“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.”
Analysis: Where the 9th Amendment protects the people against attempts of the federal government to invoke powers not specifically enumerated the 10th Amendment restrains federal power over states as well as citizens. It reemphasizes the fact our federal government only had certain civil liberties granted while protecting the political liberty, or sovereignty, of the states.
The founders were aware it was possible for the three branches of the federal government to one day coordinate efforts to subjugate states. In order to protect states and their citizens from this possible federal alliance the 10th Amendment was crafted.
The language used in the 10th Amendment was an effort to clearly quantify the fact our federal government was not to interfere with states or people beyond its enumerated powers authorized by the states. Patrick Henry, Samuel Adams, Thomas Jefferson and others were concerned the federal government would attempt to usurp power over both the states and their citizens. To counter this concern verbiage in the amendment was provided to clearly serve to remind us the federal government’s powers are limited to a specific set of activities; anything beyond this set of activities was to always be handled by the state government, or locally, by the people themselves.
Many of the founders realized they were fighting against a British system that felt it could best govern all levels of activity, even the activity of colonists an ocean away. It was imperative written assurance was provided which allowed people to self-govern at the lowest level possible being closer to local legislatures than they would ever be to their federal or general government.
By including the 10th Amendment those concerned with federal tyranny were calmed in their concern since anything the federal government attempted to legislate beyond the Constitutional limits of Congress’ authority would be classified usurpation of state sovereignty and Constitutionally illegal.
Two key factors in the weakening of state powers occurred in 1913 with the passing of the 16th & 17th Amendments. The 16th allowed the federal government to take tax dollars directly from the people while the 17th removed states representation in the senate. This effectively turned our bicameral congress into a unicameral while maintaining a façade of the structure developed by our Constitution. It also secured a path toward the nationalist democracy we see more clearly today.
As W. Cleon Skousen points out in The Making of America, “The encroachment of the national government from Washington in the local affairs of the people is rapidly becoming well-nigh universal. The federal government is involved in schools, roads, housing, welfare, hospitals, banks, transportation, communications, air, water, land, natural resources, and so on.”
Thoughts from Thomas Jefferson: "The way to have good and safe government is not to trust it all to one, but to divide it among the many, distributing to everyone exactly the function he is competent to. Let the National Government be entrusted with the defense of the nation and its foreign and federal relations; the State governments with the civil rights, laws, police, and administration of what concerns the State generally; the counties with the local concerns of the counties, and each ward direct the interests within itself. It is by dividing and subdividing these republics from the great national one down through all its subordinations, until it ends in the administration of every man's farm by himself; by placing under everyone what his own eye may superintend, that all will be done for the best." Thomas Jefferson to Joseph C. Cabell, 1816
Explaining the 9th and 10th Amendment visually to family and friends:
Our modern history has lost the meaning of these two critical amendments. Supreme Court rulings, the 14th, 16th and 17th Amendments, combined with modern beliefs have altered our understanding. To help you in talking with family and friends about the importance of these two foundational protections you may want to use the analogy of the umbrella in a rainstorm.
Many of our founders felt the federal government could grow to rein power over individual (or sovereign) states and citizens. Like being caught in a rainstorm without an umbrella this usurpation would soak the very fabric of liberty. By including the 9th and 10th Amendments within our Bill of Rights it was believed they would shield states and people from this rein keeping the fabric of liberty dry and unsoiled. Consider the 9th as the handle and the 10th as the fabric of the umbrella. Reviving these two amendments are keystones in restoring our Constitutional path.
(What can you do? Read James Madison’s Federalist No. 45. Consider how his words serve as an exhaustive explanation in support of the 10th Amendment. Discuss your views and findings with family and friends. Support 10th Amendment movements across the United States and in Utah.)
Gary Wood is the Educational Advisor for the Utah Tenth Amendment Center. Co-founder of the Heritage Training Center, focused on helping end constitutional illiteracy. With 35 years of devoted study of our Constitution his desire is to help others rediscover the inspiring heritage of the United States. Radio show host, training officer, lifetime member of the VFW and most importantly Grandpa.
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