There is more danger of oppression from a federal government than from a state government. This is because people can simply leave oppressive states. In this way, the state governments act as a check on each other. But if the federal government is oppressive, it is for the most part impractical to leave and so national governments are only an imperfect check on each other. For this reason the federal government should be granted as little power as possible, namely foreign affairs, border security, and defense. The rest should be left to state governments, or if possible to local assemblies, and most preferably to the people themselves. Thomas Jefferson explained:

It is not by the consolidation, or concentration of powers, but by their distribution, that good government is effected. Were not this great country already divided into states, that division must be made, that each might do for itself what concerns itself directly, and what it can so much better do than a distant authority … . Were we directed from Washington when to sow, and when to reap, we should soon want bread. It is by this partition of cares, descending in gradation from general to particular, that the mass of human affairs may be best managed for the good and prosperity of all. (Autobiography, 1921.)

It follows that the very existence of state government is a check on federal government. State government can best perform its role as a check by jealously guarding its jurisdiction and resisting encroachment by the federal government.

This article is an extract from the book ‘Principles of Good Government’ by Matthew Bransgrove