The Centralization of the USA Governmentby Rit Nosotro
Change Over Time essay
Explain the movement away from Jeffersonian Republican ideals to the strong US Federalist government.
In spite of the intentions of the founding fathers that created the US Constitution, the US government has become increasingly centralized due to efforts to control national sectionalism and promote toleration under the banner of secular humanism.
Although the Founding Fathers tried to create limitations on centralized government, they did not effectively end the sectionalism that led to the US Civil War. Slavery was abolished at the price of replacing the sovereign state governments with a central power. Since then the US government has become increasingly centralized over time due to the US Civil War, the Spanish-American War, WWI, socialism in response to the Great Depression, WWII, and the recent "War on Terror" after 9/11. The pivotal events that this essay explores are the political ideas before and after the US Civil War, and the collectivist reforms of the early 1900s that brought about increasing centralized power.
The influences of radical ideas such as socialism and Darwinism have aided the erosion of many of the principles that formed the US Government. Sectionalism followed by the Civil War disrupted the state and federal relationship. Many of the changes to the U.S. government made resulted in the central nationalization of powers.
A strong factor that aided nationalization was sectionalism. George Washington in his Farewell address warned of the dangers of factions and political parties. He said, "I have already intimated to you the danger of in the State, with particular references to the founding of them on geographical discriminations." These types of political parties, those based on "geographical discriminations" are what caused the Civil War. The consequence of such sections, are further expanded upon in his speech,
"The alternate domination of one faction over another, sharpened by the spirit of revenge natural to party dissention, which in different ages and countries has perpetrated the most horrid enormities, is itself a frightful despotism. But this leads at length to a more formal and permanent despotism. The disorders and miseries, which result, gradually incline the minds of men to seek security and repose in the absolute power of an Individual: and sooner or later the chief of some prevailing faction more able or more fortunate than his competitors turns this disposition to the purposes of his own elevation, on the ruins of Public Liberty." (Primary Source Documents, 72)Although the U.S. government has political parties today, they are not based on geographical or highly opposed ideals, and therefore are not as dangerous as those leading to the Civil War. The moral and societal changes brought by the Civil War enormously impacted the American Government. First, before the changes of the U.S. Federal Government can be shown, the elements of the original government need to be put forth.
Decentralized, Limited Government
The U.S. Federal Government is unique in that its true aim and greatest accomplishment, according to Felix Morley, was to allow both freedom and order under government (Morley, 4). In order to accomplish this goal, the government must be limited in order to guarantee the rights of the people. Thus are established numerous checks and balances, opposed governmental powers, and others.
In the central government the Founding Fathers used a mixed government to create limitations. This government follows the formula hypothesized by the Ancient Greeks. That is a mixture of the three basic forms of government: monarchy, rule by one; aristocracy, rule by few; and democracy, rule by many. Any single form by itself could easily become oppressive-even with paper checks like our Constitution. The Founding Fathers therefore made use of the mixed government system, and created a situation in which each basic form would balance each other in the government. Thus the government has monarchial government in the executive, aristocratic government in the legislature, and democracy in the people's ability to elect officials.
Also very important in limiting the central power is the system of localized government combined with a national government. This allows the states to interpose with Federal ordinances if they deemed them unconstitutional. Under the Articles of Confederation the states had been bound very flimsily in a union until the Constitution was established. Because of factions and insurrections the Founding Fathers saw the need for a more perfect union that would strongly bind the states under a strong central power. Alexander Hamilton in Federalist paper No. 9 said, "A firm union will be of the utmost moment to the peace and liberty of the states, as a barrier against domestic faction and insurrection." And so they established a more national government with the Constitution.
In Federalist paper 39 James Madison explains how the Constitution combines both Federal and National characteristics. He distinguishes Federal government as operating powers through the local governments or states composing the union and National as the central government exercising its power directly over the people. To this extent Madison gives numerous examples of national and federal aspects of the government under the Constitution. The origin of powers, for instance, is national for the House of Representatives because its members are popularly elected and federal for the Senate because its members are elected by the state legislature. Also a very important distinction is that the government is national because it operates its power over all U.S. citizens, but it is Federal because it has limited enumerated powers ascribed to it by the Constitution. Except for the limited powers granted to the central government, Madison says the states are sovereign over all other matters. Thus the central government established by the United States combines both Federal and National in addition to the republican form to check the government.
Partisan conflicts ended between the Federalist and Republican with the election of Thomas Jefferson as the third president; he began a series of presidents called the Jeffersonian Republicans who had generally held the same view how the government should be under the Constitution. They set the standard by viewing the Constitution as higher law with which all policies must agree. Also the Jeffersonian Republicans emphasized minimal taxation, because they actually claimed at first that a direct tax was unconstitutional. The republicans were wary of a large government that supported itself on tax money. As well as minimal taxes the Jeffersonian Republicans believed in free trade. In the international arena Jeffersonian Republicans tried best to avoid interaction with European powers. President Monroe set forth a foreign policy that tried to avoid all European affairs. The government as implemented by the Jeffersonian Republicans was kept simple. Taxes were low, the militia was the only land defense, the Navy was relatively small, interaction and entangling alliances with European countries were avoided and the balance of Federal and National characteristics in the Constitution was maintained.
