Authored by Ray Nothstine

“Preamble-On” is a recurring segment of quotes and thoughts from historic and contemporary American public figures on federalism, the free society, and American political life.

It is time to trade less activism in Washington in return for more revenue at home, for whatever active measures recommend themselves to the state or municipality in question.

—Daniel Patrick Moynihan (1927-2003), former U.S. Democrat Senator from New York.

Context: Daniel Patrick Moynihan produced a study on federalism and localism for Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government in 1999. This quote comes from an essay within the study that was prompted, in part, because the state of New York consistently sends more money to Washington than it receives from the national government. Moynihan proposed allowing states to keep more of their tax revenue and experiment more at home with what services they wanted to provide. Moynihan reasoned that New York and Nebraska have very different needs. Moynihan’s simple proposal meant that states and localities could do more of what they wanted instead of New York shouldering the additional financial burden.

I would rather be exposed to the inconveniences attending too much liberty than those attending too small a degree of it. Then it is important to strengthen the state governments: and as this cannot be done by any change in the federal constitution, (for the preservation of that is all we need contend for,) it must be done by the states themselves, erecting such barriers at the constitutional line as cannot be surmounted either by themselves or by the general government.

—A letter from Thomas Jefferson to Archibald Stuart, 1791.

Context: From Philadelphia, Jefferson replies to Archibald Stuart, stating that he fears the national government can and likely will encroach upon the powers reserved for state lawmaking. He additionally stresses the importance of state constitutions and competent and wise state lawmakers as checks against national overreach. In his Inaugural Address as president, Jefferson expressed a similar sentiment: “…the support of the State governments in all their rights, as the most competent administrations for our domestic concerns and the surest bulwarks against antirepublican tendencies; the preservation of the General Government in its whole constitutional vigor, as the sheet anchor of our peace at home and safety abroad.”

Statue of Thomas Jefferson at the Jefferson Memorial in Washington, D.C.

Authored by:Ray Nothstine


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