Paul Bonnifield: Greatness of the US

Having read Rob Douglas’ political rant “Mary Jane and the GOP” (Nov. 9 Steamboat Today), I think it is time to take a variable look at the constitution of the United States.

Douglas wrote, “the bedrock American principle of federalism, as set forth in the 10th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, must be defended even when the underlying cause may not be in keeping with their personal morality.”

The 10th Amendment states: “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.”

What powers are delegated to and not prohibited by the Constitution for Congress?

Article 1, Section 8: “The Congress shall have power to lay and collect taxes, duties, imposts and excises, to pay the debts and provide for the common defense and the general welfare of the United States.” The Constitution reserves to Congress and requires Congress to provide for the common defense and the general welfare on the nation. After common defense and general welfare are covered, there is not much left for the states.

Why did voters approve a constitution that gave so much power to the federal government? Under the Articles of Confederation, the nation was falling apart. States were close to war with one another. There was the Bacon Rebellion. Congress could not assemble a quorum and the last president did not bother to go to the capital city. It was clear the nation needed a strong central government.

Following meetings at Mount Vernon and Annapolis, delegates met in Philadelphia. On May 30, 1778, Edmund Randolph, of Virginia, proposed, “That a national government ought to be established, consisting of a supreme legislative, executive, and judiciary.” He also realized that the Articles of Confederation could not provide for the “common defense, security of liberty, and general welfare.” The Virginia Plan that he introduced a day earlier also called for a strong federal government.

Following the same theme, the preamble to the Constitution: “We the people of the United States, in order to form a more perfect union, establish justice, insure domestic tranquility, provide for the common defense and promote the general welfare, and secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity, do ordain and establish the Constitution of the United States of America.”

The hard fact is that the framers of the Constitution knew from experience that states’ rights did not work and they wanted a powerful federal government.

How well has the Constitution worked? Against the arguments of states’ rights and property rights, the federal government fought the Civil War to preserve the union and free the slaves. Against the cries of states’ rights, property rights and big government, the federal government in the 1960s passed the Civil Rights Act that ended segregation and opened the doors of opportunity for millions of Americans — both male and female. Women should take a little time and list the things they might take for granted today that were impossible for them to do 50 years ago. States did not give them that freedom, nor did private business. Today there is more individual freedom and more individual opportunity than at any previous time in our national history.

The United States is the freest nation on Earth. It offers more opportunities for its citizens than any other nation. The greatness is the result of a federal government that provides for the common defense and the general welfare. I’m proud of what my country has accomplished. I see an even greater future.

Paul Bonnifield


Community comments

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(John St Pierre) fishcreek says...


Posted 13 November 2012, 8:55 p.m. Suggest removal

(mark hartless) markhartless says...

"...against the cries of states rights, property rights and big government in the 1960's the federal government passed the Civil Rights Act that ended segregation..."

Yep, and you neglect to add that it was southern DEMOCRATS who opposed it vociferously. LOOK IT UP.

If the founders intended for the commerce clause to run roughshod over all other portions of the Constitution I doubt they would have bothered with the 10th ammendment at all.

Paul, you believe America is great because of a federal government.
We agree partially.
I too believe America is great.
However I believe individual liberty made America great.

If a strong central government made America great then America would have been getting greater every day for some time now; freer, less in debt, living standards rising, etc.
This is NOT the case.
For the amount of $$$$ we spend we should be light years ahead of where we are.
The millstone around our peoples neck IS the federal government.

Other nations have had similar central federal governments, but with less freedom, and they did not excel.
Unlike you, I believe America is great, not BECAUSE of the federal government, but IN SPITE OF it.

Posted 13 November 2012, 9:50 p.m. Suggest removal

(Rob Douglas) RobDouglas says...

"It has been urged and echoed, that the power "to lay and collect taxes, duties, imposts, and excises, to pay the debts, and provide for the common defense and general welfare of the United States," amounts to an unlimited commission to exercise every power which may be alleged to be necessary for the common defense or general welfare. No stronger proof could be given of the distress under which these writers labor for objections, than their stooping to such a misconstruction.

"Had no other enumeration or definition of the powers of the Congress been found in the Constitution, than the general expressions just cited, the authors of the objection might have had some color for it; though it would have been difficult to find a reason for so awkward a form of describing an authority to legislate in all possible cases. A power to destroy the freedom of the press, the trial by jury, or even to regulate the course of descents, or the forms of conveyances, must be very singularly expressed by the terms "to raise money for the general welfare."

