Founders' and 18th Century Quotes on Federalism and States' Rights

"The people, in whom the supreme power resides, ought to have the management of everything within their reach: that which exceeds their abilities must be conducted by their ministers."

Charles de Secondat, Baron de Montesquieu
1748
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"If a republic be small, it is destroyed by a foreign force; if it be large, it is ruined by an internal imperfection.

To this twofold inconvenience democracies and aristocracies are equally liable, whether they be good or bad. The evil is in the very thing itself, and no form can redress it.

It is, therefore, very probable that mankind would have been, at length, obliged to live constantly under the government of a single person, had they not contrived a kind of constitution that has all the internal advantages of a republican, together with the external force of a monarchical, government. I mean a confederate republic. This form of government is a convention by which several petty states agree to become members of a larger one, which they intend to establish. It is a kind of assemblage of societies, that constitute a new one, capable of increasing by means of further associations, till they arrive at such a degree of power as to be able to provide for the security of the whole body.

It was these associations that so long contributed to the prosperity of Greece. By these the Romans attacked the whole globe, and by these alone the whole globe withstood them; for when Rome had arrived at her highest pitch of grandeur, it was the associations beyond the Danube and the Rhine -- associations formed by the terror of her arms -- that enabled the barbarians to resist her."

Charles de Secondat, Baron de Montesquieu
Book IX, Section 1
1748
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"A republic of this kind, able to withstand an external force, may support itself without any internal corruption; the form of this society prevents all manner of inconveniences.

If a single member should attempt to usurp the supreme power, he could not be supposed to have an equal authority and credit in all the confederate states. Were he to have too great an influence over one, this would alarm the rest; were he to subdue a part, that which would still remain free might oppose him with forces independent of those which he had usurped, and overpower him before he could be settled in his usurpation.

Should a popular insurrection happen in one of the confederate states, the others are able to quell it. Should abuses creep into one part, they are reformed by those that remain sound. The state may be destroyed on one side, and not on the other; the confederacy may be dissolved, and the confederates preserve their sovereignty.

As this government is composed of petty republics, it enjoys the internal happiness of each; and with regard to its external situation, by means of the association, it possesses all the advantages of large monarchies."

Charles de Secondat, Baron de Montesquieu
Book IX, Section 1
1748
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"Article II. Each state retains its sovereignty, freedom, and independence, and every Power, Jurisdiction, and right, which is not by this confederation expressly delegated to the United States, in Congress assembled."

Second Continental Congress
Constitution Society
March 1, 1781
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Library Topic: Constitutional Limits

"It is not meant, by stating this case, to insinuate that the constitution would warrant a law of this kind; or unnecessarily to alarm the fears of the people, by suggesting, that the federal legislature would be more likely to pass the limits assigned them by the constitution, than that of an individual state, further than they are less responsible to the people. But what is meant is, that the legislature of the United States are vested with the great and uncontroulable powers, of laying and collecting taxes, duties, imposts, and excises; of regulating trade, raising and supporting armies, organizing, arming, and disciplining the militia, instituting courts, and other general powers. And are by this clause invested with the power of making all laws, proper and necessary, for carrying all these into execution; and they may so exercise this power as entirely to annihilate all the state governments, and reduce this country to one single government. And if they may do it, it is pretty certain they will; for it will be found that the power retained by individual states, small as it is, will be a clog upon the wheels of the government of the United States; the latter therefore will be naturally inclined to remove it out of the way. Besides, it is a truth confirmed by the unerring experience of ages, that every man, and every body of men, invested with power, are ever disposed to increase it, and to acquire a superiority over every thing that stands in their way. This disposition, which is implanted in human nature, will operate in the federal legislature to lessen and ultimately to subvert the state authority, and having such advantages, will most certainly succeed, if the federal government succeeds at all. It must be very evident then, that what this constitution wants of being a complete consolidation of the several parts of the union into one complete government, possessed of perfect legislative, judicial, and executive powers, to all intents and purposes, it will necessarily acquire in its exercise and operation."

"Brutus" (Robert Yates)
New York Journal
October 18, 1787
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Library Topic: Constitutional Limits

"In a free republic, although all laws are derived from the consent of the people, yet the people do not declare their consent by themselves in person, but by representatives, chosen by them, who are supposed to know the minds of their constituents, and to be possessed of integrity to declare this mind.

In every free government, the people must give their assent to the laws by which they are governed. This is the true criterion between a free government and an arbitrary one. The former are ruled by the will of the whole, expressed in any manner they may agree upon; the latter by the will of one, or a few. If the people are to give their assent to the laws, by persons chosen and appointed by them, the manner of the choice and the number chosen, must be such, as to possess, be disposed, and consequently qualified to declare the sentiments of the people; for if they do not know, or are not disposed to speak the sentiments of the people, the people do not govern, but the sovereignty is in a few. Now, in a large extended country, it is impossible to have a representation, possessing the sentiments, and of integrity, to declare the minds of the people, without having it so numerous and unwieldly, as to be subject in great measure to the inconveniency of a democratic government.

