in the Federal government and it has led to many problems, most notably with the healthcare monstrosity that passed through Congress this past March, despite the outcry from both the people and the states (the fact that the House completely ignored the will of the people they are supposed to represent is a whole different issue). Had the state governments had senators that represented the will of the individual states, the healthcare bill probably wouldn’t have passed and I’ll outline why in a bit.

States governments are revolting against this law for many reason. Foremost, it’s unconstitutional. Where in those “few and defined” powers Madison spoke of does the Constitution give the Federal government any sort of authority to pass such legislation? Another reason (there are many, many more about I’m going to just cover a few here), is that it forces the states to pay for a variety of provisions in the bill without giving them any sort of funding for it. Most states right now are running budget deficits, so how the hell are they supposed to pay for these healthcare programs when they can’t pay the bills they have now? This is why I think, had we not passed the 17th Amendment, this bill would have failed because you’d have people closer to the state governments who would know what kind of problems this bill would create.

Now, since the powers of the states are “numerous and indefinite,” if they want to pass their own healthcare laws, they are well within their power to do so, provided it’s what the people of the state want. Massachusetts has government-run healthcare and it’s completely legal and Constitutional. Since the Constitution doesn’t give that power to the Federal government, it’s a state issue, especially since the 10th Amendment states:

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.

The states, according to our Founders like Madison and Jefferson, were to be the focus of power, not the Federal government because they feared a strong, central government, like the British government which they had declared their independence of, would infringe on the rights of the people. Even the Federalists, who favored a stronger central government, would be astonished at the size of our Federal government today. During the late 1780s when the Constitution was being written and debated and during our first years as a nation under it, there were intense, bitter debates over the size and scope of the government. Today, the factions that were at opposite ends of the political spectrum during our first years would undoubtedly be on the same side, both agreeing that our Federal government is far larger and more powerful than it ever should have become. The Federal government involves itself into more things it shouldn’t than just healthcare. Issues such as unemployment benefits, education, student loans, and business regulations, to name a few, are all issues the Federal government has taken charge of that they have absolutely no Constitutional authority over whatsoever. These and more are state issues or items left to the people or free markets. And don’t allow Liberals to say they do have the authority through the General Welfare and Interstate Commerce Clauses because those clauses have been bastardized like the rest of the Constitution.

Like I started out this piece, the debate on states’ rights has become twisted into nothing more than lies and false claims by Liberals. It is a legitimate debate because it goes right back to our founding and what our Founders intended this country to be. They gave us a Constitution that clearly outlined the roles of the Federal government. It has broken free of those rules, something it never should have done and is now infringing on the rights of the states who have joint sovereignty under our federal system. There are a number of other reasons why the government has stretched beyond the chains of the Constitution and the 17th Amendment is one of just one of them. The Federal government now steps on each state and the American people by granting itself an ever growing set of unauthorized, unenumerated powers. The Federal government has it role and specific tasks it is supposed to do but it does much more than that now and that has put us in the mess we are currently in. The states were supposed to be the heart of America, not the Federal government. The rekindled debate over states’ rights isn’t about people being mad that we have a black president. It’s about the Constitution and freedom. It’s about how we are losing the greatest country this world has ever known, a country that got to where it is today because of the Constitution and its limits on the Federal government, not in spite of it.


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