"But what color can the objection have, when a specification of the objects alluded to by these general terms immediately follows, and is not even separated by a longer pause than a semicolon? If the different parts of the same instrument ought to be so expounded, as to give meaning to every part which will bear it, shall one part of the same sentence be excluded altogether from a share in the meaning; and shall the more doubtful and indefinite terms be retained in their full extent, and the clear and precise expressions be denied any signification whatsoever? For what purpose could the enumeration of particular powers be inserted, if these and all others were meant to be included in the preceding general power? Nothing is more natural nor common than first to use a general phrase, and then to explain and qualify it by a recital of particulars. But the idea of an enumeration of particulars which neither explain nor qualify the general meaning, and can have no other effect than to confound and mislead, is an absurdity, which, as we are reduced to the dilemma of charging either on the authors of the objection or on the authors of the Constitution, we must take the liberty of supposing, had not its origin with the latter."
-Publius, 1788

Posted 14 November 2012, 8:50 a.m. Suggest removal

(Rob Douglas) RobDouglas says...


"The objection here is the more extraordinary, as it appears that the language used by the convention is a copy from the articles of Confederation. The objects of the Union among the States, as described in article third, are "their common defense, security of their liberties, and mutual and general welfare." The terms of article eighth are still more identical: "All charges of war and all other expenses that shall be incurred for the common defense or general welfare, and allowed by the United States in Congress, shall be defrayed out of a common treasury," etc. A similar language again occurs in article ninth. Construe either of these articles by the rules which would justify the construction put on the new Constitution, and they vest in the existing Congress a power to legislate in all cases whatsoever. But what would have been thought of that assembly, if, attaching themselves to these general expressions, and disregarding the specifications which ascertain and limit their import, they had exercised an unlimited power of providing for the common defense and general welfare? I appeal to the objectors themselves, whether they would in that case have employed the same reasoning in justification of Congress as they now make use of against the convention. How difficult it is for error to escape its own condemnation!"

-Publius, 1788

Posted 14 November 2012, 8:57 a.m. Suggest removal

(Scott Wedel) Scott_Wedel says...

It was southern Democrats AND sourtern Republicans that opposed civil rights. Democrats were stronger in the South largely because Lincoln was a Republican and white southerners were not supporting the party of Lincoln. The Civil Rights Act caused many southern Democrats become Republicans.

Paul's letter does overstate the legal importance of the "general welfare" clause.

Rob Douglas's quote from the Federalist Papers ignores is that laws and the effect of laws change over time as facts of the current society change.

The commerce clause was originally mostly a limit on the federal government. In a agrarian society where transport was slow then most of the states economies were within the state and so left plenty of power for the states.

State governments were not originally weak. The State of New York, not the feds paid to build the Eerie Canal which was the biggest project in the US at that time. Even during the Civil War, most of soldiers were organized via state militias

The equal protection clause of the 14th Amendment was a major increase in power in the federal government since the feds could now interfere with states not providing equal protection of the law. That was an intentional huge increase to the federal power because there had just been a Civil War by states that had allowed slaves.

And the commerce clause later became how the federal government could justify anti-trust, set worker safety standards and so on. Since with improved transportation just about anything made anywhere is likely to be sold in another state then federal government had great powers to regulate businesses. Supreme Court ruled in 1941 that a farmer that grew grain for his own livestock still affected the interstate grain market because he was not buying grain for his livestock and so had to follow federal soil preservation rules. The major justification is that grain markets were not local, but there was a national market.

The 10th Amendment since it does not specifically state what rights are being preserved for the states is legally pretty weak.

Irony is that Colorado mj could be the case that sets limits on federal power. That Colorado mmj laws are an open invitation to a federal case on whether there can be any commerce within a state that does not trigger the commerce clause.

Posted 14 November 2012, 12:33 p.m. Suggest removal

(mark hartless) markhartless says...

Robert Byrd, may he rest in peace, a Democrat, was the Grand Dragon of the KKK, Scott.
A democrat, Scott, who was the Grand Dragon of the freakin KKK, Scott...
That does not mean he was open minded, it means those who voted for him were BLIND.

And if bigger government meant a better USA we would be in the freakin Garden of Eden by now, Scott.

It's as if leftists can't help but try "one more time".
Mao, Stalin, Hitler, Mussolini, they all got it wrong.
But if we just had better people following our leaders we could employ the same basic philosophies and, this time, magically get it right.


Tell it to somebody else.

Posted 14 November 2012, 10:19 p.m. Suggest removal

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