Since the days of the revolution, there has been a dispute on whether the 13 former colonies were states with sovereign rights and whether those states along with the additional 37 states have retained those rights when the Constitution was ratified.
Initially the Articles of Confederation was the ruling document until the Constitution was ratified. Article II of the Articles states the following: Each state retains its sovereignty, freedom and independence, and every power, jurisdiction and right, which is not by this confederation expressly delegated to the United States, in Congress assembled.
It is clear that the initial 13 states were sovereign and with all of the power vested in each state to determine its own destiny. But what about Constitution, do the states retain the powers that they once had? For that answer it is instructive and the question is answered in the words of not only the Constitution but in a letter sent by James Madison to Thomas Jefferson, dated, October 27, 1787. The letter informed Jefferson what had transpired and the reasoning behind what had resulted from the Constitutional Convention.
Madison clearly stated that” the objects of the Union could NOT be secured by any system founded on the principle of a confederation of sovereign states.” He went on to say,” Hence was embraced the alternative of a Government which instead of operating, on the States, should operate without their intervention on the individuals composing them: and hence the change in the principle and proportion of representation.” Madison then listed 4 objects that the new government would attempt to resolve. Number 2 on that list stated” to draw a line of demarkation which would give to the General Government every power requisite for general purposes, and leave to the States every power which might be most beneficially administered by them.”
Later in the letter he expanded his thoughts on Number 2. ” The due partition of power, between the General and local governments, was perhaps of all, the most nice and difficult. A few contended for an entire abolition of the States; some for indefinite power of legislation in the Congress, with a negative on the laws of the States: some for such a power without a negative: some for a limited power of legislation, with such a negative: the majority finally for a limited power without the negative.” Madison wanted a negative on the states for the following reasons: ” Such a check on States appears to be necessary. 1. to prevent encroachments on the General Authority. 2. to prevent instability and injustice in the legislation of the states.”
We have seen the negative impact on our nation several times during our history when federal law is not obeyed and when states attempt to nullify and ignore the law. In terms of providing and promoting the General Welfare of the nation through the Necessary and Proper Clause, it is really harmful to the freedom of the individual if each state had different rules and laws that were contrary to the law of the nation. Now for example we have a controversy regarding states opting out of the Affordable Care Act. What if states were allowed to nullify federal law? This of course, has already happened during our history when it came to having federal laws to prevent racism and discrimination. If each state was allowed to have its own rules we would not have a nation but a nation in name only, without equal protection before the law and the rights of due process. As Madison said in his letter to Jefferson,” Encroachments of the States on the general authority, sacrifices of national to local interests.” Madison found that the mutability or in other words changes or differences in each states laws to be a serious evil.
Brutus a favorite of the Anti-Federalists back in the day when political disputes were argued about in the newspapers, knew what we the people were getting if we ratified that Constitution. He quoted the Necessary and Proper Clause, to illustrate the degree of power that was to reside in the Federal Government. The clause quite clearly says the following: “that the Congress shall have the power to make all laws which shall be necessary and proper.”
Brutus followed that quote by further strengthening his belief in the extensive power that was stipulated that the Federal Government would have. ” the 6th article, it is declared that this constitution , and the laws of the United States, which shall be in pursuance thereof, and the treaties made, of which shall be made, under the authority of the United States , shall be the supreme law of the land.”
Those powers left to the States that are to be beneficial to each, are the powers necessary to keep that state and each state running properly. Budgets are to be passed to fund public services which the Federal Government does not provide for. Each local government and city council has responsibilities to keep the trash picked up, the lights turned on and the potholes fixed. Education is a local matter with Boards of Education making important decisions regarding the education of our children. These state powers are not limited to matters that the Federal Government does not do. Each state has the right to go further than Federal law to protect the environment for example. In theory a state can not diminish the rights as ascribed to by federal law.
Regretfully under the guise or excuse that the people of this great nation are being submitted to a tyranny by the federal government we see and hear similar arguments that the secessionists gave as excuses to secede. The argument for or against state’s rights was settled when our Constitution was ratified and these rights were further affirmed when our great Civil War was fought. We might have begun that fight as states but we came out of that war a nation.
My fellow citizens the issue has long been decided that are again re-arguing, we are not a compact of 50 sovereign states we are one nation.
We are America, one nation from coast to coast, irrespective of red states or blue states, we are the United States of America. We need to shout from the mountain tops that we will not give any quarter to those who seek to divide us, once again. It might seem to be much easier to deal with the old states of the former Confederacy by just letting them go it on their own. Wiser heads have prevailed in the past to win the day and affirm our nation through the blood and sacrifice of too many. They have died to keep this nation, a nation free from foreign conquest and free from those who would divide us into many parts. On this day of the 50th anniversary of that fabled the March on Selma, we need to rededicate ourselves to the preservation of this very special Republic. Let us keep the liberty bell ringing from sea to shining sea.