The South had it right all along. No, not on the issue of slavery which was a vile and vulgar practice, but which, by all accounts, was a dying institution and one that would have been abolished peacefully within 50 years had the North not declared war.
No, they understood the inherent dangers of allowing a federal government to turn into a national government. It transformed us from a constitutional republic into a federal empire, and the states have become nothing more than slaves working on the federal plantation. According to Donald W. Miller, “it initiated a process of centralization of government that has substantially restricted liberty and freedom in America ever since.”
Is federal law superior to state law, as one U.S. attorney from California declared in 1999? If you agree with him, then I would propose that you are as ignorant of your American history and your Constitution as he is. If his (and your) supposition is correct, then no state can fight unfunded federal mandates, no state can make laws for itself to protect against federal abuse of power, and no state can enforce its laws except when those laws are in agreement with the federal position.
In the Articles of Confederation, (written in 1781) and the first formal operating document of the United States government, Article 2 states: “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.”
Later, when the Constitutional Convention met, it was the states meeting by common agreement, to form a federal government, a consortium of sorts, limited in power, scope and authority.
Understand—the federal government did NOT create the states. The states created the federal government! Not a national government, but federal…one empowered to act as agent for those things upon which the states agreed. The states did not unite under a principle of unlimited submission to their general government. That would have been anathema to them, considering the loss of lives they had just experienced in fighting a war for independence. If submission was what they wanted, then King George was just as good as an unlimited and tyrannical national government.
Instead, the ratifying documents of the original thirteen states show that state sovereignty and independence was never nullified or relegated to the dust bin of history by the adoption of the Constitution. For instance (and as an example of other states’ ratifying documents), when Rhode Island finally ratified the Constitution in 1790 (the last of the thirteen original colonies to do so) it was with this provision:
“We, the delegates of the people of Rhode Island and Plantations, duly elected, do declare and make known …. (III) that the powers of government may be resumed by the people whenever it shall become necessary to their happiness.”
In the Kentucky resolution, written by Thomas Jefferson, it was stated:
“…by compact under the style and title of a Constitution for the United States and of amendments thereto, they constituted a general government for special purposes, delegated to that government certain definite powers, reserving each State to itself, the residuary mass of right to their own self-government; and that whensoever the general government assumes undelegated powers, its acts are unauthoritive, void, and of no force…”
James Madison, called the “Father of the Constitution” stated succinctly in Federalist Paper 45 that the powers delegated to the federal government by the Constitution were “few and defined.” The federal government had the authority to act in terms of war, peace, negotiation and foreign commerce. The powers left for the states were all others, especially those powers that concerned the ordinary legislating of the daily affairs of each respective states’ citizenry—namely their lives, liberty, property and the internal affairs of the state.
In the midst of the Civil War, James Henly Thornwell, a Presbyterian minister, seemed to have grasped the consequences of a Northern victory and a centralized government that was democratic in nature instead of a true republic. In a tract entitled “Our Danger and Our Duty” he states:
“If they [the North] prevail, the whole character of the Government will be changed, and, instead of a federal republic, the common agent of sovereign and independent States, we shall have a central despotism, with the notion of States forever abolished, deriving its powers from the will, and shaping its policy according to the wishes of a numerical majority of people; we shall have, in other words, a supreme, irresponsible democracy….the avowed end of the present War is to make the Government a government of force.”
Senator Benjamin F. Wade of Ohio was certainly no lover of the South. A radical figure for his time, he espoused women’s suffrage, trade unions, and equality for African-Americans. However, in his speech before the United States Senate in 1855, he stated:
“Who is the judge of last resort of the violation of the Constitution of the U.S. by the enactment of law? Who is the final arbiter, the general government or the states in their sovereignty? Why sir, to yield that point is to yield up all the rights of the states to protect their own citizens, and to consolidate this government into a miserable despotism!”
