The Bell Foundry

Rediscovering and recovering lost and endangered American liberties by studying our Founders' ideas, contemporaries, and etymology – because our united States "…are, and of Right ought to be Free and Independent States…"

The Importance of Decentralization

Organic Decentralization from the Beginning

Localized, independent governance is embedded deeply in American history.  The beginnings of our government structures were forged in tiny, remote colonies – from the Jamestown settlers struggling to survive, to the Pilgrims at Plymouth Colony hundreds of miles away.  To ensure the rule of law in civilized societies, governors were appointed to oversee small communities – disconnected from, and independent of, the other colonies.  One hundred seventy years later, thirteen colonies joined together as newly sovereign states in a compact (agreement) for their mutual protection, while still reserving to themselves the sovereignty that is inherent to independent nations.  Twelve years later, a stronger union was proposed, carefully debated, ratified and acceded to by each state respectively – creating a central government that was delegated only certain powers (such as the power to tax, borrow money, coin money, admit new states into the Union, and create roads to and from post offices), with the state governments still keeping all sovereign powers except those explicitly granted to the general government.  This federated union was created for the general protection of the States and their people from outside threats.  The carefully crafted U. S. Constitution was intended to limit and restrict the general (federal) government’s authority over the affairs of the states.  Even the Bill of Rights was meant to explicitly ensure that only the federal government wouldn’t trample on the natural rights of citizens, but was not meant to restrict the state governments.  After all, if the U.S. Bill of Rights was intended to apply also to state governments, then why did the states bother to write their own constitutions, of which most included a bill or declaration of rights similar to that of the central government’s?

Centralization of Powers

The advent of the Civil War was a primary impetus in beginning a forceful change to the foundational, original understanding of the federal nature of the Union.  A view that the States are mere subdivisions of a homogeneous, omnipotent central government began to be slowly but surely propagated.  The twentieth century implementation of the Sixteenth and Seventeenth Amendments, along with multiple erroneous Supreme Court rulings and doctrines, strengthened this belief that the central government possessed more authority than was intended.

Because of this inexorable, progressive amplification of our central government, it’s no wonder that Americans today are confused about things like the purpose of the Electoral College or the perception that ‘Congress can’t get anything done’ because of Congressional gridlock.  However, many such things that seem to be hindrances are actually provisions or engineering purposely put in place by the Founders. The Electoral College was implemented as an attempt to ensure proper representation by each State in presidential elections, and faction deadlock in Congress can be a good thing – it provides a check on harmful, controversial, and just plain unnecessary legislation from being passed.1

Why Decentralized Power is Better

There are many reasons why decentralized, localized power in government is safer, more effective, and less expensive:

  • A decentralized distribution of power (among sovereign states) can safeguard liberties by minimizing the chance that a very few corrupt individuals would gain dangerous amounts of power over a large group of people.  Even if the government of one state became oppressive, it would not affect other states much, if at all – to say nothing of the entire country.  Conversely, a lone, all-powerful central government could wreak tyrannical havoc on the entire country if corruption occurred.
  • Localized government bodies that have their finger on the pulse of the community can legislate ‘closer to home,’ – the legislative body would be made up of local citizenry.  This practice makes for more effective legislation by avoiding unnecessary or ‘one-size-fits-all’ laws.
  • When local communities are endowed with the authority to self-govern, bureaucratic waste is minimized and reduces costs to the taxpayers.
  • When state and local governments have the freedom of self-determination necessary to set their own unique economic rules (for example, some states have no income tax), business competition is encouraged between polities, and the general economy tends not to stagnate.

Dictators Hate Decentralization

Decentralized, sovereign state authority is a natural enemy of tyrants. In his Mein Kampf, Adolf Hitler insisted that National Socialists could entertain no tolerance for any state’s individual sovereignty within the nation of Germany:

hitlerSince for us the state as such is only a form, but the essential is its content, the nation, the people, it is clear that everything else must be subordinated to its sovereign interests. In particular we cannot grant to any individual state within the nation and the state representing it state sovereignty and sovereignty in point of political power.2

State sovereignty is dangerous to dictatorships and tyrants – for the obvious reason that shared, decentralized powers cannot be easily usurped by a lone tyrant or a rebellious faction, making absolute control very difficult.

Going Forward

The ratification of the U.S. Constitution created a stronger central government, but the defined and limited powers that the States allowed it to possess were never intended to be expanded without constitutional amendment.  One notable exception may be the Thirteenth and Fourteenth Amendments, which arguably expanded the Federal Government’s interference in the affairs of the States – but only in order to prevent the States from infringing on the very most basic rights of State citizens: the natural rights to one’s own life, liberty, and property.3  

The continuation of federal expansion of powers will not stop on its own – presidents, judges, and congressmen have all largely contributed to the growth, not the limitation, of federal powers.  The last hope for returning to decentralized power remains with the states themselves – they have the ability to ignore and refuse to enforce unconstitutional and extra-constitutional laws.

Note: The Fourteenth Amendment has been misconstrued many times to protect special rights instead of the basic, natural, equal rights it was intended to.


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