Where Does the Federal Government Get its Power?
Last week we found that the states get their power from the citizens of that state and I made the statement that the federal government did not get its power from the same source.
The federal government gets its power from the states.
The term “state” means sovereign or highest power. At the time the United States Constitution was being drawn up, each state was sovereign, answering to no higher authority except its citizens. (Note: this means no higher physical authority, the leaders at the time of the formation of our federal government were religious people who believed in a higher spiritual authority). No state at that time would voluntary surrender its sovereignty to form the larger government. However, each state realized that through cooperation, more could be gained than through inter-state bickering. The name for the new country, “United States,” is a tribute to the cooperation of the states while maintaining their sovereignty.
A similar development is occurring now in the formation of the European Community (EC). Each of the member countries is sovereign (a state) willing to surrender a part of its sovereignty for a greater good. The EC was formed primarily for economic benefits; it would be interesting to see where it goes in the next 200 years. This author pictures it following a similar path of the United States with a shifting of power from the States/Countries to the central government.
Articles and Sections of the U.S. Constitution that detail the relationship between the federal government and each of the states.
Article 1, Section 8 lists specific power of Congress:
Establish and maintain and arm and navy,
Establish post offices,
Regulate commerce between states,
Declare war and
Article 1, Section 9 prohibits Congress from:
Suspending habeas corpus,
Creating bills of attainder,
Passing ex post facto laws,
Passing laws giving preference to one state over another,
Taking money from the treasury except by duly passed law, and
Establishing titles of nobility (this applies to all branches of the government).
Article 1, Section 10 prohibits states from:
Making their own money,
Doing things prohibited Congress in Section 9,
Taxing goods from other states
Having their own navies.
Article 4, Sections 1 and 2 provide “full faith and credit” to the laws of all other states.
Article 4, Section 4 states that the state derives its power from the people, guarantees that the federal government will protect the states against invasion.
Article 6 sets the Constitution and all laws and treaties of the United States to be the supreme law of the country.
The Constitution details the relationship between the states and the federal government, but did nothing to protect the rights of the individuals. Hence, before the states would ratify it, the original 10 amendments (Bill of Rights) were added. Amendments 1 through 9 are designed to protect individuals from abuses by the federal government.
Amendment 10 states that any power not granted to the federal government belongs to the states or to the people. “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 amendment assured the states that the only powers they were surrendering were the powers listed in the Constitution. The states were to remain sovereign, except in the few powers they surrendered in the interest of cooperation with the other states.
The American Civil War tested the power of the states vs. the federal government when eleven southern states tried to secede from the United States. The federal government established its power that once becoming a member state, that state cannot withdraw.
In 1913, under Woodrow Wilson, the federal government wanted to pass an Income Tax but that was prohibited by the constitution. Any taxes collected by the federal government from the states had to be pro-rated based on population (Article 1 Section 8). (Note: there was an income tax to support the Civil War and in 1894 and 1895 but it was declared unconstitutional in 1895 (Pollock v. Farmers’ Loan and Trust Co.)). The top rate of taxing in 1913 was 6% for incomes above $500,000. This new source of income for the federal government allowed it to grow to its current massive size.
The gradual shift of power from the states to the federal government started during the Great Depression. States were unable to provide for their citizens and the federal government under Franklin D. Roosevelt stepped up to the task. Among actions on the part of the federal government were: 1) establishing welfare including social security and work groups, and 2) packing the Supreme Court with activist judges that greatly expanded many of the clauses giving much power to the federal government.
There are two movements now under way. The first is to replace the Constitution because it is out of touch with the current relationship of our state and federal governments. The second is to recognize that while the Constitution was our governing document, the United States became a world leader, and that we should revert back to that governance.