Consider for a moment some issues in the news recently:
"Government officials are considering restrictions to online gambling to assist those who are battling betting addictions. It seems the possibility of 24-hour gambling requiring only a credit card, a computer and a modem is a harrowing prospect." (July 28, 1997)
"Government advisors rejected a revolutionary approach to treating heart angina - a laser that promised to relieve chronic patients' crippling pain by zapping up to 40 tiny holes into the heart itself." (July 29, 1997)
"Unlike print journalism (newspapers), which has no barriers to entry beyond the minimum capital requirements, the broadcast spectrum (radio and television) is finite, and belongs to the citizens. The demand for frequencies far exceeds the supply. Hence the need for a Federal Communications Commission. The FCC, in 1949, promulgated the Fairness Doctrine which required broadcasters to allow balancing viewpoints." (July 27, 1997)
"From a research boat on the cobalt-blue waters of Lake Tahoe on Saturday, President Clinton watched scientists test the quality of that water and then pledged to double over the next two years the government investment in measures to halt the degradation of North America's largest alpine lake." (July 27, 1997)
"The Environmental Protection Agency has for the first time ever proposed public health standards for tiny particles which get imbedded in your lungs and cause very real problems. President Clinton endorses the greater restrictions even though very controversial because his first concern is the nation's children." (July 13, 1997)
"A government pilot program could speed the construction of freeways in urban areas. The federal government will loan money to complete projects faster than if built only with local taxes." (July 27, 1997)
These are just of few of dozens of issues which are discussed each day and appear in national news media. One notices that nearly every time the word government is used, it refers to the federal or national government. Furthermore, there is hardly ever a mention of whether the topic is a matter for federal jurisdiction or not. The discussion usually concerns the level of involvement - how much regulation should we allow the government or how much the government should spend on this project or give to these people. The whole concept of limited powers being assigned to government (the 19th Principle of Liberty from The Five Thousand Year Leap) has been lost in the minds of most modern Americans.
One question I like to ask students of the Constitution is: "What things should the federal government be doing?" Invariably, someone will mention the building of highways. It seems so acceptable to the modern American that the federal government should be involved in the building of highways, particularly interstate highways, because they extend between states. However, even this was not allowed by the Constitution in early America.
The Father of the Constitution Vetoes Federal Road Building
An interesting account in American history tells the story of when President James Madison rejected the idea of the federal government's involvement in road building:
"Toward the end of Madison's administration, John C. Calhoun of South Carolina proposed to Congress a long-range program of internal improvements at public expense. He proposed to set aside for internal improvements the bonus of $1,500,000 that the Second Bank of the United States had paid the government for its charter, In addition, he suggested adding to this sum the annual dividends the federal government received for its stock in the national bank. Calhoun's plan was called the Bonus Bill. The plan passed Congress, but it was vetoed by the President on his last day in office. President Madison was in favor of roads and canals being constructed in the West, but he believed the Constitution did not give the federal government the power to undertake such projects. Consequently, internal improvements were left to the states and private individuals. Therefore, no comprehensive, long-range road-building program was to be undertaken until the twentieth century." (United States History, A Beka Book Publications, Pensacola, Florida, 1982, p. 183, emphasis added)
The Railroad Story Also Confirms the Founders'
Wisdom of Keeping Federal Government Out
Probably no other example in the American economy can show the wisdom of the Founders' formula than the disastrous history of the government's involvement in the railroads. For years prior to the Civil War the demand had been building for a transcontinental railroad linking the east to the Pacific coast. Finally, in 1862, rather than let the demand build to the point where private enterprise could profitably carry the burden, Congress provided land grants and loans to the two major railroad companies as incentives to build the line. Even though the railroad was completed in 1869 at Promontory Point, Utah, with much celebration, there is another side to the story:
"In spite of all of these advantages of the land-grant railroads, certain problems were created by the fact that these lines were not built totally with private capital and on the basis of individual initiative. Racing to take advantage of government subsidies, the builders of the land-grant lines were often guilty of extravagance, waste, and outright corruption. Eager to lay as much track as possible, as fast as possible, in order to qualify for more land and loans, the builders often encouraged careless and shoddy work. After initial construction, many repairs, including the rebuilding of entire bridges, were often necessary before a line could be put into regular use. In the laying of the Central Pacific through the mountains, builders insisted on doing work in winter that could probably have been done in summer. Since government funds were available, builders tended to be careless in the way money was spent. (Ibid., p. 325)
A Railroad Success Story
A story not too often told in American History classes today is the amazing success of a man who built a railroad empire without any government land-grants or loans.
