In the days of the Founding, the term “federalism” meant increased centralization of power to mediate the feuds between the states arising under the confederate framework of the Articles of Confederation. Anti-federalists sought to preserve the autonomy of the states against a stronger central government that they feared would tyrannically encroach upon local self-governance. So it sounds almost paradoxical to hear that federalism today largely means de-centralization. It might seem odd to some that the cry for state sovereignty should come under the banner of those calling themselves Federalists.
“Federalism” is not synonymous with “centralization of power” in an unqualified sense. Federalism is a governmental structure that pits power against power. Our federalist system established a horizontal axis of checks and balances among the three branches of government. It also established power tension along a vertical axis between the local, state, and federal levels of government.
Today’s federal government is not truly federal. It is an overgrown central government that has damaged federalist balance of power under the corrosive influences of judicial activism and the astounding growth of the administrative state. Today’s power distribution turns the Constitution on its head. While it was the People, through the sovereignty of their states, who erected the federal government and granted it specific, enumerated powers, today this arrangement stands inverted. Today the federal government increasingly encroaches into decisions that should be made at the state or local levels, or by the People themselves. We have allowed the decision-making power to consolidate in a far-off capitol, and watched as the states transform into mere local administrative districts.
Thankfully, two solutions have arisen lately which offer two parallel roads back to the balance of power originally intended—the Convention of States Project and the Federalist Party. I am heavily involved in the first of these and openly supportive of the other, so I should issue a fair disclaimer that I have personal investment in both of these enterprises. I speak here neither as an official representative of Convention of States or of the Federalist Party, but as a citizen inspired by both. The Convention of States Project is strictly non-partisan and the Federalist Party currently does not have a platform stance on Article V, but there is some intriguing coincidence of support. According to Federalist Party spokesman JD Rucker, recent poll taken by the Federalist Party showed 83% of advocates of the burgeoning party support an Article V convention of states to reign in federal overreach. 9% were opposed; 8% were unsure.
With the addition of North Dakota, Arizona, and Texas this year, the Convention of States Project has secured nearly one-third of the required 34 states (11 states) to compel a convention of the states to propose amendments that reign in the federal behemoth. This is a great accomplishment in just four years of grassroots organizing and citizen activism. The organization seeks pass an identical resolution through 2/3rds of the 50 state legislatures to force a convention of the 50 states under Article V of the Constitution to propose amendments under a three-fold subject: impose fiscal restraints on the federal government, limit the power and jurisdiction of the federal government, and limit the terms of office for its officials and for members of Congress.
The Article V solution is potent for its clear understanding of the problem: the system in Washington has grown so corrupt and powerful that structural changes at the amendments level are necessary to reverse course and return to an America of self-governance. Elections alone are woefully insufficient to effect change because the corruption is deeper than the level of political party. The corruption in Washington is a bi-partisan, political problem for which a convention of states presents a non-partisan, structural solution.
Robert Frost sang, “two roads diverged in a wood, and I/I took the one less traveled by/ And that has made all the difference.” Of these two roads to federalism, in the dark wood of today’s despotism, the convention of states route is less traveled by. Although over 400 state applications have passed calling for a convention of states under a variety of topics, never have 2/3rds of the states agreed on a topic enough for the calls to aggregate. The Convention of States Project is bringing about something absolutely new in American history, yet as old as the country itself. In the very last day of the 1887 Philadelphia convention, George Mason pointed out that they must not leave the sole power to propose amendments to Congress, as there would come a day when Congress would grow despotic and never call for its own limitation of power. The states, Mason said, needed a route to circumvent Congress and rein it in against its will. The change to Article V was accepted unanimously among the Framers, affording us this long, arduous, but indispensable means to restore the original spirit of our Constitution.
There is another road we may take, one that was once taken and could be taken up again. The resurrection of the Federalist Party began in 2016 and continues to gain momentum this year, welcoming disaffected Republicans balking at the party that has sold out its limited government principles, folks who feel the Libertarian Party does not have a serious plan for pragmatic policy advancement, independents who are sick to death of the reality show that politics has become, and Democrats who are alarmed by the consolidation of power now glaringly evident under the Trump presidency.
The two paths share a similar strategy. Both are emphatically grassroots efforts. The Convention of States Project now boasts over 2 million supporters and 200,000 volunteers nationwide. The organization builds its momentum from the ground up at the level of lower state house districts, led by District Captains and steered by executive teams at the state level, all on a volunteer basis. The Federalist Party, similarly, is building its ranks from the ground up. In true federalist fashion, the party has for the time being forsaken running a presidential ticket in favor of going only after winnable local elections to school boards, county commissioner seats, state legislature seats, and other local offices. For a federalist view, governance starts at home and extends outward only as is necessary. The new party eschews the failed approach of nearly every other third party. Third parties arise as an intriguing side-show to the circus of a presidential election then fade immediately from public consciousness the day after the election. The Federalist Party aims to grow under the national radar, firmly planting itself in local communities and states before then inserting itself into the national stage.
The Federalist Party complements the amendments solution as a second, political route for those who believe governmental power checked against itself is the surest guarantor of liberty. Like the Convention of States, the Federalist Party offers a solution that is based upon principles of structure as much as principles of social value. The party recognizes, like Convention of States Project, that structural adjustments are necessary to solve for good the problems we see today.
And so we have in front of us a large task, fellow citizens, if we are to save and preserve liberty for posterity. Let us pursue an unprecedented, but wholly legal and civil avenue to restoring the constitution. Let us also consider deeply a third party that is really the first party, the first political party in American history, the Federalist Party, the party of James Madison. Perhaps the Tea Party was but a dry run for a real restoration of the liberty our founders intended in this land. It morally behooves us today to take up our stand as constitutional restorationists, willing to rise above the rabble of corrupt politics and speak boldly for principle.
Two rails run parallel offering us a way back home to American self-governance and self-reliance. The time to switch the tracks has arrived. We have to ask ourselves, each one in his own heart and conscience “Am I only a passenger or am I willing to step up and conduct the train?”