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April 2017 Policy Study, Number 17-6


A Commentary on the Bill of Rights


Part 22



Amendment X:


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.


The Constitution of the United States in general, the Bill of Rights in particular, and most particularly the Tenth Amendment, were created with one great purpose in mind.  They were designed to protect the rights of the several states and the God-given, unalienable rights of “we the people” from a strong central government, which they feared would encroach upon those precious rights, by constitutionally restricting the ability of that government to do so.


It would be incorrect to say that they were prescient in their judgment on this matter.  These men were well-versed in history; and if that were not enough, the circumstances in which they found themselves regarding England provided ample evidence of the evil a government comprised of mere mortals and based on the laws of man could cause.  And human nature being what it is, and not what we might wish it to be, they also were convinced any new government based on the same premise would produce the same results.  They did their utmost to prevent a recurrence of this type of government from ever being implemented in this Nation.  We disregard their precautions at our own and our children’s peril and sorrow, as is quickly becoming clear.  We are failing in our duty to our progeny.


The original design for government in our nation, which was to be republican in form (not democratic) and federal in nature, and which is clearly stated in our founding documents, was this: first, our Creator (After all they did make the claim that what they were about to do was authorized by “the Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God.); then the sovereign individual (Our Founders and those whom they represented were the ones who were responsible for what they were about to create.); and last, government.  Government was then organized in this manner.  First, sovereign individuals had already created the several states.  (As there was no temporal governing authority available to sanction incorporation, it is probably more correct to think they did this in the nature of a compact or covenant.  Still, because we are more familiar with the corporate form and because their creation tended to exhibit the behavior of the corporate form, we tend to envision the artificial entity they created as a corporation.)  And then, the central government was created by the states in like manner.


Sovereign individuals created, organized, and incorporated the states, which in turn created and incorporated the central government — the United States of America.  The artificial entities which were created (corporations) were to serve at the pleasure of the entities which created them.  Thus, fealty is the due of each preceding entity in the chain of command, and in the temporal state, this fealty is ultimately the due of the sovereign individual.  The creator is always sovereign to the created.  Shareholders are always sovereign to the corporation, and each preceding entity in the chain of command is a shareholder in each subsequent entity.  The central government is a creature of and thus an agent of the several states; and as such, it owes fealty to its creators — the several states and the people thereof.


Our government was designed to be “our servant.”  Does it remain our servant today, or has the relationship been inverted?  It would seem the relationship has been inverted and our Creator has been banished from any consideration in public affairs.  We have allowed the central government to usurp and consolidate our rights and authority.  It has crowded out the authority of the state and placed itself in lieu thereof.  In practice, it has become “top dog.”  The states have become timid and ineffective in the matter of securing our rights.  Instead of pursuing the purpose for which they were created, for the most part they have embraced the minor role of merely administering the public policy created in Washington.  It may well be said that either the Seventeenth Amendment has usurped the power of the states and neutered them, or the states have abdicated the responsibility they originally demanded and were given to enforce the balance of power — to ensure the precept of federalism.


It is my personal opinion that whatever effort we put forward to cure our nation’s ills without first rectifying this current perverted relationship will ultimately be in vain.  As the human spirit is neither content, nor even fit, to abide such a situation interminably, this perverted relationship has been the primary cause of ruin of all former governments.  In due time, it will be the cause of ruin for all existing governments that continue to adhere to it, including the United States of America.  This fate is not necessarily inevitable.  Let’s take a second look at the Tenth Amendment:  “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.”


The powers that “were” delegated to the United States by the Constitution, chiefly to the legislature, but with a precious few to the executive and only the power to judge to the judicial branch, are actually quite few, are well-defined, and are relatively limited in the scope of their operation.  Recall the discussions at Article I, Section 8 and Article II, Section 2, respectively.  (The powers that are expressly prohibited to the United States are to be found at Article I, Section 9.)  The powers that “were” granted to the United States by the Constitution are specifically listed in the Constitution.  The powers that “were not” granted to the United States by the Constitution are legion and uncountable, including even those powers that were undreamed of at the time.


