American Federalism evolved out of lessons learned through the 18th century as a structure to protect and preserve liberty. But today, bureaucratic socialism controls our governing approach, and calls for a restoration of constitutional federalism are portrayed as ever more radical. Nevertheless, as one of the cornerstones of American federalism, the Tenth Amendment still offers a solution to the problem of overreaching government.
The destruction of America’s limited constitutional system happened slowly over time, but it began almost from the beginning. Early in our history, the negative the American Constitution put on government power was butted by the positive powers of governing centralization and factional divide. Supreme law stood only as long as factional warfare was checked and people demanded their self-governing right to liberty and personal responsibility for securing freedom of choice. John C. Calhoun matured during a time of early fracturing of the constitutional balance of powers through compromise. He witnessed flaws being exploited, meanings twisted, and factional divisions expanding.
Though misinterpreted and misunderstood by many, Calhoun’s views of negative governing through compromise as opposed to positive governing through force still helps shine a light on one enduring, maligned amendment rising to necessary prominence today. The Tenth Amendment represents a final check on ever-increasing governing force from centralizing agencies through the authority of the Bill of Rights and proper constitutional order.
During the founding era, federalism was a mere utopian approach to governing made known and popular by the leading philosophers of the Enlightenment era. Monarchy, oligarchy, theocracy, and their ensuing positive force dominated during a time colonial independence took root. Providing fertile soil for potentially solving federalism’s known flaw, colonies matured into states organized under agreed-upon constitutions.
Those governing the states were people who naturally formed both majority and minority interests. “The framers of the Constitution of the United States were fully aware that a government supported by democratic majorities could be as tyrannous and as arbitrary as any absolute monarch or dictator; and the awareness of this danger by the people of the United States is reflected in the insistence upon the addition of a Bill of Rights to the Constitution.” (C. Gordon Post, 1953, Calhoun)
A unifying constitution delegating certain responsibilities to general government originally left the inherent flaw in federalism unsolved. It still did not achieve the goal of protecting minorities from the power of majority government. This flaw remained at risk of being left unresolved as the United States went through her birthing process. It was only through a combination of ratifying conventions and anti-federalist efforts that a solution was forged during the ratification debates with consistent demands for a Bill of Rights.
These rights were specifically inclusive of a sphere of separation between the few federal tasks monitored by the states and the infinite localized governing needs within each state by, for, and of the people. These are the very roots of what became the Ninth Amendment; still in force today should any choose to use its protection. Combined with the Tenth Amendment, individual rights were believed to be more protected than by any other governing approach previously conceived in the science of government.
The people only allowed their states to delegate few powers to the new federal government, retaining all rights and powers not delegated, including the responsibility to protect minorities as small in number as one individual. People were responsible for their liberty, with states responsible to negatively protect their right to freedom in their daily pursuits. The federal government was to protect and unify the states in their republican efforts in securing our mutual, general welfare.
The Tenth Amendment offers the solution for federalism’s previous inability to properly check positive force with negative force through compromising agreements. It is the fundamental enhancement which clearly distinguishes American Federalism from any previous attempt by individuals to exercise self-government, distributing power and responsibility without allowing the centralizing pull of democracy or factional oppression of minority interest that plagued past federalist efforts. America’s beginning seemed to be better. It provided a means for long-term success, even as the population and geographic distance expanded.
Calhoun’s believed rights evolve through social contract rather than nature. This allows his detractors to spin his views, discouraging in-depth research, debate, and understanding. Nevertheless, the American system was founded on a foundation steeped in natural rights.
“…the rights of man have their basis rather in the nature of man, in human need, in the hopes and dreams and capabilities of the individual. And as men differ from one another, so must conditions exist which allow for difference. The recognition of diversity among men is implicit in the Bill of Rights.” (Post, 1953)
Despite his divergent view of rights, Calhoun still has valuable lessons to teach when it comes to the science of government generally, and American Federalism specifically, through the eyes of a statesman from the 1840s, specifically his understanding that the Ninth and Tenth Amendments which offer a solution for our current centralizing oppression.
American Federalism is built on a great maxim of the Enlightenment era. The people (individuals) are the source of all power, as emphasized in the ratification of the Ninth Amendment. Ratification of the Tenth Amendment embedded the solution for protecting minorities, checking factional mischief, and ensuring a balance between governments is maintained. All this directly links to the fact if power is not separated to control government it will grow to control us.
It secures our individual rights and state responsibility to interpose when negative compromise is subjugated by positive force from the federal government beyond its responsibility. Powers were not given or conferred to any federal body, they were delegated. These delegated powers were to be entrusted to representatives under oath or affirmation but were always the people’s power, never the federal governments in absolution. Today rulers and regulators are creating nearly all laws and government with no check or balance.
Through the responsibility of interposition and nullification minority protection was thought to be secured; a historic flaw brought into check, and a ‘more perfect union’ formed. Ignoring the Tenth Amendment and slandering the insights of Calhoun do not alter a root principle for success in complex federal republicanism. Tenth Amendment rights still stand. States are still are responsible, and the federal government should never be using force over either.
Without a modern embrace of the importance of the Tenth Amendment, we will continue our spiral into bureaucratic socialism under an absolute force of democratic majority rule and factional warfare. This centralized bureaucracy in D.C. (or another global capital as even nationalism is being crushed today) will not check itself, human nature does not allow it once inflicted with factional control. Human nature’s lust for power and greed for money take command.
We are not a single, perpetual nation, nor should we support globalization. Individual self-governing is our right as citizens, exercising it through constitutional compromise, negative checks and balances, and a complex system known as American Federalism. Working within this framework we can better understand factional pulls, tyranny, and the path back to being a “more perfect union.” Continue to forget our role as the main check on all government authority and we do so with our future plainly in sight, free-range citizenship under democratic socialism.
Can we fight off our public inculcation state’s rights are bad and Calhoun nothing more than a radical best forgotten? If we can the efforts of modern day ‘Tenthers’ will be the reason. Let us pray today’s efforts expand before bureaucratic socialism crushes our promise to protect our future generation’s liberty and natural rights.
Gary Wood is a lifetime VFW member with a passion for the Oath of Office and our Supreme Law. With nearly 40 years of devoted study of our Constitution his desire is to help others rediscover the inspiring heritage of the United States. His desire is to see a restoration through education and communication before American Federalism is lost completely. Interposition and nullification are critically important in both restoration and maintenance of the U.S. Supreme Law.