The Constitutional Debate Over State vs Federal Supremacy

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PS 110
June 12, 2014

The Constitutional Debate Over State vs Federal Supremacy

Politics is power. As one of the United State founding fathers James Madison said, “The Essence of Government is power; and power, lodged as it must be in human hands, will ever be liable to abuse”(Library Of Congress, 2006). The Constitution is set up in a way to help manage the ultimate balance of power between the Federal Government and the states. It is written in a way to protect the states from abuse from the Federal Government but also to protect the citizens from abuse by the state. Today, the states enjoy much of the freedoms granted to them by the constitution, but there have been instances when the Federal Government has stepped in to ensure the constitutional mandate is upheld in regards to the rights of the citizens. To better understand this delicate balance, one must take a deeper look into the history of the constitution. Only there can the true purpose and intending’s of the founders be revealed.

The Declaration of Independence is a great start to understanding the key component for the basis of the Constitution. It was the turning point where America said, “no more” to Monarch rule and the basis for “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness,” was set as a standard for what America would strive to achieve and value (Meyers, 2014: 14). On this basis the Declaration of Independence was established (Sidlow, 2014: 28).

The next step was to establish a government system. The Articles of Confederation would serve as the United States first constitution. Under the Articles of Confederation, Congress was set up as the central governing body but with few powers; the power belonged to the states. It provided for a

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unicameral legislature, one legislature, giving each state, no matter the size, one vote (Walter, 2012: 11). There was one house in the Congress and two to seven members in the house per state, but still only one vote was allowed per state. There was no president and no federal court for disputes. Under this confederacy the states and the local government could each still coin money (Shapiro, 2009: 11), which created problems because each colony had their own currency. This made it beyond the government to establish a military force. And, even more the process to amend the articles required all states to agree, which was an insurmountable task. In the end, it was a great start, but collective action problems caused it to fail: they had no power to tax, control trade, no chief executive, no judicial branches, and a un-unified military and currency. Small states thought that large states would do all the efforts in defense of the country for them (Shapiro, 2009: 11). In all, each state did not want to contribute to well-being of the whole country.

By 1787 it was clear that the Articles of Confederation were flawed and the nation was in need of something that could provide more unity between the states. The states were at odds with one another, and the country’s security was at stake. The founders knew that the powers of Congress were too weak and something must be done (Sidlow, 2014: 30). This is what spurred fifty-five delegates to meet in Philadelphia for a secret convention. The purpose: to revise the Articles of Confederation.

The first suggestion for revision was presented on the first day, by the federalist James Madison. It contained fifteen resolutions and was called the Virginia Plan (Sidlow, 2014: 33, 39). The plan clearly showed a strong favor toward a strong Federal Government and small state power (Walter, 2012: 12). Unlike the Articles of Confederation, the Virginia Plan provided a bicameral legislature, part to be chosen by the people (the House of Representatives) and part to be chosen by the house (the Senate). The only elections were for the House...