Separation of Federal and State Governments

Most experts believe that there is a separation between federal and state governments and that it should remain that way.  Others believe that the federal government should dictate most issues and reign supreme.  What does the constitution say on this matter?  Most constitutional experts take two popular stances concerning the separation of federal and state governments.  One stance stems from the 10th Amendment, where it says that any powers not written in the constitution rest with the states and the people.  Meaning that the federal government only has the power to uphold that which is specifically written in the constitution and make sure that all the states are upholding the bill of rights.  The other stance stems from the supremacy clause, where the federal government has power to reign supreme.  Meaning that the federal government should take on most issues and force the states to comply.  Are these issues decided by politicians who practiced law before becoming representatives, or is the decision left up to lust for power, greed, and pride?

In 1838, when the Mormons were being forcibly driven from their private property in Missouri.  The leader Joseph Smith visited with then President of the United States, Van Buren.   Joseph Smith sought Federal protection from what he saw as violation of the Bill of Rights.   The acts of the Missouri citizens and the state Government were most in violation of these rights.  Constitutionally, the Mormons had every right to receive some sort of help from the Federal Government.  However, Van Buren chose inaction, because of self-interest.  Van Buren said, “Your cause is just, but I cannot help you, if I help you, I will lose the vote of the state of Missouri.”

In the years before the Civil War.  Pride and unfortunate blindness caused the southern states to continue the practice of slavery.   On this issue, the citizens lacked the virtue to take care of the problem on the state level.  One can ask.  If left alone could the south have rid its self of slavery?  Solomon Northup author of “12 Years a Slave” provides a clue.  He wrote this about his first owner and master, William Ford.  “There never was a more kind, noble candid Christian man than William Ford-The influences and associations that had always surrounded him, blinded him to the inherent wrong at the bottom of the system of slavery-Were all men such as he Slavery would be deprived of more than half its bitterness.”2  Perhaps eventually Christianity might have changed the hearts of the many and gave freedom to those who had none?  Of course, this quote doesn’t consider all the other horrific issues of slavery, especially the horrific issue its self.

The slave states knew that if the Free states got the majority in congress, slavery would be abolished.  These fears and attitudes lead to compromises that worsened the problem of slavery.  Possibly, because of the lack of consensus among Congress, the slave states in some way grew stronger.  The Free states, left the slave states so far separated from ending slavery that the slave states had already achieved near independence from the Federal authority on the issue of slavery.  For example, the Mason-Dixon Line.

Today’s challenge on the division of powers is a different story.  Dallin H. Oaks sums the story up quite well.  “The current imbalance between the national and the state governments is just as much a product of state inaction as it is of national overreaching.”3  Today it seems that state governments are nothing more than subsidiary branches of the Federal government.  Most states must act accordingly to receive “Federal Aid.”  The states are in debt to the Federal Government and the Federal Government in debt to China.  The lack of virtue and inaction of states citizens and inaction by state governments have greatly expanded the power of the Federal Government.  While some states are trying to get back power or offer more action.  At this point, these states are in debt to the Federal Government and cannot expand or create its own laws because they would be in violation of Federal laws.

In a perfect Federal world, perhaps the Federal government would be small, State and local governments would take care of most social, fiscal, educational issues.  But, lack of public virtue, pride and so on, stands in its way.  The pendulum is always swinging between anarchy and tyranny.  Why would the U.S. be exempt?

Works Cited

  1. Michael De Groote. Joseph Smith as a Stateman.  Deseret News.  August 8, 2008.  Received from
  2. Solomon Northup, scanned by Chistopher Gwyn. Documenting the American South.  University of North Carolina.    Received from
  3. Dallin H. Oaks. Rights and Responsibility.  American Heritage Devotional.  Brigham Young University.  2012






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