Sixty years ago this September, 100 young conservatives launched Young Americans for Freedom at William F. Buckley’s home in Sharon, Connecticut. There they wrote the Sharon Statement, the new organization’s founding document, which has been described by the New York Times as the “seminal document” of the Conservative Movement. The principles that it puts forth still ring true 60 years later. Today, the Sharon Statement serves as the foundational document for more than 500 YAF chapters nationwide.
In this series, “We As Young Conservatives Believe”, we will break down the Sharon Statement and look more closely at how it continues to speak to young Americans today.
“We as young conservatives believe…”
“That the genius of the Constitution—the division of powers—is summed up in the clause that reserves primacy to the several states, or to the people, in those spheres not specifically delegated to the Federal government;”
“Ambition must be made to counteract ambition.” – Federalist No. 51
During the debate of the ratification of the U.S. Constitution, three Founding Fathers, James Madison, Alexander Hamilton, and John Jay, wrote a series of articles promoting the Constitution called The Federalist Papers. In Federalist No. 51, they look at the Separation of Powers as a means to restrain government’s power and to limit the ability of the majority to rule over the minority. This is why the Constitution structured the federal government to have three separate branches, Legislative, Executive, and Judicial, that all have means to check the power of each other.
This separation of powers extends beyond the different branches of government. It also includes the delegation of certain powers to the states rather than to the federal government, and also certain powers to the people instead of the state or federal government. For example, while the federal government can regulate interstate commerce, it cannot regulate intrastate commerce; it is up to each state to regulate what goes on in its own borders. Likewise, states cannot regulate interstate commerce, as that is the federal government’s duty.
This concept is reinforced in the last amendment of the Bill of Rights, which states that any power that the Constitution does not grant to the federal government is “reserved to the states respectively, or to the people.” Combined with the ninth amendment, which further guarantees citizens’ rights, it creates spheres of public life in which the federal government must not enter. This is a fundamental aspect of our federalist form of government.
Beyond making it more difficult for the government to encroach on upon its citizens’ rights, there are additional practical benefits to a federalist system. Any law passed through the federal government is necessarily a ‘one size fits all’ law, as it must govern the entire country. In a country as diverse as America, a ‘one size fits all’ policy ends up fitting nobody.
Lawmakers at the state level are better equipped to handle their state’s unique situations than Congress in D.C. Additionally, it is far easier for citizens to have a say in what goes on in their community when the decisions that affect their community are made at a local level rather than a national level.
There are also roles that exist outside of both the federal and state government’s spheres, but are instead left to the people. These responsibilities to our fellow citizens play a vital part in maintain civic culture, which has deteriorated as the federal government has grown. It is not a citizen’s duty to vote to give other people’s money to help the poor; instead, it is their job to help their fellow citizen themselves.
This abdication of our responsibilities to each other is emblematic of a larger problem: the expectation that the government will step in and solve everything. This focus on using the government, especially the federal government, instead of keeping it in its proper boundaries, has weakened the separation of powers between the different levels of government and the people, which weakens that safeguard of individual liberty. Rather than relying on the government to change the culture, those who seek to fix societal problems should instead rely on their fellow citizens.
To read the previous post in this series, click here.
To read the next post in this series, click here.
Karl Stahlfeld is the associate director of YAF’s Center for Entrepreneurship & Free Enterprise.