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What Doomed Federalism in the United States June 21, 2009

Posted by federalist in Federalism.

Paul Starobin’s intriguing essay, “Divided We Stand,” covered the history of federalism and the prospects for “devolution,” or secession and geopolitical right-sizing of the United States.  Several letters follow up on the subject in this weekend’s WSJ.

The Civil War was probably the single most critical event in the destruction of states’ rights.  However Bob Jamieson suggests that the Sixteenth and Seventeenth Amendments to the Constitution really doomed federalism:

The Founding Fathers were no fools. They understood that those who are inclined to power are also tenacious defenders of that power once they have achieved it. That is why they insisted that the Senate be elected by the state legislatures rather than by popular vote. This was one of the checks and balances in the Constitution and it served us well for more than a century. By making the Senate answerable directly to the state legislatures, they were counting on human nature to prevent federal encroachment on the powers of the states. Before 1913, when the [17]th Amendment ushered in the popular election of Senators, the states had a powerful political presence in Washington. Today they have virtually none.

A second check on the power of Washington was eliminated when the [16]th Amendment was ratified, also in 1913. This egregious amendment authorized the federal government to subject the American people to a direct income tax, providing Congress with what it seems to regard as a bottomless purse to finance its ever more expensive Utopian fantasies.

If we are finally getting serious about devolving power from Washington back to the states, we must seriously consider the repeal of these two amendments.



1. Nick S. - October 15, 2009

The 16th Amendment allowed the Congress to collect taxes, not the 17th.

2. federalist - October 16, 2009

Good catch — Jamieson’s letter switched the content of the 16th and 17th amendments. I corrected the quote above.

3. What Doomed Federalism in the United States « American Government and Economics - September 10, 2010

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