Today’s federal government dominates state and local government. It is bloated, out of control, overreaching and virtually unrecognizable as the government created by our Constitution. It was never intended this way. How has the constitutionally-limited government of our founders become today’s over-reaching federal government? There are some who claim our constitutional limitations on federal authority are obsolete and out-of-date, unresponsive to today's pressing social needs.
“I apprehend no danger to our country from a foreign foe . . . Our destruction, should it come at all, will be from another quarter. From the inattention of the people to the concerns of their government, from their carelessness and negligence, I must confess that I do apprehend some danger. I fear that they may place too implicit a confidence in their public servants, and fail properly to scrutinize their conduct; that in this way they may be made the dupes of designing men, and become the instruments of their own undoing.” -- Daniel Webster, June 1, 1837
History armed our founders with the knowledge that to preserve a nation dedicated to the liberty of its citizens, it is necessary to severely restrict the authority of national government. No clearer statement of this concern is needed than the words of the tenth amendment: “... 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 Constitution establishes a federal government with very limited powers. Drafted and approved by the states, it prohibits federal government from infringing upon the peoples’ “unalienable Rights” that are “endowed by their Creator.” Limited powers confine our federal government to attend only to interests of the nation that are exclusively national in scope. These limited powers are clearly enumerated in the 18 clauses of Article I, Section 8, and remain the foundation of our Constitution today.
Seven of the 18 powers relate directly to the defense of our nation or its citizens. The remaining 11 powers deal with a variety of issues of national scope, ranging from establishment of a uniform currency to making treaties with foreign nations. None of the enumerated powers authorize Congress to make law addressing the health, education, labor, or welfare of its citizens. Those powers are reserved to the states and the people.
Yet today’s federal government dominates state and local government. It is bloated, out of control, overreaching and virtually unrecognizable as the government created by our Constitution. It was never intended this way.
How has the constitutionally-limited government of our founders become today’s over-reaching federal government?
Governing beyond the clear scope of their constitutional authority, for more than a century members of Congress and Presidents have enacted laws and promoted regulations that violate their oath to act within the constraints of their constitutional authority.
The “General Welfare” and “Commerce” clauses are routinely abused. The “General Welfare” clause does not empower Congress to legislate for anything supporting the nation’s general welfare. Were that the intent, no purpose would be served by enumerating the remaining 17 specific powers! This clause was designed to limit Congress’ use of the remaining enumerated powers to serve only national defense or the general welfare.
The architect of our Constitution, James Madison in The Federalist Papers (#41) confirms this purpose with the question, “For what purpose could the enumeration of particular powers be inserted, if these and all others were meant to be included in the preceding general power?”
The much-abused “Commerce Clause” was designed only to assure a regular flow of commerce between the states and other nations. This power was created to facilitate commerce, not restrict or mandate it.
A nation whose government is unhinged from constitutional constraint becomes subject to the whims of leaders who deceive by claiming a “living” constitution empowers them to fulfill any public need.
To understand the enormous cost of unconstitutional federal governance, consider the past three fiscal years (FY 2009-2011). Federal spending for programs outside the scope of constitutional authority averaged $2.22 trillion per year! With average annual revenues of $2.19 trillion, nothing remains to fund constitutionally- authorized programs!
While it would be imprudent to simply “cut off” federal spending for extra- constitutional programs, annual deficits of $1.34 trillion per year cannot be sustained without leading to our nation’s financial ruin. Whether by prudent design or imprudent insolvency, such unsustainable federal spending must end.
Was Webster’s concern justified? The greatest threat to our nation today comes not from foreign powers or international terrorists. It comes from the inattention of the American people to their federal government acting well beyond its constitutional authority. The abuse of constitutional constraint has created a fiscal crisis that threatens our nation’s very existence.
Far from being obsolete, we have compelling evidence that very limited federal government is absolutely essential to preserve the liberty and security of the people. If their nation is to endure, the people must rededicate their commitment to legitimate federal governance within the strict confines of the authority established by our Constitution.
As government grows, individual liberty shrinks. Whether at the local, state or federal level, citizens must vigilantly protect limited government to preserve their liberty.
Bob Webster, a descendant of Daniel Webster's father, Revolutionary War patriot Ebenezer Webster, has always had a strong interest in early American history, our Constitution, U.S. politics, and law. Politically he is a constitutional republican with objectivist and libertarian roots. He has faith in the ultimate triumph of truth and reason over deception and emotion. He is a strong believer in our Constitution as written and views the abandonment of constitutional restraint by the regressive Progressive movement as a great danger to our Republic. His favorite novel is Atlas Shrugged by Ayn Rand and believes it should be required reading for all high school students so they can appreciate the cost of tolerating the growth of unconstitutional crushingly powerful central government. He strongly believes, as our Constitution enshrines, that the interests of the individual should be held superior to the interests of the state.
A lifelong interest in meteorology and climatology spurred his strong interest in science. Bob earned his degree in Mathematics at Virginia Tech, graduating in 1964.