Thoughts on Constitution Day: Understanding Positive Grant and Limited Government

By , from the Archives at the Tenth Amendment Center, originally posted September 17, 2007 •

Today is a day that’s not celebrated like many other “holidays” in American society. You see, September 17th is Constitution Day – a day that appears to be nearly forgotten in America.

Sadly, over the years, people have stopped paying attention to the Constitution. It’s rare to hear people talking about the rules for government when discussing current events. And, it’s even more rare to hear politicians refusing to pass legislation because it’s not authorized by the Constitution.

For decades and decades…and decades, we have allowed our government to twist and distort the Constitution – away from its meaning – into something that changes meaning with the political whims and ambitions of the times.

Hopefully, though, some people will take a moment to try get back in touch with the basics that the founding fathers gave us in this easy-to-read text.

The key principle of the Constitution is quite simple: positive grant. Positive what? Yes, positive grant. Unfortunately, this is not a phrase that many of us hear in daily banter these days. But, it’s not a complicated principle at all.

What it means is this – the US federal government is authorized to exercise only those powers which are delegated to it in the Constitution. Nothing more, and nothing less. Period. End of story.

The founders felt so strongly about this principle that they codified it in law as 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.”

Just a casual review of the activities of the federal government would make clear that there’s very little that it does which is actually authorized by the Constitution.

For many, many years, we’ve allowed our politicians to interpret and bend the rules of the Constitution; ostensibly for good reasons. But, we have to face reality. When you allow politicians to do this over long periods, eventually you end up with leaders who feel that the law doesn’t apply at all.

Sounds familiar, doesn’t it?

If we are to have a free society for the future, we must rein in this out-of-control federal government, and return to our Constitution.

Also see TAC Archives: Constitution, Founding Principles

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