It is not as widely known as other holidays, so many Americans probably are not even aware that September 17th is “Constitution Day.” So I think it is as good a time as any to give our premier founding document some thought, and although the day is intended to shine light on our federal Constitution, it should be encouraged that we think about the importance of the 50 state constitutions as well.
As the federal government continues to usurp more and more power from the states, it seems that James Madison’s words in Federalist Paper No. 45 are becoming increasingly meaningless:
“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.”
Not only were the powers granted to the federal government small in number, but the Founders were also very clear about what those powers were: Military acts, foreign commerce, international negotiations, along with some others. Basically, federal powers were granted mostly for external affairs, such as war, that are best executed when states come together and pool their resources toward a larger effort like funding a national military that would defend all of the states.
Madison continued in Federalist Paper No. 45:
“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 Founders believed very strongly in states’ rights because they understood that the surest way to maintain individual liberty was to instill safeguards against centralized power. Not only would establishing several smaller governments (the states) afford people the ability to move elsewhere, but they would also have more of a say in the public affairs of their surroundings. More simply, citizens would be closer to the people who were making decisions on their behalf.
Consider how far we have come from those founding principles. More and more of our decisions, which should be made at as local a level as possible (including by the individual only), are being made at the federal level, such as in education and healthcare.
As we embark on the 226th anniversary of the signing of the US Constitution, may we call to mind the emphasis our Founders placed on keeping powers in the hands of the states. Consider: The very people who drafted the US Constitution itself had enough distrust in federal power and humility in themselves that they made clear that most of our decisions should not be made in the nation’s capital.
John Becker is the state representative serving the 65th House District.