Part 1: What’s So Great About Our Constitution, Anyway?
Essay 12 – Limited Government
“Society in every state is a blessing, but government even in its best state is but a necessary evil; in its worst state an intolerable one; for when we suffer, or are exposed to the same miseries by a government, which we might expect in a country without government, our calamity is heightened by reflecting that we furnish the means by which we suffer…”
– Thomas Paine, Common Sense
The fight for our independence was brought on by a far-away, centralized power that increasingly controlled more and more of the lives of the people. Upon winning our independence, the people were in no mood to simply relinquish it again to yet another far-away, centralized power.
Each of the 13 states at the time were very protective of their individual sovereignty. They were 13 distinct, independent, sovereign states that agreed to create and become a part of a confederacy of states, basically for consolidated defense purposes and for some handling of disputes between the states.
Other than that, the states were free to govern themselves completely as they saw fit.
When it became clear that the Articles of Confederation were insufficient to even handle the basic tasks it was created for, the effort was put into creating a new constitution and federal government in order to “form a more perfect union”.
There was great concern from many that this new constitution would lead to an all-powerful, centralized government, much the same as what they had spent a lot of effort, money, and lives in freeing themselves of.
The proponents of the new constitution assured everyone that the federal government would be limited to only that which was specifically enumerated in the constitution.
Those opposing the new constitution did not believe it went far enough to protect the liberties of the people and the sovereignty of the states.
This is all to say that the concept of a very limited federal government was first and foremost on the minds of the people when debating and ratifying the new constitution. In the end, we (as in “we the people”) agreed to establish a more powerful federal government, but only in the areas specifically enumerated in the constitution.
It was fully understood that this meant that the federal government would only be involved in such issues as the defense of the states, interstate commerce, foreign treaties, and resolving disputes between the states. Everything else, essentially everything that would actually affect the daily lives of the people, would be left to each individual state (and the people therein) to decide.
The framers of the Constitution understood that the only way this union would work with such a large and diverse population and expansive land coverage, in order to ensure domestic tranquility, and preserve as much liberty as possible, the bulk of the powers of government must be left closest to the people.
Each individual state, by signing on and becoming part of the United States, understood and demanded that their individual state sovereignty be left intact for all things not specifically delegated to the federal government. Every state, then and now, has people with many different needs, cultures, values, beliefs and ideas on what will make for a good, happy life.
The only way for liberty to be maintained in order for the people to be able to live their chosen happiness, is to provide the opportunity for the people in each of their respective states, to make the laws that govern the bulk of their own daily lives. It was understood that the states would retain the sovereignty to do that, provided, of course, that the laws do not conflict with the Constitution and that each state maintain a republican form of government.
“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.”
– James Madison, Federalist 45
So what happens when this balance of power is skewed, such that the federal government has consolidated and centralized the vast amount of power?
Constant friction; massive corruption, fraud, and waste; people who feel disenfranchised and powerless; a one-size-fits-all type of legislation where nobody can live their daily lives as they truly see fit and have no choice to move somewhere that more closely fits.
Basically, a large, distant, all-powerful, centralized government creates an environment that turns the purpose of the Constitution, as spelled out in the preamble, on its head.
It does not create a more perfect union, it most assuredly hinders domestic tranquility, which in turn decreases our ability for common defense, and diminishes our liberty.
“The States can best govern our home concerns and the general government our foreign ones. I wish, therefore…never to see all offices transferred to Washington, where, further withdrawn from the eyes of the people, they may more secretly be bought and sold at market.”
– Thomas Jefferson, 1823
Where we’ve gone wrong…
By now, it should be obvious to just about everyone paying the least bit of attention that the federal government has assumed powers over just about everything in our lives.
This has occurred from a very deliberate effort to thwart the actual intent and structure of the Constitution and our government to better fit an ideology that believes that the Constitution was flawed from the beginning. This ideology believes that the government is the answer to all of our problems and should be in charge of everything.
Over the years, they have manipulated and interpreted the Constitution in ways to bend it to their vision. The result is a massive, centralized government that assumed and consolidated powers not specifically enumerated to them.
In turn, we now have the federal government deciding on one-size-fits-all policies that make everyone miserable on a rotating basis, which instigates agitation, conflict, and animosity between all of the various groups (factions) of people.
We are in a consistent, perpetual state of turmoil.
About this series:
The People Are Sovereign! is a series of 30 essays that will be posted on a daily basis. The series will continue tomorrow with Essay 13 – Separation of Powers
To view the previous essay in the series, click this link: Essay 11 – Republic vs. Democracy
To view the next essay in the series, click this link: Essay 13 – Separation of Powers