State Sovereignty Basics

In our American political system today, we act like the United States is one indivisible nation controlled centrally from Washington, D.C., and that the several states are its subsidiaries. Americanism holds that the states are sovereign, and that the federal government has only limited powers delegated to it by the U. S. Constitution. The states retain their sovereignty in all areas in which that authority was not delegated to the federal government. This powerful truth may hold the key to reigning in our out of control federal government. No doubt that is why this information has been largely suppressed in the mainstream media.    

The purpose of this post is to provide the historical background and evidence to support the claim that the states are sovereign. In future posts, we will build upon this and describe how individual states can – and should – exercise this power to rein in the federal government and restore our country.

State Sovereignty is Not Absolute

Before we jump in, though, it is important to clarify something. Central to the Americanist philosophy is that the People alone are sovereign. However, the People do not directly exercise their sovereignty in all areas. Rather, they instituted the state governments to exercise certain powers on their behalf.  Thus, each state has sovereign power over certain specific areas based on the constitution of that state.

This is not absolute sovereignty, because, as the Declaration of Independence makes clear, “whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends [securing the unalienable rights of the People], it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it…”

So the states are sovereign, but only within certain limited spheres, and only with the consent of the People.

Historical Evidence

First, it is important to note that the states preceded the federal government. The Declaration of Independence expresses the following;

That these United Colonies are, and of Right ought to be Free and Independent States; that they are Absolved from all Allegiance to the British Crown, and that all political connection between them and the State of Great Britain, is and ought to be totally dissolved… [Emphasis Mine].

Note in the quote above that the “State of Great Britain” is used in the same sentence that refers to the American political units as states.  Furthermore, the Declaration of Independence goes on to list some of the sovereign powers of states:

…as Free and Independent States, they have full Power to levy War, conclude Peace, contract Alliances, establish Commerce, and to do all other Acts and Things which Independent States may of right do.

It is clear from the above that the states passing this declaration conceived of themselves as states in the same sense as Great Britain, France, or Spain were States. The international community also recognized the independence and sovereignty of the American states in time. Even Great Britain acknowledged their sovereignty at the end of the War for Independence, individually and by name, rather than recognizing one “United States of America”:

His Brittanic Majesty acknowledges the said United States, viz., New Hampshire, Massachusetts Bay, Rhode Island and Providence Plantations, Connecticut, New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Delaware, Maryland, Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina and Georgia, to be free sovereign and Independent States; that he treats with them as such, and for himself his Heirs & Successors, relinquishes all claims to the Government, Propriety, and Territorial Rights of the same and every Part thereof. [Emphasis Mine]

We can trace State Sovereignty further, to the Articles of Confederation that the several states of America agreed to in 1781. Under this political arrangement, the states transferred some of their sovereign authority (which they exercised on behalf of and with the consent of the People of their respective states), to the Confederate government. However, Article II of the Articles of Confederation declares,

Each state retains its sovereignty, freedom, and independence, and every power, jurisdiction, and right, which is not by this Confederation expressly delegated to the United States, in Congress assembled.

Well, there it is in black and white; under the Articles of Confederation, the states retained their sovereignty. (As a side-note, this provides further evidence that the states were sovereign prior to the adoption of the Articles of Confederation; you can’t “retain” what you never had to begin with!)

When the Constitution was ratified in 1788 and the United States of America as we know it today was formed, the states again retained their sovereignty. This is apparent based on how the Constitution was ratified – not by one convention of “the People of the United States,” but by individual ratification conventions in each state. The words of our founders during the state ratification conventions, and other writings at the time, provide further evidence. Below are some examples:

The powers delegated by the proposed Constitution to the federal government, are few and defined. Those which are to remain in the State governments are numerous and indefinite.  [James Madison in Federalist 45 on January 26, 1788]

…the laws of Congress are restricted to a certain sphere, and when they depart from this sphere, they are no longer supreme or binding. [Alexander Hamilton at New York’s ratification convention on Saturday, June 28, 1788]

Resolved, That the several States… 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; and that whensoever the general government assumes undelegated powers, its acts are unauthoritative, void, and of no force  [Thomas Jefferson in the Kentucky Resolution of 1798]

The above quotes are far from an exhaustive list, but they demonstrate that the Constitution was sold to the states as a compact by which the States (with the consent of the People) delegated certain specific powers to the federal government, retaining their sovereignty in all other areas. The tenth amendment to the Constitution makes this explicit:

The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to theStates, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people.

Conclusion

Hopefully this brief summary of the historical evidence supporting State Sovereignty was helpful. State Sovereignty is central to the Americanist philosophy, and just may hold the key to reigning in the federal government through a process called nullification. Nullification will be described in-depth in a future post.

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