The three responsibilities explicitly given to the states in the U.S. Constitution include proposing amendments, electing members of Congress and maintaining a state militia.The power of the federal government was limited by the 10th Amendment, which said that any of the powers not specifically delegated to the federal government belonged to the states. The issue of federal power versus state power was controversial from the beginning of the Constitution when the Federalists and Anti-Federalists debated during its ratification period.
Article V of the Constitution says that the states have the responsibility of calling special conventions to propose new amendments to the Constitution. It says that a new amendment requires two-thirds of the state legislatures to call for a convention and only becomes valid once three-fourths of them have ratified it.
The Anti-Federalists were concerned about the power of the federal government compared to the individual states. One of the leading supporters of the Constitution, James Madison, assured them that the federal government’s powers were “few and defined.” Writing in "The Federalist," Madison said that those powers delegated to the state governments were "numerous and indefinite." This principle was solidified in the 10th Amendment, which stated that any powers not specifically delegated to the federal government was to be given to the states or the people.
Election of Members of Congress
The Constitution gave to the states control over the election of members of Congress. Article II Section 1 of the Constitution says that each state has the responsibility to appoint its own electors. Voters in the United States do not vote directly for the president, but instead vote for state electors who then cast their votes in the presidential election. The Constitution leaves the states to determine the exact time when they want to choose their electors.
The Constitution gives the states the right to maintain a militia – what is now called the National Guard, according to the United States Senate website. Article I Section 8 reserves to the states the responsibility to appoint the officers and train the militia, in accordance with standards set by Congress. In 1795, Congress gave the president the authority to call up the militia to suppress rebellions. This power was used during riots in the 1950s and 1960s.
- UMKC School of Law: The Question of States' Rights: The Constitution and American Federalism (An Introduction)
- The University of Chicago: The Founder's Constitution: James Madison, Federalist, no. 45, 313--14
- Cornell University Law School: Legal Information Institute: U.S. Constitution: Article II
- United States Senate: Constitution of the United States
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