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Opinion / We The People

Our Bill of Rights: Limiting Federal Power

By Brian Vanyo – Human Events –

In 1787, the framers of the Constitution asked the American people to adopt a new political charter for the nation, and in the ensuing debates over the Constitution’s ratification, a common concern emerged among many: the federal government would become too powerful.

Skeptics of the new Constitution believed that a stronger national government might threaten state sovereignty and individual rights. Vocal opponents questioned whether the Constitution would restrain federal power in any way—one anonymous writer in the Maryland Gazette asked in 1788, “What limits are there to [federal] authority? I fear none at all.”

This widespread anxiety over the potential reach of federal power ultimately inspired a movement to add a bill of rights to the Constitution—a bill of rights that would help guard against expansive federal authority.

Of course, the framers of the Constitution never set out to create a government with unbounded power. Their aim was to correct the failures of the Articles of Confederation by constructing a new national government that would better preserve the people’s natural rights. They were well aware that domineering centralized governments were prone to abuse, corruption, and failure. They knew that the government they designed had to remain limited in power for liberty to last.

Yet many framers opposed adding a bill of rights to the Constitution. While this position may seem inconsistent with their aim to confine federal authority, the framers didn’t take this stance because they were indifferent about individual rights or because they wanted to trample on state sovereignty. In truth, they opposed a bill of rights for the same reason why supporters wanted one: they sought to restrain federal power.

Alexander Hamilton and James Madison argued that, given the popular foundation of American government, a bill of rights was unnecessary to preserve the people’s most cherished rights. The United States was unlike other nations in history, where the people had to plead with the ruling authority to grant them certain rights or to restrain the otherwise unlimited power of government. Hamilton explained that past bills of rights were “stipulations between kings and their subjects, abridgments of prerogative in favor of privilege, reservations of rights not surrendered to the prince.” By contrast, the people of the United States were the ruling authority, and all governing power was derived from them. So they had no need to insert specific rights into the Constitution when they delegated to the federal government no power over those rights. Madison stressed that “the rights in question are reserved by the manner in which the federal powers are granted.” Hamilton likewise said that, because the federal government was “founded upon the power of the people” and limited to the enumerated powers in the Constitution, the people “have no need of particular reservations.”

Hamilton further warned that a bill of rights would be “not only unnecessary in the proposed Constitution, but would even be dangerous.” He reasoned that the inclusion of a bill of rights might be implied as a grant to the federal government of a regulatory power over these rights. It would give “men disposed to usurp a plausible pretense for claiming that power. They might argue with a semblance of reason . . . that a power to prescribe proper regulations concerning [the Constitution] was intended to be vested in the national government.” Such arbitrary power, he believed, would only give rise to a more expansive and intrusive federal authority over time.

Despite these principled objections to a bill of rights, popular support for a bill prevailed. Although the Constitution was ratified without it, many states included a recommended bill of rights in their ratifying documents, and the people pressured the First Congress of the United States to adopt one by amendment when it convened in 1789.

James Madison (newly elected as a U.S. Representative from Virginia) took leadership of the amendment process in the First Congress so that he could steer the phrasing of the bill of rights to be consistent with the American principle of popular sovereignty. He intentionally avoided language that suggested government was the source of all rights (e.g., “the people are granted the freedom of speech”). Instead, Madison used prohibitive language to make abundantly clear that these rights naturally belonged to the people and that the federal government could not interfere with them in any way (e.g., the First Amendment says, “Congress shall make no law . . . abridging the freedom of speech”).

Madison also authored two special amendments to make certain that the enumeration of specific rights, in his words, would never “be so construed as to diminish the just importance of other rights retained by the people, or as to enlarge the powers delegated by the Constitution” to the federal government. The Ninth Amendment specifically reinforces the principle that the people, as the source of all governmental power, hold many more rights than those stated in the Constitution. It reads, “The enumeration in the Constitution, of certain rights, shall not be construed to deny or disparage others retained by the people.” And the Tenth Amendment places a clear boundary on federal power. It states, “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.”

Our Bill of Rights was meant to preserve a number of key rights long valued by the American people, but what it stands for, above all, is the great care taken by the founding generation to ensure that federal power would always remain limited. The reason for the Bill, and the reason against it, was to prevent the rise of a powerful national government in America.

So as we debate the proper scope of federal authority today, we must not lose sight of this original design: our Constitution and our Bill of Rights established a government of limited power.

