States Rights Then and Now…

…How our Founding Fathers Intended It To Be and How We Live It Out Today

The question of states rights can be a confusing one in our day and age with the federal government, in many instances, crossing its boundaries into the affairs of the states.  What was the intention of our Founding Fathers for the government, and what rights do states really have?  I would like to explore this with you in today’s post.

The intention of our Founding Fathers was to design a government that would preserve, protect, and promote life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.  They knew that this would not be achieved by forming an all powerful sovereign federal government, but instead by forming a voluntary union of sovereign states.  As James Madison said in Federalist 51, “The power surrendered by the people is first divided between two distinct governments, and then the portion allotted to each is subdivided among distinct and separate departments.  Hence a double security arises to the rights of the people.”  This creates a balance between government and state power.  The government has broad authority in specific areas, but its power is limited.  James Madison also stated in Federalist 46, that, “The national and state governments are in fact but different agents and trustees of the people, constituted with different powers, and designed for different purposes.”

There are certain powers and duties given to the federal government that are not given to the states and vice versa. The 10th Amendment states that, “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.”  Even though all 50 states have their own state constitution, each state constitution has to adhere to the rights granted by the U.S. Constitution. For example, the state cannot deny a criminal trial by jury assured them in the U.S. Constitution’s 6th Amendment, this would be outside their jurisdiction of power.

The breakdown of the duties and powers in the Constitution are as follows:

Federal Powers:

  • print money
  • declare war
  • establish an army and navy
  • regulate interstate commerce
  • establish post offices

State Powers:

  • issue licenses
  • conduct local elections
  • regulate intrastate commerce
  • provide for public health and safety
  • abolish unconstitutional federal rulings

Shared Powers:

  • setting up courts
  • creating and collecting taxes
  • borrowing money
  • building highways

States are to handle most of their internal affairs, not the government.  Intrastate commerce refers to the commerce which takes place inside state borders, and it’s the job of states to regulate this.  It’s the job of states to provide for the health and safety of their people.  The states also have the right to do away with any unconstitutional federal rulings such as the healthcare mandate, and the Obergefell Ruling. Any government interference in any of these areas is governmental overreach.  Alexander Hamilton wrote in Federalist 9, “The proposed Constitution, so far from implying an abolition of the State Governments, makes them constituent parts of the national sovereignty by allowing them a direct representation in the Senate, and leaves in their possession certain exclusive and very important portions of sovereign power – This fully corresponds, in every import of the terms, with the idea of a Federal Government.”

According to the Constitution, states do have rights and they have the power to exercise those rights.  Unfortunately, many in political leadership today ignore the restraints placed upon them by the Constitution.  Oklahoma Rep. Charles Key, said, “We, the people of the states, created the federal government, they act like they created us and we’re under their authority, and that’s really not the case.”  He’s absolutely right.

In his opening address at the ratifying convention on November 14, 1787, James Wilson said, “Government, indeed, taken as a science, may yet be considered in its infancy; and with all its various modifications, it has hitherto been the result of force, fraud, or accident.  For, after the lapse of six thousand years since the creation of the world, America now presents the first instance of a people assembled to weigh deliberately and calmly, and to decide leisurely and peaceably, upon the form of government by which they will bind themselves and their posterity.”  The United States of America is a unique and special Nation.  Let’s not take for granted the freedom and liberty that our Founding Fathers envisioned and put in place, “In order to form a more perfect union, establish justice, insure domestic tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general welfare, and secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity…” (Preamble to the U.S. Constitution).  May God bless America!


6 thoughts on “States Rights Then and Now…”

  1. Thank you for your article Sabrina. Unfortunately the decline of state power began a long time ago. Someone once told me the more power the federal government gets, the more it wants. Which is why it passes laws like Obamacare, the bigger the government gets the more power it has over us. That and things like that are easy to sell to the public because the idea behind it sounds good, healthcare for all. In theory it is a good thing, in practice it does not work so well. I don’t see it going back to the way it was, do you?

    1. Thank you for your comment! Unfortunately, I don’t see our government going back to the way it used to be either. I do believe, however, that the future of our country is in God’s hands. I don’t know what God has in store for our country, but I don’t think it’s ever too late to give up hope. It’s our duty to be faithful to do our part in preserving the freedoms we enjoy today for the generations of tomorrow. I think it’s good to remember the quote by Ralph Abernathy, “I don’t know what the future may hold, but I know Who holds the future.”

      Thank you again for taking the time to comment!



      1. In theory I agree with you Sabrina. But I believe when the country decided to go its own way, God let it go. He is not in the business of forcing Himself on us. As believers we are protected by Him. As a country however, we get what we deserve perhaps. I have been told that I am a pessimist however 🙂

  2. Sabrina:

    Thank you and your team of impressive Young Patriots for the important work you are doing to proclaim and preserve the principles of Liberty!! I really enjoy reading your posts. I would like to comment (helpfully, I hope) on today’s post.

    You correctly state in your post that “There are certain powers … given to the federal government”. These are called enumerated powers and are the ONLY powers that the federal government has authority to exercise. But you then INCORRECTLY state that “each state constitution has to adhere to the rights granted by the U.S. Constitution.” This is a SERIOUS error that is more than just semantics or grammar choice. Rights are not GRANTED by the Constitution; they are “granted” by Nature and Nature’s God. The Constitution’s purpose is to establish a government which will PROTECT the rights of the People.

    Additionally, I, too, have used the term “States’ Rights” to indicate the POWERS granted to the particular States by the People of those States. In reality States do NOT have RIGHTS; they, too, have enumerated POWERS. The 10th Amendment uses the term “powers” to describe the authorities given to the States. While I understand that the term “States’ Rights” is a well-known and convenient way to help differentiate between the powers granted to the State and Federal governments, I am trying, and I encourage you to try, to use the more correct and accurate term “State Powers” to emphasize that ALL power given to any government comes from the People AND that it is the People who have the God-given Rights to Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness.

    Thanks again and keep up the great work!

    Tim Fickling
    50-something homeschool dad in Oakhurst, CA

    1. Thank you so much for your kind words and also the very helpful insights! We appreciate you taking the time to get in touch with us.

      The writer of this post is currently out of town, but I’m going to get this to her and she’ll be getting back with you.

      Thank you again and God bless!


    2. Hello Mr. Fickling!

      Please forgive my late response. I’ve been out of town back to back the past two weeks.

      Thank you for your encouraging and thought provoking comment! I appreciate you taking the time to leave it.

      I do agree with your point that the powers granted to the States are granted by God not the Constitution.

      I also see that it would be more appropriate to say “State Powers” vs. “States’ Rights”. I understand that it’s important to use proper terms.

      Thank you again for your comment!


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