The election of Jackson in 1828 came with the creation of Democratic Party. Similar to the Jeffersonian Republicans the democrats of Jackson's time emphasized more equality among people. The new Democratic Party to an extent nationalized the government. The national political party had a different affect than the Republican Party because in the process of bringing out equality among the people, it also added a more democratic view of the government. Jackson was the first president elected with the popular vote. All the presidents before Jackson had gotten the majority of the electoral vote, but not the popular vote. Because Jackson had gotten a majority of both the popular vote and the electoral vote, it meant that although the system of election had not changed, the thinking was different. The democratic method of election was more national than the Electoral College, thus because the Electoral College voted the same, it marked a move toward a more national government.
A new turn in American history came in the 1820's with the rise of Sectionalism that caused disunion. One of the greatest causes of sectionalism was slavery. When northern abolitionists denounced slavery as a sin it caused division and indignation from Southern pride. The accusation of sinfulness on the people who called themselves Christians deeply separated the North and South. Political movements against slavery created awkward politics. During the westward expansion, whenever one state was received into the union as a slave state, it had to be balanced by another new free state. The North continually wanted to fight against slavery and Southern resistance caused violent sessions in Congress.
During that time most government was local and the people's loyalty was to their state. Until 1789 new states had always tended to spin off of larger ones. Americans still loathed governments that might resemble the English Empire; large government based far away. And so Americans in their fierce independence preferred the state governments to rule over them rather than the central government. The people's devotion to the state in the South allowed them to desire secession.
Civil War increases Nationalization
The South seceded when the Republican Party elected Lincoln as president in 1860. The Democratic Party had become based in the South and the Republican Party based in the North and the control of Northern abolitionists in the government signaled the secession of the South. Abolitionists who gained control over the central government were determined to stop slavery. Rather than give up slavery, the Southern states decided to secede from the Union to preserve their state's rights, and it did so almost immediately after Lincoln's election.
The secession of the Southern states sparked a debate over the constitutionality of secession. Were the states allowed to quit the union? There was no Constitutional provision for the secession of states, but it was fairly obvious that the states that created the union could dissolve it at will (Morley, 74). The wave of democracy, however, brought forth the idea that the States did not have the power to secede from the Union because it was we the people who created the union, not the state governments. This put the Federal and national characteristics at an opposition. On the one hand, we the people had always been represented by the state governments. But the influence of democracy dictated that the decisions of we the people had to be direct. Thus the idea of a federal representation of the people had been changed to a national democratic representation of the people. Those who argued that it was unconstitutional for the states to secede revealed that the will of the people could not be seen federally but nationally in a democratic representation.
Civil War nationalized the government not only in its view of the will of the people but also by the enactment of several amendments to the Constitution as a direct consequence of the Civil War. The 13th , 14th, and 15th amendments abolished slavery and secured the rights of blacks. To do this, however, each of these amendments, and later the 19th amendment, contains a short clause that grants Congress the power to enforce the article with legislation. This was not originally one of the powers enumerated to the U.S. and shows that the central government has been given national power to guarantee the rights of U.S. citizens. Originally citizen's rights were supposed to be guaranteed by the states, so that if one state erred in the rights it grants, the rights of the rest of the people would remain intact. But the enactment of these amendments gave the central government the national power to guarantee rights instead of the local guarantee. By denying the states the right to secede, rejecting a federal representation of the people, and establishing legislation to enforce rights, the central government had become more nationalized due to the Civil War. It can almost be said to an extent that the sin of slavery was abolished at the price of replacing the sovereign state governments with a central power. In the process of freeing slaves and securing citizen's rights the central government had usurped the powers of the state governments.
Obviously today, although the Republican form and system of the government remains intact ever since its installation, the power of the central government has drastically increased. It is fairly obvious that powers not enumerated by the Constitution like, public education, federal welfare, and other things are not instituted solely by the state governments but by the central government. This shows that the limitation on power Madison spoke of in the Federalist papers has decreased, thus removing the federal status of the extent of powers and making the central government more national.