Many speak half-heartedly of states’ rights, but in fact they have no idea of the ideals and intent of the Founding Fathers that exist behind those rights. They’re like the hypocrites of the Bible, paying lip-service to a tenet or creed but through their actions, proving they do not believe a word they say, that their interest is not in justice or freedom, but in a consolidation of power.
And while we see the rumblings of the states waking up to the danger of a centralized government, their actions may be too little, too late.
John C. Calhoun, the seventh vice-president of the United States, said in an address at Fort Hill in 1831 that:
“The error is in the assumption that the General Government is a party to the constitutional compact. The States, as has been shown, formed the compact, acting as sovereign and independent communities.”
“Stripped of all its covering, the naked question is whether ours is a federal or a consolidated government; a constitutional or absolute one; a government resting ultimately on the sold basis of the sovereignty of the States or on the unrestrained will of a majority; a form of government, as in all other unlimited ones, in which injustice, and violence, and force must finally prevail. Let it never be forgotten that, where the majority rule without restriction, the minority is the subject…”
“…their [the States’] reserved rights…cannot be delegated without an entire surrender of their sovereignty, and converting our system from a federal into a consolidated Government…”
“When one forgets this simple truth, we have what we presently endure—a federal government completely out of control with usurped, unlimited power and demanding a usurped and unlimited submission by its citizens to its every whim, rule and regulation.” [This statement was in regard to the Tariff of 1828, or the Tariff of Abominations as it came to be called.]
Samuel Adams, one of our Founding Fathers, wrote in a letter to Richard Henry Lee that “he feared misinterpretation of the Constitution would bring about fully centralized [consolidated] power in the federal government at the expense of the states, and sink both into despotism.”
What does all this mean for us today, in 21st century America? The Bible states, “My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge.” (Hosea 4:6) We have forgotten our history. We have forgotten who we are and what our founding principles were. We have lost our freedoms and liberties because we and our state legislatures have forgotten that it is not only our right, but our duty to stand and tell the federal government where to go! We the people have been turned into servants for the federal government, the same government that rides roughshod over us with the horse we provide it! The servant (the federal government) has become the master, and the master (the states) has been enslaved. While ignorance, apathy, deceit, fraud and manipulation by a complicit news media can all be blamed for our state of affairs, Alexis de Tocqueville probably was closer to the truth in his statement: “The American Republic will endure until politicians realize they can bribe the people with their own money.”
We have become a lazy generation, living off the sweat and discipline of others. Government subsidies and handouts have become a noose around our necks, and we are willing to accept bad government in order to continue living off the public teat. We think this government is better than attempting change and, in that change, destroying what government we have. As Richard Henry Lee stated, “To say that a bad government must be established for fear of anarchy is really saying that we should kill ourselves for fear of dying.”
We must return to our foundation of a constitutional, limited government. We must return to the Judeo-Christian roots of our heritage. We must reign in an out-of-control government by the cords of the Constitution and demand its obedience. Our government is like a teenager left too long to his own devices, however, and the process will be neither easy nor pain-free. But when the alternative is considered, it ends with the destruction of our very way of life.
Ronald Reagan said that we are always just one generation away from tyranny. Thomas Jefferson said the tree of liberty must be watered by the blood of patriots from time to time. While states’ rights are to key to restoring our Republic, one other thing is also vital.
A 2 Chronicles 7:14 revival.
We cannot be free men in a free country without the blessing of Almighty God. We cannot be free men and women without a return to the faith of our fathers. John Adams said in October of 1798 that:
“We have no government armed with power capable of contending with human passions unbridled by morality and religion. Avarice, ambition, revenge, or gallantry, would break the strongest cords of our Constitution as a whale goes through a net. Our Constitution was made only for a moral and religious people. It is wholly inadequate to the government of any other.”
Perhaps before our next elections, we should drop to our knees in Psalm 51:10 prayers, and implore God to create in us a new heart, to renew a right spirit within us. Without the hand of God that has steered this country over the past 234 years (and which seems horrifyingly missing of late), we are doomed to be relegated to the dust piles of history, our country, her people and her name but brief bywords on the lips of future travelers to this land.