The territory of the United States is of vast extent; it now contains near three millions of souls, and is capable of containing much more than ten times that number. Is it practicable for a country, so large and so numerous as they will soon become, to elect a representation, that will speak their sentiments, without their becoming so numerous as to be incapable of transacting public business? It certainly is not.

In a republic, the manners, sentiments, and interests of the people should be similar. If this be not the case, there will be a constant clashing of opinions; and the representatives of one part will be continually striving against those of the other. This will retard the operations of government, and prevent such conclusions as will promote the public good. If we apply this remark to the condition of the United States, we shall be convinced that it forbids that we should be one government. The United States includes a variety of climates. The productions of the different parts of the union are very variant, and their interests, of consequence, diverse. Their manners and habits differ as much as their climates and productions; and their sentiments are by no means coincident. The laws and customs of the several states are, in many respects, very diverse, and in some opposite; each would be in favor of its own interests and customs, and, of consequence, a legislature, formed of representatives from the respective parts, would not only be too numerous to act with any care or decision, but would be composed of such heterogenous and discordant principles, as would constantly be contending with each other.

The laws cannot be executed in a republic, of an extent equal to that of the United States, with promptitude."

"Brutus" (Robert Yates)
New York Journal
October 18, 1787
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"Let me again ask you, What citizen is there in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, that would deliberately consent laying aside the mode proposed, that the several Senates of the several States, should be the popular Branch, and together, form one National House of Representatives? -- And yet one moment's attention will evince to you, that this blessed proposed Representation of the People, this apparent faithful Mirror, this striking Likeness, is to be still further refined, and more Aristocratical four times told. -- Where now is the exact balance which has been so diligently attended to? Where lies the security of the people? What assurances have they that either their taxes will not be exacted but in the greatest emergencies, and then sparingly, or that standing armies will be raised and supported for the very plausible purpose only of cantoning them upon their frontiers? There is but one answer to these questions. -- They have none. Nor was it intended by the makers they should have for meaning to make a different use of the latter, they never will be at a loss for ways and means to expend the former. They do not design to beg a second time. Knowing the danger of frequent applications to the people, they ask for the whole at once, and are now by their conduct, tearing and absolutely haunting of you into a compliance."

"John De Witt"
Boston American Herald
November 5, 1787
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"But let us suppose--and the supposition is very easy in the minds of the gentlemen on the other side--that there is some difficulty in ascertaining where the true line lies. Are we therefore thrown into despair? Are disputes between the general government and the state governments to be necessarily the consequence of inaccuracy? I hope, sir, they will not be the enemies of each other, or resemble comets in conflicting orbits, mutually operating destruction; but that their motion will be better represented by that of the planetary system, where each part moves harmoniously within its proper sphere, and no injury arises by interference or opposition."

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"We dissent, Thirdly, Because if it were practicable to govern so extensive a territory as these United States includes on the plan of a consolidated government, consistent with the principles of liberty and the happiness of the people, yet the construction of this constitution is not calculated to attain the object, for independent of the nature of the case, it would of itself, necessarily, produce a despotism, and that not by the usual gradations, but with the celerity that has hitherto only attended revolutions effected by the sword."

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Library Topic: Constitutional Limits

"When we particularly enumerate the powers given, we ought either carefully to enumerate the rights reserved, or be totally silent about them; we must either particularly enumerate both, or else suppose the particular enumeration of the powers given adequately draws the line between them and the rights reserved, particularly to enumerate the former and not the latter, I think most advisable: however, as men appear generally to have their doubts about these silent reservations, we might advantageously enumerate the powers given, and then in general words, according to the mode adopted in the 2d art. of the confederation, declare all powers, rights and privileges, are reserved, which are not explicitly and expressly given up. People, and very wisely too, like to be express and explicit about their essential rights, and not to be forced to claim them on the precarious and unascertained tenure of inferences and general principles, knowing that in any controversy between them and their rulers, concerning those rights, disputes may be endless, and nothing certain:--But admitting, on the general principle, that all rights are reserved of course, which are not expressly surrendered, the people could with sufficient certainty assert their rights on all occasions, and establish them with ease, still there are infinite advantages in particularly enumerating many of the most essential rights reserved in all cases: and as to the less important ones, we may declare in general terms, that all not expressly surrendered are reserved."

Anonymous
January 20, 1788
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Library Topic: Constitutional Limits

"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 former will be exercised principally on external objects, as war, peace, negociation [sic], and foreign commerce; with which last the power of taxation will for the most part be connected. 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."

