“The powers delegated by the proposed Constitution to the federal government are few and defined. Those which are to remain in the State governments are numerous and indefinite.” James Madison, Federalist No. 45

In Federalist 45, Publius once again assures us of the limited, but necessary nature of the federal government’s powers.  In previous essays Madison and Hamilton have assured readers that if, in the unlikely event, the federal government oversteps its bounds, the states will sound the alarm, and the people will rise up to defend the Constitution.

Of course, the picture painted by Madison of the few and defined powers of the federal government  in Federalist 45 is radically different than our reality today.  One is tempted to ask, how did these wise men get their prediction of the future so wrong?

Assuming the structure of government designed by our founders was sound and sufficient to preserve individual liberty, a more appropriate question might be, how did our country deviate from the roadmap they laid out for us?

The Constitution, as designed by our founding fathers, creates a system of government designed  to preserve the peoples’ individual liberty. Our liberty hangs in a delicate balance of power between the federal government and the states.

As with any delicate structure or piece of machinery, when you move a part that affects the balance, the structure begins to fall, or the machine ceases to function in the way in which it was intended.

One of the key points Madison makes in his assurance that the federal government will not encroach upon state governments is the provision in the Constitution that “The Senate will be elected absolutely and exclusively by the State legislatures….Thus, each of the principal branches of the federal government will owe its existence more or less to the favor of the State governments, and must consequently feel a dependence, which is much more likely to beget a disposition too obsequious than too overbearing towards them.”

The 17th Amendment, which took the appointment of U.S. Senators out of the state legislatures’ hands, and provided for the direct election of U.S. Senators by the people, fundamentally changed the structure of government the founders had designed.  An important check on the federal government’s power was removed.

The other factor Publius did not foresee was the phenomenon of federal funding offered to states with strings attached. As more burdens are placed on states by the federal government through unfunded federal mandates, the enticement of federal dollars with strings attached grows.  When states accept this type of funding, the federal government’s reach into the states’ purview increases.

Federalist 45 reminds us of what our country could look like, had the checks and balances laid out by the founders not been slowly eroded.  For many years, “We the people,” have not been paying attention.

As we go forward, we should remember Hamilton’s words in Federalist No. 33:

“If the federal government should overpass the just bounds of its authority and make a tyrannical use of its powers, the people, whose creature it is, must appeal to the standard they have formed, and take such measures to redress the injury done to the Constitution as the exigency may suggest and prudence justify.”

What a gift these words of Hamilton, Madison and John Jay are, patiently explaining the United States Constitution, and our founders’ vision for our country!   We cannot understand what we are losing, if we don’t understand what we had.

We cannot know if the Constitution is “injured,” if we do not know what is in the Constitution.  Thank you Professor Knipprath, and all the blogger commenters, for augmenting our understanding!

As Janine likes to say, “Your vote is your voice.” In these federalist papers we are finding our voice, and in November, our voice will be heard!

Good night and God Bless,

Cathy Gillespie

Tuesday, June 29th, 2010


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