Bigger Government – How Did We Get Here?

[Note: This essay is one in a continuing series by ICCFA executive director Bob Fells focusing on various issues in our federal government. Although the subjects are political in nature, the approach is bipartisan in outlook, at least so far as that is humanly possible. The goal of each essay is not to persuade the reader to adopt a particular political viewpoint or party, but to illustrate why an understanding of the system is important to protect our businesses, our homes, and our families.]

Bigger Government – How Did We Get Here?

This past Tuesday, November 8, marked state and local elections and gives citizens a breather from the national elections that follow at this same time next year. Increasingly, regardless of party affiliation or political philosophy, voters are asked to choose between two alternatives on Election Day: we can vote for Big Government or we can vote for Bigger Government. So while the machinery of the federal government temporarily slows its assault of endless new regulations, I thought I would begin an occasional series of articles in the ICCFA WIRELESS to explore how our exceptional system of governance – dedicated to a limited central government – managed to morph into something else. I’m repeating the article here in case anyone missed it in WIRELESS. Please comment – I don’t pretend to have all the answers but to begin with, we have to figure out what are the questions.

To begin, let’s look at the safeguards the Founders placed into our Constitution to insure that the federal government would have extremely limited powers. It’s worth remembering that the major governments of the world circa 1776 and thereafter were absolute monarchies: England, Spain and France had George III, Charles III and Louis XVI, respectively. Russia had the Tsaritsa Catherine II and all cited “the divine right of kings” as authority for their powers. After the passage of 200+ years we tend to lose the temper of those times and the impact of the extraordinary idea that “the people” should select their leaders who govern only by the express consent of the people. No wonder our war with Britain was called Revolutionary.  

The Founders proposed a form of government that was purely experimental and they were wise enough to realize that given human nature and the ambitions of ego, a democratically elected government could easily morph into a totalitarian government over time. That has been the norm since the beginning of recorded time and nobody can change that. Instead, the Founders created a government of laws to restrict the government itself, not to regulate the people or their livelihoods. The Bill of Rights was the original “getting government off the backs of the people” (to paraphrase Ronald Reagan) and supplemented the U.S. Constitution.

In particular, the 10th Amendment declared with deadly clarity that powers not specifically granted to the federal government were reserved for the state governments. This was the Founders’ method of encoding into written law the expression, “What part of ‘No’ don’t you understand?” Today, the 10thAmendment is nicknamed “the forgotten Amendment” for obvious reasons. Yet the Founders just didn’t place some tough language on a piece of paper and hope things would work out.  They created a branch of the federal legislature to guarantee that the federal government could never invade the powers reserved for the states. If that’s so, then what happened? How did the state governments become subordinate to the federal? And how was the federal government allowed to dictate mandates to the state governments that must be obeyed under penalty? Our next installment will discuss this safeguard that was part of our Constitution until We the People were persuaded to throw it out. Monarchs George, Charles, Louis and Catherine would have been delighted!