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"If the new Constitution be examined with accuracy and candor, it will be found that the change which it proposes consists much less in the addition of NEW POWERS to the Union, than in the invigoration of its ORIGINAL POWERS. The regulation of commerce, it is true, is a new power; but that seems to be an addition which few oppose, and from which no apprehensions are entertained. The powers relating to war and peace, armies and fleets, treaties and finance, with the other more considerable powers, are all vested in the existing Congress by the articles of Confederation. The proposed change does not enlarge these powers; it only substitutes a more effectual mode of administering them. The change relating to taxation may be regarded as the most important; and yet the present Congress have as complete authority to REQUIRE of the States indefinite supplies of money for the common defense and general welfare, as the future Congress will have to require them of individual citizens; and the latter will be no more bound than the States themselves have been, to pay the quotas respectively taxed on them. Had the States complied punctually with the articles of Confederation, or could their compliance have been enforced by as peaceable means as may be used with success towards single persons, our past experience is very far from countenancing an opinion, that the State governments would have lost their constitutional powers, and have gradually undergone an entire consolidation. To maintain that such an event would have ensued, would be to say at once, that the existence of the State governments is incompatible with any system whatever that accomplishes the essental [sic] purposes of the Union."

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"Notwithstanding the different modes in which they are appointed, we must consider both of them as substantially dependent on the great body of the citizens of the United States. I assume this position here as it respects the first, reserving the proofs for another place. The federal and State governments are in fact but different agents and trustees of the people, constituted with different powers, and designed for different purposes. The adversaries of the Constitution seem to have lost sight of the people altogether in their reasonings on this subject; and to have viewed these different establishments, not only as mutual rivals and enemies, but as uncontrolled by any common superior in their efforts to usurp the authorities of each other. These gentlemen must here be reminded of their error. They must be told that the ultimate authority, wherever the derivative may be found, resides in the people alone, and that it will not depend merely on the comparative ambition or address of the different governments, whether either, or which of them, will be able to enlarge its sphere of jurisdiction at the expense of the other. Truth, no less than decency, requires that the event in every case should be supposed to depend on the sentiments and sanction of their common constituents.

Many considerations, besides those suggested on a former occasion, seem to place it beyond doubt that the first and most natural attachment of the people will be to the governments of their respective States. ...

If, therefore, as has been elsewhere remarked, the people should in future become more partial to the federal than to the State governments, the change can only result from such manifest and irresistible proofs of a better administration, as will overcome all their antecedent propensities. And in that case, the people ought not surely to be precluded from giving most of their confidence where they may discover it to be most due; but even in that case the State governments could have little to apprehend, because it is only within a certain sphere that the federal power can, in the nature of things, be advantageously administered."

James Madison
January 29, 1788
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"What is the spirit that has in general characterized the proceedings of Congress? A perusal of their journals, as well as the candid acknowledgments of such as have had a seat in that assembly, will inform us, that the members have but too frequently displayed the character, rather of partisans of their respective States, than of impartial guardians of a common interest; that where on one occasion improper sacrifices have been made of local considerations, to the aggrandizement of the federal government, the great interests of the nation have suffered on a hundred, from an undue attention to the local prejudices, interests, and views of the particular States. I mean not by these reflections to insinuate, that the new federal government will not embrace a more enlarged plan of policy than the existing government may have pursued; much less, that its views will be as confined as those of the State legislatures; but only that it will partake sufficiently of the spirit of both, to be disinclined to invade the rights of the individual States, or the preorgatives of their governments. The motives on the part of the State governments, to augment their prerogatives by defalcations from the federal government, will be overruled by no reciprocal predispositions in the members.

Were it admitted, however, that the Federal government may feel an equal disposition with the State governments to extend its power beyond the due limits, the latter would still have the advantage in the means of defeating such encroachments. If an act of a particular State, though unfriendly to the national government, be generally popular in that State and should not too grossly violate the oaths of the State officers, it is executed immediately and, of course, by means on the spot and depending on the State alone. The opposition of the federal government, or the interposition of federal officers, would but inflame the zeal of all parties on the side of the State, and the evil could not be prevented or repaired, if at all, without the employment of means which must always be resorted to with reluctance and difficulty. On the other hand, should an unwarrantable measure of the federal government be unpopular in particular States, which would seldom fail to be the case, or even a warrantable measure be so, which may sometimes be the case, the means of opposition to it are powerful and at hand. The disquietude of the people; their repugnance and, perhaps, refusal to co-operate with the officers of the Union; the frowns of the executive magistracy of the State; the embarrassments created by legislative devices, which would often be added on such occasions, would oppose, in any State, difficulties not to be despised; would form, in a large State, very serious impediments; and where the sentiments of several adjoining States happened to be in unison, would present obstructions which the federal government would hardly be willing to encounter.

