Some in Utah seem to think that it's only the extreme right wing of the political spectrum that truly understands and respects the Constitution, and that those who disagree with them are enemies of the Constitution.
It's time to confront that serious misconception.
Many years ago, when I thought I was a conservative, the propaganda from the states' righters prompted me to finally read "The Federalist Papers," written by Hamilton, Madison and Jay to explain the Constitution to American voters who were deciding whether to ratify it. I also studied the history of the Constitutional Convention, to try to understand what was on the minds of the men who created that document. Given statements from conservatives, I expected to find there strong arguments for states' rights and a weak, limited federal government.
Imagine my surprise when I discovered the exact opposite.
The reason the convention was called in the first place was because of the serious problems the nation faced under the Articles of Confederation, where the states were too strong and the federal government was too weak. This resulted in an incoherent foreign policy, serious problems with regulation of trade, and an inability to pay the debts incurred by the American Revolution. So, the states sent representatives to Philadelphia to amend the articles to attempt to fix things. Instead, after a summer of debate, the delegates to the convention proposed a new Constitution - one that created a strong national government where the powers were carefully divided between the executive, legislative and judicial branches.
The Founders had created a government which powers went way beyond what Americans of that day (whose memories of the British monarchy were still fresh) were comfortable with. They did this at great personal risk to their individual political careers. Hence the need for "the Federalist Papers," which made the case that a strong federal government was not only necessary but proper.
There was great opposition to the new Constitution, including among many of the original Founders, and its ratification was uncertain until the very end. It is the utmost sign of cluelessness that the self-appointed guardians of the Constitution in the Utah Legislature call themselves the "Patrick Henry Caucus." Patrick Henry was indeed a passionate advocate for states' rights -- and for this very reason, he vehemently opposed the new Constitution and worked hard to defeat it.
Legal scholar Garrett Epps stated things neatly: "There really are significant limits in the Constitution, of course -- but the majority of them are limits placed on the states. The Constitution's text forbids the states from conducting their own foreign policy, printing their own money, taxing goods shipped in or out of their borders, or engaging in military operations. Many things they can only do by asking Congress's permission; states can't even negotiate among themselves unless Congress consents. In fact, the federal government retains veto power over each state's constitution, which must create a 'republican form of government.'
"The idea that states have 'rights,' or that they are 'sovereign,' appears nowhere in the text of the Constitution.
"Listen carefully when their favorite amendment, the 10th, is read aloud. Conservatives like to sneak the word 'expressly' into the amendment's statement that '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.' It's not there. That's not an accident; the Articles of Confederation did have a similar provision including 'expressly.' Madison pointedly omitted the word in his proposal for what became the 10th Amendment. And note that the amendment doesn't even 'reserve' anything directly for state governments. The words 'or to the people' mean something -- they are not just another word for 'state governments.'"
Combine this with our subsequent history, especially the victory of the Union in the Civil War and the resulting Reconstruction Amendments, and one is left with a surprising conclusion: When Utah's radical states' righters chose a passionate opponent of the Constitution as their patron saint, the Patrick Henry Caucus and their ideological supporters picked a label that is unintentionally but amusingly appropriate.
When state governments serve as "laboratories of democracy" and work collaboratively with the federal government to solve problems, as the Founders intended, rather than overstepping their authority, America works.
When radical states' righters gain the upper hand and rebel against the constitutional authority of Congress, we get things like the Civil War and Jim Crow laws.
After 220 years of history, this argument has already been settled.
Olsen, of Plain City, is the chairman of the Weber County Democrats.