Is the Constitution of the United States, as some believe, a contract between the people and the federal government? You may be surprised at the answer.
In 1776, thirteen individual colonies declared their independence as “Independent Nation States.” In 1783, the Treaty of Paris, signed by the thirteen, plus Great Britain and other European nations, concluded the American War of Independence. These thirteen new, sovereign nation states declared to the world’s other nation states (England, France, Germany, etc.) that each reserved to itself and to its people all of the powers afforded all other nation states, including to, “ levy War, conclude Peace, contract Alliances and establish Commerce.”
These “new states” of New York, Georgia, Rhode Island, etc., knew that the powerful nations of Europe already had a strong presence in the New World and that they would aggressively move to create individual alliances with and seek to divide these new nations for their own purposes. Our founders wanted no part of the long history of fractious wars that had been the curse of European history.
Our founders’ solution was to create a “binding contract” among the thirteen New World nations, signed only by the thirteen states in 1787. This is legally called a “compact” and the thirteen nation states were the exclusive parties to this compact/contract. Think about this! The federal government was not a party to the Constitution. It was a product of the Constitution!
The federal government is not the master. It is the servant of the states that signed the contract. When you form a legal entity with another person or business to create a new entity, can the new entity operate outside of the boundaries set by the originating parties? Not under the rule of law. The states are not subservient to their creation, but are in fact the original and primary authority.
So, what were the terms of this legal contract called the Constitution? Most importantly, it declared that all rights reside in the people. The Preamble says, “WE THE PEOPLE … to form a more perfect union …” The junior party to the contract was the federal government. It was restricted by the overriding authority of the states to a very well defined and limited role. These are the Articles of the Constitution. These articles very specifically delegated (not granted) eighteen primary powers solely to Congress under Article 1 Section 8.
You may ask, do your rights come from government, whether state or federal? Absolutely not. They belong to you as an individual and come from your creator or nature as you prefer. The states are the primary power and have the responsibility of constraining the federal government.
Left for another day: Are powers and rights the same thing? And why is the balance of power created in the legal compact, the U.S. Constitution, so important?
“That the several states who formed [the Constitution], being sovereign and independent, have the unquestionable right to judge its infraction.” Thomas Jefferson