But ambitious encroachments of the federal government, on the authority of the State governments, would not excite the opposition of a single State, or of a few States only. They would be signals of general alarm. Every government would espouse the common cause. A correspondence would be opened. Plans of resistance would be concerted. One spirit would animate and conduct the whole. The same combinations, in short, would result from an apprehension of the federal, as was produced by the dread of a foreign, yoke; and unless the projected innovations should be voluntarily renounced, the same appeal to a trial of force would be made in the one case as was made in the other. But what degree of madness could ever drive the federal government to such an extremity."

James Madison
January 29, 1788
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"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."

Amendment X
National Archives
March 4, 1789
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Library Topic: Constitutional Limits

"The practicability and objective realisation of this idea of Federalism, inasmuch as it has to spread itself over all States and thereby lead to Perpetual Peace, may be easily shewn. For if happy circumstances bring it about that a powerful and enlightened people form themselves into a Republic—which by its very nature must be disposed in favour of Perpetual Peace—this will furnish a centre of federative union for other States to attach themselves to, and thus to secure the conditions of Liberty among all States, according to the idea of the Right of Nations. And such a Union would extend wider and wider, in the course of time, by the addition of further connections of this kind."

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Commentary or Blog Post

"Across America, there is a growing restlessness and discontent toward Washington, D.C. Frustration is in the air. A recent poll found that four-out-of-five Americans don't trust Washington. Another poll found that eighty-six percent of Americans think the federal government is 'broken.'

In an effort to work toward long-term...

"Jack Balkin has an interesting post on today's two Defense of Marriage Act cases from the federal District of Massachusetts, Gill v. Office of Personnel Management, and Massachusetts v. HHS. The latter case found DOMA unconstitutional, as applied to Massachusetts, because DOMA violates the Tenth Amendment by infringing the state's traditional...

"[...]many self-described conservatives, including Republican presidential candidate John McCain, support the prosecution of people like [medical marijuana patient] Charlie Lynch, abandoning their avowed federalist principles because of blind hostility toward a plant they associate with draft-dodging, flag-burning hippies. It's not surprising, but it's shameful."...

In this opinion piece, Healy talks about recent Federalism-related developments in the Obama administration and medical marijuana legislation in the states.

"A federal district judge in California has ruled that it's unconstitutional to define marriage as a covenant between a man and a woman.

The impact of the decision, should it stand, is that it nationalizes marriage—one of many matters the 10th Amendment leaves to the people and the states. That amendment states that powers not...

This web-only op-ed from the liberal publication The American Prospect rails against Tenth-Amendment advocates, referring to the individuals as "Tenthers."

"[The 'Tenthers'] members are convinced that the 10th Amendment of the Constitution prohibits spending programs and regulations disfavored by conservatives....

"I think the Constitution is a hopeless sham, and that it's not possible to have a successful amendment process. It's not possible to fix it by amendment. It's a set of paper limits enforced and interpreted by the very state that it seeks to limit (see, on this, Hoppe and de Jasay). And if we are going to amend it there are many others I'd want–maybe a return to...

"In states around the country, there's a growing movement to address and resist two of the most abused parts of the Constitution – the Commerce Clause and the 2nd Amendment.  Already being considered in a number of state legislatures, and passed as law in Montana and Tennessee this year, the Firearms Freedom Act (FFA) is a state law that seeks to do just...

"The American Prospect, The New Republic, and other left-of-center outlets are pushing the 'Tenther' smear, aimed at lumping those who, horrors!, still take seriously the Tenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution in with the Obama birth certificate deniers and 9/11 truthers."

"In response to an unprecedented expansion of federal power, citizens have held hundreds of 'tea party' rallies around the country, and various states are considering 'sovereignty resolutions' invoking the Constitution's Ninth and Tenth Amendments. For example, Michigan's proposal urges 'the federal government to halt its practice of imposing mandates upon the...

Rugy tackles the financial centralization of government over recent decades in this piece: "Last May the Obama administration forced South Carolina not just to take its share of federal stimulus funds, but to spend the money on new programs rather than paying down the state's debt. I was horrified. Obama, I felt, had killed fiscal federalism. Then I realized that...

"National Rifle Association Executive Vice President Wayne LaPierre recently gave a fiery speech before the NRA Annual Convention, railing against those who would shred the Constitution in the wake of the Sept. 11 terror attacks.

The Constitution, he said 'is pristine and inviolate...The Bill of Rights doesn't care about opinion...

"Last week a federal judge confounded both sides of the political spectrum by ruling that the 10th Amendment requires the federal government to recognize state-approved gay marriages. Progressives worried that U.S. District Judge Joseph Tauro's reasoning cast doubt on the constitutionality of many existing federal programs, while conservatives worried that it...

