Understanding the Tenth Amendment

Gary Hunt
Outpost of Freedom
July 27, 2013

The Bill of Rights was ratified after the Constitution because many feared that the government created by the Constitution might overreach the limitations imposed upon it.  This is explained in the Preamble to the Bill of Rights.  Preamble means: The introductory... showing the meaning or intent.

(from http://www.archives.gov/exhibits/charters/bill_of_rights_transcript.html)


Congress of the United States
begun and held at the City of New-York, on
Wednesday the fourth of March, one thousand seven hundred and eighty nine.

   The Conventions of a number of the States, having at the time of their adopting the Constitution, expressed a desire, in order to prevent misconstruction or abuse of its powers, that further declaratory and restrictive clauses should be added: And as extending the ground of public confidence in the Government, will best ensure the beneficent ends of its institution.

   Resolved by the Senate and House of Representatives of the United States of America, in Congress assembled, two thirds of both Houses concurring, that the following Articles be proposed to the Legislatures of the several States as amendments to the Constitution of the United States, all, or any of which articles, when ratified by three fourths of the said Legislatures, to be valid to all intents and purposes, as part of the said Constitution; viz.

   Articles in addition to, and Amendment of the Constitution of the United States of America, proposed by Congress and ratified by the Legislatures of the several States, pursuant to the fifth Article of the original Constitution.

The last, of those adopted, was the Tenth Amendment:

The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people.

The first four articles in the Constitution grant power and authority, or, limit power and authority, defining also some authority and limitations upon the states.  However, since the Constitution dealt in generalities, and since there were many areas of concern that were not addressed in the Constitution, the first 8 amendments were ratified as rights protected and the last two broadly provided for a retention of rights not enumerated and an assertion of authority in the absence of such enumeration.

So, let's look at the elements of the Tenth Amendment:

"The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution", means what it says.  It identifies, in general terms, (primarily enumerated in Article I, Section 8, of the Constitution) those powers not specifically granted to the general (federal) government.

Then, "nor prohibited by it to the States", addresses those grants and limitations from Article I, Sections 9 and 10.

So, now we have identified those items that, if not so identified, "are reserved to the States respectively", though there is no provision in the Constitution that would provide for the states to assert such authority, since the 17th Amendment removed the election of Senators from the State Legislature, and made them elected directly by the people.  This removed them from any obligation to the State, as represented by its legislature, and made them simply longer termed, higher paid, representatives, thereby removing the assurance of state input in federal matters, as discussed in the Federalist Papers and the Notes of the Constitutional Convention.  That original authority (state's ability to nullify laws, constitutional, or not) ceased to exist.  This leaves only the means that were often discussed, and once applied, of nullification by secession.  In that one application of such nullification, the cost, in money and lives, provides ample discouragement for future endeavors.

This leads us to the final phrase, "or to the people".  Is there, within the Constitution, a provision which provides an individual (a people) the means to challenge an unconstitutional law -- one without constitutional authority for its enactment, at least as applied to the people?  Surprisingly, there is one provision, Article I, Section 9, clause 2, which reads: "The Privilege of the Writ of Habeas Corpus shall not be suspended, unless when in Cases of Rebellion or Invasion the public Safety may require it.

As William Rawle said (1829) of the Writ of Habeas Corpus, "it is the mode by which the judicial power speedily and effectually protects the personal liberty of every individual, and repels the injustice of unconstitutional laws or despotic governors".

To learn more about the "sacred writ", its history and Supreme Court decisions that prove the veracity of what Rawle said, go to Habeas Corpus - The Guardian of Liberty.


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