The New Fusionism

"In the government of Virginia," said John Randolph in 1830, "we can't take a step without breaking our shins over some Federal obstacle." Randolph's metaphor was a minor exaggeration 160 years ago; today, it would be a gross understatement, because today that federal obstacle has been erected so high, so deep, so strong, that we can scarcely take a step of any kind. This same federal government stipulates how we shall rear our children, how we may conduct our business, whom we may choose or refuse as our companions. The whole of our private and social lives are hemmed in by various decrees, restrictions, and codes—and not just by the national government. State and local jurisdictions, with what little driblets of power they have left, are just as eager to invade our homes, to tell us what we can smoke, drink, and say.

Randolph himself made a similar complaint in the matter of a billiard table that some members of Congress thought an evil. "In Virginia," he said, "we are and I trust shall ever be alive to States rights. But have the people no rights as against the Assembly? All oppression commences under specious pretexts. I have wondered that no rural, or rather rustic, Hampden has been found to withstand the petty tyranny which has as good a right to take away his wife's looking-glass or frying pan as his billiard table. By what authority is this thing done? Under color of law,...

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