The Federal vs. the State Governments
In recent years, the federal government has grown at a rapid rate, intruding into many areas that formerly were the sole domain of the states (e.g., education, transportation, health care, energy policy, etc.). Significantly, the Founding Fathers took great care to place limitations around federal powers and to preserve state and local powers. As Thomas Jefferson clearly explained:
The capital and leading object of the Constitution was to leave with the states all authorities which respected their own citizens only, and to transfer to the United States those which respected citizens of foreign or other states….Can any good be effected by taking from the states the moral rule of their citizens and subordinating it to the general [federal] authority?…Such an intention was impossible and…[would] break up the foundations of the Union…. I believe the states can best govern our home concerns, and the general [federal] government our foreign ones. I wish, therefore…never to see all offices transferred to Washington, where, further withdrawn from the eyes of the people, they may more secretly be bought and sold as at market.
Given the Framers’ clear vision of a small and limited federal government, how did it become so large and all-encompassing? The first reason had been foreseen by Founding Father Samuel Adams (“The Father of the American Revolution”), who cautioned:
If the liberties of America are ever completely ruined…it will in all probability be the consequence of a mistaken notion of prudence which leads men to acquiesce in measures of the most destructive tendency for the sake of present ease.
The first step in losing control of the federal government was that it became easier and more convenient to “acquiesce” (i.e., give in) and let the federal government begin doing things never before permitted. The federal government then felt emboldened to enter additional areas – or to use a description provided by Thomas Jefferson, it began “working like gravity by night and by day, gaining a little today and a little tomorrow, and advancing its noiseless step like a thief, over the field of jurisdiction, until all shall be usurped.”
This is the current situation, and citizens do not like it:
64% of Americans believe that government is too big (6% believe it is too small, and only 25% believe that it is “the right size”), and only 35% believe that the government is operating in line with the U. S. Constitution.
When asked to identify the biggest threat to the future of the country, 55% identified big government, 32% big business, and 10% big labor.
70% of Americans favor “smaller government with fewer services and lower taxes” rather than “a more active government with more services and higher taxes.”
Some leaders (including both candidates and elected officials) are now advocating state nullification as a constitutional solution – that a state has the right to declare a federal law unconstitutional, thereby nullifying that law. State nullification certainly sounds like a silver bullet – a proverbial wooden stake that can be driven through the heart of what many see as a growing federal monster.
But did the Founding Fathers – the Framers of our government – give states the constitutional power to nullify federal laws? Several elected officials have asked us that very question, and it is certainly one that is within our purview of research. After all, WallBuilders exists to “present Americans forgotten heroes and history, with an emphasis on our religious, moral, and constitutional heritage.”
We just finished the historical analysis of state nullification and have returned the finished report to those elected officials. I must confess that not only was it an interesting project but I was also surprised by the results; frankly, I was amazed at how often state nullification appeared throughout the decades.
If you are interested in learning more about this piece of American history that directly relates to public policies currently being advocated, you can read or download the report. Enjoy!
P.S. With the current move back to the Constitution, we encourage you to arm yourselves – and your friends – with a pocket copy of the Constitution and other founding documents. Check out our Documents of Freedom today!