Chart or Graph

"According to data computed by the Cato Institute's Chris Edwards, in 1980 there were 434 federal grant programs for state and local governments."

This table shows, from a financial perspective, the strength of D.C. government vs state government.

"Figure 1 shows federal grant spending in constant dollars from 1960 to 2013."

Analysis Report White Paper

The Civil War often is seen as a turning point in the history of American federalism. In one sense the truth of this perception is beyond dispute. Had the South secured secession by force of arms, the Union would have been broken, the federal system disrupted.

The thesis that republicanism was only suited for small states was given its decisive eighteenth-century formulation by Montesquieu, who emphasized not only republics' need for homogeneity and virtue but also the difficulty of constraining military and executive power in large republics.

Every dollar in temporary federal grants leads to 40 cents of tax increases. Economists have long suggested the existence of a 'flypaper effect,' wherein federal money given to states prompts additional spending.

The theory behind aid to the states is that federal policymakers can design and operate programs in the national interest to efficiently solve local problems. In practice, most federal politicians are not inclined to pursue broad, national goals; they are consumed by the competitive scramble to secure subsidies for their states.

As a political principle, federalism has to do with the constitutional diffusion of power so that the constituting elements in a federal arrangement share in the processes of common policy-making and administration by right, while the activities of the common government are conducted in such a way as to maintain their respective integrities.

Stanford's Philosophy Department put together a rather comprehensive piece defining and analyzing federalism in one encyclopedia article.

I suggest that a coherent classical liberal must be generally supportive of federal political structures, because any division of authority must, necessarily, tend to limit the potential range of political coercion.

Until recently, courts have not addressed the potential conflict between jury selection rules and the possibility that a jury would be called upon to impose the federal death penalty even in states without the death penalty.

If the purpose of federalism is to compensate for worrisome tendencies toward centralization, then it is desirable that the provinces large enough to have political power be stable and entrenched and be able to engender loyalty from their citizens, such as the loyalty felt to ethnoculturally specific provinces.

Unfortunately, policymakers and courts have mainly discarded federalism in recent decades. Congress has undertaken many activities that were traditionally reserved to the states and the private sector. Grants-in-aid are a primary mechanism that the federal government has used to extend its power into state and local affairs.

This Article reports the results of a comprehensive study of core free speech cases decided by the federal courts over a 14-year period. The study finds that speech-restrictive laws adopted by the federal government are far more likely to be upheld than similar laws adopted by state and local governments.

"To consider liberty in relation to the Constitution is to enter upon a subject of some ambiguity. Which Constitution are we to consider? The document has undergone dramatic shifts in its coverage and in its meaning over the course of our history.

Few have done more over the years to articulate the conservative response to liberal judicial activism than Judge Robert Bork. Writing recently in The American Spectator, he argues that courts, working reciprocally with elite opinion, have given constitutional finality to values most Americans oppose

Driven by concerns of disparate treatment and undue leniency in punishment, Congress created an independent agency, the U.S. Sentencing Commission, to formulate a new sentencing regime that would drastically limit the discretion of federal judges.

An intriguing policy report discussing the viewpoints of individualism related to its critiques, social obligations and various viewpoints on the role of the state.

Nathan addresses the role of the states, the Rockefeller lectures on federalism in the mid-1900s, and provides an analysis of where the nation stands today with regards to federalism.

"The Court's opinion in United States v. Lopez sent shock waves through official Washington, not least because Washington had simply assumed, since the era of the New Deal, that its regulatory powers were plenary."

A fundamental reexamination of the federal regulatory structure is in order. It is imperative that Congress reexamine the role of the federal government, as well as the role of criminal sanctions, in environmental law. Reform should begin with the immediate restoration of the legal rights and privileges that are enshrined in the Bill of Rights.

"Plenty of analysts can tell you how government policies differ from country to country, but surprisingly few consider such differences domestically. I find this surprising, because tax and regulatory burdens can differ substantially among the states, which in some cases have total output (and customer bases) larger than most foreign countries."

"The Tenth Amendment expresses the principle that undergirds the entire plan of the original Constitution: the national government possesses only those powers delegated to it. The Framers of the Tenth Amendment had two purposes in mind when they drafted it. The first was a necessary rule of construction. The second was to reaffirm the nature of the federal system...

As Justice Sandra O'Connor has recently observed, those who ratified the Constitution had several reasons for wishing to ensure that the states would continue to hold ultimate power on all matters other than those delegated to the federal government.

"Courts and the legal academy both generally agree that early efforts to limit the federal government to only 'expressly' delegated powers were decisively rebuffed by Chief Justice John Marshall in McCulloch v. Maryland."

