The Constitution Failed
Contrary to a certain nostalgic nationalist myth that still endures, the US Constitution as first conceived was never intended to limit government power. The primary purpose of the Convention of 1787 was to increase federal power, as the older constitution of 1776 (i.e., the Articles of Confederation) was regarded by centralizers as being too “weak.” The older constitution was built on a consensus model, and required acquiescence from a supermajority of member states to do much. The overwhelming preponderance of government power lay with the states themselves, which were in their own right too weak to demand much from their citizens.
Nonetheless, this loose union of states had functioned well enough. The states, working in voluntary union, had fought off the most powerful empire of the eighteenth century during the Revolution. The Massachusetts state militia had put down Shay’s Rebellion without any federal help. Americans, for the most part, were more free and better fed than the populations of Europe, the wealthiest region of the world. Thanks to the liberal ideology spread by the Revolution, slavery was in decline nationwide. Indentured servitude was on the way out. The restrictive feudalism of old was disappearing.
Yet, the wealthy elite, like Hamilton, Washington, and Madison (in his counterrevolutionary phase), wanted something else. They wanted a federal system that could force payment of federal taxes. They wanted a bigger navy. They wanted a federal army that could march into the interior and threaten farmers with destruction, as Washington did during the Whiskey Rebellion. In short, they wanted a Constitution that would centralize power, and grow it.
It was the opponents of these “Federalists” who demanded the only part of the constitution that ever actually limited power. The Anti-Federalists demanded amendments that would protect local communities from federal power. They eventually got their bill of rights, but of course the federal government has always sought to interpret the bill’s amendments in a way that expands federal power. Or, the federal government just ignores it altogether.
But let’s say for the sake or argument that the Bill of Rights and the Constitution are one in the same and that the purpose of the Constitution is to limit the power of the state. By this standard, it is clear that the Constitution has failed.