Federalization in the 18th and 19th Centuries
The “American Colonist” of the 18th century was an independent sort with widely diverging views. Landowners and business owners chafed under British Rule suffering requirements of import only from England, taxation and quartering of British troops in colonial homes. The “common man” cared only that he could work, eat and support his family. Many of these simply moved west when they became unhappy with conditions in the “civilized” east.
But, a few men, mostly well educated and of substantial means, took another approach. They appealed repeatedly to the Crown for redress. It was the Crown’s unwillingness to listen to these appeals which led to the drawing together of the Colonies with first Continental Congress meetings and then more clandestine gatherings leading to the Declaration of Independence, the Revolutionary War and the Articles of Confederation. The first President of The United States was, incidentally, John Hanson of Maryland. Hanson was unanimously elected by Congress on March 1, 1781 upon the signing of the Articles of Confederation by Maryland, the last of the 13 States to do so. The Articles were weak and led to the adoption of the U. S. Constitution on September 17, 1787 by the Constitutional Convention and subsequently ratified by each of the States in the name of “The People.” The Constitution of the United States is the oldest constitution still in use anywhere in the world today.
In these early days of our country, great attention was given to and demand for the rights of the Sovereign States of the United States. The several States and their representatives felt strongly that a series of rights must be contained in the Constitution. Thus, we have the “Bill of Rights,” the first ten amendments to the Constitution.
These facts deserve mention in this treatise because they demonstrate clearly the belief of our founders in the rights of the Sovereign States. And, in the limitation of the power vested in any central or federal government. This was the reason for the “balance of power” created with the three separate branches of our government: Executive, Legislative and Judicial, each with the power to balance the others.
During the early decades of the 19th century, the northern States and southern States began to draw apart. Slavery was the issue most visible and it was given great import in both the north and south because of its’ moral implications. But, economic issues were probably of more direct import. Both, however, led to the War Between the States, today known in the north as the Civil War and in the south as The War of Northern Aggression.
The War was clearly a struggle to determine whether a State is, in fact, sovereign with the right to leave the Union or a State is a part of the whole and subject to the dictates of the Union. This fight rages to this day. And, it has never been under stronger debate than now.
The War established for the remaining years of the 19th century that the Federal Government was the seat of power and that States are subject to the laws of the Federal Government. It did not, however, settle this argument fully, nor did it do so in any complete manner.
It is important to note here that the American of these decades remained an independent sort, many of whom simply moved on when authority seemed unacceptable. The central government spent a great deal of its‘ time and treasure administering new lands as they came under American rule by one method or another and in fighting Indian nations in defense of settlers and in defense of expansion of Federal rule.
At the turn of the 20th century the subject of States Rights vs the Federal Government occupied little of the public’s attention. These were prosperous times and land was still available for those who wished to be far from cities.