The Alleged Danger From the Powers of the Union to the State Governments Considered
For the Independent Journal.

Author: James Madison

To the People of the State of New York:

HAVING shown that no one of the powers transferred to the federal government is unnecessary or improper, the next question to be considered is, whether the whole mass of them will be dangerous to the portion of authority left in the several States. The adversaries to the plan of the convention, instead of considering in the first place what degree of power was absolutely necessary for the purposes of the federal government, have exhausted themselves in a secondary inquiry into the possible consequences of the proposed degree of power to the governments of the particular States. But if the Union, as has been shown, be essential to the security of the people of America against foreign danger; if it be essential to their security against contentions and wars among the different States; if it be essential to guard them against those violent and oppressive factions which embitter the blessings of liberty, and against those military establishments which must gradually poison its very fountain; if, in a word, the Union be essential to the happiness of the people of America, is it not preposterous, to urge as an objection to a government, without which the objects of the Union cannot be attained, that such a government may derogate from the importance of the governments of the individual States? Was, then, the American Revolution effected, was the American Confederacy formed, was the precious blood of thousands spilt, and the hard-earned substance of millions lavished, not that the people of America should enjoy peace, liberty, and safety, but that the government of the individual States, that particular municipal establishments, might enjoy a certain extent of power, and be arrayed with certain dignities and attributes of sovereignty? We have heard of the impious doctrine in the Old World, that the people were made for kings, not kings for the people. Is the same doctrine to be revived in the New, in another shape that the solid happiness of the people is to be sacrificed to the views of political institutions of a different form? It is too early for politicians to presume on our forgetting that the public good, the real welfare of the great body of the people, is the supreme object to be pursued; and that no form of government whatever has any other value than as it may be fitted for the attainment of this object. Were the plan of the convention adverse to the public happiness, my voice would be, Reject the plan. Were the Union itself inconsistent with the public happiness, it would be, Abolish the Union. In like manner, as far as the sovereignty of the States cannot be reconciled to the happiness of the people, the voice of every good citizen must be,

Let the former be sacrificed to the latter. How far the sacrifice is necessary, has been shown. How far the unsacrificed residue will be endangered, is the question before us. Several important considerations have been touched in the course of these papers, which discountenance the supposition that the operation of the federal government will by degrees prove fatal to the State governments. The more I revolve the subject, the more fully I am persuaded that the balance is much more likely to be disturbed by the preponderancy of the last than of the first scale. We have seen, in all the examples of ancient and modern confederacies, the strongest tendency continually betraying itself in the members, to despoil the general government of its authorities, with a very ineffectual capacity in the latter to defend itself against the encroachments. Although, in most of these examples, the system has been so dissimilar from that under consideration as greatly to weaken any inference concerning the latter from the fate of the former, yet, as the States will retain, under the proposed Constitution, a very extensive portion of active sovereignty, the inference ought not to be wholly disregarded. In the Achaean league it is probable that the federal head had a degree and species of power, which gave it a considerable likeness to the government framed by the convention. The Lycian Confederacy, as far as its principles and form are transmitted, must have borne a still greater analogy to it. Yet history does not inform us that either of them ever degenerated, or tended to degenerate, into one consolidated government. On the contrary, we know that the ruin of one of them proceeded from the incapacity of the federal authority to prevent the dissensions, and finally the disunion, of the subordinate authorities. These cases are the more worthy of our attention, as the external causes by which the component parts were pressed together were much more numerous and powerful than in our case; and consequently less powerful ligaments within would be sufficient to bind the members to the head, and to each other. In the feudal system, we have seen a similar propensity exemplified. Notwithstanding the want of proper sympathy in every instance between the local sovereigns and the people, and the sympathy in some instances between the general sovereign and the latter, it usually happened that the local sovereigns prevailed in the rivalship for encroachments.

