The idea of checks and balances is integral to the existence of the geopolitical entity called the United States. The federal government is supposed to hold itself in check through various mechanisms, most of which are broken. In 2009, the political discussion rarely turns to the tenth amendment to the United States Constitution. The federal government has been ignoring this and other amendments throughout my lifetime. In the United States the majority of political power is reserved to the States and not Washington, D.C. At least, that is how it was supposed to be. Schools don’t teach states’ rights much because the federal government runs schools. That isn’t how it was supposed to be.
Jefferson once wrote, “When all government, domestic and foreign, in little as in great things, shall be drawn to Washington as the center of all power, it will render powerless the checks provided of one government on another, and will become as venal and oppressive as the government from which we separated.” To resist this centralizing trend, the sage of Monticello was convinced, the states needed some kind of corporate defense mechanism.
Our betters have already told us that the only reason anyone might wish to vindicate the cause of states’ rights is for the purpose of defending slavery or upholding some lesser form of local oppression. What follows is the tip of the iceberg of the history that, by what I shall assume is an entirely well-meaning and innocent oversight, these great scholars of American history consistently fail to acknowledge.
As a National Guardsman, I am particularly interested in the ramifications of state sovereignity in relation to my militiaman status.
In 1798, the legislatures of Virginia and Kentucky approved resolutions that affirmed the states’ right to resist federal encroachments on their powers. If the federal government has the exclusive right to judge the extent of its own powers, warned the resolutions’ authors (James Madison and Thomas Jefferson, respectively), it will continue to grow – regardless of elections, the separation of powers, and other much-touted limits on government power. The Virginia Resolutions spoke of the states’ right to “interpose” between the federal government and the people of the state; the Kentucky Resolutions (in a 1799 follow-up to the original resolutions) used the term “nullification” – the states, they said, could nullify unconstitutional federal laws.
The U.S. Department of Education just purchased my student loans from J.P. Morgan. In fact, the federal government is integrally involved in decision making about every aspect of Americans’ daily lives. The U.S. federal government keeps growing and growing and growing. President Barack Obama certainly doesn’t represent change when it comes to finding non-governmental solutions to societal problems. This continued growth represents a clear decline in personal freedoms for individual Americans. Every new federal law takes dozens of choices away from the states and their citizens. Every federal bureaucrat represents a threat to the tenth amendment of the U.S. constitution. Who protects the rights of the individual citizen when the federal government will not? History says that job falls to the states.
During the War of 1812, Massachusetts and Connecticut were ordered to call out their respective militias for the purpose of defending the coast. The call derived from the federal government’s authority to call the state militias into service “to execute the Laws of the Union, suppress Insurrections and repel invasions.”
Massachusetts Governor Caleb Strong, however, maintained that the states reserved the power to determine whether any of these three conditions held. At Strong’s request, the Massachusetts Supreme Court offered its opinion. That court agreed with the governor: “As this power is not delegated to the United States by the Federal Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the states, it is reserved to the states, respectively; and from the nature of the power, it must be exercised by those with whom the states have respectively entrusted the chief command of the militia.”
I think it is very likely that in the 21st century we will see armed internal conflicts take place in the United States due to various political realities. Unless our ruling class can continue to maintain the soft easy life for the vast majority of Americans such events are going to inevitably occur. The American role as the world’s sole superpower simply cannot last. Since that cannot last, I do not see how the bubble of comfortable unreality Americans live in can last either. When the bubble pops things will change. History proves that change almost never happens without conflict. I hope that when this conflict almost inevitably comes it will result in a weaker central government and stronger state governments. It is my personal belief that America would be a better place to live if the states were actually sovereign again. Centralization of authority is a cancer growing on our freedom. Strong state governments and weak federal government are appealing ideas from where I stand.