“Few and Defined,” not “Anything and Everything.”
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“Few and Defined,” not “Anything and Everything.”


The powers of the federal government are “few and defined.” Today, the federal government claims the authority to do just about everything under the sun, from telling us what kind of plants we can grow in our backyard, to regulating the amount of water in our toilets. This is not what was promised During the ratification debates, opponents of the constitution feared the “whole mass of powers” held by the federal government would overwhelm the powers reserved to the States. In Federalist paper #45, James Madison forcefully argued that the constitution wasn’t set up that way. He wrote that the powers delegated to the federal government were “few and defined.” On the other hand, those remaining with the States are “numerous and indefinite.” Madison went on to explain that federal power would primarily be directed at “external objects” like foreign commerce, and war and peace. Meanwhile, he said “the powers reserved to the several States will extend to all subjects which, in the ordinary course of affairs, concern the lives, liberties and properties of people, and the internal order improvement and prosperity of the State.” When you see how Madison broke it down, it’s pretty clear that your toilet and plants grown in your backyard are not supposed to be subject to federal regulation under the constitution. And the same goes for most everything else.

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