With state elections fast approaching, it is time find out where our legislators stand on state sovereignty and the limits of federal power.  In the 1830’s similar debates occurred on the floor of the senate regarding unconstitutional tariffs (Tariff of Abominations) and the sale of federal lands within state boundaries.  What started out as discussions on particular issues ended in intense debate over federalism, state sovereignty, and unchecked powers by the general government. 

At the core of the debate was the clash between two distinct theories of the Constitution:  the nationalists view of a single sovereign people, a modern unitary state were power comes from a central authority, or the compact theorists who believe the United States  had been formed when the thirteen original states each acting in its own sovereign capacity ratified the Constitution through STATE ratifying conventions rather than some single American people.

Senator Daniel Webster argued that upon entering the Union, states surrender certain powers to the general government and that the general government itself is the final arbiter of their power.  However, Senators Calhoun, Haynes and Rowan argued that the states never surrendered, but delegated power to the general government and one does not delegate to a greater authority, but to a lesser one.  And the general government is not the final arbiter of its own powers “since that would have made its discretion, and not the Constitution, the measure of its powers” and that “each party has an equal right to judge for itself, as well as infractions, as of the make and measure of redress”. 

So, where do our state legislators stand on this fundamental issue.  Do they stand with the nationalists, viewing Americans as a unitary population, a one size fits all people?  Or will they stand with the compact theorists and support federalist principles for four practical reasons: (1) divergent local circumstances, (2) the need for experimentation and competition in policy making, (3) the need to monitor those entrusted with power, (4) and the need to ensure that power is properly diffused.

We at the New Jersey Tenth Amendment Center stand for these timeless federalist principles, the basis of our political thought since the settling of the New World and marked by a rebirth with the Articles of Confederation and the Constitution, promoting small self-governing bodies and rejecting centralized states so prevalent in the world today.  Now we need to know where our elected officials stand on this issue and vote accordingly.

Peter Kavalus
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