What is States’ Rights? Part 2

by Mike Crane of Morgantown, Georgia

In Part 1 of this series I offered a concept that runs a bit contrary to the current public conception – that the term States’ Rights can be used more for partisan benefit than as a true effort to protect the God-given rights of the people. I got a lot of feedback, some critical, some favorable. In which case, the article served its purpose, for that’s what we want the weekly SNC “We Hold These Truths” columns to achieve – to encourage discussion, independent thinking, and deeper understanding about the critical issues of the day facing our fellow Southerners.

Some background is in order. Let’s start with the body of the Constitution of 1787. Remember that this was actually the “committee report” of the Constitutional Convention of 1787 back to the several governments of these United States, then operating under the Articles of Confederation.

A search of the body of the Constitution of 1787, excluding the subsequent Amendments, produces one match for either “rights” or “right.” It’s in Article I, Section 8, as follows: To promote the Progress of Science and useful Arts, by securing for limited Times to Authors and Inventors the exclusive Right to their respective Writings and Discoveries;

Most readers will recognize this language as the basis for the copyright and patent laws of the United States. Now don’t you find it interesting that in the Constitution of 1787 the only direct reference to a “Right” is to empower the Federal government to protect certain citizen’s rights; that is, authors and inventors, and for a limited time only?

The Preamble does state that “We the People” ordain and establish the Constitution to “…secure the blessings of Liberty…” along with various other purposes, like “… providing for the common defence,” etc. But this is a broad and general statement. There is nothing else in the body of the Constitution of 1787 stating explicitly the purpose of government is to guarantee the God-given rights of the people.

Despite its many strong points, the body of the Constitution of 1787 was obviously flawed in many aspects, depending on your point of view. One of these flaws is its failure to clearly state that its main, or even a secondary purpose, is to guarantee the citizen’s God-given rights. You may not like the implications, but this is simply a statement of fact. Within a very short period after adoption of the Constitution of 1787, ten amendments (the Bill of Rights) were added in an effort to correct this specific flaw.

Since the transition from the Articles of Confederation until today, The United States has experienced periodic if not constant debates, disputes, and even armed aggression concerning the allocation of “powers to govern” and also over what rights the citizen has. Today and through much of our history since the transition, the term “States’ Rights” has been used to represent the concept of a federated form of government as opposed to a national or centralized form of government.

Here’s a definition (The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia® Copyright © 2007) of federated government:

“ … The distribution of powers between the federal and state governments is usually accomplished by means of a written constitution, for a federation does not exist if authority can be allocated by ordinary legislation. …”

[In later parts of this series I will submit for your consideration that this definition should be expanded to include “… by ordinary legislation, judicial edit, or military power … “]

The bitter partisan disputes occurring today are anything but new. Their roots lie in the State conventions of 1788-89 as the transition from the Articles of Confederation to the Constitution of 1787 took place — or for that matter, in the struggle for independence from the English Crown, if one does not limit the subject to just American government.

I desire and advocate a truly federated form of government, one with clearly delegated powers and shared sovereignty. But despite this strong desire I don’t see much hope of returning to such a form of government. It certainly doesn’t exist today, and the possibly of returning to it grows more distant with the passage of time.

Note this interesting reference from the first State of the Union address of President Thomas Jefferson (1801-1807):

“Other circumstances, combined with the increase of numbers, have produced an augmentation of revenue arising from consumption in a ratio far beyond that of population alone; and though the changes in foreign relations now taking place so desirably for the whole world may for a season affect this branch of revenue, yet weighing all probabilities of expense as well as of income, there is reasonable ground of confidence that we may now safely dispense with all the internal taxes, comprehending excise, stamps, auctions, licenses, carriages, and refined sugars, to which the postage on news papers may be added to facilitate the progress of information, and that the remaining sources of revenue will be sufficient to provide for the support of Government, to pay the interest of the public debts, and to discharge the principals within shorter periods than the laws or the general expectation had contemplated.” [emphasis added]

One way to read this statement is that the “new” government in just a few short years was “already” collecting taxes beyond what was needed to meet its new Constitutional duties. What would President Jefferson think of the vast array and amount of taxes that modern-day citizens face? Whatever your political affiliation or views on the proper form of government, it’s impossible to not agree that our taxes today are more pervasive and burdensome than those our Colonial forefathers faced under the King of England. Sadly, the early signs of this fiscal mentality of “tax and spend” had already reared its ugly head by 1801.

Here’s another revealing excerpt from the same State of The Union address:

“When we consider that this Government is charged with the external and mutual relations only of these States; that the States themselves have principal care of our persons, our property, and our reputation, constituting the great field of human concerns, we may well doubt whether our organization is not too complicated, too expensive; whether offices and officers have not been multiplied unnecessarily and sometimes injuriously to the service they were meant to promote.” [emphasis added]

Here we have the essence of the position today called States’ Rights. What President Jefferson is describing is a federated form of government, which for the most part still existed in 1801. But his words also conveyed a warning that all was not well:

“ … we may well doubt whether our organization is not too complicated, too expensive; whether offices and officers have not been multiplied unnecessarily and sometimes injuriously to the service they were meant to promote.”

Alas, from the foundation of American Liberty during the Colonial period, by 1801 this country had not only undergone a transition from the Articles of Confederation, but was already experiencing the first signs of nibbling away at that liberty. Did not President Jefferson’s words – warn that authority or allocation of power was being accomplished by legislation?

If President Jefferson was right, and by 1801 “…offices and officers had been multiplied unnecessarily…, “ what does that say about our country today?

As I stated in Part I of this series: American Liberty is rapidly approaching the cliff. It’s up to you the citizen to change that direction if it’s going to be changed.

Now, for a few closing words on the subject of these articles. If what is meant by the use of today’s term States’ Rights (or more properly State’s Powers) is that referenced by President Jefferson above, then certainly it has merit. But, all presumed good intentions aside, if today’s so-called States’ Rights efforts are not directed at resolving the causes of the failure to achieve a truly federated form of government and to guarantee the citizen’s God-given rights, then it’s nothing more than self-serving partisan politics of the type that President George Washington warned us about in his Farewell Address.

To be continued.

What is States’ Rights – Part 1
What is States’ Rights – Part 3
What is States’ Rights – Part 4
What is States’ Rights – Part 5
What is States’ Rights – Part 6

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