One of the best, and perhaps most forgotten features, of The United States Constitution is that it provides for a Federal system of government. A Federal system is one in which there are two separate governments, each with their own areas of responsibility. For example, we have the United States Government which the people of the United States formed and gave authority to handle the international affairs of all the States in the Union and to regulate the interactions between the individual States in the Union. Then each State has its own Government formed by the people in that State and given authority to handle the internal or domestic affairs of the State, for example to handle criminal acts by its citizens, marriage laws, labor laws, etc.

When one reads the Constitution before the Bill of Rights or other amendments were added, one is hard-pressed to find any reference to the National Government (or as commonly referred to today, the Federal Government) exercising direct authority over the citizenry. The Federal Government was not even permitted to tax individuals directly, but rather had to tax the States who could then choose to tax their citizens. The nature of the Federal Government as designed by the Constitution is why many of the Founding Fathers, including James Madison who has become known as the Father of the Constitution, believed a Bill of Rights was unnecessary. The Constitution did not grant the new Federal Government authority to take actions against citizens directly, that authority was reserved to the States, so why the need to have a Bill of Rights?

This Federal system of Government allowed for experimentation among the several States with economic and social theories. For example, one state could set different wage laws or different laws regarding marriage or punishments for crimes than other states would set. This was the intent. It was never intended to have all laws the same throughout the nation.

People often forget this principal when they support ideas such as a National law to define marriage. As the Federal Government was not established to regulate conduct of individuals, laws regarding marriage and its definition should be created by State Governments. If a person does not like the laws of the State where they live, they are free to use the political process to change the law or they may leave the State. That is what the Founders intended with their comparison of the States to laboratories for experimentation. Not only does this process comport with the Federalist aspect of our Constitution, it promotes greater political activity at the local level where political influence of individual citizens is greatest.

Frightened that by providing a Bill of Rights might make some assume (as unfortunately so many do today) that the Federal Government had power over individual citizens to a greater extent than what was intended, the Founding Fathers passed the 9th and 10th Amendments as part of the Bill of Rights to ensure people understood that the Federal Government was one of very limited powers.

The Bill of Rights deal with the rights individuals have when dealing with the Federal Government. Some have tried to make the Second Amendment a right that belongs to the States in relation to the National Government, but such an argument is fallacious and made by those who either intend to deceive or have no understanding of history. Every right listed in the Bill of Rights deals with limiting the power of the Federal government against individual citizens. The 9th and 10th Amendments make it very clear that any power not delegated to the Federal Government remains with the States or the people in their status as individual citizens. (Note that the Tenth Amendment refers to “powers not delegated to the United States … are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people.” The Founders knew that there was a difference between the people collectively as represented by the “States” and all people in their individual capacity, as represented by the term “people.” It would make no sense for the term “people” to mean the States in the Second Amendment and the same term to mean individual citizens in the Tenth Amendment.) Therefore, if the Federal Government is not specifically delegated the power under the Constitution, then, no matter how good that power may be, it resides with the State, or with the people.

That leads me to another topic which I will address in a subsequent posting. That is the topic of “Delegated Powers.”


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