Federalism (A Constitutional Republic)

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!



Life, Liberty and Property.  I cannot repeat that enough.  I have covered Liberty, touched on property, but let’s talk about life.  I believe life is about individualism, individual liberty, the right to live as I choose.  We have touched on these concepts in previous posts.  It is important that my actions do not infringe on others rights.  I can own my property, my labor, the fruits of my labor, take care of myself, all without infringing on others.  A right requires nothing from someone else.  Life should require nothing from someone else.

Self-interest and responsibility are truly what made this country great.  As people worked to create a better world for themselves, they produced, participated in free trade, innovated, employed others who produced and participated in trade and the cycle continued.

The economic welfare of all our people must ultimately stem not from government programs, but from the wealth created by a vigorous private sector. – Ronald Reagan

Individual productivity.

Because of liberty and the freedom to pursue our own self-interests, this country has created great innovation, great wealth, raised the standard of living of everyone around us.  No magic. Just self-responsible people making a better life for themselves, working hard to produce a better outcomes and we all benefited.

A rising tide lifts all boats. – John F Kennedy.

This is the path of enlightenment that our founders traveled and ultimately passed on to us.  Our founders read about government and philosophy in the works of great minds like John Locke, Lord Acton, Voltaire, Descartes and Bacon.  During the Enlightenment or Age of Reason of the late 17th and 18th centuries there was a transition to reason and individualism instead of tradition, the traditional lines of authority, the church and the rule of man, kings.  I have quoted some of these authors in my posts.  The end of this period saw the beginning of the United States and could almost be thought to culminate in the thinking that created our constitution, protected our liberty and is embodied in this great nation, setting us on a course to be the greatest most powerful nation on earth.  Individual rights and liberty, powerful concepts!  Our farming fed the world, our industry created the products and innovations that changed the world, our science and technology informed the world and made the unthinkable reality.

Milton Friedman in 1979 when asked if he ever doubted capitalism when he looked around and saw a world of “inequality”  (I would love to hear the definition of inequality in that context) The only cases in which the masses have escaped from the kind of grinding poverty you’re talking about, the only cases in recorded history, are where they have had capitalism and largely free trade. If you want to know where the masses are worse off, worst off, it’s exactly in the kinds of societies that depart from that. So that the record of history is absolutely crystal clear: that there is no alternative way so far discovered of improving the lot of the ordinary people that can hold a candle to the productive activities that are unleashed by the free-enterprise system.

Our government was formed to protect individual rights through the rule of law, stopping infringements on our liberty and protecting us from force and fraud.   I believe James Madison embodied the spirit of the enlightenment.  Madison helped write the Virginia constitution in 1776 and created and presented the Virginia Plan in 1787 at the constitutional convention, most of which formed the basis of our constitution and earned him the title of “Father of the Constitution.”  Madison spent years reading and studying history, philosophy and political theory looking for a framework of government that would create a stable nation that protected individual liberty.  Historian Douglas Adair said of Madison’s work “probably the most fruitful piece of scholarly research ever carried out by an American”  Madison focused on the concept of an extended republic, our republican form of government with checks and balances.  Read Federalist 10 and 51.  One that would have the effects of self-interested factions work against each other as checks and balances instead of trying to regulate or eliminate those factions.  Same with the various parts of the government.  Competing interests can provide great balance and often lead to far better results.

Let not him who is houseless pull down the house of another; but let him labor diligently and build one for himself, thus by example assuring that his own shall be safe from violence when built. – Abraham Lincoln

This is much different than selfless, self-sacrifice, beholden to the public good, the collective, equal outcomes and social justice, enacted through the force of government.  Mandated charity and collectivism.  In order to have equal outcomes and social justice, there must be unequal and arbitrary rules.  Someone must decide who does with less so another can have more to even the results.  That is the rule of man.  That is not equal protection of the laws, not a level playing field.   Redistributing money from one group of people to help another, lessens one group while making another dependent on the redistribution.  If redistribution comes from government, people become dependent on the government.  How can that ever be considered liberating or a legitimate use of government and force.  Remember, government is force.

Necessity is the plea for every infringement of human freedom. It is the argument of tyrants; it is the creed of slaves. – William Pitt

In 1887, Democrat Grover Cleveland vetoed the Texas Seed Bill, stating: I do not believe that the power…of the general government ought to be extended to the relief of individual suffering… A prevalent tendency to disregard the limited mission of this power…should…be steadfastly resisted… Though the people support the government, the government should not support the people. Charity of our countrymen can always be relied upon to relieve their fellow-citizens in misfortune. This has been repeatedly… demonstrated. Federal aid in such cases encourages the expectation of paternal care on the part of the government and weakens the sturdiness of our national character, while it prevents…among our people of that kindly sentiment…which strengthens the bonds of a common brotherhood.