Had no external dangers enforced internal harmony and subordination, and particularly, had the local sovereigns possessed the affections of the people, the great kingdoms in Europe would at this time consist of as many independent princes as there were formerly feudatory barons. The State government will have the advantage of the Federal government, whether we compare them in respect to the immediate dependence of the one on the other; to the weight of personal influence which each side will possess; to the powers respectively vested in them; to the predilection and probable support of the people; to the disposition and faculty of resisting and frustrating the measures of each other. The State governments may be regarded as constituent and essential parts of the federal government; whilst the latter is nowise essential to the operation or organization of the former. Without the intervention of the State legislatures, the President of the United States cannot be elected at all. They must in all cases have a great share in his appointment, and will, perhaps, in most cases, of themselves determine it. The Senate will be elected absolutely and exclusively by the State legislatures. Even the House of Representatives, though drawn immediately from the people, will be chosen very much under the influence of that class of men, whose influence over the people obtains for themselves an election into 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. On the other side, the component parts of the State governments will in no instance be indebted for their appointment to the direct agency of the federal government, and very little, if at all, to the local influence of its members. The number of individuals employed under the Constitution of the United States will be much smaller than the number employed under the particular States.

There will consequently be less of personal influence on the side of the former than of the latter. The members of the legislative, executive, and judiciary departments of thirteen and more States, the justices of peace, officers of militia, ministerial officers of justice, with all the county, corporation, and town officers, for three millions and more of people, intermixed, and having particular acquaintance with every class and circle of people, must exceed, beyond all proportion, both in number and influence, those of every description who will be employed in the administration of the federal system. Compare the members of the three great departments of the thirteen States, excluding from the judiciary department the justices of peace, with the members of the corresponding departments of the single government of the Union; compare the militia officers of three millions of people with the military and marine officers of any establishment which is within the compass of probability, or, I may add, of possibility, and in this view alone, we may pronounce the advantage of the States to be decisive. If the federal government is to have collectors of revenue, the State governments will have theirs also. And as those of the former will be principally on the seacoast, and not very numerous, whilst those of the latter will be spread over the face of the country, and will be very numerous, the advantage in this view also lies on the same side.

It is true, that the Confederacy is to possess, and may exercise, the power of collecting internal as well as external taxes throughout the States; but it is probable that this power will not be resorted to, except for supplemental purposes of revenue; that an option will then be given to the States to supply their quotas by previous collections of their own; and that the eventual collection, under the immediate authority of the Union, will generally be made by the officers, and according to the rules, appointed by the several States. Indeed it is extremely probable, that in other instances, particularly in the organization of the judicial power, the officers of the States will be clothed with the correspondent authority of the Union.

Should it happen, however, that separate collectors of internal revenue should be appointed under the federal government, the influence of the whole number would not bear a comparison with that of the multitude of State officers in the opposite scale.

Within every district to which a federal collector would be allotted, there would not be less than thirty or forty, or even more, officers of different descriptions, and many of them persons of character and weight, whose influence would lie on the side of the State. 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. The former will be exercised principally on external objects, as war, peace, negotiation, and foreign commerce; with which last the power of taxation will, for the most part, be connected. The powers reserved to the several States will extend 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. The operations of the federal government will be most extensive and important in times of war and danger; those of the State governments, in times of peace and security. As the former periods will probably bear a small proportion to the latter, the State governments will here enjoy another advantage over the federal government. The more adequate, indeed, the federal powers may be rendered to the national defense, the less frequent will be those scenes of danger which might favor their ascendancy over the governments of the particular States. If the new Constitution be examined with accuracy and candor, it will be found that the change which it proposes consists much less in the addition of NEW POWERS to the Union, than in the invigoration of its ORIGINAL POWERS. The regulation of commerce, it is true, is a new power; but that seems to be an addition which few oppose, and from which no apprehensions are entertained. The powers relating to war and peace, armies and fleets, treaties and finance, with the other more considerable powers, are all vested in the existing Congress by the articles of Confederation. The proposed change does not enlarge these powers; it only substitutes a more effectual mode of administering them. The change relating to taxation may be regarded as the most important; and yet the present Congress have as complete authority to REQUIRE of the States indefinite supplies of money for the common defense and general welfare, as the future Congress will have to require them of individual citizens; and the latter will be no more bound than the States themselves have been, to pay the quotas respectively taxed on them. Had the States complied punctually with the articles of Confederation, or could their compliance have been enforced by as peaceable means as may be used with success towards single persons, our past experience is very far from countenancing an opinion, that the State governments would have lost their constitutional powers, and have gradually undergone an entire consolidation. To maintain that such an event would have ensued, would be to say at once, that the existence of the State governments is incompatible with any system whatever that accomplishes the essential purposes of the Union.