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dale anderson

we the people need to start contacting our senators and congressmen on a daily basis and tell them not to fund obama care.

Jesse Wenzel

When the “several States” lost their Federal system representation through direct election of U.S. Senators i.e. direct representatives of the States, their power was replaced by political parties. The disbursement of power AMONG (no means to underline, Phil) the States became congealed between the 2 party groups, superseding State’s interests by party interests. Until that mistake is corrected Constitutionally, working within the parties to reduce party power will be like trying to lift yourself up in the highchair you’re sitting in…ain’t gonna happen!

Frank S

Read “Wake Up, America! Understand the US Constitution and Get Involved”. This rather brief tutorial on the Constitution will shed some light on what we can do to make meaningful and important amendments to the Constitution that will reduce Federal power and promote freedom for all. Available from Amazon.com. Be patient when trying to find this book on Amazon.

Phil

Agree with all the above sentiments.

If you want to pesuade others of your point of view NEVER type all caps, and use exclamation points sparingly. To the undecided or uninformed, your reasonable sentiments THIS!!!! YES, THIS WELL REASONED ARGUMENT!!!! –WILL BE DISSMISSED AS SIMPLY LOUD RANTING!!!!

Be forceful with your logic not the keyboard.

Old Papa

Contact Congress. It is easy. Not just the Congress people in your own district. If you disagree with any person in any government position in any state let them know. There are ways to contact any one of them. E-mail, fax, U. S. Mail etc.

Old Papa

I couldn’t agree more.One of our greatest powers as a people is the vote. If we do not, it may be our last time.

Jim

We’re being overthrown without a shot being fired. Let’s wake up and take her back.

Leota

It is time to bit the head of the snake off, it is crawling into to areas that has not been OK’d by the people. Our Government does not have TRUE Americans that abide by our CONSTUTION and are BETRAYING the people that put them in Office .Nor are they keeping the oath they took to protect the CONSTITION. When you have 70% of the SENATE and 45% of CONGRESS what are we expecting, HONESTY?? Time to really put the FIRE HOSE in the FRONT DOOR OF THE WHITE HOUSE Open up the Back door and FLUSH THEM ALL OUT. We have to start changing the TERM LIMITS and go back to what really worked and all the SENATE and CONGRESS stayed in their home states and came to WASHINGTON for special conferences. That would CUT THE BUDGET vastly. and they couldn’t form all the CORRUPTION behind closed doors, and… Read more »

Marcella A Dellaposta

Once the vote was given to everyone, this country was finished. It was a republic where only people of property could vote. Those people were small business owners. The founders knew that a democracy has never worked because it is rule by the rabble. Over the years the Marxist Progressives have destroyed this country to the point that we need to go back to the Constitution. Good luck with that as even the courts are corrupt. As the vote is now computerized and can be easily manipulated, it is now meaningless. Only God can help us now.

John

This is a great summary of a long process that created the Constitution and Bill of Rights. A fantastic book on this is Ratification by PaulinIe Maier. It should be a textbook in high school but unfortunately it will never be. It is unbelievable when you read posts on Yahoo or where ever how totally ignorant the masses or with regards to our Constitution and Bill of Rights. Our country has made a fatal sift to the left that just may not be able to be changed now. I appreciate AMAC for it’s work in the effort to bring the country back and I only hope that more people will see how far off course we are, but as more and more laws add people to the dole of the fed govt this will be hard to do. But don’t give up.

Byron

If we don’t wake up soon this country or at least the ideal of a free country will be gone. The limits that have been put on the bill of rights by both parties is frightening. The patriot act give the Govt unlimited power over searches and seizures, due process, and indefinite detention. The second amendment which was included to prevent tyranny like this is being stripped to nothing. The tenth amendment is ignored and Federalism takes precedence in all affairs. The people are trained to look to the Federal Government for handouts. This is not what was intended for this great country. Pleas wake up or if you are awake, awaken someone else. This has got to be halted.

Doug Nicholson

2014 is just around the corner. Vote as if your life (and those of your loved ones) depends on it, because it may well!

Galacticrock

It’s pretty obvious we’ve screwed the pooch on this one. The federal government needs to be put back in it’s box.

John

EVERYONE, WE NEED TO TAKE BACK AMERICA!!! CONTACT YOUR CONGRESS (SENATE & HOUSE OF REP) AND LET THEM KNOW HOW YOU REALLY FEEL! WE NEED OBAMA OUT NOW BEFORE WE GO COMPLETELY DOWN THE TUBES!