It will be in our self-interest to help our neighbors, to extend the fruits of our labor to our family, friends and neighbors in order to create a better world for ourselves.  As Grover Cleveland said, we have seen repeated demonstrations of self-instituted charity, we are also the most charitable nation on earth.  While there will always be those that choose differently, we must focus on our own lives and responsibilities and do our part in raising the tide.

The 10 cannots: (some falsely attribute these to Lincoln, but reflect there meaning in today’s political climate)
You cannot bring about prosperity by discouraging thrift.
You cannot strengthen the weak by weakening the strong.
You cannot help little men by tearing down big men.
You cannot lift the wage earner by pulling down the wage payer.
You cannot help the poor by destroying the rich.
You cannot establish sound security on borrowed money.
You cannot further the brotherhood of man by inciting class hatred.
You cannot keep out of trouble by spending more than you earn.
You cannot build character and courage by destroying men’s initiative and independence.
And you cannot help men permanently by doing for them what they can and should do for themselves.

Wealth and liberty cannot come from government.  The best government can do is redistribute, take wealth from some and give to others.  At its best it can protect liberty, but gets its power from infringing on liberty.  As a people we can insist on and hold on to our liberty and freedom, be productive, act in our self-interest, create wealth and create a larger economy, a bigger pie, for all to participate in.  Participation being key.

We all need to find our path to enlightenment and learning, our strengths, our contribution to the production of this great nation.  That is life: learning, growing, producing and enjoying the fruits of our labor!  I will write a future post on “Take care of yourself, do what you said you were going to do and don’t harm others.” To me that is what our founding principles are, that and protecting us in that pursuit.  The pursuit of happiness.

The tagline of this blog; A People who mean to be their own governors must arm themselves with the power which knowledge gives. – James Madison

I predict future happiness for Americans if they can prevent the government from wasting the labors of the people under the pretense of taking care of them – Thomas Jefferson.


I have written about “Life, Liberty and Property” as written in the 5th and 14th amendments of the Constitution.  The Declaration of Independence says “Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness.”  I think Life is pretty obvious, but worthy of its own topic.  But let’s see where the idea of Liberty takes us.  I think that leads into property and the pursuit of happiness.  I believe that liberty requires the protection of property and the pursuit of happiness, the ability for us to acquire life’s essentials through our own individual effort.

John Lock on liberty:
“In the state of nature, liberty consists of being free from any superior power on Earth. People are not under the will or lawmaking authority of others but have only the law of nature for their rule. In political society, liberty consists of being under no other lawmaking power except that established by consent in the commonwealth. People are free from the dominion of any will or legal restraint apart from that enacted by their own constituted lawmaking power according to the trust put in it. Thus, freedom is not as Sir Robert Filmer defines it: ‘A liberty for everyone to do what he likes, to live as he pleases, and not to be tied by any laws.’ Freedom is constrained by laws in both the state of nature and political society. Freedom of nature is to be under no other restraint but the law of nature. Freedom of people under government is to be under no restraint apart from standing rules to live by that are common to everyone in the society and made by the lawmaking power established in it. Persons have a right or liberty to (1) follow their own will in all things that the law has not prohibited and (2) not be subject to the inconstant, uncertain, unknown, and arbitrary wills of others.”

The elements of individual and political liberty, freedom.  The Declaration makes two assertions:
The separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God entitle them… and
…that to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed

Man’s law and Nature’s law.  Political and individual liberty.  Powerful concepts we must vigilantly defend.  As I have written in other posts and is in John Locke’s thoughts, we are restrained by the laws of nature and the laws applicable to everyone, made by the lawmaking power established in society…  Equal protection of the laws and due process.

Liberty is not the power of doing what we like, but the right of being able to do what we ought – Lord Acton

The assumption that there is a morality by the people that cannot come from the government, but from another source, I believe natural law. Acton also said Men cannot be made good by the state, but they can easily be made bad. Morality depends on liberty.

So it appears that liberty requires a morality and morality requires liberty.  Interesting conflict.  But also to me an implication that we cannot legislate morality without diminishing liberty.

“Liberty is established by the conflict of powers.” – Lord Acton

Acton, following ideas by earlier philosophers, most notably Voltaire, credit the emergence of freedom and liberty in Europe as the outcome of centuries of conflict between church and state.  It has been written that neither the church nor the state favored liberty, but in competition for allies granted “immunities and privileges” to towns, parliaments, various groups and corporations. Unable to establish a monopoly of power over the people, through unintended consequences enabled freedom and liberty.

Voltaire, in his Philosophical letters (1733; also known as the letters concerning the English nation), wrote:
Fortunately, in the shaking that the strife between kings and nobles gave to empires, the chains of the nations have been more or less loosened. Liberty was born in England of the quarrels between tyrants.

