Limited Government: The Federal Government Should do Only what Others Cannot.

Limited Government: The Federal Government Should do Only what Others Cannot.

Principles for Federal Government

As the title above indicates, one of Principle Based Politics’ principles for our federal government is to limit the federal government itself. What sounds like an oxymoron, or at least a bit of a headscratcher, will indeed require some explanation, which is the purpose of this post.

Sometimes it is easiest to begin explaining by clarifying what is not meant. For starters, we do not believe in little or no federal government; that would be unconstitutional. We also do not desire to give all of the power to the states; that would be like the old States Rights Movement made infamous by its preference for slavery, racial segregation, and discrimination. Nor is there a need to revive the Anti-Federalists from the Constitutional Convention, who feared a lack of individual rights and a monarchy president, preferring more rights for individuals and states, as well as direct elections with short terms.

Simply put, what Principle Based Politics means by limited government is that our federal government should do only what must be done that others cannot do.

We do believe our elected national officials have an obligation to steward resources like taxpayer money and the earth itself, and to lead our government to fulfill at least the nine roles identified later in this post. But, after nearly 250 years of expansion, it is time for our federal government to begin its way back toward its original purposes.

“To Secure These Rights, Governments are Instituted”

Both the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution of the United States recognize that there were good reasons to have a national government. 

The colonial leaders on July 4, 1776, after proclaiming the “unalienable” rights endowed by their Creator, noted: “That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed.” Then, they foreshadowed their intent to “abolish” their ties with the King of England and “institute a new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness.” This forms the beginnings of the mission statement of what would become our new federal government—founding a government on principles in order to secure rights, ensure safety, and facilitate happiness.

The Constitution, as was its undertaking, put more meat on the bones of what the upstart federal government would do. “We the People of the United States, in Order to…,” the framers began, getting right to the point of why they were writing. Then they continued their mission statement with six separate goals, expressed as follows (numbers added): “(1) to form a more perfect Union, (2) establish Justice, (3) insure domestic Tranquility, (4) provide for the common defence, (5) promote the general Welfare, and (6) secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity.” Those were explicit purposes of the federal government.

After that introduction, the Constitution went on quickly, in distinct articles, to establish the legislative, executive, and judicial branches, each with defined roles. Lastly, the framers discussed how the states would relate to each other, procedures for amending the Constitution, and how the national government would assume pending state debts from before its passage. All of this formed the original limits on the scope of our federal government.

Importantly, soon after ratification of the Constitution, the drafters added the Bill of Rights, which included the first ten amendments. The Tenth Amendment speaks directly to the idea of limited government: “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.”

Delegated and reserved are the key words and concepts here. Not to put too fine of a point on it, but, if “we the people” do not expressly delegate a responsibility to the federal government through our Constitution, that power is reserved and the feds must butt out.

Nine Categories for Federal Involvement

As we see it, there are nine categories that have been properly delegated to the national government. All involve tasks the people and states cannot perform on their own. And they are roles that do need to be filled. The nine delegated areas appropriate for federal involvement are:

  • Roads/bridges/technology/energy/public spaces
  • Health research and guidance
  • National defense 
  • Preserving and stewarding the earth to make it a better place
  • Protecting the vulnerable 
  • Interrelating with other nations
  • Making and enforcing laws on matters of national importance
  • National monetary policy and currency
  • Ensuring the future

Our next post will explain why these nine roles are necessary and can only be filled by the U.S. government.

Written by Quentin R. Wittrock, founder of Principle Based Politics. 

Look for his posts twice each week, as this blog will explore and promote the idea of principle in politics, both as to individual elected leaders and our federal government as an institution.

This month, we are expounding on the following government principles:

  • Equality: Governments must treat all people equally and fairly.
  • Freedom and free enterprise: Liberty and freedom of the people and free markets should be purposes of government.
  • Transparency: Telling the people the truth, openly, is the best way to govern.
  • Law and Justice: Upholding the law and Constitution, justly, is an essential governmental function.
  • Protecting the vulnerable: A necessary role of the government is to protect those in true need.
  • Religious freedom and separation: All must be free to worship, but church and state should remain separate.
  • Limited government: The federal government should do only what others cannot.
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