I would bet that most people do not understand the form of government left to us by our founders. Perhaps most don’t have the time or interest to concern themselves. I will go a step further and say that far too many do not realize the difference between a federal and national government. The difference is significant. The government sitting in Washington D.C. is our federal government meant to provide a single face to other nations, protect the states from foreign threats and keep the peace between the states (not within the states) matters of interstate vs intrastate concern. I speak to that in more detail in my post on jurisdiction. It is evolving into a national government, a single power center over the people. Concentrated power in a distant place that our founders tried to warn us about and as protection from, gave us our constitution.
Our founders did not want a democracy, they clearly understood the dangers of a pure democracy. They studied various forms of government and the history of governments, especially the more recent (at the time) republics. They reviewed the strengths and weakness and had great debates on what would be the best form of government for our new collection of states and even the state governments themselves. They chose a large representative republic with the power over the people reserved to the individual state governments. (often referred to as states rights, but more importantly it is divided power)
We are union of state governments. Through the ratification of the constitution, the states agreed to be part of the union. They agreed to a limited set of powers to be no longer handled by them but by this new federal government. The constitution defines the limited role of the federal government and provides it with the enumerate powers necessary to protect and preserve the union. Never to act directly on or control the people, that was the role of the state.
“The true natural check on absolute democracy is the federal system, which limits the central government by the powers reserved, and the state governments by the powers they have ceded. It is the one immortal tribute of the United States to political science, for state rights are at the same time the consummation and the guard of democracy” – Lord Acton, History of Liberty
As the preamble to the constitution says: We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.
The goal of the constitution was to take some power from the states, most enumerated in article I, section 8, to protect the union, not the people, and present a unified face to the rest of the world for trade and treaties etc… It wasn’t until around 1913 with the 16th and 17th amendments, along with the growth in the progressive movement, that we started tearing this idea down with the ability to directly tax the people and the popular election of senators, senators now representing people instead of states. Who watches out for the states best interest in Washington now?
Article I defines congress, the body that can make law. Presidents are executives, they execute the law, so Article I is the most critical in determining power. You can read more on this in my post on Jurisdiction and the Division of power or better yet “Power divided is power checked” – Jason Lewis
The founders did not believe in a centralized, one size fits all nation government, they did not believe in pure democracy. Democracy is never once mentioned in the constitution.
Article IV section 4 of the constitution:
guarantees to every state in this union a Republican form of government
James Madison, Federalist 10
“Democracies have ever been spectacles of turbulence and contention; have ever been found incompatible with personal security or the rights of property; and have in general been as short in their lives as they have been violent in their deaths…”
“We may define a republic to be … a government which derives all its powers directly or indirectly from the great body of the people, and is administered by persons holding their offices during pleasure for a limited period, or during good behavior. It is essential to such a government that it be derived from the great body of the society, not from an inconsiderable proportion or a favored class of it; otherwise a handful of tyrannical nobles, exercising their oppressions by a delegation of their powers, might aspire to the rank of republicans and claim for their government the honorable title of republic.”
Here is some thoughts on federalism: (unknown author)
- the best curb on democracy. It assigns limited powers to the central government. Thereby all power is limited. It excludes absolute power of the majority.
- The only barrier to Democracy.
- It is coordination instead of subordination; association instead of hierarchical order; independent forces curbing each other; balance, therefore, liberty.
- A government of the masses.
- Authority derived through mass meeting or any other form of “direct” expression.
- Results in mobocracy.
- Attitude toward property is communistic–negating property rights.
- Attitude toward law is that the will of the majority shall regulate, whether it be based upon deliberation or governed by passion, prejudice, and impulse, without restraint or regard to consequences.
- Results in demogogism, license, agitation, discontent, anarchy.
- Authority is derived through the election by the people of public officials best fitted to represent them.
- Attitude toward law is the administration of justice in accord with fixed principles and established evidence, with a strict regard to consequences.
- A greater number of citizens and extent of territory may be brought within its compass.
- Avoids the dangerous extreme of either tyranny or mobocracy.
- Results in statesmanship, liberty, reason, justice, contentment, and progress.
- Is the “standard form” of government throughout the world.
I believe many of the current ailments of government are based on these concepts being forgotten, ignored or even purposely pushed aside.
We have centralized too much power in Washington D.C., in people that we do not know their character or principals, have no influence over and they have created their own bubble of reality where votes can be bought and sold with no regard to the consequences to the voters and no real way to be held accountable. Most voters feel helpless to this system. The money involved and the distance between makes influence impossible. Simple campaign finance reform and term limits will not be enough and will not make a difference. Only dividing their power and keeping it from them will help through the checks and balances of the constitution, one being the role of the state, will get us on the right track.
To that point we have made a federal case out of everything. We are nationalizing the power, creating a democracy of mob rule, the majority 51% can decide how the 49% will live. There are no competing interests (the states) to determine if there are better laws or ways to govern. So we are becoming divided amongst ourselves and in turn giving more power away to the central government.
Our national congress is such a small percentage of representation for me the average citizen, most would agree they do not feel represented at all, has power and influence directly on my day to day life and with little or no input. That is not a representative republic. If I don’t like the laws I have no way to associated with like-minded people and live where the laws better reflect my values.
We need term limits now more than ever. People are voted in on money and name recognition and incumbents are reelected time and again, not because they have served us well. It has become about power and not liberty. We need to limit time in office and return politicians back to society to live under the laws which they have created.
Our federal government is borrowing money and spending it on us and their financers to buy more votes and power. There really is no way to stop them other than to constrain their power.
Just after the completion and signing of the Constitution, in reply to a woman’s inquiry as to the type of government the Founders had created, Benjamin Franklin said, “A Republic, if you can keep it.”
First we have to understand what that means. Then we MUST defend it. That does not necessarily mean to take up arms against the enemy, but to insist our governments and our politicians follow the intent of the constitution, limit federal power and any centralized power, especially far removed from the people, and allow them to only do what is necessary to protect and foster liberty. We must rethink our constitution as a constitution of liberty, and the protection of liberty. That means we are in charge and our government exists to support us and protect our liberty. Not protect us as individuals. That is our job and we better start doing it!