The centerpiece of President Bush's crimefighting program is an initiative called Project Safe Neighborhoods. That initiative calls for the hiring of some 700 lawyers who will be dedicated to prosecuting firearm offenses, such as the unlawful possession of a gun by a drug user or a convicted felon.

Recent regulations promulgated by the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency assert a sweeping authority to preempt a broad array of state laws, including consumer protection laws, applicable not only to national banks but also to their state-chartered operating subsidiaries.

Video/Podcast/Media

"There has recently been a resurgence in support of the 10th Amendment by the 'Tenthers' in the recent wave of government expansions, especially with the recent passage of the healthcare overhaul. Roger Pilon gives a brief history of what the Constitution was originally intended to accomplish, and how that paradigm changed in the 1930s. Since the New Deal the...

"This panel will assess American federalism as a competitive institution that offers a marketplace of state regulatory regimes. With the recession impacting some states more heavily than others, it is time to ask whether interstate competition is good for the nation. Should state-by-state approaches to issues such as healthcare, financial regulation, environmental...

"Down on the boardwalk, we interview a few young Americans to find out what they know about the Constitution of the United States. Can you answer the questions? Does it matter?"

"We ask moms on the street what they know about the Constitution. Can you answer the questions? Does it matter?"

This video discusses the recently-passed Montana Firearms Freedom Act and its relevance to Federalism, States' Rights and the state's current battle to reassert sovereignty. Governor Schweitzer is featured in the interview explaining the rationale behind the legislation.

Woods gives the historical background and rationale behind the Kentucky & Virginia resolutions (in response to the Alien and Sedition Act), explaining one of the first battles for power between the state and federal governments.

"As statehouses open for the 2011 session, happy days are not here again. Rather, for most states harsh fiscal reality must be faced. Many question if the fundamental structure of American politics is broken and if this structure will continue to force states and citizens toward a downward spiral of massive, ever-increasing debt.

...

"The Mercatus Center is hosting a breakfast roundtable discussion with Dr. Russell Sobel of West Virginia University and the Mercatus Center on his recent paper, 'Do Intergovernmental Grants Create Ratchet Effects in State and Local Taxes?' This paper addresses the question of whether federal funding in a given year results in states beginning new spending programs...

In this brief video Nathan addresses the concept of Federalism, its relation to today's political parties and its relevance in modern governance.

Primary Document

In this essay, the author, most commonly believed to have been New York judge Robert Yates, provides his reasons for arguing that "a free republic cannot long subsist over a country of the great extent of these states. If then this new constitution is calculated to consolidate the thirteen states into one, as it evidently is, it ought not to be adopted."

"If any possible situation makes it a duty, it is our present important one, for in the course of sixty or ninety days you are to approve of or reject the present proceedings of your [Constitutional] Convention, which, if established, will certainly effect, in a greater or less degree, during the remainder of your lives, those privileges which you esteem dear...

Written under a nom de plume, this extensive political treatise investigates the authority of governments over their subjects and citizens. Specifically, this treatise outlines the concepts of a righteous overthrow of a governmental leader, laying down much of the theoretical groundwork for the the American Revolution. Written from the perspective of the...

"Two essays by Rousseau on the issue of war written during the mid 1750s. The first is a critique of the abbé Saint-Pierre's ideas on the prospects of a European Federation to reduce the likelihood of war. The second is his attempt to formulate a theory of just war."

In this message to Congress, Lincoln makes the case to free the slaves, proposing three constitutional amendments, which would provide for federal compensation to states that voluntary chose to abolish slavery, federal compensation to slave-holders, and federal funds to colonize American Blacks outside the United States. None of these proposed amendments were...

Calling a special session in order to acquire permission to pay for the war against the South, Lincoln lays out the reasoning behind his actions at the start of the war. He also states his case for the preservation of the Union and forcefully argues against the claim that the states have a right to secession.

"It is proposed that humble application be made for an act of Parliament of Great Britain, by virtue of which one general government may be formed in America, including all the said colonies, within and under which government each colony may retain its present constitution, except in the particulars wherein a change may be directed by the said act, as hereafter...

This economic classic is noted for providing us with terms for and expositions of such key economic ideas as the division of labor, "invisible hand," self-interest as a beneficial force, and freedom of trade.

In this famous philosophical treatise, Immanuel Kant defines "Enlightenment" as the ability to think for yourself. Politically speaking, Kant argues that governments should allow their citizens much more freedom, such as the ability to freely speak their minds in the public forum without fear of reprisal and the ability to freely choose or ignore the practices and...

Transcript of the Bill of Rights to the Constitution.

This treatise, written in the early 19th century by Supreme Court Justice Joseph Story, outlines his views on the Tenth Amendment. He viewed the Tenth Amendment as the capstone of the Constitution and the Bill of Rights, claiming that "This amendment is a mere affirmation of what, upon any just reasoning, is a necessary rule of interpreting the constitution."

