The federal government has taken over health care, and our representatives will vote on whether to take over the financial sector this week. But it was never the vision of our Founders for government to perform these tasks. We are witnessing the logical result of the idea of unlimited government, the idea that there are no limits to the scope of government’s powers or the structure of its operation. The principles of American conservatism are those of the American Founders. In order to deepen our understanding of what made America great, we must study these great statesmen and their political principles.
The principles of our Founding Fathers:
- The Founders believed in constitutionalism, which limits the powers and structure of government based on principles agreed upon in advance.
- Federalism is a cardinal principle of our government, and is central to our constitutional structure. It is enshrined in our Tenth Amendment, which explicitly states that the national government only has limited powers, and that those powers not delegated in the Constitution are reserved to the states or to the people.
- The idea of the separation of powers prevents the same people from making, executing, and applying the laws. This sharing of duties is precisely what modern bureaucracies do make laws, investigate and enforce them, and judge violations of them.
The American Founders recognized that federalism is essential to maintaining individual liberty in the United States. The Constitution therefore grants the federal government only certain limited powers which were specifically enumerated in the document, and thus requires the different sovereigns (state and federal) to compete for the affection of the people. It also allows the people to seek support from one level of government if the other begins to act in a tyrannical way. Those safeguards to liberty in constitutional federalism cease to exist if one sovereign becomes the vassal of the other.
Yet, over the past 100 years and accelerating in the last several decades, the federal government has steadily wrested power from the states and the people in a variety of areas, often preventing states from protecting the individual constitutional rights of their citizens. In today’s politics our Constitution is not only ignored it is openly disparaged and condemned as an outdated and irrelevant document. If we want to defend our Constitution, we have to know why it is worth defending.
Thomas Jefferson called The Federalist Papers the best commentary on the principles of government, which ever was written. Today, when fidelity to the Constitution seems to be at an all-time low, we need to educate ourselves on the principles of our government. Heritage is here to help, with books, papers, blog posts and podcasts about America’s First Principles. Join Heritage between now and July 4th and you will receive a free copy of How to Read the Federalist Papers, Heritage’s own “Cliff’s Notes” version of our Founding documents. Join Heritage today!