There is nothing which I dread so much as a division of the republic into two great parties, each arranged under its leader, and concerting measures in opposition to each other.
“RESOLVED, That this commonwealth considers the federal union, upon the terms and for the purposes specified in the late compact, as conducive to the liberty and happiness of the several states: That it does now unequivocally declare its attachment to the Union, and to that compact, agreeable to its obvious and real intention, and will be among the last to seek its dissolution: That if those who administer the general government be permitted to transgress the limits fixed by that compact, by a total disregard to the special delegations of power therein contained, annihilation of the state governments, and the erection upon their ruins, of a general consolidated government, will be the inevitable consequence: That the principle and construction contended for by sundry of the state legislatures, that the general government isthe exclusive judge of the extent of the powers delegated to it, stop nothing short of despotism; since the discretion of those who adminster the government, and not the constitution, would be the measure of their powers: That the several states who formed that instrument, being sovereign and independent, have the unquestionable right to judge of its infraction; and that a nullification, by those sovereignties, of all unauthorized acts done under colour of that instrument, is the rightful remedy” – Excerpt from the Virginia Resolutions, Passed Dec 3rd, 1799
From even a quick perusal of documents like this, it is very clear that the founders wanted a republic, made up of Associated States, with a limited federal government, that had most of it’s powers restricted and limited. For example, after laying down the structure of the government and the specific powers that attached to it, the first ten Amendments dealt with the limiting of federal power and jurisdiction.
While it can be argued that most of the amendments are limits on the government’s power, the ninth and tenth are the most telling.
“The enumeration in the Constitution, of certain rights, shall not be construed to deny or disparage others retained by the people.”
“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.”
Both amendments are very clearly meant to limit the government’s power to what is specifically enumerated in the Constitution, and emphasize that the rights of the people are paramount, when there is a dispute.
But there are other reasons to have a limited government. The more power a government wields, the more it tends to use that power to suppress and control it’s own people. History is rife with examples of nations that granted unlimited powers to their leaders, and paid the price for it.
How do we limit the power of government?