Today we have a guest column from my friend Jamie Davis of the Jacksonville, FL, chapter of the Tenth Amendment Center. Take it away, Jamie…
Much has been said about the attack on the family and Judeo-Christian values in America. Social conservatives are understandably vexed over the abandonment of social mores and core values that have served America well for hundreds of years. In an effort to resist the moral and social decline some have shifted their attention to influencing federal legislators to pass or strengthen laws to stop the moral decay. Others seek to focus voter’s attention on which federal legislators are most likely to vote to protect family values. Citizens have been conditioned to look to the federal government to solve the hot issues of our day like formalizing the definition of marriage on a national level, fighting the war on drugs, and ensuring that the internet and various media are safe for viewing and listening for our nation’s children.
While America of the 1700’s likely didn’t deal with the issues we face and could not have foreseen them, they faced significant risk of moral decay from the issues of their time. Gambling and prostitution were vices that were prevalent even then and their presence threatened to undermine the moral fabric of a young and fragile society.
“Gambling quickly became a problem in Virginia. Captain John Smith complained about men “devoted only to idleness.” Gambling can be highly addictive and often correlates with illegal activity, broken families, unemployment, homelessness, and results in annual legal and social costs which are significant. In light of the presence of gambling and the strong Judeo-Christian ethic of our founders, some may find it surprising that gambling is not referenced in the constitution or early federal laws. But there were laws about gambling in early America, state laws.
Prostitution, the oldest profession which often in reality resembles cold blooded sexual slavery, is often associated with child kidnapping, broken marriages and venereal diseases all of which have significant societal costs. So how did the founders handle this dangerous and immoral practice? The constitution was and is completely silent on the issue.
Prostitution was not an offense in either English or American common law, and, prior to World War I, although being a prostitute was not an offense, prostitution was generally regulated as a specific sort of vagrancy. When prostitutes were punished as sexual deviants, it was under laws against adultery or fornication or for being ‘common nightwalkers’–women who strolled the streets at night for immoral purposes. It was not until 1917 in Massachusetts, however, that a prostitute could be punished for prostitution.”
Why did the founders not constrain the people’s wicked tendencies by federal law?
Could not the federal government have used the general welfare clause or the commerce clause to regulate prostitution or gambling? The founders well understood the dangers of man’s tendency to be corrupted by power so they were opposed to giving central government too much authority.
Aware of the tendency of power to degenerate into abuse, the worthies of our country have secured its independence by the establishment of a Constitution and form of government for our nation, calculated to prevent as well as to correct abuse.” — Thomas Jefferson to Washington Tammany Society, 1809.
The founders framed a Federal government with authority to govern regarding specifically enumerated powers. They also placed checks on those powers by reserving all other powers to the states and the people so the Federal Government would not grow into a tyranny that intruded into all manner of its citizen’s private lives.
I consider the foundation of the Constitution as laid on this ground: That “all powers not delegated to the United States, by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States or to the people.” [10th Amendment] To take a single step beyond the boundaries thus specifically drawn around the powers of Congress is to take possession of a boundless field of power, no longer susceptible of any definition.” — Thomas Jefferson: National Bank Opinion, 1791.
Do social conservatives really want the Federal Government to possess boundless power?
A federal government powerful enough to outlaw or endorse gay marriage is also powerful enough to outlaw home-schooling and preaching against homosexuality. Our founders believed that the wicked tendencies of the few in power are more to be feared than the wicked tendencies of the people. This is why they worked so hard to establish enumerated powers, the bill of rights, and checks and balances. If the Federal Government is allowed to assume unconstitutional powers and is allowed to define its own scope, what is to stop it from one day declaring Sharia Law? When Social Conservatives advocate for federal laws beyond the enumerated powers they inadvertently seek to enlarge the scope of the Federal Government’s power.
State and Local Law is still a very effective way to preserve the moral fabric of society.
The people, via City, County, and State governments are empowered by the constitution on every matter not delegated to the Federal Government. This creates tremendous opportunities for experimentation and free choice. Would you like to live in an area where alcohol is not sold? No problem; 1 out of every 9 counties in the United States is dry as of 2010. These communities typically have lower teenage drinking rates and lower domestic violence rates, demonstrating that the moral fabric of societies can still be affected locally by legislation.
The United States is a wonderfully diverse region of states with varied cultures, values, and goals. When the Federal Government is constrained to stick to its enumerated powers, one can vote with their feet as to what type of state, county, city one wants to live in. Out of control Federal Government is supposed to be checked by the states and the people.
The U.S. Federal Government is out of control, recently over-ruling the sovereign state of California on a ruling about gay marriage. The fact it was a social conservative “victory” that was over-ruled is not the issue we should be concerned about. We should be concerned that the Federal Government is acting beyond its constitutional limits. On a Federal level, social conservatives should cling to, respect, and vote the tenth amendment. We should not be bamboozled by candidates for federal office that promise to fulfill our wish list.
Consider Charlie Crist or John Thrasher from Florida where each, when it served their interest in the polls, simply changed their respective positions on the issue of abortion to galvanize certain voters behind them. Voters who put them into power, it is fair to say, have been bamboozled.
How much better would it be to have more officials in office like Arizona governor Jan Brewer who will stand up to Washington and reject unconstitutional over-reach. Having been reminded of their tenth amendment rights, 22 states are working on Arizona style legislation and over 20 States are currently working to opt their citizens out of Obama-care mandates.
Now more than ever, we need officials in Washington and in our state capitals who will keep their oath to uphold and defend the constitution. Social Conservatives likewise have taken an oath (on their voter registration cards) to uphold and defend the constitution. This means that we should care more about having candidates who will uphold the constitution than having candidates who will advance our agenda.
Don’t work against your own interest in the voting booth. Get informed about your candidates by visiting www.tenthamendmentcenter.com.
In questions of power, then, let no more be heard of confidence in man, but bind him down from mischief by the chains of the Constitution.” — Thomas Jefferson