Amendment 10 is perhaps the simplest amendment of all 27 and the most straightforward of the first 10 amendments in the Bill of Rights.
What is the 10th Amendment?
The 10th Amendment simply says that any powers that aren’t mentioned in the Constitution as belonging to the government belong to the states themselves.
Read on to find out what this actually means.
Limiting Federal Power
In simple terms, the Tenth Amendment to the United States Constitution sets out the limits to the powers of the federal government.
It states that any powers that the Constitution does not give to the federal government are the states’ responsibility.
These “powers” fall into three categories:
Expressed Powers are sometimes referred to as “enumerated powers.” These are the powers given to Congress by the United States Constitution.
Included among these powers is the right to:
- Declare war
- Print paper money and mint coinage
- Issue regulations to control foreign trade and the trade carried out between the states
- Run a postal service
- Control the granting of patents
Reserved powers are those given to individual states. Reserved powers examples include:
- calling and holding elections
- organizing police provision
- issuing licenses for a range of things such as hunting, marriage, and driving
The states are also responsible for ratifying amendments proposed to the US Constitution.
Shared or concurrent powers are those that are the responsibility of both state governments and the federal government.
Raising taxes is one of the most important of these. Taxes are needed at the local state level to cover the cost of police departments, fire departments, and various public facilities.
The federal government needs tax income to provide military services and a range of national commitments.
Crossover Between State and Federal Laws
Where federal and state laws are similar, then the federal law will take precedence over the state law.
Sometimes conflict can occur when the state law disagrees with the federal law. There are several examples of this situation occurring recently, including drug enforcement.
Why Was the 10th Amendment Necessary?
Although the predecessor to the US Constitution, the Articles of Confederation made clear that each state would retain its freedom and sovereignty, it was felt that the matter needed clarifying in the Constitution itself.
James Madison, who was the architect of the first ten Amendments, originally proposed at the Constitutional Convention, and included in the Bill of Rights knew that the states needed to feel confident about the limits of federal power.
He introduced the 10th Amendment so there would be no doubt about the separation between states’ and federal powers.
Critics of the 10th Amendment
The 10th Amendment was criticized by Founding Fathers such as Alexander Hamilton as being superfluous when James Madison proposed it.
It seems that Madison was reacting to suggestions being made by the states themselves and felt that it would be better to include an amendment that clarified the division of powers between the federal government and the states.
The Bill of Rights had strong support from men like Thomas Jefferson and George Mason, which aided Madison’s cause.
Madison appealed to the Senate to pass the amendment on the grounds that there was no harm in doing so. He felt that precision in the matter was better than upsetting the states.
Senate Approval of the 10th Amendment
The 10th Amendment passed the Senate and was sent to the House of Representatives for approval.
The Senate clerk felt it appropriate to add the phrase “or to the people” at the end of the text. The circumstances of that addition being made are not known.
Similarly, the Ninth Amendment stated that any unenumerated right belonged to the people, not the federal government.
The 10th Amendment is the last of the 10 Amendments that comprise the United States Bill of Rights.
The 10th Amendment was proposed to the legislatures by the First Congress on September 25, 1789.
The following States ratified it, and the President successively communicated the notifications of ratification by the Governors thereof to Congress:
New Jersey, November 20, 1789;
Maryland, December 19, 1789;
North Carolina, December 22, 1789;
South Carolina, January 19, 1790;
New Hampshire, January 25, 1790;
Delaware, January 28, 1790;
New York, February 24, 1790;
Pennsylvania, March 10, 1790;
Rhode Island, June 7, 1790;
Vermont, November 3, 1791;
Virginia, December 15, 1791.
Ratification was completed on December 15, 1791. The amendments were subsequently ratified by the legislatures of:
Massachusetts, March 2, 1939;
Georgia, March 18, 1939;
Connecticut, April 19, 1939.