"We may summarize our view of constitutional government by saying that its ultimate and essential objects are:

1st. To bring the active and planning will of each part of the government into accord with the prevailing popular thought and need, in order that government may be the impartial instrument of a symmetrical national...

"The right to complete freedom in the utterance of political opinions has been so long a fundamental principle in the United States that probably few Americans will recall the fact that exactly a hundred years ago the controversy which eventuated in the complete triumph of that principle raged all over the Union. The Virginia and Kentucky...

Tocqueville's famous analysis of the American economic and political system, as he observed during his travels of the country in the 1830s.

Dred Scott was a slave who, because his owner had moved him to a free state for a period of time, sued for his freedom. The Court held that slaves were not citizens of the United States and therefore not entitled to constitutional protections. And since slaves were considered property, the Court held that their owners could not be deprived of them without due...

This document, written by an anonymous author, outlines his view regarding the separation of powers between the state and national governments. He believes that it is best for the framers of the Constitution to fully enumerate the powers of both the state and federal governments, instead of enumerating one and then being silent on the reserved rights of the other...

Writing under the pseudonym "Publius" James Madison discusses the relationship between the federal and state governments, concluding that "the powers proposed to be lodged in the federal government are as little formidable to those reserved to the individual States, as they are indispensably necessary to accomplish the purposes...

In this speech, FDR discusses Jefferson's philosophy in connection with idea that the "purpose of Government [is] based on a universality of interest." As examples of the execution of such a purpose, Roosevelt argues for the proper regulation of public utilities in order to keep prices down and ensure equal access, as well as the establishment of a tariff system...

This case overruled a previous Supreme Court case (National League of Cities v. Usery, 1976), saying that the Tenth Amendment does not impede Congress' authority to regulate employment conditions and practices in state governments. Justice Blackmun writes that the Fair Labor Standards Act, when applied to state government employees, is not in...

This Supreme Court case deals with how the Commerce Clause gives the federal government the right to criminalize the growing and personal usage of marijuana, even when these actions are in accordance to state law. 

California's Compassionate Use Act allows people to use limited amounts of marijuana for strictly medicinal...

This case brought before the Court the question of whether it is "within the authority of Congress in regulating commerce among the States to prohibit the transportation in interstate commerce of manufactured goods, the product of a factory in which, within thirty days prior to their removal therefrom, children under the age of fourteen have been employed or...

In this treatise, 18th century philosopher David Hume writes about his notion of a perfect system of government. His idea of government was very much federalist in nature, based in the rule of law with limited governmental powers.

"The Hart-Cellar Act abolished the national origins quota system that had structured American immigration policy since the 1920s, replacing it with a preference system that focused on immigrants' skills and family relationships with citizens or residents of the U.S. Numerical restrictions on visas were set at 170,000 per year, not including immediate relatives of U...

In this document, the fifth president of the United States, James Monroe, outlines his views on the concept of enumerated powers. He believed that the powers given to the federal government "are enumerated and defined in the most precise form."

This document from the Constitution Ratification Covention shows James Wilson's view regarding the line of demarcation between federal and state authority. In Wilson's view, a blurred line of authority is not necessarily a bad thing, as he believes state and federal governments will be able to act and behave not as "enemies of each other" but rather in harmony, "...

Jefferson argues against the creation of a national bank on the grounds that it is not one of the delegated powers given to Congress under the Constitution.

"Memorandum from the President to: Secretary of Defense, Acting Attorney General, Secretary of the Interior, Secretary of Agriculture, Secretary of Commerce, Secretary of Labor, Secretary of Health, Education, and Welfare, Secretary of Housing and Urban Development, Director, Office of Economic Opportunity, Director, Office of Emergency Planning.
SUBJECT:...

This case addressed the Fair Labor Standards Act. The dissent, written by Justice William Douglas, explains why the Fair Labor Standards Act cannot be constitutionally applied to the employees of State governments, as such a law is in clear violation of the Tenth Amendment.

This Supreme Court case is considered a landmark case on the issue of federalism. The decision held that the authority of the federal government is expressly enumerated in the Constitution, and that the implied powers of the federal government override the reserved rights of the states. According to Chief Justice Marshall, the Necessary and Proper clause implies...

The U.S. Supreme Court's highly anticipated decision which upheld the Affordable Care Act.

In this case, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in a 5-4 decision that the Fair Labor Standards Act could not be applied to state governments.

The Fair Labor Standards Act regulates employees working hours, overtime pay, etc. Justice Rehnquist wrote that the Constitution did not grant Congress the ability to control the working...

Lord Action presciently analyzes the dangers inherent in the "modern" concept of nationality. By making "the State and the nation commensurate with each other in theory, it reduces practically to a subject condition all other nationalities that may be within the boundary. ...According, therefore, to the degree of humanity and civilisation in that dominant...

