There is such a big effort going on in our nation today, to reduce, if not eliminate, the purpose and the role of each of our States here in these United STATES of America. Proponents of doing this often say, “Well, we have the communications and the data technology to pull this off effectively in our 21st Century that we did not have before – so WHY NOT?”
I would offer an initial challenge to that thinking with this - “Just because you CAN do a bad thing doesn’t mean that you SHOULD.” John F Kennedy once wisely said, “You should never tear down a fence before you find out WHY the fence was put up to begin with.”
Why Do We Even Have States?
It is because of our system of self-governance that has been intentionally designed into our unique, American form of government. In fact, this design is the intrinsic structure, the very DNA of the United States – it’s not just an add-on feature!
You see, it is our STATES that created the United STATES of America, not the other way around! As KrisAnne Hall, JD so accurately points out, the U.S. has been formed by CONTRACT - called a "compact" or "pact" when governments do them. That compact is known as the United States CONSTITUTION. The STATES are the Parties to the contract! The federal government is NOT a Party to the contract - it cannot be, because the federal government is the PRODUCT of that contract!
CANADA, by contrast, was formed as a federal government first and then went out and created each of its Provinces. Our Canadian friends all live in Provinces that ARE each creations of the Federal government. The federal government in Ottawa sets all the rules, laws and the limits upon each of the Provinces that they must follow.
Powers and authorities not listed, in Canada, are reserved to the FEDERAL government there. The exact OPPOSITE is true here in the United States. Our Federal government may govern ONLY in the areas that are listed, or "enumerated" in the Constitution and it is banned from governing in areas not so enumerated! Our STATES, and the People in those States, have governing powers limited only by the areas that are specifically transferred to the Federal government. States may not, for example, coin their own money, raise their own standing armies, not negotiate their own peace treaties with other nations. But our States are free to govern in any other areas. They are SOVEREIGN entities, otherwise.
It Provides Better Self-Governance!
Our 9th and 10th Amendments specifically say that what the U.S. Federal government may be involved with are ONLY those governing areas assigned to it by the Constitution, and by contrast, they also say that our STATE governments may govern in ANY area that they so choose to, as long as they do not violate the principles of the Constitution. Nor may the States get involved in areas that the Constitution says they may NOT be involved in - the areas reserved exclusively to the federal government..
That difference is HUGE. Do you see that difference between the U.S. and other federated nations? In Canada, that relationship is reversed.
Our Founders, collectively, created arguably the absolute best foundational legal documents ever created for a nation. Individually, they argued amongst themselves like Cats and Dogs, and we have a lot of evidence of their disagreements and debates. But, what they collectively agreed to is nothing short of sheer brilliance in terms of people governing people.
Remember, that our States came first. The original Colonies of Britain became sovereign and independent States in 1776. They developed laws and regulations within their own States that were appropriate and useful to their own People, their own beliefs and their own customs. When confronted with the obvious need to form a union among these very different and autonomous States, there was a great deal of angst and debate over the wisdom to do so. As Mather Byles of Massachusetts said in 1780s, “Which is better – to be ruled by one tyrant three thousand miles away, or by three thousand tyrants one mile away?”
Built by Philosophy
Margaret Thatcher was the British Prime Minister from 1979 – 1990. On a visit to the US, Thatcher addressed the Congress, and there she reminded our assembled lawmakers something very important and profound: “Europe”, said Thatcher, “was created by History. America was created by Philosophy.” The United States was certainly the first nation so conceived, and certainly has been the longest lasting of any form of government in the world today.
Lady Thatcher’s point – “Europe happened. America was designed.”
Europe Was Formed Simply by the Strongest Surviving and Ruling
Europe’s government(s), basically, happened. Over 2,000 years, the nations of Europe were formed by the events, the wars and by the conquests of simply the strongest surviving.
America, on the other hand, even as we have had our own historical events and share of wars, literally DESIGNED our government(s) based on the philosophies and the principles, which are found in our Declaration of Independence and in our Constitution. “We hold these TRUTHS to be Self-Evident – that ALL (people) are created EQUAL, and that they are (each) ENDOWED by their CREATOR with certain UNALIENABLE Rights. And that among (those rights) are Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness.”
America Was Formed on a Different Basis
America is largely DESIGNED to protect the Individual and our many minorities from the rule of tyrannical dictators – and from the rule of a tyrannical majority!
Our Declaration of Independence continues to explain this philosophy. “That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just Powers from the Consent of the Governed, … ”. Governments do not CREATE rights, Governments are set up to help secure and protect God-gifted rights that every person and group of persons has. That has been unique to the United States of America.
But, why form a government to govern thirteen (13) – and, today, fifty (50) – very different States? Because each of the States knew and understood that individually, every State standing alone was weak and frail and could easily be picked off by any of the three Super Powers – Spain, France or Great Britain – who all still had significant presence in North America. A union of these States was necessary for the common defense and to help facilitate trade and similar issues among the States.
Individually, each of our States were rather small, but they were each providing their People a high level of individual liberties – the ancient practice of slavery notwithstanding. The challenge ever present was – How long could it last?
Remember, from our earlier episodes – the Founders were creating a FEDERATION of States. The States already existed and they already had functioning governments. They needed to form a union of States into a functioning Federation that would provide for the Common Defense, a national Judiciary, a smoother-running economy, a national currency and a workable foreign policy where foreign powers could not play one State against another in trade deals and other treaties.
Before he became President, George Washington lamented in 1786 that the Articles of Confederation, which had been drafted in 1777 and adopted in 1781, were not working. “What a triumph for the advocates of despotism to find that we are incapable of governing ourselves."
The Solution: Federalism
What a dilemma! On the one hand, the need for a stronger national government was apparent to most everyone, with the ability to raise revenues to do what it is charged with doing, and yet retaining the need of the People in the States to govern themselves with a Government where they can most effectively grant, or withhold, the Consent of the Governed – their State Government. In 1787, the STATES convened the Constitutional Convention, recognizing the need for a stronger national government, but not willing to give away all their sovereign powers. The Founders were very careful to achieve both objectives – Federalism was crafted as the answer.
The Massive Challenge
In 1788, James Madison brilliantly summed up the massive challenge that they faced in creating a government to govern the People who were living in thirteen very different States, but who all shared the same very basic principles and beliefs. In 1788, Madison wrote in Federalist 51,
“If men were angels, no government would be necessary.
“If angels were to govern men, neither external nor internal controls on government would be necessary.
“In framing a government which is to be administered by men over men, the great difficulty lies in this: you must first enable the government to control the governed; and in the next place, oblige it to control itself.”
Government closer to the people is better government as the Consent of the Governed may be much more efficiently and effectively granted or withheld.
We will continue in our next post on these simple concepts . . .
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John Crawford has been a lifelong Constitutional Conservative. He graduated from Michigan State University in Business Administration and worked on his MBA at Western Michigan University. He has been very active in grassroots politics and in volunteer community service organizations his entire career.