Thursday, February 9, 2012
The Founding Fathers & the Centralization of Power
Prior to the creation of the Constitution, the United States was governed by the Articles of Confederation (circa 1781). Political leaders of the time, however, saw many flaws in these Articles that led to political, economic, and social instability. As James Madison stated, the “preservation of the union” was being “threatened” by the inadequacies of the Articles. The States had the power to tax imports and exports, making the national government’s role of negotiating treaties with foreign governments ineffective. With a host of other problems—such as the national government being subservient to the States, no independent executive, no national judiciary, laws governing commerce differing from state to state, and so on—proponents of change believed that it was the weakness of the national government that was seen as the cause of these inadequacies.
With these pressing issues at hand and critical change needed, a convention was held (at the request of Alexander Hamilton) from 25 May 1787 to 17 September 1787, to examine the problems of the nation and ideas for revising the Articles. What came of this, however, to the objections of some, was the replacement of the Articles of Confederation and not a revision. The replacement is known as the United States Constitution. During this famous convention the framers of the Constitution had several important issues to consider—none bigger than the concept of the centralization of power. The dilemma was that the framers wanted the national government to be a limited government, yet they wanted a stronger, more centralized, and supreme national government than what they had at the time. These somewhat polarizing philosophies caused quite a debate.
With the debates finally over and the new Constitution adopted, the framers had managed to strengthen the national government while still protecting the sovereignty of the States. Articles I, II, and III of the U.S. Constitution set forth the powers of the executive, legislative, and judicial branches of the federal government, with the Tenth Amendment stating that the “powers not delegated to the three branches under Articles I through III are reserved for the States.” The Constitution was guided by three main concepts that prevented both the centralization of power and the death of State sovereignty: federalism, separation of powers, and checks and balances. These three concepts allowed for the division of governmental power between the federal and state governments, the separation of governmental authority, and the prevention of one branch from possessing absolute authority over any particular function.
There are three important clauses in the Constitution that that framers instituted that enhance the power of the federal government, and represent exceptions to the concept of limited government: the commerce clause, the necessary and proper clause, and the supremacy clause. Whether the framers foresaw or not; these clauses have given the federal government great wide-reaching powers; thus, making the federal government a very strong central government.
Article I, section 8, clause 18 (necessary and proper clause) empowers Congress to take whatever actions necessary to fully enforce their granted power. This clause played a major part in McCulloch v. Maryland (1819), wherein the Supreme Court upheld the power of the federal government to create a national bank. Article I, section 8, clause 3 (commerce clause) gives Congress the power to regulate foreign and interstate commerce. In 1937 it was used by the Supreme Court to uphold the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA), which states that business may have an economic impact on the nation, regardless of whether or not it is intrastate in nature; therefore, it is federal jurisdiction. Finally, the supremacy clause in Article VI of the Constitution states that the federal government is the “supreme law of the land,” and judges in every State shall be “bound by” federal law.