Founding Principles of America 21: Strong Local Government
Strong Local Self-government is the Keystone to Preserving Human Freedom.
U.S. Constitution series 20-21
Political power automatically gravitates toward the center, and the purpose of the Constitution is to prevent that from happening. The centralization of political power always destroys liberty by removing the decision-making function from the people on the local level and transferring it to the officers of the central government.
This process gradually benumbs the spirit of “voluntarism” among the people, and they lose the will to solve their own problems. They also cease to be involved in community affairs. They seek the anonymity of oblivion in the seething crowds of the city and often degenerate into faceless automatons who have neither a voice nor a vote. ~Skousen
The Golden Key to Preserving Freedom
How different from the New England town spirit, where every person had a voice and a vote. How different from the Anglo-Saxon tribal meetings, where the people were considered sovereign and every man took pride in participating. And how different from ancient Israel, where the families of the people were governed in multiples of tens, fifties, hundreds, and thousands, and where problems were solved on the level where those problems originated. All of those societies had strong local self-government. This is what the Founding Fathers considered the golden key to preserving freedom. (Skousen, 235-236)
Jefferson Emphasizes the Role of Strong Local Self-Government
As the Founders wrote their laws, they were determined to protect the freedom of the individual and provide a vigorous climate of healthy, local self-government. Only those things which related to the interest of the entire commonwealth were to be delegated to the central government. (Skousen, 238)
The way to have good and safe government is not to trust it all to one, but to divide it among the many, distributing to every one exactly the functions he is competent to [perform best]. Let the national government be entrusted with the defense of the nation, and its foreign and federal relations.
State governments with the civil rights, laws, police, and administration of what concerns the State generally; the counties with the local concerns of the counties, and each ward [township] direct the interests within itself. It is by dividing and subdividing these republics, from the great national one down through all its subordinations, until it ends in the placing under every one what his own eye may superintend, that all will be done for the best.
What has destroyed liberty and the rights of man in every government which has ever existed under the sun? The generalizing and concentrating all cares and powers into one body, no matter whether of the autocrats of Russia or France, or the aristocrats of a Venetian senate.
James Madison, “Father of the Constitution”
Deployment of Power Between the Federal Government and the States
The Constitution delegates to the federal government only that which involves the whole people as a nation.
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 [federal powers] will be exercised principally on external objects, as war, peace, negotiation, and foreign commerce . . . 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. (Federalist Papers, no. 45, pp. 292-93)
Federal Government to Remain Relatively Small
Thomas Jefferson emphasized that if the oncoming generations perpetuated the Constitutional pattern, the federal government would be small and cohesive and would serve as an inexpensive operation because of the limited problems which would be assigned to it.
The true theory of our Constitution is surely the wisest and best, that the states are independent as to everything within themselves, and untied as to everything respecting foreign nations. Let the general government be reduced to foreign concerns only, and let our affairs be disentangled from those of all other nations, except as to commerce, which the merchants will manage the better, the more they are left free to manage for themselves, and our general government may be reduced to a very simple organization, and a very inexpensive one; a few plain duties to be performed by a few servants.
NEXT: Founding Principles of America 22: A Free People Should be Governed by Law and Not by the Whims of Men.