Guest Essayist: James Legee, Graduate, Master of Arts in Political Science at Villanova University, Graduate Fellow at the Matthew J. Ryan Center for the study of Free Institutions and the Public Good

Theodore Roosevelt was one of the most colorful presidents to serve the Republic.  He was a rancher in the North Dakota Badlands, led the Rough Riders up San Juan Hill and received a Medal of Honor for his gallantry, the only President with such a distinction.  While climbing a Mountain in the Adirondacks of New York in 1901, word reached Vice President Theodore Roosevelt that the condition of President McKinley had rapidly deteriorated after an assassination attempt a week earlier.  The next day, McKinley was dead, and Roosevelt was sworn into office as president.  Roosevelt brought an ideology to the Office of the President that was a refutation of the American Founding, Progressivism.  This ideology included a dramatic expansion of power vested in one person, the president. Read more

Guest Essayist: William C. Duncan, Director of the Marriage Law Foundation

Amendment XVIII:

Section 1: After one year from the ratification of this article the manufacture, sale, or transportation of intoxicating liquors within, the importation thereof into, or the exportation

Section 2: The Congress and the several States shall have concurrent power to enforce this article by appropriate legislation.

Amendment XVIII, Section 2

The Prohibition amendment only lasted in force for fourteen years from 1920 to 1933 (though it was ratified in 1919 by its terms it did not become effective until one year later) remains the only amendment to have been repealed in its entirety. The substance of the amendment has already been addressed so is there any more to learn from this footnote in constitutional history?

There is one important lesson we can learn from the amendment’s enforcement section about federalism and the respective roles of the national and state governments

Section two of the 18th Amendment provides: “The Congress and the several States shall have concurrent power to enforce this article by appropriate legislation.” This language is unique among the constitutional amendments. Beginning with the Civil War Amendments, drafters often began to include some kind of enforcement language in amendments, typically specifying that Congress could pass legislation to ensure the amendment’s intent was carried out. The 18th Amendment provided for “concurrent” jurisdiction between the national government and the States.

The concept of jurisdiction is central to our constitutional system. Because we have a federal system, with authority and responsibility divided between two different entities—the national government and the States—and because ours is a government of enumerated powers in which the Constitution gives to the national government authority to do only what that document specifies it may do, a grant of authority to carry out a new role must be specified in an amendment to the Constitution unless the amendment’s effect is self-executing.

The significance of the enforcement provision of the 18th Amendment is first that is specifies the branch of the national government responsible for enforcement is Congress and that it is to carry out this responsibility through legislation. Even this Progressive Era enactment respected the separate roles of branches of the national government. Consistent with every other aspect of the Constitution, this amendment was to be made effective not by judicial opinion or administrative branch lawmaking. So, the 18th Amendment reminds us that under the United States Constitution lawmaking is the prerogative of the legislative branch.

Second, the amendment specified that Congress will be exercising power concurrently with the States. Since the States had already been making alcohol policy previous to the 18th Amendment, it is clear that the amendment’s proponents recognized their inherent power to do so and only amended the Constitution so as to provide a new power of Congress; a power that (a) it did not have before and (b) it could not have unless specifically provided (enumerated) by an addition to the Constitution.

Thus, though the amendment is no longer enforceable it still provides a helpful reminder of the way in which our system is intended to function. While the powers of the national government and to be “few and defined” (Federalist 45), the states are free to do whatever they are not specifically prohibited from doing by the Constitution or the reserved powers of the people themselves.

Even the most cursory glance at current political controversies would remind us of exactly how important this reminder is.

William C. Duncan is director of the Marriage Law Foundation ( He formerly served as acting director of the Marriage Law Project at the Catholic University of America’s Columbus School of Law and as executive director of the Marriage and Family Law Research Grant at J. Reuben Clark Law School, Brigham Young University, where he was also a visiting professor.

May 17, 2012

Essay #64

– Guest Essayist: Dr. John S. Baker, Jr., Distinguished Scholar in Residence, Catholic University School of Law; Professor Emeritus, Louisiana State University Law Center

Amendment X:

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.


Statements about the Tenth amendment tend towards opposing extremes. Some cite the Amendment in claiming more powers than the Constitution actually leaves in the states. On the other side, some claim that the Amendment is merely a “truism,” implying it does virtually nothing. The actual meaning of the Amendment lies in between these two one-sided views.

The Tenth Amendment reads as follows:

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.

The most important word is the one that does not appear in the text, i.e., “expressly.” It is common for those who place great weight on the Tenth Amendment to state incorrectly that the Amendment says “powers not expressly delegated to the United States…” The Amendment, however, pointedly omits the word expressly.

