The 10th amendment to the Constitution states that any power not delegated to the Federal Government by the constitution, or any power not prohibited to the states by the Constitution, be reserved to the states, or to the people. That’s slightly paraphrased, but it is a simply one sentence that has been debated ad-nauseum since the creation of The United States of America.
If I recall my American History classes from some 50 years ago, the United States of America were originally made up of thirteen unique states, each of them with separate peoples, separate laws in many cases, religious or not in some cases, but having a common goal in wanting to be independent of King George of England.
In common cause, these 13 states became United and fought a revolution against England, and won independence, and as a result, became the original United States of America, under a single constitution, and because of the fears of a King or a single powerful rule, the Federal government was supposed to be rather small and somewhat un-involved in the daily lives of the citizens.
The Federal Government was originally supposed to simply govern the common causes of the 13 original states. Things like interstate commerce, foreign trade, a common defense, but for most practical purposes, be largely invisible to your average working stiff of the time.
For many of us, until retirement age, the only real appearance of the Federal Government in action is when we pay our federal taxes. It’s likely that most of our young people don’t realize that until 1862, there was no such thing as a federal income tax.
Abraham Lincoln devised one in 1862 to pay for the Civil War, with anyone earning $600 to $10,000 paying 3%, and those who earned more than $10,001 paying 5%. In 1872, this tax was repealed and did not reappear until 1894, and of course has only become much more onerous. It’s hard to imagine that in 1862, $600 a year was actually a respectable income, and if you were making over $10,000 a year, you were indeed very wealthy.
Social Security didn’t exist until August of 1935 when FDR signed the law into existence. Before 1935, old people usually just worked until they died, lived with their children or other relatives, and if incapacitated, had only family or the church to depend on for daily sustanance. The only other similar program was the Civil War pension plan for survivors of the war and their widows. It wasn’t much, sometimes just a few dollars a month, but again, people could live on mere pennies a day back then, something very difficult to imagine in todays world.
When we fought for our freedom from England, we were 13 separate states, and the rights of the states were important. In those days, to travel from Boston to a town in far western Massachusetts was done by horse or a horse-drawn cart and could take several days to a week.
To travel from New Hampshire to Georgia might take several weeks to a month, crossing several disconnected territories, Indian country, and mind you, not much in the way of roads. And this was just amongst the original 13 colonies. You have to remember that Ohio and Tennessee were considered the far west, mostly uncivilized country inhabited by wild animals, dense forest and the ever-present Indian.
The notion of a centralized Federal Government controlling every aspect of every-day life was pretty much impossible in those days when “news” traveled much slower than malaria.
Let’s move ourselves up to 2022.
The United States of America is 246 years old, and if you were to ask your average 21 year old why Alaska is different than Arizona, you would probably get an answer about the weather. I doubt it would cross that young person’s mind that the politics are different, that basic rules for living might be different, that what might be legal in Alaska might not be in Arizona. Today’s average young person probably just thinks of “America” as one big homogenous area where borders are just signs on the interstate, and since we can fly from one end of the country to the other in just a few hours, often we don’t even notice those signs.
So, that brings up the question, in light of today’s ultra-conservative Supreme Court, a Congress which can’t seem to do much of anything, and extreme gerrymandering amongst the states; does it really matter if we have 50 different states?
Why do people choose to live in Indianna instead of California? Or Florida instead of Maine? For most people, it’s a simple matter of weather, seasons, family, jobs – a whole litany of reasons that have little to do with whether or not you can buy marijuana in one state but not the other, or get an abortion in one, but not the other, or in some dystopian future, marry your boyfriend or girlfriend who happens to be racially different or sexually the same as you.
Yet, in the climate of 2022, it seems that our Congress and Supreme Court are poised to toss Federalism on the trash heap and revert to an antiquated system where 50 states have 50 different sets of rules, ranging from innocuous to extremely personally invasive.
Why, in 2022, do we really allow a state to differ in any material amount from any other state?
Perhaps it is time for us to revisit out Constitution and abolish States Rights forever in favor of a strong Federal government that allows us to traverse our entire wonderful country, from sea to shining sea, without a tad of worry about crossing an invisible line and suddenly being jailed for an act that just yards away would be perfectly legal.
States Rights mattered 200 years ago when the most powerful weapon was a musket or a cannon that could shoot a few hundred yards. States Rights mattered 200 years ago when it took you weeks to travel from one state to another.
Today? Not so much.
Let’s get our young people motivated to change our world in a more positive way and dump the 246 year old issue of “states” in favor of one big giant “US”.