Archive for Thursday, March 31, 2005

States’ rights

March 31, 2005


To the editor:

John Murray's March 27 letter references Thomas Hobbes, John Locke and Thomas Jefferson in maintaining a "right" or duty of the federal government to interfere in matters generally reserved to state law. Hobbes, the last major philosophical proponent of the so-called divine right of kings, would have agreed that the government has power to interfere, but would probably not have claimed any relationship to the ideas of Jefferson.

Jefferson is widely claimed; every faction in the nation seems to call upon his memory. But his view of government is fairly clear. He (along with Franklin and Adams) took the Declaration of Independence from John Locke's essays. The justification of revolution is hardly Hobbesian. When it came time to form a government beyond the Confederation, Jefferson was dispatched to Paris where he would be less of an obstacle.

Jefferson's mentor, George Mason, walked out of the Constitutional Convention because the document gave too much power to the central government. A ratification process brought Jefferson back from France to work against the proposed constitution and convince his protege, James Madison, of the need for positive limitations in the form of amendments.

Article X of the amendments reads, "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."

While populists and progressives tend to an expansive view of federal power, the anti-federalist movement with 10 positive limits on the powers of the central government, wisely protected the people from the emotional excesses of popular issues.

Earl Haehl,


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