The various State resolutions promptly resulted in the Tenth Amendment.  This amendment consists of a single sentence, only twenty-eight words long; it is in no way obscure.  The powers (not rights, as in the Ninth Amendment, but powers) not delegated to the United States (the verb is delegated, not ‘surrendered’ or ‘granted,’ or ‘vested in,’ but merely delegated) by the Constitution (not by inference, or by any notions of inherent powers, but by the Constitution alone), nor prohibited to it by the States (prohibited by the Constitution, that is, by its specific limitations, and not by mandate of any court or Congress or executive, but only by the Constitution itself), are reserved to the States respectively (not to the States jointly, but to the States individually and respectively), or to the people (because there may be some powers the people will not wish to entrust even to their States).  (James J. Kilpatrick, “Conservatism and the South,” in Louis D. Rubin, ed., The Lasting South, 1960, as excerpted from The Concise Conservative Encyclopedia by Brad Miner).


The powers expressly prohibited to the states are to be found at Article I, Section 10.  These are few.  The Tenth Amendment expressly reserves “all” other powers to the individual states or to the people.  Taking the Ninth and Tenth Amendments together, this means that our Founders intended for us to retain our unalienable rights and our sovereignty.  We were not to be subjects of a central government, well-meaning or otherwise.


But, as was stated in the discussion of the prior amendment, rights have to be claimed.  It is no different for a state than for an individual.  The primary prerequisite for enforcing the claim is to know your status.  That is, you must know your position in the chain of command — the pecking order.  That is what this discussion has mainly been about.  We have erroneously been led to believe that the central government is the master, and also that we have little or no recourse when we find ourselves in disagreement with it.  This is not so.  Our government is meant to be our servant, and the state governments are supposed to control the central government.  But in order for this to be the case, we need elected officials at the state level who will stand up and claim the rights of the state.  Further, it is up to you and me to stand up and claim our rights as sovereign individuals and to identify and elect those state officials who will do the job that needs to be done.


Consider the master-servant relationship.  There is a sarcastic old joke that goes like this: 


Question:  What is the golden rule?
Answer:  That’s easy; he that has the gold, rules!


Sarcastic it may be; but it is a real slice of life.  How many instances can you think of where the servant is the individual who controls the assets?  They may manage them, but they don’t control them.  The master controls the assets.  Now consider the relationship between the central government and the state government, and also between the central government and us, the individual.  Who is telling whom what to do and what behavior will be acceptable?  The answer is inescapable.  The central government has become the proverbial eight-hundred-pound gorilla.


How is this possible?  For all practical purposes, they have taken over control of the assets.  How has this been accomplished?  Through the implementation of taxes (especially income tax) that, for all practical purposes, we have been led to believe we have no power to refuse; and the implementation of rules and regulations which subvert our right to, and hinder or deny our use of, our own private property.  In other words, our capacity to generate the fruits of our labor, as well as the fruits themselves, are being manipulated and commandeered by the central government.  When you no longer have private property and the first claim to the fruits of your labor, you are no longer the master.  You have been reduced to the status of serf — a slave.


Though we as individuals still claim “ownership” of private property and the fruits of our labor, this is a mere euphemism for the true reality.  Ownership without control is no ownership at all.  This country is continually drifting in the direction of a socialist society in the form of the state controlling ever more of the property and the fruits of our labor.  We euphemistically refer to this trend as “liberalism,” but make no mistake; the propensities exhibited by this mode of governance are socialistic and communistic.  These last two terms are understood to mean that the state owns/controls the means of production.  Isn’t that what is happening?  Yes, the methods used to achieve this mode of governance are covert instead of overt, guile in lieu of force, but the result is the same.  That a good many people who promote liberalism, or merely abide it because they do not conceive of the true consequences of their actions, do so with the best of intentions will not alter this fact. 


Now consider the nations on this earth that practice this mode of governance (the old USSR, China, North Korea, and far too many others) and ask yourself if this is the kind of government and life you wish for your children and grandchildren.  Human nature will dictate the same result for us.  Our Founding Fathers endowed us with an extraordinary written constitution whose benefits are rapidly slipping from our grasp.  All is not lost if we will only take the initiative to reclaim them.  We have made a serious blunder in looking to a central government to answer all of our problems.  The real solution lies much closer to home.  First and foremost, it is to be found in the independence and self-reliance of the sovereign individual, and then in those governmental bodies that lie nearest to us.  The central government should be the last resort.


The Tenth Amendment makes it explicitly clear that we have the power to do these things; but we must enforce the claim.  If, as individuals, our grievances to the central government are not resolved, the state is a constitutionally proper platform from which to enforce our claim.  But in order for this course of action to succeed, we must find candidates who understand and respect the Constitution and have the courage to enforce it in the spirit in which our Founders wrote it, and then we must elect them to office.  Nothing less will suffice.




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