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Relationship Between State and Federal Governments

Sunday, December 04, 2005

Have you ever wondered about the relationship between State and Federal governments? Where the division of powers lay? Where you fit in the grand scheme of things? When our Constitution was written, I wasn't there. So, I'll have to defer to someone who was present: 
"With respect to our State and federal governments, I do not think their relations are correctly understood by foreigners. They generally suppose the former subordinate to the latter. But this is not the case. They are co-ordinate departments of one simple and integral whole. To the State governments are reserved all legislative and administration, in affairs which concern their own citizens only, and to the federal government is given whatever concerns foreigners, or the citizens of the other States; these functions alone being made federal. The one is domestic, the other the foreign branch of the same government; neither having control over the other, but within its own department."
~Thomas Jefferson to John Cartwright, 1824. ME 16:47
"The several States composing the United States of America are not united on the principle of unlimited submission to their General Government; but... by a compact under the style and title of a Constitution for the United States, and of amendments thereto, they constituted a General Government for special purposes,-- delegated to that government certain definite powers, reserving, each State to itself, the residuary mass of right to their own self-government."
~Thomas Jefferson: Draft Kentucky Resolutions, 1798. ME 17:379
"It is a fatal heresy to suppose that either our State governments are superior to the Federal or the Federal to the States. The people, to whom all authority belongs, have divided the powers of government into two distinct departments, the leading characters of which are foreign and domestic; and they have appointed for each a distinct set of functionaries. These they have made coordinate, checking and balancing each other like the three cardinal departments in the individual States; each equally supreme as to the powers delegated to itself, and neither authorized ultimately to decide what belongs to itself or to its coparcener in government. As independent, in fact, as different nations."
~Thomas Jefferson to Spencer Roane, 1821. ME 15:328
"Comparing the two governments together, it is observable that in all those cases where the independent or reserved rights of the States are in question, the two executives, if they are to act together, must be exactly co-ordinate; they are, in these cases, each the supreme head of an independent government. In other cases, to wit, those transferred by the Constitution to the General Government, the general executive is certainly preordinate; e. g. in a question respecting the militia, and others easily to be recollected."
~Thomas Jefferson to James Monroe, 1801. ME 10:267
"I do not think it for the interest of the General Government itself, and still less of the Union at large, that the State governments should be so little respected as they have been. However, I dare say that in time all these as well as their central government, like the planets revolving round their common sun, acting and acted upon according to their respective weights and distances, will produce that beautiful equilibrium on which our Constitution is founded, and which I believe it will exhibit to the world in a degree of perfection, unexampled but in the planetary system itself. The enlightened statesman, therefore, will endeavor to preserve the weight and influence of every part, as too much given any member of it would destroy the general equilibrium."
~Thomas Jefferson to Peregrine Fitzhugh, 1798. ME 10:3
If I were to summarize Thomas Jefferson's remarks, I would have to say that he intends for us to understand that the federal government has power and authority over all matters foreign to, and external of, the individual states, while each state government's power and authority lies with all affairs within that state. Today, however, the delineation of powers gets blurred because federal grants are offered to the states, but with strings attached giving the federal government authority within states that otherwise would not exist. It is really kind of odd that the states would accept conditional grants from the federal government when you realize that the federal government has no money of its own. Generally speaking, the federal government generates most, if not all its revenue from the states or from individuals and corporations through taxation.


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