The Death of Federalism

Federalism is dead in America; its Constitution on life support. With Barack Obama in the White House and progressive democrats in control of Congress, the left’s centuries old goal of a consolidated government has finally been realized. With federalism gone, the Constitution becomes little more than an interesting historical artifact to be marveled at by historians and academicians. The experiment of enumerated powers and state sovereignty no longer has any relevance in American politics.

For over two hundred years, the one defining characteristic of the American psyche has been a desire for independence and its natural twin, liberty. It was to secure and maintain this independence that the Declaration of Independence, the Articles of Confederation and the Constitution were written and published to the world. Thomas Jefferson, writing what he considered to be “an expression of the American mind” wrote in the concluding paragraph of the Declaration of Independence, these words:

“We, therefore, the  Representatives of the united States of America, in General Congress, assembled, appealing to the Supreme Judge of the world for the rectitude of our intentions, do, in the name, and by the authority of the good people of these Colonies, solemnly publish and declare, that these United Colonies are, and of right ought to be free and independent states; that they are absolved from all allegiance to the British Crown, and that all political connection between them and the State of Great Britain, is and ought to be totally dissolved; and that as free and independent states, they have full power to levy war, conclude peace, contract alliances, establish commerce, and to do all other acts and things which independent states may of right do.”

For more than a hundred and fifty years, the Colonies had considered themselves as independent colonies, governed by laws of their own making, under the protection of the British Crown. Their relationship with the British government as expressed through its Parliament had always been tenuous at best. It was the increasing encroachment on the colonies independent status by Parliament that eventually led to the break with Great Britain and the Revolutionary War.

It is interesting to note that in the original copy of the Declaration of Independence on display in the Rotunda for the Charters of Freedom in Washington, D.C., and in most published copies of the Declaration, the word “united” in the first line of the final paragraph is not capitalized. It is “united States of America” not “United States of America”. The significance of this minor detail is in the type of union the Colonies envisioned. Also, notice that states never appears in the singular, always the plural. Compare the plural word “states” as used in our founding documents with the singular title, “State of Great Britain”. The colonies were “united” in their independence from England and they were “united” in defense. They did not consider themselves to be, and did not contemplate becoming a single consolidated “State” government.

The government later established under the Articles of Confederation was anything but a united, state government. In fact, the Articles were primarily concerned with mutual defense and international commerce. Article Two specifically precludes any type of central authority over the states other than the few specified.

Article Two
“Each State retains its sovereignty, freedom, and independence, and every power, jurisdiction, and right, which is not by this Confederation expressly delegated to the United States in Congress assembled.”

This spirit of independence held by the states was carried over in the Constitution and was the principle underlying the list of enumerated powers in the Constitution and the prohibition of encroachment by the national government on the liberties of its citizens, by the Bill of Rights, especially the Tenth Amendment. The states would never have ratified a Constitution calling for a central consolidated government. The highly venerated Federalist Papers were written primarily to convince the inhabitants of the various states that such a consolidated government could never develop under the Constitution. As it turns out, Hamilton, Jay and Madison severely underestimated the ingenuity of politicians on a quest for power, and the fears of the anti-federalist who opposed the Constitution have been proven by history, to be valid.

The difference between a “federal government” and a “national government” is more than just a matter of semantics. The national government envisioned by the present administration, regulating a centrally planned economy and regulating the private and collective lives of American citizens cannot be accomplished without uniform national laws and despotic enforcement. This fact has been made manifest by the recently passed and proposed regulatory bills of this administration concerning health care, finance, manufacturing, energy, etc. It is further manifested in the ongoing court cases in Arizona, California, Virginia and some dozen other states concerning immigration, gay marriage, energy production, etc.

The Constitution is a static document. Its words do not change with the calendar. If we are successful in taking back control of the government in the next two elections, there is hope for the restoration of limited constitutional government. However, federalism is dead. Nationalization of the central government has advanced to the point it can never be restored to the status of a federal government without major social upheavals that would never be condoned by the people. The best we can hope for is a modified national government with the gradual elimination of some if its more egregious encroachments.

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2 responses to “The Death of Federalism

  1. Michael Brown

    Spot on commentary.

    Upheavel be damned, I’d do away with virtually all regulatory laws directed at business, health care and the States while giving teeth to the SEC.

    I’d dismantle the Department of Education, virtually all entitlements would become State, County and local issues.

    Get rid of all Public Unions and certainly castrate the rest of the unions.

    Freedom to build, freedom to invent, freedom to hire, freedom to conduct business. That’s what made America great.

    I’d cut off ALL subsidies, make it or break it. Free Enterprise flourishes once again.

    I’d gut the State Department by 80%

    Build the military.
    Secure the borders.
    Open up energy exploration.
    Pay off the debt and get solvent again.
    Let the States know they sink or swim – no more bailouts.
    Liberal States would die.

    In no time at all the Country would be prosperous again – and booming.
    Conservative States would flourish.
    Liberal States would die or become fiscally conservative again.