Saturday, February 27, 2016

American History 101: States Rights Versus Strong Federal Government

Throughout the history of the United States there has existed a seemingly continuous struggle between the federal government and the individual states as to who truly holds the core of power within the country. The foundations of the country lie within the idea that there needs to be a limited role for the government that protects individual rights and freedoms. There have been periods in which the states chose their own destiny and the federal government could barely figure out what it was having for breakfast, and other periods in which the states could not make the smallest of decisions on their own without the federal government’s approval. During the past thirty or so years, there has been a reasonable balance between the federal government’s ability to regulate and control states, however we still exist as The United States of America with a core central government that rules the land. 

The idea that we are a confederate collection of states held strong support and was the basis for this country at its founding. The very nature of the country was built upon the idea that sovereignty lie within the citizens and not the government. The passage of the Articles of Confederation in 1781, which represented the first Constitution of the United States, is a strong example of the founders intentions regarding how the central government should operate. The Articles allowed each state to remain sovereign and independent. Each state had the responsibility to govern itself, and only turn to Congress in the event that individual states could not settle their own business. The power of the federal government was limited to making treaties and alliances, maintaining the military and controlling the monetary supply. The federal government could not levy taxes or regulate commerce between states, which were two of the biggest reasons the Articles of Confederations ultimately failed. 

There was a push for a strengthening of the federal government so that the country could grow as a strong nation, and not simply a collection of states. The inability to raise the funds in order to support the operation of the federal government led to the Constitutional Convention in 1787. And out of this convention came the first draft of the document that we now know as the Constitution of the United States of America. It was further ratified in 1788, passed in 1789 and has been amended twenty-seven times since but has stood the test of time and trials throughout American history. The Constitution increased the strength of the federal government in its ability to not only collect taxes from the people in order to support itself, but also increased controls over commerce, land management and several other key areas of the country. 

Even after the Constitution became the law of the land, the states still held on to the idea that they were sovereign in their laws and actions. The conflict between this idea and the national need for a strong central government came to a head in 1860 when South Carolina officially seceded from the union citing its right to govern itself independent of the federal government. One of the most inflammatory sparks that ignited the American Civil War was the fight for the rights of states to govern themselves as they saw fit without unnecessary interference from the federal government. The biggest conflict at this time was the subject of whether or not states could decide if slavery was legal within their own borders, or if the federal government had the right to outlaw slavery in specific states, but it was not the only states rights issue at the time. The blood that was shed by Americans between 1861 and 1865 was as much about the idea that states had the right and ability to control their own fate, as it was about securing freedom for one group of people. And at the end of the war in 1865 when Robert E. Lee surrendered to Ulysses S. Grant at Appomattox Court House it signaled not only the end of the war, but also the end of individual state sovereignty in the United States once and for all. This country was no longer a collection of states that was protected by a federal government, it was one country that had separate geographic regions with distinct cultures and ideals. The end of the Civil War meant we were one body, with a controlling central government. The states have significantly less power today then they did at the founding of the United States of America. 

Bruce holds a degree in Computer Science from Temple University, a Graduate Certificate in Biblical History from Liberty University and is working towards a Masters Degree in American History at American Public University.  He has worked in educational and technology for over 18 years, specializes in building infrastructures for schools that work to support the mission of technology in education in the classroom.  He also has served as a classroom teacher in Computer Science, History and English classes.  

Bruce is the author of five books: Sands of TimeTowering Pines Volume One:Room 509The Star of ChristmasPhiladelphia Story: A Lance Carter Detective Novel and The Insider's Story: A Lance Carter Detective Novel

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