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Constitution Revolution: What This Section Can Tell Us About The Rest of the Constitution


Article 1, Section 10 is pretty straightforward at first glance. But if you look deeper, there’s more to this clause that you might think.

Photo Courtesy of Author.

This post is the continuation of a weekly Constitution Revolution series for TheBlaze.com and TheBlaze Radio’s Chris Salcedo Show. To see last week’s lesson, click here.

Our Constitution acts as a shield to protect the American people from our government. So once again, this week we’re going to discuss actions that the government is forbidden from taking.

In a recent post, we talked about the fact that Article 1, Section 9 is just a list of things that the federal government can’t do.

Well, Article 1, Section 10 is just a list of things that the State governments can’t do.

Article 1, Section 10 is pretty straight-forward and - for the most part - not controversial. As long as you don’t mind looking up a couple of vocabulary words, you should be able to interpret it pretty easily on your own.

But even though the meaning of this clause is easy to understand on its own, there are a couple of aspects of it that are worth discussing because they will give you a better idea of how the rest of the Constitution is supposed to work.

I Told You This Was Important

In my post about Article 1, Section 9 I stressed that it’s a big deal that the federal government is prohibited from passing ex post facto laws, bills of attainder and from suspending the privilege of habeas corpus.

Well, preventing the government from passing those types of laws is so important to protecting our freedom that it isn’t just the federal government that’s forbidden from passing them.

Article 1, Section 10 says that the state governments are also prohibited from passing ex post facto laws, bills of attainder, and suspending the privilege of habeas corpus.

Remember, the primary purpose of the Constitution is to protect the American people from the government. If we’re going to do that effectively, we have to do everything possible to strip our politicians of the ability to target specific people for unfair punishment.

The fact that these types of laws are forbidden at both the federal and the state levels gives us a good idea of just how dangerous the Founders believed they were to a free society.

How To Make Our Government Work

Another aspect of Article 1, Section 10 that we should take note of is the relationship between what the States are told they can't do with what the federal government is told it can do. If you take a moment to compare the two, it will help you to better understand how our system of government is intended to work.

Let me show you how it does that.

We have a federal system of government where power is divided up between the federal government in Washington, D.C. and the variety of state governments. For this type of system to work properly, we want to make sure that any given topic is being handled by one—and only one—level of government.

It should be easy to see why. Imagine what would happen if the federal government and each of the states all had the authority to negotiate treaties with foreign countries on their own. That would be a confusing mess! And ultimately, it wouldn’t work.

Because of that, the States and the federal government were intended to play very distinct and separate roles in this country. Article 1, Section 10 is a big part of establishing that distinction between the two levels of government. For the most part, it just tells the states that they aren’t allowed to do the jobs that the federal government was created to do for us.

Courtesy of Author.

As you are interpreting other parts of the Constitution, it’s very helpful to remember this idea of each topic being handled by only one level of government. The way our Constitution was originally designed—as a general rule—if a power was given to one level of government, it wasn’t given to the other.

Put more simply, if the states can do it, the federal government cannot. If the federal government can do it, the states cannot.

There are a few very rare exceptions to this; with taxation being the most obvious one. But as a basic rule of thumb, this idea will almost always point you in the right direction.

Is This The End?

Believe it or not, this brings us to the end of Article 1!

You might be wondering, "Why would Chad bother to mention that?"

For a couple of reasons actually. First, the Constitution is organized very nicely. As we move through this series, I’m going to point out that organization because once you get a feel for how the Constitution is organized, it’s pretty easy to find what you need.

For example, Article 1 is about the Legislative Branch of government. If you go back and look at earlier articles from this series, you’ll notice that throughout Article 1 we’ve talked almost entirely about Congress.

So from here on out, whenever you have a question about Congress or how Congress is supposed to work, you’ll know that the first place you want to look is in Article 1.

The other reason is because Article 1 is the longest article in the Constitution. In fact, it is longer than all of the six other articles combined.

That means that—just by finishing Article 1—we are already over half-way through with this tour through the Constitution.

Now stop and think about that for a moment: If Article 1 makes up over half of the original Constitution, do you think that tells us something about which branch of our government the Founders thought was most important?

Chad Kent is an author and speaker with a unique style that makes the Constitution simple and fun. Listen to Chad every Saturday during The Chris Salcedo Show on TheBlaze Radio, visit his web site at www.ChadKentSpeaks.com, and like his Facebook page at www.facebook.com/theconstitutionguy.

TheBlaze contributor channel supports an open discourse on a range of views. The opinions expressed in this channel are solely those of each individual author.

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