A Nation of States
By Sam Burnham
We just celebrated Independence Day. On the very day we celebrate our independence from a large, oppressive, and distant government, I get news of Georgia acquiescing to a large, oppressive, and distant government. It's enough to make me want to pull my hair out. I'm going to be directly addressing the issue in the next post but just seeing some of the commentary and thought these days I want to take this post to lay a foundation for the next. I want to talk about the states and their role in both independence and governing today.
There seems to be a common misconception these days that states are just like provinces, administrative subdivisions of the larger federal government and totally subjected to its authority. It sounds plausible but it is not remotely true.
Let's start with independence.
The heading on the Declaration on Independence stated that it is "The unanimous Declaration of the thirteen united States of America." The states are singled out, all thirteen of them. Georgia was declaring its independence from the British Crown. It was also declaring itself to be supporting the other twelve states who were also declaring their independence. The document goes on to claim "That these United Colonies are, and of Right ought to be Free and Independent States; that they are Absolved from all Allegiance to the British Crown, and that all political connection between them and the State of Great Britain, is and ought to be totally dissolved; and that as Free and Independent States, they have full Power to levy War, conclude Peace, contract Alliances, establish Commerce, and to do all other Acts and Things which Independent States may of right do." The founders declared the colonies to now be "states", just s it described Great Britain as a state. as opposed to counties or provinces. The united States were not being designated as a state. They were being designated as states, plural.
A state is defined as "a nation or territory considered as an organized political community under one government. " These colonies were becoming nations. Thirteen nations. All of the designations are plural and are seen as equal with and possessing the same rights as "the State of Great Britain."
Today, while we think of the states as much less than sovereign and independent nations, the Constitution still designates them as much more unique and independent than any province of any other nation. They have distinct rights and privileges as states and play an important role in the governing process, including the separation of powers and checks and balances. The Bill of Rights closes with the Tenth Amendment which states that there are federal powers that are specifically assigned to Washington. It places the other rights and duties on the states, or the people. This specific separation of powers allows the states to provide checks on federal power. They aren't required to be submissive to Washington at all times.
One important change is that prior to the 17th Amendment was ratified in 1913, the state legislatures elected the senators from each state. The reason for this was to give state governments a means of checks and balances in Congress. The people elected the members of the House of Representatives, the "People's House" while the stare governments elected their senators. Each house has certain roles. Example: The People held the checkbook in their house and the Senate is responsible for approving supreme Court justices. nothing was random. it all had a purpose. And while giving the selection of senators to the people sounds empowering and good for the people, it took an important check on federal power from the states. The net result was more power in Washington and less closer to home.
But I digress.
The point I really wish to make here is that the states have an important role in the federal republic that is our political experiment. Every time we take away a check, a balance, a right, away from the state, the power goes, not to the people, but to Washington. And we've seen that very thing rear its ugly head and in the next post I will discuss the threat from federal overreach and how it is threatening state sovereignty.
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Historian, self-proclaimed gentleman, agrarian-at-heart, & curator extraordinaire