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SENTRY JOURNAL » Uncategorized » Federalism: Stuffing the federal government back into its constitutional box

Federalism: Stuffing the federal government back into its constitutional box

The other day I was listening to one of my favorite conservative talk radio shows on the way to work and the discussion was about whether or not states have the right to unplug from the corrupt system that is the federal leviathan.  The logic tree the host climbed up in regards to states and their legal right to decide not to participate in unconstitutional programs and laws that are imposed on them by a federal government made complete sense.  He even went so far as to say that states participation in the election process was completely voluntary and if states wanted to they could choose not to send Senators (who represent the interest of the states) to Washington D.C.  I found the discussion very intriguing to say the least.  Unlike the age old question of which came first the chicken or the egg, we know the states came first and created the federal government through the ratification process of the constitution.   The states voluntarily surrendered a “small” portion of their sovereignty in order to form a union and partnership with each other.

This partnership between the states and the new federal government that was formed through the creation and ratification of the constitution was in essence a contract that strictly limited the powers of the federal government and ultimately made it subservient to the states and the people.  The founders believed that the government needed to be as close to the people as possible.  It allows the people to keep a close watch on the entity that governs their affairs.  If there are signs that it’s infringing on the rights of people, the people can react to such acts by attending town hall meetings, city council meetings and by participating in the election process to correct the course of the governing body.  You see this today with parents going to school board meetings when they have concerns with the curriculum being taught or township meetings when they want to voice their opinions about new zoning rules.  When imposing a new regulation or some new city ordinance there’s a certain amount of forced honesty when you have the face the people.

When you have to live in the same neighborhood and under the same rules that you helped create you’re more apt to think them through.  You’re also more likely to listen to the concerns of the people because they’re your friends and neighbors.  In addition the process might be more transparent because it’s so close to the people, although this is not necessarily the rule of thumb in all instances.  These are a few of the reasons why the founders believed local government was the key to a successful republic and why so much power was granted to the states in the constitution.  The federal government’s role in this partnership was to make sure that the freedoms and liberties the people enjoyed and the free market transactions they participated in each day were protected with minimal interference.  They were granted 17 enumerated powers to ensure this environment was maintained.  This is how we conducted business for the first 100 years of our nation.  It wasn’t until after the civil war that the federal government started to exert more authority over the states and under Woodrow Wilson they stepped on the accelerator moving farther away from the constitutional republic the founders created.  Federalism was turned on its head as the states started to become subservient to the federal government they created.  That’s how upside down we have become and why the system isn’t working for the people anymore.  The federal government is no longer honoring their end of the contract.  They’re no longer recognizing the rights of the states.

This basic understanding of the partnership between the states and the federal government has for the most part been forgotten by both the states and the people.  This is how the federal government has gotten away with imposing its will on the states for so long.  Statists in favor of federal authority will claim that the supremacy clause in the constitution gives the federal government almost unlimited power to trump state laws if they are in conflict with federal law.  This is only true when the laws crafted were done so within the confines of the 17 enumerated powers outlined in the constitution.  And in case the states have forgotten what those powers are the following is the list of them.

Article I, Section 8

  • To borrow money on the credit of the United States;
  • To regulate Commerce with foreign Nations, and among the several States, and with the Indian Tribes;
  • To establish an uniform Rule of Naturalization, and uniform Laws on the subject of Bankruptcies throughout the United States;
  • To coin Money, regulate the Value thereof, and of foreign Coin, and fix the Standard of Weights and Measures;
  • To provide for the Punishment of counterfeiting the Securities and current Coin of the United States;
  • To establish Post Offices and Post Roads
  • To promote the Progress of Science and useful Arts, by securing for limited Times to Authors and Inventors the exclusive Right to their respective Writings and Discoveries;
  • To constitute Tribunals inferior to the Supreme Court;
  • To define and punish Piracies and Felonies committed on the high Seas, and Offenses against the Law of Nations;
  • To declare War, grant Letters of Marque and Reprisal and make Rules concerning Captures on Land and Water;
  • To raise and support Armies, but no Appropriation of Money to that Use shall be for a longer Term than two Years;
  • To provide and maintain a Navy;
  • To make Rules for the Government and Regulation of the land and naval Forces;
  • To provide for calling forth the Militia to execute the Laws of the Union, suppress Insurrections and repel Invasions;
  • To provide for organizing, arming, and disciplining, the Militia, and for governing such Part of them as may be employed in the Service of the United States, reserving to the States respectively, the Appointment of the Officers, and the Authority of training the Militia according to the discipline prescribed by Congress;
  • To exercise exclusive Legislation in all Cases whatsoever, over such District (not exceeding ten Miles square) as may, by Cession of particular States, and the acceptance of Congress, become the Seat of the Government of the United States, and to exercise like Authority over all Places purchased by the Consent of the Legislature of the State in which the Same shall be, for the Erection of Forts, Magazines, Arsenals, dock-Yards, and other needful Buildings; And
  • To make all Laws which shall be necessary and proper for carrying into Execution the foregoing Powers, and all other Powers vested by this Constitution in the Government of the United States, or in any Department or Officer thereof.


