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The concept of Federalism, as envisioned and created by our Founders, is not something modern Americans have experienced. It exists only in the minds of a relatively small number of idealists and scholars. The United States of America as they exist today do not reflect the vision of our Founders or the clear wording of the United States Constitution. Instead of a union of free, independent States, we are merely vassal states paying homage and tribute to a distant overlord.
With the States losing their Constitutionally derived authority and duty to check the power of the federal government, it has been allowed to grow far beyond its original purpose, usurping the States’ role in direct governance and assuming the role of moral compass. This transformation was, by turns, violent and insidiously innocuous. To return to our Federalist roots, We the People must be bold, retaking our rightful role in the hierarchy of power, stripping undue power and authority from the federal government and returning it to the States.
From 1789 to 1860 the way in which power was exercised in America by and large adhered to the framework given in the Constitution. The federal government was given well-defined and limited powers, while the power of the States was intentionally broad and virtually unlimited. It was accepted that the legislatures of the several States were in a better position to determine what was best for their own citizens. However, a long unsettled and contentious issue brought forth a serious moral debate in regard to the federal government’s authority to regulate governing practices within the individual States. Slavery, contrary to popular belief, was not accepted or endorsed by all of the Founders. While viewed as morally wrong and even an affront to God, by many of these men, they placed the ratification of the Constitution first. It was widely believed that slavery would, over time, be viewed as the moral stain that is was, and that the principles of the Declaration of Independence and of the newly written Constitution would eventually push slave owners into an ideological corner, forcing them to abandon it. While we can criticize this “Three-Fifths Compromise” ad nauseam, ensuring the ratification of the Constitution and the formation of a union of states was not only the logical path, but the only path that assured the issue of slavery would be confronted and resolved.
After years of compromise, heated rhetoric, and the occasional violence committed by both sides, the election of Abraham Lincoln was viewed by many as the catalyst that divided the Union. In response to the election, South Carolina issued the “Declaration of the Immediate Causes Which Induce and Justify the Secession of South Carolina from the Federal Union.” After the secession of six more southern States, the governing body of South Carolina ordered federal troops to leave their position at Fort Sumter and quit the State. With their refusal to comply and the Civil War that followed, Constitutional Federalism was dealt the first of many grievous wounds. The principle of State sovereignty was erased with fire and blood.
Following the war, the assault on republican Federalist ideals continued unabated. Reconstruction, the systematic dismantling of existing power structures in southern States, put legislative authority behind the idea that the national, or federal, superseded the will of the sovereign States and the people residing therein. Contrary to Constitutional limits on federal government power, Congress took on the role of moral and political arbiter for the States, supplanting the reality of a union of free States with the illusion of homogeneous national identity.
While doing a more detailed study on the legal history surrounding the passing of the 16th amendment to the Constitution and the events that preceded it, the obvious obfuscation and weird political / Constitutional theory made one thing abundantly clear: This was the most obvious and immoral power grab in US history up until that point. The individual income tax remains the largest single revenue stream for the federal government.
Until 1913, the federal government existed primarily on revenue from “consumption” taxes, excise taxes, and tariffs. As the federal government slowly expanded its power (as governments of men are wont to do), they expanded the encroachment upon the rights and powers of the People and of the several States. As they left the realm of “general welfare” and ventured into “specific welfare,” the size, reach, and cost of running the federal government began to increase. In order to fund this, the United States Congress amended the Constitution to change or “clarify” Article 1, Section 9, Clause 4, giving them a virtually unlimited stream of revenue. Additionally, by taking away the power of taxation from the several States, the federal government was able to further marginalize the State governments by becoming a funding source for State revenue / budget shortfalls, using tax dollars that should have been collected by the State to begin with.
Along with the federal monies came regulations, rules about the way certain programs would run, and unprecedented federal oversight of overall State government function. The State legislatures had essentially turned into subordinate entities, as opposed to the semi-sovereign, independent governments they were intended to be, and citizens became subjects of the federal government. Taking a portion of people’s income and wealth to fund the very institutions that only exist to control and regulate them seems especially cruel, considering we are now told that we need the federal government and its overall control for the good of society and that to remain safe from *fill in the blank,* we must abandon freedom for the protective embrace of the benevolent ruler.
Such is the power of taxation. The money goes up the ladder, a slightly smaller amount of money in the form government services comes back down, but with conditions attached. Constitutional republican Federalism had received another major blow, but still another would land the same year, ending the charade the federal government had made of it.
The founders were very clever men. When creating the Congress, they left the appointment of Senators up the the legislatures of the States. This brilliant move gave the States yet another tool with which they could keep the federal government in check. The States knew that they could use their leverage in the Senate to ensure the interests of the central government would not overshadow the rights of the citizens. By changing the manner in which Senators were chosen, they removed a huge piece of insulation between the individual and the federal government. The various reasons given did nothing to justify undermining the last levee holding back the tide of federal intrusion. It was as if the federal government saw it as their job to police corruption within the state legislatures, step in to break deadlock, and force them to fill vacancies.
None of these things are within the proper Constitutional authority of the federal government. Furthermore, this system was never meant to be efficient. The ways in which the President, Representatives, and Senators are elected differ to reflect the jobs they do and the way each offsets the other.
Senators were not elected to represent individuals or constituents. They represented their entire state. With the 17th amendment, the power of the fifty individual States passed from reality to imagination with the States themselves pulling the trigger, having been duped by the romanticism of the popular vote. Senators, once unhampered by public will, had now become panders who never really solved anything, letting issues fester so they would always have a platform for reelection. It became a smaller version of the House, rife with petty disputes and vendettas. With the first Senators elected by popular vote, Federalism breathed its last and The United States became America.
We have watched the federal government grow, take on debt in our names, dictate what should be personal decisions, and legislate liberty into submission. It seems as if the beast is too big to stand against, too powerful to oppose. People must remember where the true power lies: With them.
The Constitution is a contract. The federal government has not upheld its end; instead, it perverts and destroys this contract under the noses of the oblivious citizens, who were duped into believing this is the way things were meant to be. The solution is clear: We must set a date for a Constitutional Convention. Give the States time to select delegates. All non-essential functions of the current federal government must be immediately suspended, while the essential, Constitutional, functions shall fall under a civilian council selected from among the delegates. All federal courts would be abolished and all federal laws suspended unless they fall within the bounds of the Constitution. The delegates will then return it to its original form, excluding anything that violates the principles of this country's founding. We cast off this illusion of powerlessness and regain what is ours.
On March 23, 1775, Patrick Henry delivered one of the most powerful and moving speeches in our history. His words should ring in all of our ears and remind us of the duty we have to the cause of liberty: "This is no time for ceremony. The question before the House is one of awful moment for this country. For my own part I consider it nothing less then a question of freedom and slavery; and in proportion to the magnitude of the subject ought to be the freedom of the debate. It is only in this way that we can hope to arrive at truth, and fulfill the great responsibility which we hold to God and our country. Should I keep back my opinions for fear of giving offense, I shall consider myself guilty of treason towards my country and of an act of disloyalty towards the Majesty of heaven, which I revere above all earthly kings."