Sovereign power of the States

The necessity of a concurrent jurisdiction in certain cases results from the division of the sovereign power; and the rule that all authorities of which the States are not explicitly divested in favour of the Union remain with them in full vigor. Publius

These words written by Alexander Hamilton to the people of the State of New York in January, 1788 are in The Federalist No. 32. Hamilton hoped to convince New Yorkers skeptical of overreaching power of a central government that the Constitution would usurp State sovereignty only in specified and limited ways.

And he explained “the articles of the proposed constitution” were not only theoretical but “clearly admitted by the whole tenor of the instrument” found in “The tenth section of the first article.” Article I, section 10 described several prohibitions to the States with some exceptions, but it didn’t explicitly guarantee any rights.

Hamilton and the drafters of the Constitution in 1787 believed it was implicit that the central government had only limited powers, but during the ratification process in the States some refused to ratify unless the new document pledged a bill of rights.

Thomas Jefferson, in Paris at the time, expressed “deep regret” to James Madison: “A Bill of Rights is what the people are entitled to against any government,” he wrote. So, in June 1789 Madison drafted articles promising individual rights to States and their citizens. After alterations and edits they were passed by the new Congress in September. Finally, in December 1791, the States ratified the articles that became the first ten amendments to the U. S. Constitution.

Article X of the Bill of Rights:

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.


About R. E. Smith Jr.

Mr. Smith writes essays and commentary on politics, American history, environment, higher education and culture. He's been published in print media and at blog sites for about 25 years. Smith's formal education includes B.S. and M.S. degrees from the State University of New York and Syracuse University. He has earned a 21-credit hour Certificate in Professional Writing from the University of North Carolina-Wilmington. Training/work experience: NYS Ranger School; U. S. Army, Corp of Engineers; soil scientist and forester with USDA; Assoc. Professor at SUNY; real estate agent; small business owner.
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