By contrast, somewhat similar language in the Articles of Confederation did include the word expressly.
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. (emphasis added)

What difference in meaning does the word “expressly” make? The difference is that which distinguishes a confederation from a government. The Articles of Confederation provides that “The said States hereby severally enter into a firm league of friendship with each other…” (emphasis added). The Articles recognize that the States retained their full sovereignty and entered into a special kind of alliance or league. The Articles constitute a treaty involving multiple sovereignties and having several purposes. As a treaty, however, it is still a contract and each State delegates only those powers expressly written into the contract. Although “[t]he Articles thereof shall be inviolably observed by the States,” the document creates no government having the power to enforce its provisions. It provides only for states to send representatives to meet as the “United States in Congress” and to manage those powers expressly given.

The Constitution that emerged from the Convention, as all understood, was not a confederation or simply a league of friendship. Opponents of the Constitution, known as the Antifederalists, concluded that therefore the Constitution would create a consolidated or centralized government. The Federalist (written by Madison, Hamilton and Jay under the pseudonym of “Publius”) countered that the Constitution created a federal government of only limited powers and left most powers of government in the states.

Not persuaded, the Antifederalists contended that the Constitution’s limits on the federal government could and would be swept aside by its “necessary and proper clause.” Their arguments in opposition to the Constitution emphasized the document’s lack of a bill of rights. They urged that a statement of rights was necessary to protect liberty by limiting the power of the federal government and specifically to undo the effect of the “necessary and proper” clause.

The Constitution drafted at the Constitutional Convention contained no bill of rights. This was not an oversight. The Convention voted down George Mason’s proposal that a bill of rights be added. Moreover, during the Ratification period, The Federalist (#84) argued “that bills of rights, in the sense and to the extent they are contended for, are not only unnecessary in the proposed constitution, but would even be dangerous.” A bill of rights was unnecessary because “a minute detail of particular rights is certainly far less applicable to a constitution like that under consideration, which is merely intended to regulate the general political interests of the nation.” It was dangerous because it “would contain various exceptions to powers not granted; and on this very account, would afford a colourable pretext to claim more than was granted.”

The Federalists and Antifederalists held opposing ideas about the best means to protect liberty. Whereas the Antifederalists gave priority to bills of rights, the Federalists distrusted the efficacy of such “parchment barriers.” Rather the Federalists drafted the Constitution on the premise that protecting liberty requires a structure of separation of powers within the federal government and a division of powers between the federal and state governments. For that reason, The Federalist said “The truth is … that the constitution is itself, in every rational sense, and to every useful purpose, A BILL OF RIGHTS.”

Predictions of both the Antifederalists and Federalists have proved in part to be accurate. As the Antifederalists feared, the Necessary and Proper Clause has been used to expand the powers of the federal government greatly at the expense of the states, a trend aided (as discussed in a later essay) by the Seventeenth Amendment. The Federalists were correct that the Bill of Rights, aided by the Fourteenth Amendment’s judicially-developed doctrine of Incorporation, has been used to expand the powers of the federal government at the expense of the states.

The foundational explanation of the Necessary and Proper Clause came in Chief Justice Marshall’s opinion in McCulloch v. Maryland (1819). The opinion addressed the Necessary and Proper Clause as an additional, not the primary, reason for upholding the constitutionality of the Bank of the United States. Jeffersonian Republicans, many of whom had been Antifederalists, opposed this decision as an unconstitutional expansion of Congress’s powers. Chief Justice Marshall’s opinion, however, was perfectly consistent with, and generally tracked language in several essays from, The Federalist.

Over the years, especially since the New Deal, the centralizers of national power have often relied on a distorted interpretation of the Necessary and Proper clause which disregards the fundamental principle that the federal government is one of limited powers. Accordingly, they dismiss the Tenth Amendment as simply a “truism.” The defenders of state power, on the other hand, emphasize the Tenth Amendment, almost as if nothing else in the Constitution matters. They generally fail to understand The Federalist explanation – confirmed by Chief Justice Marshall’s opinion in McCulloch – that Congress has the fullness of those powers actually given to Congress and that the Constitution includes the Necessary and Proper Clause in order to leave no doubt about the fullness of the powers actually given.

