Who Should Hold Power in These United States?

At 54, I’m old enough to remember regular use of a phrase I seldom hear anymore but which I have intentionally begun using. I no longer say “the United States.” Instead I refer to “these United States.”  I remember thinking as a child that use of the term was quaint and backwards; as if the user were ignorant. It seems I was the ignorant one. The difference is profound and is at the center of the battles popping up around the country. The issue? Who is in charge; the several states or a single federal government?

“The United States” suggests the nation is a single entity with only one voice; the federal voice.  The states are merely inconvenient divisions of the land mass which must be dealt with when announcing and enforcing rules enacted by the federal government.

“These United States” suggests a view more consistent with how our nation was crafted and with the Founders’ view of how it should function. The nation is not a single voice. It is many voices sounding in a united fashion without surrendering their right to individual speech. It is 50 voices on most issues with a surrogate acting as their agent only in very specific instances.

The “specific instances” are known collectively as “The Enumerated Powers” and can be found in Article 1, Section 8 of the US Constitution. The Founders’ intent to establish the primacy of the states is further established by the Bill of Rights which pointedly and specifically limits the federal government’s power.

This is clearly seen in the Bill of Rights’ repeated use of some variation of the phrase “Congress shall not …” In fact, one has to wait 124 years, to 1913?s 16th Amendment, before finding the phrase “Congress shall have the power …” in the language of an actual amendment.

The erosion began after 75 years in 1865. There, “Congress shall have the power …” first appears in the Constitution in a subsection of the 13th Amendment. Similar entries appear over the next 50 years. While these first efforts limit the power of Congress to enforcement, they still extend the powers of Congress beyond Article 1, Section 8; increasing the power of Congress and diminishing that of the individual states.

Simultaneous subtle changes in Constitutional language on the role of states further dilutes their primacy. Consider these examples:

(13th Amendment – 1865) Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction.

(15th Amendment – 1870) The right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of race, color, or previous condition of servitude. (emphasis added)

The result of this  slow drift is that today’s federal government runs roughshod over its former masters. The federal government’s treatment of Arizona over Immigration and Indiana over Planned Parenthood is a vision of the future if states do not contest the eroding of their authority.

The federal government is not the only villain, however. The states were and remain complicit in the process. Constitutional amendments are ratified by the states. They agreed to the popular election of Senators. The original creators of the federal government allowed the servant to become the master.

The good news is, what the states have done, they can undo. If even a few push back, they can rein in their out of control servant. They can resume their place as the ultimate political authority in these United States.

The push back can be as basic as enacting laws their citizens want and forcing the federal government to sue them to prevent implementation. These cases should be used to highlight the issue of State’s Rights. There are far more serious options available such as refusing to send tax dollars to Washington in the same fashion Washington regularly threatens not to return tax dollars to the states previously remitted by the states.

But “push back” there must be. Or else we consign both our Constitution and our Liberty to a slow death. While it may be possible to find and reinstate truths and liberties thoroughly lost, the superior strategy is prevention. The emergence of the Tea Party Movement and similar grassroots efforts provide citizen support for the struggle. All it will take is for states to remember: “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.”

Cross posted from Blue Collar Muse.