Condorcet in the 1790s wrote about the decentralized power in Renaissance Italy:
“rivalry between pope and emperor, prevented Italy from being united under one master, and ensured the continuance of a large number of independent societies.”

Ever since the feudal period, and with renewed vigour in the age of absolute monarchy, the Catholic Church fought against State supremacy; and the very fact of this conflict between two great powers has been an effectual safeguard for individuals against the perils of utter enslavement to either. If the Western peoples have succeeded in saving themselves from the stagnant theocracy of the East, it has been because of the age-long rivalry of Church and State, rooted ultimately in the fact that both Church and State were self-contained and self-sufficient institutions forming in fact two separate and independent states. – Guido de Ruggiero

So Liberty exists when we are not ruled over, when one master cannot be established.  In order to not be ruled over and protect our liberties, we establish governments to make law, but also constrain our government through constitutions and enumerated powers…  The power to rule by our consent.

That leads us to our Republic.  The union of our states.  The goal: to protect our liberty.  The preamble of our Constitution says “…secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity” the goal wasn’t to create a union or a government in and of itself, to create a master, it was to create due process and constrained power, enumerated power, to secure liberty. The tools to do that were: ” a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare”

Read it again in that light:
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.

“It has been said that all Government is an evil. It would be more proper to say that the necessity of any Government is a misfortune.” – James Madison

Federalist 10
James Madison in Federalist 10 explains the premise of a Republic and just how that preserves liberty.  It is one of the most important treatises on republics and faction.   It really is a must read and one of the important Federalist papers, here is a link:


Interestingly enough, our founders built conflict and competition into our government through divided power, as a way to preserve liberty.  We have divided/separation of power through the 3 branches of government, legislative, executive and judiciary.  We have divided power through our city, state and federal governments, our extended republic as Madison covers in Federalist 10.  We also divide the power of church and state. (another post, but we do not want the religion in government policy and we don’t want the state dictating religion.)

Excerpts from Federalist 10:
By a faction, I understand a number of citizens, whether amounting to a majority or a minority of the whole, who are united and actuated by some common impulse of passion, or of interest, adversed to the rights of other citizens, or to the permanent and aggregate interests of the community…

…The protection of these faculties is the first object of government. From the protection of different and unequal faculties of acquiring property, the possession of different degrees and kinds of property immediately results; and from the influence of these on the sentiments and views of the respective proprietors, ensues a division of the society into different interests and parties.

A zeal for different opinions concerning religion, concerning government, and many other points, as well of speculation as of practice; an attachment to different leaders ambitiously contending for pre-eminence and power; or to persons of other descriptions whose fortunes have been interesting to the human passions, have, in turn, divided mankind into parties, inflamed them with mutual animosity, and rendered them much more disposed to vex and oppress each other than to co-operate for their common good.

The question resulting is, whether small or extensive republics are more favorable to the election of proper guardians of the public weal; and it is clearly decided in favor of the latter…

The federal Constitution forms a happy combination in this respect; the great and aggregate interests being referred to the national, the local and particular to the State legislatures.

The goal being to slow the flames of passion, faction, and not allow them to rule against individual and political liberty.  Divide power to minimize the effects of faction, thus increasing liberty.

If power is unchecked, a faction can impose its will on an individual, liberty is lost.  We need laws to protect liberty, but the laws must be wise and created by consent.

The power to deter and coerce criminals can be transformed into the power to restrict individual liberty, take property, and impose tyrannical government. – James Madison

So we protect liberty and constrain that power through a division and competition of power.  Division and competition provide the the checks and balances required to secure liberty.  States are one great competition we have.  If I don’t like the policies of my state, I can leave.  Keeping people happy and in the state requires wise policy, an alliance with the people, smart law created by the consent of the people with the common good (individual and political liberty) in mind.

Limitation is essential to authority. A government is legitimate only if it is effectively limited. – Lord Acton

We are losing these very checks and balances, loosening the chains of the constitution by centralizing power.  We are devolving our republic, spiraling towards a national democracy.  We are uniting power not keeping it divided, eliminating the competition, creating a monopoly on power.  Often in the name of social justice or making people do the right thing. It is a power grab by the ruling class. Trying to achieve equal outcomes is the antithesis of equal opportunity (subject of another post.)

“Political atheism: End justifies the means. This is still the most widespread of all the opinions inimical to liberty.” – Lord Acton

Standing up to the enemies of liberty requires us to open our eyes and see the enemy.  It requires a vigilance to learn, understand and fight against those enemies every day.  It requires us to allow others the liberty to their property and pursuit of happiness even if we do not like their approach, even if they only have their own self-interest in mind.  That is liberty.