After the Civil War established the major nationalization of the Federal government, new intellectual ideologies prepared the way for more radical changes. Darwinism deeply influenced all circles of thought: social, economic, and political. Its greatest impact was to create the naturalistic outlook and bring moral relativism into the scheme. The influence of moral relativism had a drastic effect on government, as well as all other parts of American life. George Washington warned of the consequences of moral decline in his farewell address:
"Of all the dispositions and habits which lead to political prosperity, Religion and morality are indispensable supports. In vain would that man claim the tribute of Patriotism, who should labour to subvert these great Pillars of human happiness, these firmest props of the duties of Men and citizens. The mere politician, equally with the pious man ought to respect and to cherish them. A volume could not trace all their connections with private and public felicity. Let it simply be asked where is the security for property, for reputation, for life, if the sense of religious obligation desert the oaths, which are the instruments of investigation in Courts of Justice?" (Primary Source Documents, 72)
An example of how radical ideas nationalized America is seen in Theodore Roosevelt's collectivist reforms. Roosevelt called his plan in 1912 the "New Nationalism." Roosevelt said the idea behind the New Nationalism was to regard the executive power as the national steward of the public welfare and uphold national needs over sectional ones. President Wilson followed this plan and instituted his own program called the New Freedom. Such collectivist reforms nationalize government power to accomplish their goals.
Numerous other implementations of socialism can be seen in government policy, although they are not stated explicitly. And evolutionary socialist group called the Fabian Society put forth a ten point goal to be implemented in countries:
1.Abolition or property in land and application of all rents of land to public purposes.Many of these have already been implemented in America nationalizing the government to achieve socialist policies. The Sixteenth Amendment, for instance, authorized the Federal government to implement a national progressive income tax instead of the direct taxation through state government as dictated in Article 1, Section 2 of the Constitution. Another example of the strong influence over American government is the ACLU (American Civil Liberties Union), which was founded by strong Fabian leaders.
2. A heavy progressive or graduated income tax.
3. Abolition of all right of inheritance.
4. Confiscation of the property of all emigrants and rebels.
5. Centralization of credit in the hands of the State, by means of a national bank with State capital and an exclusive monopoly.
6. Centralization of the means of communication and transport in the hands of the state.
7. Extension of the number of State factories and instruments of production: The bringing into cultivation of waste lands, and the improvement of the soil generally in accordance with a common plan.
8. Equal obligation of all to work. Establishment of industrial armies, especially for agriculture.
9. Combination of agriculture with manufacturing industries; gradual abolition of the distinction between town and country, by a more equable distribution of the population over the country.
10. Free education for all children in public schools. Abolition of children's factory labor in its present form. Combination of education with industrial production, etc." (Carson, The Growth of America, 67)
Countless other examples of nationalization caused by changes in history can be seen by comparing the government policy of the Jeffersonian Republicans to that of today's politics. Citizens clamored for war against Spain (1898) in the colonial fervor of seeing Africa carved up by European imperialist. The resulting acquisitions led the USA onto the world stage with Teddy Roosevelt's "Big Stick" policy. The Monroe doctrine (1823), for example, has been completely dropped. The Great Depression aroused the New Deal which cooked up an alphabet soup of centrally controlled government agencies. The World Wars made it necessary for the U.S. to unite under a more nationalized government in order to fight Germany, Italy, and Japan. Even the Cold War warrior Ronald Reagan was compelled to use national resources to fight communism although he frequently spoke against the dangers of "big government". Recently terrorism has made it necessary for the national government to go on the offense in order to defend itself. None of these things could have been done with the old state militia of Jefferson's time. Today we couldn't imagine defending ourselves without a professional standing army that many of the Founding Fathers had feared as the bane of liberty.
The Nationalization of the government can be seen in several stages. Until the Civil War, no major nationalization of the Federal Government occurred. Prompted by sectionalism, nationalization then occurred during the Civil War by denying the states certain rights, like that of secession. Through a series of Constitutional Amendments the government further nationalized by usurping the original duties of states, and adding national powers. Ideologies such as Socialism helped to nationalize the government by making the Federal government a national steward of the people and eroding the principles that supported federal over national government.
George Washington said religion and morality are indispensable supports for political prosperity. One event that could not be explained in history without a belief in God was the creation of the earth. When Darwin published The Origin of Species it appeared to people that a belief in God was no longer supportable. Darwinism caused a moral vacuum in political thought because it destroyed many of the principles upheld by a belief in God. To fill this void, communism and socialism took over in many countries and these destructive radical ideologies also left their mark on the increasingly secular American government.
Carson, Clarence. The Beginning of the Republic. Phenix city, AL: American Textbook Committee 2001\par
Carson, Clarence. The Growth of America. Phenix city, AL: American Textbook Committee 2001
Carson, Clarence. The Sections and the Civil War. Phenix city, AL: American Textbook Committee 2001
Morse, Chuck. The Fabian Philosophy of the American Civil Liberties Union.", (Feb, 2004)
Morley, Felix. Freedom and Federalism. Indianapolis: Liberty Fund. 1981
The American Republic Primary Sources. Ed. Bruce Frohnen. Indianapolis, Indiana: Liberty Fund, Inc,. 2002
Wood, Dennis. Discipling the Nations the Government upon His shoulder.
Franklin, Tennessee: Legacy Communication. 1996
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