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DID OUR FOUNDERS GET IT WRONG?
July 26, 2009 - Ray Hall (Archive)
The rights and powers of a National Government versus the rights and powers of individual state governments was the subject of contentious debates filled with acrimony, distrust and suspicion among our founders. The issues associated with a national government were so controversial and intense that none other than George Washington closed the meetings and swore the participants to secrecy. Spies were dispatched to report on defections and some were so mistrustful of Benjamin Franklin’s ability to refrain from spirits and juicy conversation that he was followed whenever he left the meetings. Some of the founders were frightened by the very idea of a federal government based on experience with English Kingships. Others, among them Alexander Hamilton, James Madison and John Jay are the authors of 85 essays, The Federalist Papers, published in New York papers between 1787 and 1788 intended to persuade citizens to support the new constitution and form a Federal Government.
The magnitude of that undertaking was brilliantly defined by Alexander Hamilton in Federalist No. 1 and I have yet to read where anyone has said it better:
“It has been frequently remarked that it seems to have been reserved to the people of this country, by their conduct and example, to decide the important question, whether societies of men are really capable or not of establishing good government from reflection and choice, or whether they are forever destined to depend for their political constitutions on accident and force.”
I submit that today we have government by choice but without serious reflection and much of our government today is accidental. Look at what we have wrought:
1 National Government
50 State Governments
3034 County Governments
16,506 Towns or Townships
13,522 School Districts
35,356 Special Districts
Each governmental unit has its own laws, rules and regulations and in many instances the service it provides is duplicated many times over across the expanse of our country. The idea that an individual state has become anything other than a useful arm of our federal government is antiquated thought and unrealistic. Consider the recent fuss over a national driver license: Some constituents were louder than others, but many cried foul. The very idea of a national driver license that could be used as a national identification card seemed preposterous and even dangerous. Why? Fifty states issue each their own driver’s license that is recognized by every other state and without question or restriction. Our Federal Government already pays for most of the construction and maintenance of our Interstate Highway System and has been largely successful at establishing national speed limits. Marriage works the same way. Until recently all marriages were universally accepted and despite efforts by some states to limit marriages between homosexuals no one state has the power to actually invalidate any marriage from another state.
The right to vote is another arena that ought to be nationalized. I can understand a limited residency requirement for state and local elections, but not for national elections. If I move from New York to California and have not lived there the requisite number of days to register why should I be deprived of voting for the presidential candidate of my choice. Education is another area. Why do we not have a universal syllabus? Having left public education in the hands of the several states brought us inequitable and segregated schools and it was not until 1918 that all states had compulsory education laws through elementary school. We have trailed most of the modern world in education for much of our existence and It was not until 1950 that 35% of America’s school children graduated high school. Local control of schools simply has not worked well enough. A quarrel over curricula has resulted in teachings that the earth is only 6000 years old, that dinosaurs lived concurrent with man and that courses of study other than sexual abstinence were proscribed for health classes.
Despite loud outcries that our educational system is failing and efforts to defund public schools in favor of charter or private schools, education remains a very low priority among states. Inequitable public school funding in Texas went to the Supreme Court in 1973 where it was ruled that public education is not a ‘fundamental interest’ under the Constitution and that inequitable public school funding in Texas was not a violation of the Equal Protection Clause. I must believe that many of our Founders if alive today would embrace universality in all aspects of public education.
What reminded me of this subject recently was Senator John Thune’s (R-South Dakota) effort to amend the defense appropriations bill to permit an individual to carry a concealed firearm across state lines if they have a valid permit under their state of residence. There is little doubt that Senator Thune’s effort involved more partisan political points than any serious attempt to address the issue. Senator Thune, like so many others, makes the same mistake of trying to impose state laws, rules and regulations universally across the United States instead of the other way around. Why not provide a federal permit for concealed carry with universal licensing requirements and rules and regulations? We saw the same thing when Southern Senators were insisting on breaking the auto unions and forcing them to accept lower pay rates based on non-union auto workers in the south. Many of the same Senators and conservatives balk at prevailing wage rates for localities and a minimum wage.
Laws, rules and regulations that apply universally to citizens of all states should be applied universally. If one is serious about reducing the size and cost of government universal applications should be considered. For a people that claim to eschew the primacy of governments, we have certainly created a hodgepodge of inefficient systems.
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