Christian conservatives are fond of telling us that America’s federal form of government means that power was originally decentralized under the Constitution.
Or at least it was divided more or less equally between the three levels of government – Federal, state and local. According to Christian conservatives, somehow today power has accumulated in the Federal government and we need to get back to the founders original intent of state’s rights. For example, a recent article on Political Outcast asks the rhetorical question, “Since When Are We the United State of America?”
“The original plan for this country was a federal, not Federalist plan. It emphasized local government as the most important government for the individual. That plan took a slight detour with the Declaration and the Constitution, both of which included populist language ( as if the national government could or should interface directly with ‘the people’), but, in effect, civil government even then was generally decentralized – local.”
Myth: the federal government established by the founding fathers in 1788 was designed to reserve most of the power for state and local levels of government.
The first sentence in the quote above is a bit enigmatic since the plan was in fact written and approved by what soon became known as the Federalist Party. But the key issue in our MythBusters investigation appears in the last sentence, “…in effect, civil government even then was generally decentralized – local.”
Most Christian conservatives at the time of ratification didn’t see it that way. Patrick Henry estimated that nine tenths among the Virginia “yeomanry” were against the proposed Constitution. Among the leadership, the anti-Federalist Party quickly arose to challenge the assertion that power was decentralized under the new government.
Patrick Henry emerged as a key anti-Federalist leader. MythBusters examined the 24 speeches that he delivered at the Virginia Ratifying Convention in opposition to the proposed United States Constitution. Henry presented many cogent arguments to support the thesis that the states were delivering unprecedented power to the national government.
In response to the question, “Since When Are We the United State of America,” Patrick Henry would emphatically tell you, “Since ratification of the United States Constitution in 1788!”
National, Not Federal Form of Government
Michael Minkoff states that “now we live under a national government that dictates to the local governments what they will and will not do and even taxes individuals directly….” Notice it is stated as if this were some startling new development.
All of the evils that Mr. Minkoff complains of in the Political Outcast article were predicted by the anti-Federalists during the ratification debates. Nationalism is inherent in the “we the people” formula of the Preamble.
Patrick Henry argued that “the people” were not the fit instruments for creating a government, this is the province of states. But since “the people” as a mass were invoked, the government they created is of necessity a consolidated, national government. The state legislatures were illegally bypassed, above the indignant, even anguished protests of the elected state representatives.
The people have no right to enter into leagues, alliances, or confederations,” said Henry, “they are not the proper agents for this purpose. States and foreign powers are the only proper agents for this kind of government (June 5, 1788).
Patrick Henry recognized the national character of the U S Constitution from the beginning, unlike today’s Christian conservatives. “But now, sir, the American spirit, assisted by the ropes and chains of consolidation, is about to convert this country into a powerful and mighty empire.”
Contrived Crisis Creates Change
Henry complained that an imaginary crisis had been contrived to transfer all of the substantial powers of government to the national level. In particular, the power of the purse and the power of the sword. He drew a contrast with England where “the sword and purse are not united…in the same hands as in this system.” (June 14). The surrender of the militia to an all-powerful central government left the states defenseless.
Unlike today’s Christian conservatives, Patrick Henry expressed a literal hatred for the proposed constitution and every one of his dire predictions if it were ratified has come to pass, including two levels of oppressive taxation, an imperial supreme court, a bloody civil war within 100 years and an incredibly dangerous treaty clause. The elastic clause and the general welfare clause give the feds everything else.
That’s not to mention the spiritual problems with the document. “We the people” replace God as the ordaining authority in the preamble. The stipulation that the Constitution itself and all subsequent human laws shall be the supreme law of the land, not the law of God. The rejection of any spiritual qualifications for holding public office. Tyranny is by definition rule apart from the law of God — the “perfect law of liberty” (james 1:25).
Case Closed: The mere presence of the federal structure (multi-tier) does not guarantee freedom at the local level. The structure of a federal form of government may be in place and all the power still be concentrated at the national level. That is precisely what happened to America with adoption of the Constitution of 1788.
The Christian conservatives assertion that any substantial power was retained at the local level is a myth. It is a bromide held out to the masses to create in them the illusion of liberty.