December 13, 2004

How did we get to this place, this Constitution?

As the presidential election has concluded and we wait for what will be a hideously expensive innauguration celebration, maybe it is not a bad time to consider what motivated our present system of government with its two tier system.

In a word, distrust. Distrust of central government, distrust of monarchy, distrust of the power of the crowds and the people, distrust of the office of the executive, distrust of bi-cameral legislatures (in part), and distrust of being ruled by anything other than direct democracy. That was the upshot of our Revolution, you know. We came out of it with a loathing for central government and for anyone else telling us what to do.

Don't believe me? Ask General Washington who tried to enlist troops in his national army only to be told things like, no thanks, we're citizens of New Jersey. Need more proof? Like at the Confederation Government formed after the Brits threw in the towel. It was a pure States Rights government with little to no room for a strong central voice. The CG could not borrow money or repay debts or raise or equip much in the way of a standing army. It didn't print currency or do anything much to regulate interstate commerce, such that some states even had their own custom services and tarrif systems set up. And the States liked it like that. One State, One Vote, was the rule at the CG level. No proportional voting, either, for States. Delaware counted as much as the much more populous New York.

Indeed, this problem with interstate commerce was one of the things that the framers of the Constitution intended the Constitution to address. See:

Section. 10. Clause 1: No State shall enter into any Treaty, Alliance, or Confederation; grant Letters of Marque and Reprisal; coin Money; emit Bills of Credit; make any Thing but gold and silver Coin a Tender in Payment of Debts; pass any Bill of Attainder, ex post facto Law, or Law impairing the Obligation of Contracts, or grant any Title of Nobility.

Clause 2: No State shall, without the Consent of the Congress, lay any Imposts or Duties on Imports or Exports, except what may be absolutely necessary for executing it's inspection Laws: and the net Produce of all Duties and Imposts, laid by any State on Imports or Exports, shall be for the Use of the Treasury of the United States; and all such Laws shall be subject to the Revision and Controul of the Congress.

Some of these states were ruled by unicameral legislatures and didn't even have governors. Massachusetts was an exception. John Adams did their constitution and it provided for a bicameral legislature and even a popularly elected governor. Adams was a bit of a radical and ahead of his time. Maryland had a similar system but the governor there was chosen by the legislature.

When the States came together at the Constitutional Congress to replace the failing and failed CG, they were very distrustful. There's that word, again. They feared a strong central government and a strong executive and worried that they were planting the seeds for a future monarchy. James Madison who crafted the first plan with our balance of powers central government was not worried and his plan eventually carried the day, but it was highly influenced by those men who feared and distrusted the power to over-rule and rule-over the States. They added, in 1791, the 10th Amendment to clarify their intentions:

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.

This preserved the power of the States, or so they thought.

You know what I think? I think that the framers of the Constitution would have been horrified by the concept of unfunded mandates. I view these as the not very much talked about back door by which the Federal Government has, over the years, eroded States rights and destroyed the compact. But, hey, maybe that's just me.

Posted by Random Penseur at December 13, 2004 08:54 AM

No, it's not just you.

Posted by: Elizabeth at December 15, 2004 08:47 AM
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