When during the First Congress James Madison spoke for the Bill of Rights he had introduced, among other points he argued that they were of “such a nature as will not injure the Constitution.” Specifically, what became the Tenth Amendment did not injure the Constitution because it did not convert it to a confederation. That is to say, the Tenth Amendment pointedly did not use the word expressly.

As to any power actually given by the Constitution, Congress has the fullness of that power. Congress’s exercise of power is nevertheless limited– first by the fact that it is not given every power of government. Secondly, Congress encounters procedural limits on the implementation of its enumerated powers due to bicameralism and separation of powers. The division of powers between the federal and state governments which effectively limited Congress’s exercise of enumerated powers has been undermined by the Seventeenth Amendment’s provision for direct election of senators.

The U.S. government has over the years consolidated power to a degree feared even by the Federalists, and much more so by the Antifederalists. To point solely to the Tenth Amendment, however, as the primary limit on the expansion of federal power is to misunderstand the Constitution. The Tenth Amendment is a ‘truism” in the sense that it merely confirms that the Constitution creates a federal government with a limited number of powers, those related to national defense, foreign affairs, foreign trade, and trade among the states. See Federalist # 23 and #45. Like the Necessary and Proper Clause, a proper interpretation of the Tenth Amendment must be connected to the Constitution’s structure of divided and separated power.

Dr. John S. Baker, Jr. is the Distinguished Scholar in Residence at Catholic University School of Law and Professor Emeritus of Law at Louisiana State University Law Center.

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April 12, 2012

Essay #39

“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


Howdy from Texas and wow, wasn’t today’s reading of Federalist Paper No. 45 a wild ride? If anyone ever suggests that the Federal government is not bigger than originally intended I will simply refer them to the following words of James Madison.

Federalist Paper No. 45.
“The powers delegated by the proposed constitution to the federal government, are few and defined. Those which are to remain in the state government, are numerous and indefinite. The former will be exercised principally on external objects, as war, peace, negotiation, and foreign commerce; with which last the power of taxation will, for the most part, be connected. The powers reserved to the several states will extend 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. The operations of the federal government will be most extensive and important in the times of war and danger; those of the state governments in times of peace and security.”

The above paragraph provides a mountain of evidence concerning the true intentions designated for the federal government.

Federal Government                                    State Government
1. Powers are few and defined                     1. Powers are numerous and indefinite

2. Powers are exercised principally              2. Powers extend to
on external objects, as war, peace                lives, liberties,
negotiation and FOREIGN                          and properties
commerce; power of taxation                      of the people
connected primarily only to                         and the internal
these powers                                                order, improvement and prosperity of the state.

3. Operations most extensive                       3. Operations most
in times of war and danger                           extensive in times of peace and security

The Federal powers of today are most certainly not few and defined. They overshadow and overwhelm the state governments with many unfunded mandates and manipulations. The Federal powers have spread their presence beyond war, danger and foreign commerce. Federal powers have muscled their way into every aspect of American’s lives.

It is obvious that the true intention of regulation regarding commerce was for FOREIGN relations only. The modern day usage of the word “commerce” has been twisted into many renderings invading the states rights and rerouting the true intention of the federal governments original purpose, which was to manage and negotiate FOREIGN commerce.

The states’ powers were to extend to the areas of life, liberties, properties, internal order, improvement and prosperities.

Today’s Federal government has taken the sovereignties of the states and the individual rights of the citizens into their domain. The usurpation of state’s powers are tangible. The cast was thrown and the states hooked with the bait of benefits. The tide of control rose and never
abated. American citizen’s let it happen as they were sunbathing, napping on the beach.

The American people, however, have now awakened, and have discovered that they have been burned by the noonday sun and are drowning in the tide of commerce. They have discovered that their liberties are hooked in the “commerce” of the government.

The balm for the burn lies in the checks and balances and true intentions of the United States Constitution. The life raft of liberty lies with the passion and the purpose, the learning and the voice of the “genius of the people.”

We the People have independence bred into our blood. We have true grit written in the genetic code. We have the generational work ethic embedded in our family tree. We have the wisdom of our Providential faith that yields the prevailing power of our survival.

We, “the forgotten man,” have not been forsaken. Our Constitutional forefathers blazed the trail. We will once again set upon the path of our Constitution, which will balance our checks. The road may be rocky and the path may be steep but obstacles have never stymied the American’s spirit and it won’t now. A new turning has begun.

