Founding Principles of America 19: Limited Government

Founding Principles of America 19: Limited Government

US Constitution Series 19

NOTE: The slavery issue was an example of abuse of power by the states. Some of the states were also engaging in religious persecution. It was necessary for the federal government to guarantee unalienable rights to all Americans, not just a powerful few. After the Civil War, the 14th amendment was passed to remedy that. Now, the pendulum of power has swung violently in the other direction, with the federal government abusing our freedom of religion, speech, and many other constitutional rights. ~C.D.

Limited Government

Only limited and carefully defined powers should be delegated to government, all others being retained in the people

signers3No principle was emphasized more vigorously during the Constitutional Convention than the necessity of limiting the authority of the federal government. …the Founders were determined to bind down its administrators with legal chains codified in the Constitution.

It will be recalled that one of the reasons many of the states would not adopt the original draft of the Constitution was that they feared the encroachments of the federal government on the rights of the states and the people. The first ten amendments were therefore added to include the ancient, unalienable rights of Anglo-Saxon freemen so there could be no question as to the strictly limited authority the people were conferring on their central government. Notice how carefully the Ninth and Tenth Amendments are worded:

 

The Ninth Amendment

The enumeration in the Constitution, of certain rights, shall not be construed to deny or disparage others retained by the people.

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.

The people felt that the hedging up of federal authority was absolutely essential because of their experience with corrupt and abusive governments in the past. (Skousen, 223-224)

Alexander Hamilton

alexanderhamiltonThere is, in the nature of sovereign power, an impatience of control that disposes those who are invested with the exercise of it to look with an evil eye upon all external attempts to restrain or direct its operations . . .This tendency is not difficult to be accounted for. It has its origin in the love of power. Power controlled or abridged is almost always the rival and enemy of that power by which it is controlled or abridged.

Original Balance between Federal Government and States

The separation of powers between the states and the federal government was designed to reinforce the principles of limited government. The federal government was supreme in all matters relating to its responsibility [such as national defense], but it was specifically restricted from invading the independence and sovereign authority reserved to the States. The Founders felt that unless this principle of dual sovereignty was carefully perpetuated, the healthy independence of each would deteriorate and eventually one or the other would become totally dominant.

Alexander Hamilton

This balance between the national and state governments. . .is of utmost importance. It forms a double security to the people. If one encroaches on their rights, they will find a powerful protection in the other. Indeed, they will both be prevented from overpassing their constitutional limits, by certain rivalship which will ever subsist between them.

Where Power Rivals Power

The Founders felt that by having a wholesome balance between the federal and state governments, the people would have recourse to one of the other in case of usurpation or abuse by either.

 

Why the Founders would have frowned on the 17th Amendment

constitution2But would the states be able to protect themselves from the might of the federal government if the Congress began legislating against states’ rights? Originally, the states could protect themselves because U.S. Senators were appointed by the state legislatures, and the Senate could veto any legislation by the House of Representatives which they considered a threat to the rights of the individual states. Unfortunately, the protection of states’ rights by this means was completely wiped out by the passage of the Seventeenth Amendment in 1913.

That amendment provided that Senators would thenceforth be elected by popular ballot rather than appointed by the state legislatures. This meant the sates as sovereign commonwealths had lost their representation on the federal level, and their Senators would be subject to the same popular pressures during an election campaign as those which confront the members of the House of Representatives.

Since that time, there has been no veto power which the states could exercise against the Congress in those cases where a federal statute was deemed in violation of states’ rights. The Senators who used to be beholden to their state legislatures for their conduct in Washington are now beholden to the popular electorate. Federal funds appropriated for a state are generally a source of popular acclaim, and Senators, like Congressmen, usually hasten to get them approved.

Sometime in the not-too-distant future, the people may want to take another look at the present trend and consider the advantages of returning to the Founders’ policy of having state legislatures in the United States Senate. It might give us another generation of Senators like Daniel Webster, John Calhoun, and Henry Clay. (Skousen, 225-227

NEXT—

Founding Principles of America 20: Efficiency and Dispatch require Government to operate according to the will of the majority, but Constitutional provisions must be made to protect the rights of the minority

[Once again, the Constitution has been skewed. Despite the voice of the majority of people and states on traditional marriage, a small, very loud minority is intimidating the majority. Because of this, #20 will be combined with #21]

Founding Principles of America 21: Strong Local Self-Government

Founding Principles of America 18: Unalienable Rights of Constitution Protected by Written Records of History

 

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