During the wars of the French Revolution Kant was inspired by the Treaty of Basel to contemplate how both self-interest and international cooperation might bring an end to war. This edition is interesting because it was published during World War One."

This case decision, written by Associate Justice Antonin Scalia, ruled that certain aspects of the Brady Handgun Violence Prevention Act are unconstitutional. Scalia argued that the supporters of the Brady Act misinterpreted the Tenth Amendment and the Necessary and Proper clause of the Constitution, as the Brady Act "violates the principle of State Sovereignty" in...

In this work, English philosopher John Stuart Mill argues his views regarding the morality and practicality of government systems, concluding that a representative government is the best form of government.

With this executive order, Reagan sought to "restore the division of governmental responsibilities between the national government and the States that was intended by the Framers of the Constitution and to ensure that the principles of federalism established by the Framers guide the Executive departments and agencies in the formulation and implementation of...

This decision by the Court upheld a federal law that deprived states with a drinking age of less than 21 years of 5 percent of their federal highway funds: "Even if Congress, in view of the Twenty-first Amendment, might lack the power to impose directly a national minimum drinking age (a question not decided here), § 158's indirect encouragement of state action to obtain uniformity in the...

This primary document provides you with St. George Tucker's legal commentaries regarding the separation of powers between the federal and state governments. Tucker believed that while the federal government was indeed granted some powers via the Constitution, he believed that the states themselves are sovereign in their rights and indeed could dissolve the union if...

This page, provided by the Cornell University Law School, contains a relatively in-depth legal discussion regarding the Tenth Amendment. This page is an excellent source for the legal history and background of the Tenth Amendment, as well as a primer for the current debate today.

After the Pennsylvania Convention ratified the new constitution on December 12, 1787, by a vote of 46 to 23, twenty-one members of the minority signed a dissenting address that appeared in the Pennsylvania Packet and Daily Advertiser....

This document provides unique insight into American constitutional views in the 19th century, having fully eliminated the "General Welfare" Clause and any language referring to "General Welfare." Many anti-federalists and especially those in the south believed that the "ticking-time-bomb" of the Clause would eventually lead to further infringements by the federal...

"In a word, the people and the states no longer trust Washington...because Washington has assumed a vast array of regulatory and redistributive powers that were never its to assume--not, that is, if we take the Constitution seriously."

"HAVING shown that no one of the powers transferred to the federal government is unnecessary or improper, the next question to be considered is, whether the whole mass of them will be dangerous to the portion of authority left in the several States."

"The Federalist Papers were a series of articles written under the pen name of Publius by Alexander Hamilton, James Madison, and John Jay. Madison, widely recognized as the Father of the Constitution, would later go on to become President of the United States. Jay would become the first Chief Justice of the US...

The Kentucky Resolutions, passed by the Kentucky Legislature in 1799, asserted that the U.S. Constitution was a "compact" between the states which sought to preserve state sovereignty from federal encroachment.

Montesquieu was a significant advocate of separation of powers between executive, legislative, and judicial branches, and his discussion of law contributed significantly to the concept of rule of law.

The Constitution of the United States established the federal governmental system currently in place with three branches of government. The premise of executive privilege developed from the separation of powers clause.

The dissent of this case, written by Associate Justice Clarence Thomas, argues against the Majority ruling that the States cannot legislate additional prerequisites for their representatives in Congress beyond what is set down in the Constitution.

Justice Thomas argues that because the Constitution is silent on the...

The first written constitution of the United States of America. They maintained state sovereignty, yet unified the colonies into a single nation.

"In Butler, the Court struck down the Agricultural Adjustment Act, which taxed processors in order to pay farmers to reduce production. Although invalidating the statute, the Court adopted the Hamiltonian view (almost in passing) that the General Welfare Clause is a separate grant of congressional authority, linked to and qualified by the spending power...

This is considered a landmark case as it was the first time since the New Deal that federal legislation claiming authority under the commerce clause was overturned. 

Chief Justice William Rehnquist wrote the majority opinion for this case, declaring that the Gun-Free School Zones Act of 1990 was unconstitutional because...

Chief Justice Rehnquist delivered the majority opinion in this case, ruling that the Violence Against Women Act of 1994 was unconstitutional. This law gave victims of gender-motivated crimes the right to sue for damages in federal court. In this instance, the court ruled that the Commerce Clause and Fourteenth Amendment did not give Congress the authority to enact...

This case involved the contest of a charge of "unlawful transportation and possession of intoxicating liquors in violation of section 3 of title 2 of the National Prohibition Act." A lower court had granted the defendants' claim that the "Eighteenth Amendment by authority of which the [National Prohibition Act] was enacted has not been ratified so as to become part...

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