In his foreword to “Chaining Down Leviathan” by Marco Bassani, Dr. Donald Livingston writes of America’s new central government differing from the European model by having no plenary power. He adds that “It had only a few well-defined powers delegated to it by a compact between sovereign States,” which all held the right to check unauthorized acts of central power – and even withdraw if they chose to do so. As to new States being created in the future, Thomas Jefferson believed that States “would negotiate secessions and form new Unions of States”. He imagined perhaps three new countries united by trade and defense treaties: a federation along the Atlantic coast, one along the Atlantic coast, the Mississippi, and the Pacific. The States themselves held supreme political authority; the government at Washington was merely the agent created by the States.
Source of Political Power Flows from States
“The linchpin of John C. Calhoun’s analysis of the United States Constitution was the power of the individual State as a contracting party to, and the real dominus of, the federal pact.
It must be noted that the word “State” is all over the Constitution (it appears 103 times), while the term “nation” does not appear at all. Federal political representation, and not just that of the Senate, is centered on the States; the members of the House of Representatives are elected “by the People of the several States.”
Regarding eligibility for election, the State-centered character of representation is even more marked: for the House the candidate must be an inhabitant of the State “in which” he or she will be chosen; for the Senate the candidate must be an inhabitant of the State for which he or she will be chosen. In sum, for the House a person is chosen as a representative of a State; he or she is never imagined as a delegate of a part of the American people (which simply does not exist from a constitutional point of view), while the senator is in Washington on behalf of their State.
The source of political power flows from the States to the federal government, and never vice-versa. The Constitution authorizes and prohibits certain actions by the federal government, but to the States nothing is ever permitted, only prohibited. This means that while State political authorities must check only if a constitutional prohibition exists, in the absence of which they can act freely.
A general political capacity is recognized only for the States. The Tenth Amendment (“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”) is the architrave of American polity. It sums up the entire system of permissions and prohibitions in the sense delineated by Calhoun.”
(Chaining Down Leviathan: The American Dream of Self Government 1776-1865. Luigi Marco Bassani, Abbeville Institute Press, 2021, pp. 195-196)