"The fifth transcontinental railroad, the Great Northern, which was completed in 1893 and linked the Great Lakes to Seattle, was built too late to take advantage of federal subsidies. The Canadian-American promoter of the Great Northern, James J. Hill, used private funds and was forced to plan carefully and build economically. In addition to being a generous philanthropist with a keen sense of public duty, Hill was a shrewd businessman, who realized the prosperity of his railroad depended upon the prosperity of the area which it served. Therefore, he used great ingenuity in developing the land as his railroad progressed toward the Pacific coast. He organized excursion trains, allowing prospective settlers to see for themselves the potential offered them by the land of the Northwest. He paid agricultural experts to travel by his trains, giving free demonstrations of scientific farming methods. He loaned money to farmers and even imported purebred bulls from England, distributing them free to farmers. To help create a market for the products of settlers in the Northwest, Hill arranged for steamship service between the Orient and the terminal of his railroad on the Pacific coast. He supported churches and schools and undertook other projects to promote the prosperity of the "Hill country." James Hill's efforts not only did much to develop the Northwest but also brought him much wealth and the title "Empire Builder". It is significant that when the great depression of the 1890's hit the country, Hill's Great Northern, built by private enterprise and individual initiative, was the only transcontinental line to weather the storm without going into bankruptcy." (Ibid., p. 326 )
Under the Constitution, States Are Independent As to Everything Within Themselves
Thomas Jefferson emphasized that if the oncoming generations perpetuated the Constitutional pattern, the federal government would be small and cohesive and would serve as an inexpensive operation because of the limited problems which would be assigned to it. He wrote:
"The true theory of our Constitution is surely the wisest and best, that the states are independent as to everything within themselves, and united as to everything respecting foreign nations. Let the general government be reduced to foreign concerns only, and let our affairs be disentangled from those of all other nations, except as to commerce, which the merchants will manage the better, the more they are left free to manage for themselves, and our general government may be reduced to a very simple organization, and a very inexpensive one; a few plain duties to be performed by a few servants." (as cited in The Five Thousand Year Leap, pp. 239-240)
It becomes clear then that the Constitutional formula of the Founders requires the federal government to stay out of matters within a state. Most serious students of the Constitution will agree with this conclusion. However, when the subject is interstate matters, most students of the Constitution succumb to the thought that since it is interstate, it must be federal jurisdiction. In thinking this, they completely miss another critical provision of the Founders' Constitutional formula which still keeps the federal government relatively small and inexpensive.
The Constitution Provides a Way for States to Develop Interstate Projects and Programs Without Huge Federal Government Bureaucracies
Article I, Section 10, Clause 3 of the Constitution states:
"No state shall, without the consent of Congress, ...enter into any agreement or compact with another state..."
This provision anticipated and tried to prevent the tragic circumstances which led to the American Civil War. A combination of secessions and confederations in violation of this provision cost the American people nearly a million lives. But there is a much more positive feature to this provision. It is this: When states need the cooperation of each other to accomplish a task which may be interstate in nature, all they have to do is have the approval of Congress. This, of course, is wisdom so that some states can not gang up to the disadvantage of other states.
Take, for example, the issue of the Colorado River water. Basically, the watershed of the river is in Colorado and Utah. What would be the result if these two states would decide to "keep" all their water? If it could be done it would be to the detriment of the three states of Arizona, Nevada, and California, which benefit greatly from the water from this river. Wisely, the Founders wanted such agreements to be approved by Congress because the other states are represented there and would have a voice in any matter which would impact them. Note, however, that this does not require of even allow the federal government to establish an agency and man it with hundreds of employees to regulate the water of the Colorado River. Congress merely gives its approval and the states set up whatever monitoring mechanism is necessary. This is pure genius on the part of the Founders. It is a provision which is nearly completely destroyed in today's overpowering federal bureaucracy.
As mentioned previously, nearly every student in a government class would say that surely the federal government should be involved in building interstate highways. The Founders would ask, "Why?" If states want to build super highways from one border to the next, they would, of course, want to make sure the neighboring states had the same idea and that their super highways would meet at the border. The agreement they would reach would need the approval of Congress and the states could proceed with their road building. Again, there is no need to have a huge Department of Transportation on the federal level to administer the building of the highways. Each state would want to build their highways a little better and a little faster than the next so as to attract more people to their state. There would develop among the states a sort of competition for the best highways in the nation, with the best scenery and the best rest stops along the way.
Can you see how this same provision could be applied to others areas which may have an interstate affect? Think of doing away with the Environmental Protection Agency. If environmental problems are crossing state boundaries, then let the states propose a solution, get Congress to approve it, and let the states administer it. How about the Food and Drug Administration? If it is felt necessary to put protective regulations on the production of food and drugs, then let the states develop a plan and let it be approved by Congress and administered by the states. One could see that by restoring this one provision of the Constitution, the federal monstrosity could be reduce to the size the Founders anticipated and most of the governing over the lives of people would be at the state level. America would truly blossom as a rose again if states were left free to compete for the best level of government. Such condition would attract the best minds and talent and the most moral people from all over the earth.
Personally, I rejoice in understanding the wisdom of the men and women who founded this country. I never tire of reading their words or of teaching their concepts. It seems I never teach a class or give a seminar where another insight or application of the Founders' wisdom does not come to mind. It is truly an inspired document worthy of our constant study and thought.
Thank you for you financial support to NCCS to help us spread the good word of liberty throughout all the land.
Earl Taylor, Jr.