When one reads the writings of the oracles of today’s so-called Conservatives, the question comes to mind what Colonial history they have been reading. Their arguments regarding federalism and state’s rights defy the facts and seem to be an effort on their part to fit their vision of history to the way they would like things to be.
You hear from the purveyors of propaganda on talk radio proclaim the idea that the Constitution is not a living document adaptable to changing times and the idea that our government only had certain specific enumerated powers and even then these powers were not exclusive. The enumerated powers included, a common defense, immigration, foreign relations, raising taxes, issuing currency and interstate commerce. In respect to all other powers the states retained power.
They argue that who has a better understanding of what is needed than the states themselves who have a closer relationship to its citizens than any federal government. In fact they are so bold as to claim that each state should have the power to do whatever they want to do as long is does not interfere with those exclusive powers left to the federal government.
These ideas that come on our radios and on Fox TV are contrary to the facts. Our history is by no means as simple as the far right wing would have you believe. The founding fathers, those who participated in the writing of our Articles of Confederation and those who wrote the Constitution, had different views, their view of government was much more complicated and much more layered in sophistication than what we are led to believe today.
From the days of the Stamp Act, to the days of our first Continental Congress, to the writing of both the Articles of Confederation and our Constitution, the ideas and beliefs of the founders evolved.
If you read the Articles of Confederation you will notice that they wrote about a league of friendship between 13 autonomous states. Each article spoke to the rights of the states.
When the arguments for against the ratification of a Constitution were being made a different set of arguments were being made on different levels.
The arguments were more about how we were going to govern. Were we to have a confederacy, a republic or a democracy or a combination of a republic and a democracy.
The founders had no intent of using original intent as a criteria for decision making. James Madison kept a record of the debates and purposefully published his diary towards the end of his long life. His focus as well as the other advocates for the Constitution was to ratify the Constitution. The argument for and against the Constitution was to based on what the words said and not what they argued about at the Constitutional Convention. And in fact, when Madison was a Congressman, and several other Congressmen were from the Constitutional Convention, they were quite careful to not mention original intent. There was one instance when Madison erred and did just that, and a fellow veteran of the Convention admonished him on the floor of the House. Madison admitted his mistake and never mentioned original intent again.
It is interesting how todays arguments for greater state’s rights resemble the Anti-Federalist arguments than they resemble the Pro-Federalist, and Pro-Constitution arguments.
Brutus was probably the most eloquent of the Ant-Federalist. In considering whether or not to support the Constitution, he framed the question as follows: “Whether a confederated government be the best for the United States or not? Or in other words, whether the thirteen United States should be reduced to one great republic, governed by one legislature, and under the direction of one executive and judicial, or whether they should continue thirteen confederated republics, under the direction and control of a supreme federal head for certain defined national purposes only?”
This was the inquiry at its most basic, meaning that for the choice was whether to remain a confederacy with greater powers granted to the states or to be a nation governed by one government.
Brutus further stated in a most powerful way, that “this government is to possess absolute power, legislative, executive and judicial, with respect to every object to which it extends, for the last clause of Section 8, article 1st, it is declared, that the Congress shall have the power to make all laws which shall be necessary and proper for carrying into execution the foregoing powers, and all other powers vested by this constitution, in the government of the United States, or in any department or office thereof.”
This writer can do better than Brutus in stating what Federalism would mean if the Constitution were ratifed. His warning was that “If you adopt it posterity will execrate your memory.” You can find a copy of his letter to the people of New York on October 18, 1787.
Thankfully, Brutus and others who were against federalism and voted to not ratify the Constitution, failed to win enough support for their support of a Confederacy and support for state’s rights.
We have seen our country evolve regarding our views towards democracy. Some of the founders were afraid of mob rule and made sure that only those who had property could vote. We have evolved in that we not only see that all white males first gained the right to vote, then later women gained the right to vote and in 1965 the Voting Rights Bill was passed putting into law protections for people of color to be able to vote striking down the discriminatory practices of Poll Taxes, and literacy tests.
Now we seem to be going backwards where certain states are attempting to refuse some citizens the right to vote. Let’s look at the recent trend of certain states to pass voter ID laws. In Indiana, during the 2008 election, some of the nuns at Notre Dame University were denied the right to vote. A driver’s license was required but several nuns had not driven for years and years and broght with them a passport. They were denied the right to vote even though they had been registered to vote and had voted for years. This is just plain wrong.
One of our fundamental rights is the right to vote. We have seen people die in order to protect that hallowed right. We saw long lines of voters in Florida who had to wait for hours.
There is a concerted effort now to reduce the vote, claiming as their source of power and authority, state’s rights. This is a veiled attempt to stay in power by reducing the turnout. It is un-American to do such things but this is what we are seeing. There are no excuses for these acts of tyranny. The fact that people of all races had to wait in line for hours and that they were determined to not be denied their rights, showed the strength of our democracy. But beware of those who on one hand profess to be conservatives who would deny people the right to vote. Voting is a tradition and custom worth fighting for.
Beware of those who would exalt liberty and property to the exclusion of equal rights, for what we are honestly looking at is their attempt to fight for their own self interest. They would deny others the rights guaranteed under the Constitution, just so they can maintain their power and wealth, while at the same time professing to be wrapped in the flag and holding a Bible. They are the worst examples of what patriotism is all about. By improving the lives of others we are all better off as a result.
We are one nation, still attempting to perfect our union. Let us deny those who would divide us, the power to deprive us of our rights under the Constitution. The power of state’s rights was the past, we fought a Great Civil War to stay one nation, let us move on into the future as one people and one nation.