We originally had a House elected by the People and a Senate elected by State Representatives.  Now both are elected by the People directly.

Why did the the Constitution originally emphasize a seemingly arbitrary distinction between “the People” on one hand, and “the People of the States” on the other hand?  Aren’t they all the same People?

In theory, the People vote their point of view, and the the People of the States (through their state representatives) vote to protect the cumulative state point of view from outside threats to state sovereignty.  Sovereignty means to be “Master of Oneself,” and it is clear that states originally had no intention of forfeiting that fundamental sovereignty to a federal government.  Or, in other words, the People of the States understood that they could better preserve their individual rights at the State level, where they had more control than at the federal level.  The division of government powers into state and federal levels is called Federalism, hence the reason why we call our united government a “federal” government, and not a “national” government.  (See the Federalist Papers No. 39 for an in-depth discussion of the differences between a “national” and “federal” government).

The original Federalism of the United States was very different from how it appears today.  Traditionally, the state governments were supreme in their sphere and the federal government was supreme in its sphere.  The scope of power between each was more strictly delineated and preserved.  This is because the People originally feared a strong central government and viewed a strong central government as inimical to Liberty.  Thus, they created a limited federal government in the U.S. Constitution.  In a real sense, the federal government was to be the Servant of the States with “jurisdiction extend[ing] to certain enumerated objects only, and leav[ing] to the several States a residuary and inviolable sovereignty over all other objects [1].”  To be safe, the People of the Colonies later added this notion to the Constitution in the express language of the Tenth Amendment: “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.”

Today the table has turned, however, and the federal government has become Master and the states have become the Servant.  The Senate is no longer elected by State Representatives, but by the People directly (since the 17th Amendment), thereby removing the most immediate means of protecting state autonomy and sovereignty.  And since the federal government has enlarged its coffers with the income tax (since the 16th Amendment), it has been able to persuade states to relinquish its reserved powers in exchange for federal funding (the dangling carrot approach).  And time and persistent Federal invasions into traditional state powers have led the People at large to generally accept the idea of a federal Supremacy over the states.  The end result is a nation where the states are increasingly becoming little more than administrative arms of a “national” government.

It seems strange that the People at large have been willing to pass responsibility and power from the local and more easily-controlled state-governments to a distant and pro-active federal government.  Are they unaware of the repercussions such centralization could have (and is already having) on their daily lives?  Why place their faith in a federal over a state government?  Nonetheless, the shift in power has occurred, and the People, it seems, having realized the shift in power, and having accepted federal Supremacy as the new norm, are now flocking to the federal government to legislate their moral views, instead of to their local state governments.  This is a direct result of, and the final proof of, the disintegration of Federalism, which, if still operating as designed, would have preserved such powers to the more local levels and prevented such federal usurpations and the threat of a national moral tyranny.  In short, the People of the States, the most natural Guardians of Federalism, are surrendering their rights to the federal government under the enticements of greed, the hope of moral dominion at the federal level, and the slavishness of intellectual apathy.  It seems that the People are no longer enlightened enough to tolerate a difference of opinion from state to state on moral issues, and each is hoping their own opinion will become the new National norm.   The People don’t seem to realize the greater impact such behavior will have on their Peace and Liberty.  Many justify their resort to this new National Supremacy on the basis of historical State improprieties (i.e. actions in their own or other states with which they disagree), but such fail to see that the same evils which have been perpetrated at the state level will now be capable of perpetration at the national level, and that they themselves are now unwittingly becoming part of a new National moral tyranny, whose evil is capable of far surpassing that of any single state.  And where will they run when their point of view loses the political war for national predominance?  Will there be any state left strong enough to impose its sovereignty against that of the new national tyranny, to which dissenters may run for relief?  Isn’t this the very reason why our enlightened forefathers created a federal (and not a national) government?

But the People of the States, upon realizing their error, are still free to take back what they have surrendered.  The Declaration of Independence states that governments “derive their just powers from the consent of the governed.”  This is more than an ideal, it is a fact.  No people have been governed by a Tyrant who were willing to pay the price of withdrawing their consent.  For now, the price of doing so is still relatively low.  Thus, if the states will wake up soon enough and 1) realize that centralized government is inimical to Liberty, 2) work to pull themselves away from the dole of the federal government, and 3) fight valiantly through their state representatives for a return of their own state sovereignty over moral issues, then there is still hope for a free, diverse, and happy United States of America.



[1] “…the local or municipal authorities form distinct and independent portions of the supremacy, no more subject, within their respective spheres, to the general authority, than the general authority is subject to them, within its own sphere. In this relation, then, the proposed government cannot be deemed a national one (as opposed to a Federal one); since its jurisdiction extends to certain enumerated objects only, and leaves to the several States a residuary and inviolable sovereignty over all other objects.”  James Madison, Federalist No. 39

Jared C. Clark, Esq
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