Constitutional Limits on Government: Why They Should be Retained

The framers of the Constitution were concerned with limiting the scope and power of government—particularly the federal government.  This is why only specific duties and responsibilities were assigned to the federal government with all other governmental duties and responsibilities retained by the various states.  However, the ink had barely dried on the Constitution before presidents and members of Congress began to covertly and, in some cases, overtly stretch the wording of the document beyond anything the framers could ever have imagined.  As a result, the federal government of today does not even resemble the one established by the framers in the Constitution.

Over the years, those who subscribe to the Constitution as a living document have used their political hegemony over those who subscribe to originalism to slowly but steadily dismantle the limits on government prescribed in the Constitution. In so doing, they have grown the federal government all out of proportion to what was originally envisioned by the framers while, at the same time, weakening state governments.  This, in turn, has moved government and those who govern farther and farther away from the people they govern; which is why the federal government is now so often accused of being out of touch with everyday Americans.  For this reason, it is more important than ever for those who believe America should be guided by the original intent of the framers and the original meaning of the words used in the Constitution to insist that the trend toward reinterpreting the document to comport with the ever-changing social, cultural, and political trends of contemporary society be reversed.

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In an article for The Heritage Foundation, Matthew Spalding tells the story of Levi Preston, a young man who fought in the Battle of Concord at the outset of America’s War for Independence.  When asked what motivated him to put his life on the line fighting against the biggest, best trained, best equipped Army in the world, Preston replied: “…what we meant in going after those Redcoats was simple.  You see, we had always governed ourselves, we always intended to govern ourselves, and they didn’t mean that we should.” What is significant about Preston’s words and his perspective is that self-government requires close proximity between the governed and those who govern.  Hence, the more power vested in the federal government the less power vested in the people; people who are supposed to be self-governed.

 When government becomes as unlimited, distant, and intrusive as it has in the America of today—an America patriots like Levi Preston would not even recognize—we can no longer claim to be a self-governed people.  The American government is no longer a government of the people, by the people, and for the people.  It has become government for the sake of controlling every aspect of life in America, and this is precisely what the framers were guarding against when they drafted the Constitution.

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