God Bless,

Janine Turner

Tuesday, June 29th, 2010


Guest Essayist: Joerg Knipprath, Professor of Law at Southwestern Law School

Having examined various powers granted to Congress, Madison in Federalist 45 invites the audience to step back from the particular tiles to gaze at the whole mosaic of the Constitution. But, is he presenting the creation from a proper angle? Or, is the Constitution modern art, where the meaning is created by the viewer? One certainly gets that sense reading some Supreme Court justices’ opinions.

Madison’s conclusion that even the mass of federal powers will not be dangerous to the authority left in the several states is astonishing from our vantage in the light of experience, but understandable from his. He discounts “the supposition, that the operation of the federal government will by degrees prove fatal to the state governments….I am persuaded that the balance is much more likely to be disturbed by the preponderancy of the last than of the first….” He grounds his judgment on four supports, loyalty from the people to the more local government; states as critical constituent parts of the national government but not the reverse; fewer federal bureaucrats than state officials; and the limited number and scope of federal powers.

As to the first, loyalty to local government may indeed be more natural. But such loyalty depends on personal relationships and bonds of community, a concept that has limits. In the 1790 census, the largest city, New York, had 33,000 inhabitants. There were only five cities with more than 10,000 inhabitants. Today, the average Congressional district has nearly 700,000 residents, almost the 1790 population of Virginia, by far the largest state then. Under classic republicanism, the size of political community is a key factor for its success. Aristotle postulated that the citizens “be of such a number that they know each other’s personal qualities and thus can elect their officials and judge their fellows in a court of law sensibly.” Plato fixed the ideal number of citizens at 5040 adult males, or about 30,000 to 50,000 residents if women, children, aliens, and slaves are included. Perhaps not coincidentally, the Constitution fixed the initial size of Congressional districts at 30,000 residents, a number that Federalist 57 asserts would produce about five or six thousand voters.

When today’s average state assembly district in California is larger than all but one of the states in the union in 1790, the notion of community with its interacting social, religious, economic, and political relationships has long since been stretched beyond reality. Basing loyalty to governments, local or national, on distinctions between current orders of representational magnitude is doomed to fail. They lie beyond the easy grasp of human comprehension. Everyone understands the difference between ten dollars and a thousand dollars. But the difference between ten billion and a trillion dollars is the difference between a lot and a lot more, too abstract to be meaningful, though the difference in each set between the larger and the smaller amount is of the same order of magnitude. Distinctions of loyalty to government on that scale become impossible, too, at least in the sense of the civic republicanism that Madison treasures. Loyalty becomes an abstraction, not a republican reality that affects our concrete actions.

Regarding the second point, the states indeed are critical components of the federal structure but not vice versa, just as he describes (excepting the election of Senators). But there is a great difference between the formal structure and the political reality. The Framers failed to anticipate the growth of modern political parties. Those parties have taken on much of the role Madison assigns to the states in influencing the selection of federal officials. Thus, the latter are far more independent of state officials than Madison asserts.

Conversely, it is true that the federal government has no direct formal role in the selection of local officials, though the Supreme Court’s reapportionment decisions and U.S. Department of Justice supervision of local elections under the Voting Rights Act throw even that in doubt. As a matter of policy, however, state and local officials are increasingly dependent on federal officials and agencies. One need only recall, among many examples, the state officials deploying, hat in hand, to Washington for federal money to cover state budget deficits (caused in part by heavy federal taxation that dries up sources for state revenues); the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina where state and local officials waited, figuratively paralyzed, for federal rescue; and California state officials’ generally unsuccessful pleading with members of Congress and federal agencies to divert enough water from protecting the habitat of the Delta Smelt bait fish to allow tens of thousands of farmers to make a living.

Not much need be said about Madison’s point that the far lower number of federal officials than state or local officials would preserve greater influence for the latter. It is particularly unfortunate that he seeks to assure the reader by stating that for every federal tax collector in a district there would be thirty or forty state bureaucrats. Judged by the size of government budgets as a portion of Gross Domestic Product, it is true that the state and local governments take up nearly as much as does the national government. But all have metastasized, with state and local spending in the last century going from 5% to 20% of GDP, and federal outlays increasing by an order of magnitude from 2.5% to 25%. This looks more like the “multitude of New Offices” created, and the “swarms of Officers [sent] to harass our people and eat out their substance,” about which Americans fulminated against King George in the Declaration of Independence.

