Editor's Note: Below is the winning entry in a recent Constitution Week essay contest sponsored by the Tennessee Valley Republican Women. The writer, Lauren Hood, is a senior at Girls Preparatory School. The essay has been edited for length.
On Sept. 17, 1787, 39 men signed the United States Constitution and forever changed the course of history. Constitution Week is a time for Americans to reflect on the creation of the Constitution, originally adopted 226 years ago. Our Founding Fathers had a hard task in front of them; they had to create a government that had never really been created before. They knew there had to be a separation of powers among the government branches, but no one was sure how much was too much.
Eventually the Founding Fathers found a way to have a strong national government while still limiting the power of the government to reserve certain rights for the states.
The best way to secure our liberty and to keep government from becoming tyrannical, they decided, is to separate the powers within the government in order to create a system of checks and balances.
A few years after the ratification of the Constitution, the two most disputed Amendments were ratified. At the time, there was a feud between the Anti-Federalists and the Federalists.
The Anti-Federalists were fearful of a strong national government and were in favor of a Bill of Rights because they thought it would protect them from a strong national government.
On the other hand, the Federalists realized that the Articles of Confederation were too weak and they were therefore in favor of a strong national government that would protect the rights of the people.
The Federalists believed that since the people could take back delegated power from the government, there was no risk that the national government would overreach and violate their rights. The debate between the Anti-Federalists and the Federalists led to the ratification of the Ninth Amendment.
In 1791, the Ninth Amendment was ratified to protect the rights retained by the people of the United States that are not stated in the U.S. Constitution. James Madison first introduced the Ninth Amendment. He felt that since the first eight amendments discussed how the federal government could exercise its power, it was crucial to have an amendment that referred to many rights that could not be taken away by the government.
Also ratified in 1791, the Tenth Amendment expresses the general ideas of Federalism in the republic form of government. The basic idea behind the Tenth Amendment is that it reserves all powers not granted to the federal government by the Constitution to the states.
Today, the courts and legislature use the Tenth Amendment to address the balance of federal and state power. In 1883, after the Civil War, the Tenth Amendment reclaimed some of its force when the Supreme Court overturned the Civil Rights Act of 1875 because it violated state sovereignty under the Tenth Amendment.
The Founding Fathers did not want the states to lose all of their power to the national government, much like the colonies had to Parliament. They had to make clear that the people have the ultimate power so our rights must be protected within such a strong national government while still reserving certain powers for the states.
Now we understand how important not only having a strong national government is, but also the importance of limiting its power and creating a healthy balance of power between state and national levels.