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History and experience tell us that creating a government is not as much of a challenge as maintaining a limited and defined one. The drafters of our Constitution took that mission to heart when they created our Constitutional Republic; they not only created a limited and defined government but gave the people the best means by which to check and balance that federal power.
James Madison, Father of the Constitution and fourth president of these united States addressed the Congress in 1792 and explained,
“I sir have always conceived—I believe those who proposed the Constitution conceived—it is still more fully known and more material to observe, that those who ratified the Constitution conceived—that this not an indefinite government…but a limited government tied down to the specific powers.”
When Americans speak of “checks and balances” they generally think of the internal checks of the Congress upon the Judiciary, or perhaps the Judiciary upon the Executive. However, the form of government created by those who ratified the Constitution contains a much more powerful external check, one that James Madison called “the greatest power on earth.” Understanding that most powerful check and balance requires an understanding of three foundational facts: 1. The creation of the States, 2. The creation of the Constitution, and 3. The creation of the central government.
1. The creation of the States
The founding States of our Union were not the product of a few elite rich men sitting in a pub divining ways to consolidate power unto themselves. Our States were created when the Continental Congress debated, voted, and ratified into law the Lee Resolution on July 2, 1776. The Lee Resolution contained a three step process to declaring, establishing, and maintaining our independence from Great Britain. The first paragraph to the Lee Resolution would become, in part, the last paragraph of the Declaration of Independence. The first step to becoming independent is simply to declare that independence:
“Resolved, That these United Colonies are, and of right ought to be, free and independent States, that they are absolved from all allegiance to the British Crown, and that all political connection between them and the State of Great Britain is, and ought to be, totally dissolved.”
By RIGHT our governments are no longer colonies, but by declaration of that Right are recognized to be “free and independent States.” Simply put, we are not property of the king, but we know that all men are created equal and endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights. Since we are not owned by the king, we need not ask his permission to be free, we must simply declare it. Through the Declaration of Independence we not only make this fact known to the world, but we give clear definition to what we mean when we created, “free and independent States.”
“…and that all political connection between them and the State of Great Britain, is and ought to be totally dissolved; and that as Free and Independent States, they have full Power to levy War, conclude Peace, contract Alliances, establish Commerce, and to do all other Acts and Things which Independent States may of right do.”
Our States are defined as “free and independent,” each to be synonymous political entities with the likes of Great Britain, France, or Germany, each State bearing the same political authority as the “State of Great Britain.” In fact we created free and individual sovereign countries who, in their sovereignty, possess “full Power to levy War, conclude Peace, contract Alliances, establish Commerce, and to do all other Acts and Things which Independent States may of right do.” Although our States are politically the same as any other country in the world, our States have to recognize that their power is “derived from the consent of the government,” not from the King, and the sole purpose of that power is to “secure the Rights of the people,” not the power of those in government. (See Declaration of Independence)
2. Creation of the Constitution
The Constitution is a legal document whose intent was to create and form a legally binding contract between the States. The Constitution is a specific kind of contract called a “compact” which can be defined as a contract between sovereign governments. As the content of the Constitution was debated and ratified, the drafters and those who ratified the Constitution made it clear their intent was to form a compact to create this new Union of States. Richard Henry, in proposing Religious Liberty as a part of the Bill of Rights, made this statement:
“…but when we are making a constitution, it is to be hoped, for ages and millions yet unborn, why not establish the free exercise of religion, as a part of the national compact.” Federal Farmer IV
It is important to note, that although the Constitution’s preamble begins “We The People,” in legal terms the Constitutional Compact is not an agreement between the people, but between the States. This legal fact can be proven by one simple detail; the Constitution was not ratified by popular vote of the people, but by the vote of the Representatives of the States. Legally speaking the States are the “parties” to this compact and are therefore the creators of the federal government through the Constitution.
3. Creation of the Federal Government
The federal government is the product created by the ratification of the Constitution by the parties, the States. When the States created the federal government, they created a specifically limited and defined federal authority. James Madison explains to the Constitutional delegates in Federalist #45:
“The powers delegated by the proposed Constitution to the federal government are few and defined.”
Madison describes those powers as being primarily related to foreign affairs “as war, peace, negotiation, and foreign commerce.” He continues by describing the undelegated power as being reserved to the States and “numerous and indefinite;” extending to “all the objects which, in the ordinary course of affairs, concern the lives, liberties, and properties of the people, and the internal order, improvement, and prosperity of the State.” In this explanation, Madison is reassuring the States that in the creation of the federal government, the powers delegated to the federal government will be much fewer and more specifically limited than the powers that will remain owned by the States. Through this we learn a very important distinction in play during the creation of the federal government: federal power is delegated and State power is reserved. Since federal power is delegated, to fully understand the nature of the federal government created through the Constitution, we must identify WHO is delegating power to the federal government. Looking at the sources give us the answers we need:
- “…that as Free and Independent States, they have full Power to levy War, conclude Peace, contract Alliances, establish Commerce, and to do all other Acts and Things which Independent States may of right do.” Declaration of Independence
- “The Power not delegated to the United States…are Reserved to the States respectively…” Tenth Amendment to the US Constitution
- “The powers delegated by the proposed Constitution to the federal government…will be exercised principally on external objects, as war, peace, negotiation, and foreign commerce…” Federalist #45
We know from James Madison and from the Tenth Amendment that the power the federal government possesses is delegated. We know from the Declaration of Independence that the powers that are delegated to the federal government were FIRST possessed by the States. We know from the Constitution that the States ratified the Constitution and are the creators of the federal government, therefore we must know that the States are the delegators of the powers to the federal government. Finally, knowing these truths, we must now admit a very fundamental and essential truth about the creation of the federal government:
When power is delegated, by definition, it is a temporary trust of authority and responsibility given by a higher power to a lower power. Since we have established through our foundational documents that the States have delegated a portion of their power to the federal government we must admit that the States are the higher power and the federal government is the lower power. This is the essential truth in understanding the external check on federal power created by the formation of our Constitutional Republic.
KrisAnne Hall began her career as a biochemist, Russian linguist for the US Army, and received her Juris Doctor from the University of Florida College of Law. KrisAnne was a prosecutor for the State of Florida and practiced First Amendment Law for a prominent national non-profit Law firm. KrisAnne is now the founder of LibertyFirstUniversity.com and travels the country teaching the foundational principles of Liberty and our Constitutional Republic. KrisAnne is the author of 6 books on the Constitution and Bill of Rights; she also has a nationally syndicated radio show. KrisAnne has been featured on C-SPAN TV and C-SPAN Book TV. KrisAnne can be found at www.KrisAnneHall.com
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