Madison’s final point about the respective functions of the different governments also has not turned out as envisioned. True, the federal government still attends to the matters he describes, and the states control most ordinary matters that affect people’s lives. The rub is in the ever more intrusive role the federal government is assuming in matters that also affect one’s daily life. The health care reform debate, the news reports about the parlous fiscal state of numerous other social programs, and the parade of additional planned regulations, are too vivid and recent to require recounting in detail.

Madison is too serious a political thinker to be accused of flimflam. Though one has one’s doubts about Hamilton, most Federalists likely believed genuinely that the opponents were unduly alarmist in their visions of an increasingly dominant national government. Regrettably, political history, especially during the last eighty years, has not placed the constitutional mosaic laid out in Federalist 45 in a flattering light.

Tuesday, June 29th, 2010

An expert on constitutional law, Prof. Joerg W. Knipprath has been interviewed by print and broadcast media on a number of related topics ranging from recent U.S. Supreme Court decisions to presidential succession. He has written opinion pieces and articles on business and securities law as well as constitutional issues, and has focused his more recent research on the effect of judicial review on the evolution of constitutional law.  Prof. Knipprath has also spoken on business law and contemporary constitutional issues before professional and community forums.  His website is


Federalist No. 46 – The Influence of the State and Federal Governments Compared – How is this relevant today?

Tomorrow, Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli will appear before U.S. District Court Judge Henry E. Hudson to argue against lawyers from the Obama Administration, who have filed a motion to dismiss Virginia’s challenge to the recently passed healthcare bill.

Cuccinelli will argue that the provision that forces citizens to purchase health insurance by 2014 or pay a fine, is in violation of the Commerce Clause of the U.S. Constitution, because it compels citizens to engage in commerce.

Virginia recently passed a law stating that Virginians do not have to purchase health insurance. Florida has filed a lawsuit similar to Virginia’s, and over 20 states have joined.

Cuccinelli is quoted in today’s Richmond Times Dispatch as follows, “”The Commerce Clause [of the U.S. Constitution] does not give the federal government the power to order you to buy a product.  We’re fighting to protect liberty as best as we can.”

The Richmond Times Dispatch article goes on to quote Governor McDonnell as saying that the healthcare legislation would cost Virginia an additional $1.5 billion in health care costs by 2022. One of the primary cost factors is the expansion of Medicaid.

As Madison predicted:

“On the other hand, should an unwarrantable measure of the federal government be unpopular in particular States, which would seldom fail to be the case, or even a warrantable measure be so, which may sometimes be the case, the means of opposition to it are powerful and at hand. The disquietude of the people; their repugnance and, perhaps, refusal to co-operate with the officers of the Union; the frowns of the executive magistracy of the State; the embarrassments created by legislative devices, which would often be added on such occasions, would oppose, in any State, difficulties not to be despised; would form, in a large State, very serious impediments; and where the sentiments of several adjoining States happened to be in unison, would present obstructions which the federal government would hardly be willing to encounter.”


“They must be told that the ultimate authority, wherever the derivative may be found, resides in the people alone, and that it will not depend merely on the comparative ambition or address of the different governments, whether either, or which of them, will be able to enlarge its sphere of jurisdiction at the expense of the other.”

Throughout the Federalist Papers, the above themes surface again and again.  The ultimate authority of the government derives from the people.  If the federal government oversteps its bounds, the people will sound the alarm, and the states will rise to defend their rights.

For many years, and for various reasons the people and the states have let the federal government slowly encroach.  But the people are awake, and are awakening the states.  The alarm is sounding.

Tomorrow, Cuccinelli’s court appearance is an important step in guiding our country back to the path of liberty, and back to the constitutional structure envisioned by our founding fathers.

AND Thank you to David Kopel! I LOVED the breakdown of how many state, federal, local employees there are, and how many military! Last night when I read Madison’s statement in Federalist 45 that fewer people will be federal employees than state employees, I immediately began trying to find those numbers, and finally gave up, because it was so late.  I was happy to read your essay this morning and see that you had them.

Thank you to all those who commented today, and thank you to our founder and co-chair Janine Turner for her great press appearances today on Laura Ingraham and Megyn Kelly!  I believe it was Chris Wallace who said Janine is spreading the word like a modern day Paul Revere.  I could not think of a better description. All of you who are participating in this blog, and in the Constituting America effort are great patriots, and our founding fathers would be proud.

Good night and God Bless!

Cathy Gillespie

Thursday, July 1st, 2010