The 10th Amendment to the United States Constitution Explained

Introduction

The 10th Amendment of 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 responsibility of the states themselves. The “powers” referred to fall into three categories:

Expressed Powers

Expressed Powers are sometimes referred to as “enumerated powers. These are the powers given to Congress by the Constitution of the US. 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 on between the states, run a postal service, and control the granting of patents.

Reserved Powers

Reserved powers are those given to individual states. The reserved powers include calling and holding elections, organizing police provision, issuing licenses for a range of things such as hunting, marriage, driving, and so on. The states also have a responsibility to ratify amendments proposed to the US Constitution.

Shared Powers

Shared, or concurrent, powers are those that are the responsibility of both the 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 a variety of public facilities. The federal government needs tax income to provide military services and a whole range of national commitments.

Where there exist both federal and state laws that are similar, then the federal law will take precedence over the state law. Sometimes conflict can occur where 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 knew that the states needed to feel confident about the limits to federal powers. He introduced the 10th Amendment so that there would be no doubt as to the separation between states’ powers and federal powers.

The 10th Amendment was criticized as being unnecessary and superfluous when Madison proposed it. It seems, though, that he was reacting to suggestions being made by the states themselves, and felt that it would be a better idea to include an amendment that clarified the division of powers between the federal government and the states. He 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.

The 10th Amendment passed the Senate and was then sent to the House of Representatives for their 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.

The 10th Amendment is the last of the ten Amendments that comprise the United States Bill of Rights.

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