On America’s Federalism and its Conformity to Republican Principles
- I posted the following note on this Facebook group:
This is for some clueless flips who still couldn’t connect the dots…
What is federalism and why was it first introduced by America’s founding fathers? Here, let’s try to learn something about America’s history of constitutional writing so pardon me for copy-pasting certain relevant facts and quotations.
Federalism is the political idea that states or territories (whatever you call them) are bound together by a single federal constitution. Federalism, like any political concepts, is a theory. Everything in politics is a theory. If you fail to understand this very basic fact, then, you’re doomed. Now why is Federalism an inherent, innate, indispensable part of America’s Republican tradition? Take note that Federalism was first introduced and practiced by the United States. It was one of the greatest political theories invented by the greatest minds of the Age of Enlightenment: the founding fathers.
It was James Madison who first provided the clearest exposition of what has come to be called “Federalism”. In Federalist No. 39, Madison wrote a great political treatise entitled “The Conformity of the Plan to Republican Principles.” Take note the word “conformity”. Madison believed that everything must conform to the Republican principles of limited or non-intrusive government, separation of powers, and checks and balances. These are the basic principles upon which free market system was based. Without these principles, the establishment of a free market system would be very IMPOSSIBLE. Madison started by redefining the term “republic,” identifying the three principles that must be present for a true republic to exist. This simply proves that America was not conceived as a ‘democracy’ but as a ‘republic’. These three principles are as follows:
- The power to govern must be derived from the consent of the people.
- Representatives elected from the people are the administrators of the government.
- The terms of service of the Representatives must be limited by time, good behavior, or as long as the favor of the people is maintained (as would be the case in impeachment).
Observe that such principles seek to limit the powers of government, not individual rights and freedom. The founding fathers understood that the proper role of a Constitution is to limit state authority and to recognize, respect individual rights.
Here’s one reason why Madison rejected the notion of a national government. He wrote: “The idea of a national government involves in it, not only an authority over the individual citizens, but an indefinite supremacy over all persons and things, so far as they are objects of lawful government. Among a people consolidated into one nation, this supremacy is completely vested in the national legislature.”
Thus, he thus clarified that: “the proposed government cannot be deemed a national one; since its jurisdiction extends to certain enumerated objects only, and leaves to the several States a residuary and inviolable sovereignty over all other objects.”
Madison further wrote:
If we try the Constitution by its last relation to the authority by which amendments are to be made, we find it neither wholly national nor wholly federal. Were it wholly national, the supreme and ultimate authority would reside in the majority of the people of the Union; and this authority would be competent at all times, like that of a majority of every national society, to alter or abolish its established government. Were it wholly federal, on the other hand, the concurrence of each State in the Union would be essential to every alteration that would be binding on all. The mode provided by the plan of the convention is not founded on either of these principles. In requiring more than a majority, and particularly in computing the proportion by States, not by citizens, it departs from thenational and advances towards the federal character; in rendering the concurrence of less than the whole number of States sufficient, it loses again the federal and partakes of the national character.
The proposed Constitution, therefore, [even when tested by the rules laid down by its antagonists,] is, in strictness, neither a national nor a federal Constitution, but a composition of both. In its foundation it is federal, not national; in the sources from which the ordinary powers of the government are drawn, it is partly federal and partly national; in the operation of these powers, it is national, not federal; in the extent of them, again, it is federal, not national; and, finally, in the authoritative mode of introducing amendments, it is neither wholly federal nor wholly national.
Furthermore, Madison discussed the concept of separation of powers in Federalist No. 10, which provides a solid philosophical basis for the American political system’s adoption and application of both separation of powers, and federalism. Separation powers, which is an essential ingredient of Republican tradition, is the method of limiting the degree of political power in any political body’s hands, making it more difficult to misuse or abuse. This distinguishes the American political system from any ‘democratic’ political systems. Madison argued that “such 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.”
Madison defined a ‘republic’ as “a government in which the scheme of representation takes place”. He then pointed out two main great differences between a democracy and a republic. These are 1) the delegation of the government (in a republic) to a small number of citizens elected by the rest; and 2) the greater number of citizens, and greater sphere of country, over which the latter (a republic) may be extended.
It must be confessed that in this, as in most other cases, there is a mean, on both sides of which inconveniences will be found to lie. By enlarging too much the number of electors, you render the representatives too little acquainted with all their local circumstances and lesser interests; as by reducing it too much, you render him unduly attached to these, and too little fit to comprehend and pursue great and national objects. 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.
It was James Madison’s treatise that’s trying to save America against the unconstitutional encroachment of the federal government and the anti-sovereignty maneuvers of the United Nations. For example, it was the state of Alabama that first adopted official state ban on UN Agenda 21. Several American states banned the UN’s proposed blasphemy law. A number of states also banned Pres. Obama’s ObamaCare, which is absolutely unconstitutional.
So for those who criticize America’s “most dangerous import”, which is presidentialism, and the Philippines’ utterly distorted presidential system (without federalism), your IGNORANCE is absolutely INCURABLE. What we have is a national government. So to those who attack our so-called presidential system just to sell their idiotic parliamentary system, quit attacking straw men.
However, I disagree with the 19th century notion of “State Rights”. This is no such thing as state rights. This is absolutely against what was envisioned by America’s founding fathers. States must conform to the Constitution. It’s just very unfortunate that many Libertarians naively buy this ‘state rights’ theory.
Federalism was simply based on the Republican principles of limited government, checks and balances, separation of powers,, individual rights and rule of law. Without such principles, it would be impossible to establish capitalism or free market system.
However, were America’s contemporary politicians able to keep the founding fathers’ legacy of pro-individual rights federalism and limited Republican government? There’s one thing that every advocate of freedom and individual rights should reflect upon, and it’s Benjamin Franklin’s historic reply to a lady who asked him the kind of government the convention conceived. A very tired and very wise Franklin replied: “A Republic, ma’am if you can keep it.”