What is States’ Rights? Part 2 – Commentary by Mike Crane, 2/24/2010

“Our Rights are like a cookie. No matter how big the cookie and how small the bites, eventually you run out of cookie.”

In Part 1 of this series a concept was presented that runs a bit contrary to current public conception – that the term States’ Rights can be used more for partisan benefit than a true effort to protect the God-given Rights of the people.

Some background is in order. Let’s start with the body of the Constitution of 1787. Remember this is the report of the Constitution Convention of 1787 back to the government of these United States, then operating under the Articles of Confederation.

A search of the body of The Constitution of 1787, excluding the Amendments – produces one match for either “rights” or “right” in Article I, Section 8:

To promote the Progress of Science and useful Arts, by securing for limited Times to Authors and Inventors the exclusive Right to their respective Writings and Discoveries;

This language in the Constitution of 1787 most will recognize as the basis for the Copyright and Patent laws of The United States. Perhaps some might find it interesting that in the Constitution of 1787 the only direct reference to a “Right” is to empower the government to protect certain citizen’s rights for a limited time only.

There is nothing in the body of the Constitution of 1787 that states the purpose of government is to guarantee the God-given rights of the people.

The body of the Constitution of 1787 despite its many strong points was obviously flawed in some or many aspects depending on your point of view. One of these flaws is its failure to clearly state that its main, or even one of its secondary purposes is to guarantee the citizen’s God-given Rights. This is simply a statement of fact. Within a very short period of time after adoption of the Constitution of 1787 – ten amendments (Bill of Rights) were added in an effort to correct this specific flaw.Since the transition from the Articles of Confederation until today, there has been periodic if not constant debates, disputes and even armed aggression concerning the allocation of not only “powers to govern” but what rights the citizens have. Today and through much of our history since the transition – the term “States’ Rights” has been used to represent the concept of a federated form of government as opposed to a national form of government.

From a definition (The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia® Copyright © 2007) of federated government:

“ … The distribution of powers between the federal and state governments is usually accomplished by means of a written constitution, for a federation does not exist if authority can be allocated by ordinary legislation. …”

[In later parts of this series the author will submit for readers consideration that this definition should be expanded to include “ … by ordinary legislation, judicial edit or military power … “]

The bitter partisan disputes that are occurring today are anything but new. Their roots lie in the State conventions of 1788-89 as the transition from the Articles of Confederation to the Constitution of 1787 took place. Or for that matter in the struggle for independence from the English Crown if one does not limit the subject to just American government.

The author believes in and desires a federated form of government with clearly delegated powers and shared sovereignty. Despite this strong desire – I do not see much hope of returning to such a form of government. It certainly does not exist today and grows more distant with the passage of time.

An interesting reference from the first State of the Union address of President Thomas Jefferson (1801-1807):

“Other circumstances, combined with the increase of numbers, have produced an augmentation of revenue arising from consumption in a ratio far beyond that of population alone; and though the changes in foreign relations now taking place so desirably for the whole world may for a season affect this branch of revenue, yet weighing all probabilities of expense as well as of income, there is reasonable ground of confidence that we may now safely dispense with all the internal taxes, comprehending excise, stamps, auctions, licenses, carriages, and refined sugars, to which the postage on news papers may be added to facilitate the progress of information, and that the remaining sources of revenue will be sufficient to provide for the support of Government, to pay the interest of the public debts, and to discharge the principals within shorter periods than the laws or the general expectation had contemplated.” [emphasis added]

One way to read this statement is that the “new” government in just a few short years was “already” collecting taxes beyond what was needed to meet its new Constitutional duties. What would President Jefferson think of the vast array and amount of the taxes that modern day citizens face?

Whatever your political affiliation or views on proper form of government, it is virtually impossible to not agree that our taxes today are more pervasive than those our Colonial forefathers faced under the King of England. Sadly the early signs of this fiscal mentality had already reared its ugly head by 1801.

Another excerpt from this same State of The Union address:

“When we consider that this Government is charged with the external and mutual relations only of these States; that the States themselves have principal care of our persons, our property, and our reputation, constituting the great field of human concerns, we may well doubt whether our organization is not too complicated, too expensive; whether offices and officers have not been multiplied unnecessarily and sometimes injuriously to the service they were meant to promote.” [emphasis added]

Here we have the essence of the position today called States’ Rights. What President Jefferson is describing is a federated form of government, which mostly still existed in 1801. But his words also conveyed the warning that all was not well in this regard:

“ … we may well doubt whether our organization is not too complicated, too expensive; whether offices and officers have not been multiplied unnecessarily and sometimes injuriously to the service they were meant to promote.”

Alas, from the creation of American Liberty during the Colonial period – this land by 1801 had not only undergone a transition from the Articles of Confederation but was already showing early signs of incursions nibbling away at American Liberty. Did not President Jefferson imply that authority or allocation of power was being accomplished by legislation?

If President Jefferson was right and by 1801 – “offices and officers had been multiplied unnecessarily “ – what does that say about our land today?

As stated in Part I,

American Liberty is rapidly approaching the cliff. It’s up to you the citizen to change that direction if it’s going to be changed.

Now, for a few closing words on the subject of these articles. If the concept referenced by the use of today’s term States’ Rights (or more properly State’s Powers) is that referenced by President Jefferson above, it certainly has merit. All good intentions aside, if today’s States’ Rights efforts are not directed at resolving the causes of the failure to achieve a federated form of government and to guarantee the citizen’s God-given Rights – then it is partisan political activity of the type that President George Washington warned us about in his Farewell Address.

To be continued…

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