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Limited Government vs. Small Government



Many people today, especially those on the conservative champion needing “Small Government” - usually as they expand another area.  But this thought process misses the entire intention of the Constitution. The Founding Fathers of the United States crafted the Constitution with a clear vision of limited government, outlining enumerated powers to prevent the central authority from becoming too intrusive. This concept of limited government was rooted in the experiences of the American colonies under British rule, where they had grown wary of a distant and overreaching monarchy. The Constitution, ratified in 1788, aimed to establish a federal government with specific listed powers leaving the rest to the states or the people under the Tenth Amendment (https://constitution.congress.gov/constitution/amendment-10/)[1]

 

The enumerated powers granted to the federal government can be found in Article I, Section 8 of the Constitution. These powers include the authority to collect taxes, regulate commerce, coin money, establish post offices, and provide for the common defense and general welfare. The intention was to create a government that could address essential national issues while respecting individual liberties and state autonomy.

 

 The expansion of the federal government's administrative authority has been a topic of concern for many who argue that it encroaches upon the principles of limited government outlined in the Constitution.



Congress expanded its law-making powers by exploiting and expanding the last sentence in Section 8: “To make all Laws which shall be necessary and proper for carrying into Execution the foregoing Powers, and all other Powers vested by this Constitution in the Government of the United States, or in any Department or Officer thereof.”  It seems that Congress forgot the “Proper” portion of that section and abused it to expand – which has reduced our liberties.   (The Elastic Clause- meaning Congress uses and expands this as they need)   https://www.senate.gov/about/origins-foundations/senate-and-constitution/constitution.htm#a1_sec3[2]

 

Contrasting this with the contemporary Republican perspective on “small government” reveals a nuanced evolution. Many Republicans today advocate for limited government intervention in economic and social matters, arguing for reduced regulations and lower taxes. While this aligns with the Founders' vision of limited government, the current discourse often extends beyond the Constitution's original framework.  



 Over the years, the federal government has expanded its reach, sometimes departing from the enumerated powers. One significant shift occurred during the Great Depression when President Franklin D. Roosevelt implemented the New Deal, a series of programs and policies aimed at addressing economic challenges. This era saw an increased federal role in areas such as social security and labor relations, expanding the government's footprint beyond its originally defined boundaries. (https://www.history.com/topics/great-depression/new-deal)[3]

 

One notable consequence of this expansion is the potential infringement on individual rights protected by the Bill of Rights. For instance, the First Amendment, guaranteeing freedom of speech, religion, and the press, has faced challenges as the unelected government's administrative agencies gain more authority to regulate various aspects of public life. Speech codes on college campuses or restrictions on certain forms of expression have been critiqued as violations of the First Amendment.  This is discussed in more detail in our article on Hate Speech.  https://www.federalist2.org/post/free-speech-vs-hate-speech[4]

 

Another notable expansion came with President Lyndon B. Johnson's Great Society programs in the 1960s, focusing on civil rights, education, and healthcare. These initiatives further broadened the federal government's role in domestic affairs, well beyond what the Founders might have envisioned.


(https://obamawhitehouse.archives.gov/1600/presidents/lyndonbjohnson[5]) A third such expansion created a new right, in the view of some, to healthcare.  The Obama Administration passed into law the Affordable Healthcare Act commonly known as ObamaCare.  This law was to reduce the annual medical costs for the typically American by $2500 per year, but in fact average insurance premium doubled and was promoted to cover all Americans.  The law failed on both.  https://www.heritage.org/health-care-reform/report/obamacare-has-doubled-the-cost-individual-health-insurance[6]

 

Similarly, concerns have been raised regarding the Fourth Amendment, protecting against unreasonable searches and seizures. The expansion of surveillance programs and