Why not centralize power?
Why not simply do away with state governments completely? Disband our city councils? Dissolve our county commissions?
Placing all authority in the federal government would certainly prove more efficient. It would eliminate confusion and erase competing jurisdictions. It would allow the politicians and bureaucrats in D.C. to “get things done” without resistance or interference from “lesser” bodies. We could have uniform laws and regulations across the country.
But even the most ardent supporters of federal power don’t take things that far. I’ve yet to hear the cry “Dissolve the states!”
Perhaps the DC’vers secretly desire that end, but they don’t say it in public. Why? I think because most Americans still balk at centralizing power – at least to that extent. They intuitively recognize the inherent danger in vesting that much authority in a single body with no check on its power. Americans distrust monopoly, and most, at least if they really stop and think about it, know that empowering the government to “do good” also empowers it to “do evil.”
In a letter to Joseph C. Cabell dated Feb 2, 1816, Jefferson makes the case for decentralization.
No, my friend, 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. Let the national government be entrusted with the defence of the nation, and its foreign and federal relations; the 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 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 administration of every man’s farm by himself; by 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 power into one body, no matter whether of the autocrats of Russia or France, or of the aristocrats of a Venetian senate.
Jefferson goes on to assert that for the most part, individuals should run their own lives.
And I do believe that if the Almighty has not decreed that man shall never be free, (and it is a blasphemy to believe it,) that the secret will be found to be in the making himself the depository of the powers respecting himself, so far as he is competent to them, and delegating only what is beyond his competence by a synthetical process, to higher and higher orders of functionaries, so as to trust fewer and fewer powers in proportion as the trustees become more and more oligarchical.
Of course, those in power would prefer “we the people” not think about such things. The politicians promise that if we give them more power, they will use it to help us. And they PROMISE they will never do anything to limit our liberty or confiscate our property with the power we hand them. They are, after all, the “good guys” and they exist to help themselv…errr…us.