Now to be fair congress does have a few additional powers granted through the amendment process; however for the most part the 17 enumerated powers above constitutes the extent of their powers.  Any law crafted outside of the scope of these enumerated powers would be unconstitutional and would not fall under the supremacy clause.  If this is the case, I believe states under these conditions and by the constitutional authority protected via the 10th amendment have the right to ignore/nullify such laws.  And considering that most of the regulations imposed and laws passed by congress these days fall outside of their constitutional authority this could end up being a game changer.

I have always said there are two ways to stuff the federal government back into its constitutional box.  The first way is to reestablish the gold standard.  When paper money is linked to something of value like gold it will force the government to limit their spending.  They just can’t print money to fund their unconstitutional programs like they are doing today; they would be naturally forced to reduce spending.  The second way is for the states to reassert their constitutional authority and push back on unconstitutional regulations and laws that were crafted and implemented without the authority of the constitution.  When states figure this out and remember they have a responsibility to protect the interests of their citizens and industries we will start moving in a direction that reestablishes the federalism and constitutional republic our founders envisioned.  We will begin to roll back the damage the left and progressives have done in the last 100 years and we will be a stronger nation for it.

Liberty forever, freedom for all.


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  • Chris W May 19, 2012 at 8:21 PM

    I completely agree John, the states need to reassert their rights if we have any hope going forward.

    I’d be willing to wager that conservative talk show host was Mike Church too.

  • LD Jackson May 20, 2012 at 3:31 AM

    When you look at the list of powers you provided, and compare them with the monstrosity we now have for a federal government, are we sure we are talking about the same government? There is very little resemblance between the two. As you said, that goes to show just how far we have move beyond the vision of the Founders.

    Given the fact that so many in Washington would disagree with this idea, I wonder how strong their reaction would be, if some of the states started pushing back against their reach past the constitutional boundaries?
    LD Jackson recently posted..Unintended Consequences of Government RegulationMy Profile

    • John Carey May 20, 2012 at 9:39 PM

      The way we get the states to act Larry is to start focusing more on our state representatives, senators, and governors. They need to start hearing from us. This is why I have always said local elections were just as important or maybe even more important than national. As I said the states have the constitutional authority to push back. The Virginia Report of 1798 was exactly what Virginia was doing in terms of pushing back against the Alien and Sedition Acts. They basically said they would not comply or enforce because the federal government had no constitutional authority to pass the acts. This is the fire we need today in regards to regulations and laws that are being enforced but have no constitutional authority behind them. The first step is getting to know your state rep.
      John Carey recently posted..Federalism: Stuffing the federal government back into its constitutional boxMy Profile

  • Steve Dennis May 20, 2012 at 6:20 AM

    Great post John! I hadn’t thought about the role the gold standard could play but it makes perfect sense. As far as the states go I would love them to take back their strength and start to push back but the Civil War did go far in removing the authority of the states over the federal government–that is where it all began.
    Steve Dennis recently posted..The Obama campaign responds to the story about Obama’s bio which states he was born in Kenya, sort ofMy Profile

    • John Carey May 20, 2012 at 10:15 PM

      Getting back to the gold standard is key. There is a great article about it here> The biggest opponents of getting back to the gold standard tend to be our friends on the left. They will try to sell the notion that getting back to Getting back to the gold standard would limit how much could be printed because its backed by something of value. Our friends on the left can’t live with this because there would be no way to fund all their unconstitutional programs. Something would need to be cut.

      The thing about the civil war is that states never really lost their constitutional authority or powers after the war. The federal government did a good job creating the illusion that it had actually more power than it did. The bitter taste the civil war left in people’s mouth help the federal government promote this illusion.
      John Carey recently posted..Federalism: Stuffing the federal government back into its constitutional boxMy Profile

  • Silverfiddle May 20, 2012 at 7:42 AM

    I wholeheartedly agree with you, especially the conclusion. Hard money and states pushing back is the most realistic road back to Realville.
    Silverfiddle recently posted..The Ten Thousand CommandmentsMy Profile

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  • Jim at Conservatives on Fire May 20, 2012 at 1:05 PM

    Great oust, John, I would go a step further and say that it will have to come from grassroot maovements to nominate and elect governors and legislators who will push back on the federal government.
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