James Madison famously wrote in Federalist No. 45 in 1788 that "[t]he powers delegated by the proposed Constitution to the federal government, are few and defined. Those which are to remain in the State governments are numerous and indefinite." It was this structure of limited federal power, coupled with the remaining reservoir of authority to be found with the people and their State legislatures, that the proponents of the Constitution promised would protect from an overarching federal government of unlimited powers that would trample the rights of the people. Governor Edmund Randolph explicitly told the Virginia Ratifying Convention in 1788 that "the best security that can be in" a "body arising from a compact, and with certain delineated powers" is "the express enumeration of its powers."I recently was explaining the concept of enumerated powers and how that related to limited powers and the whole time I was thinking to myself that we were way past what Madison was talking about in the Federalist Papers when he defended the creation of a stronger national government by saying that it would be limited only to the enumerated powers.
As my students were looking at arguments made by the Anti-Federalists and Federalists for the ratification of the Constitution, the kids concluded that the Anti-Federalists showed more prescience in what they predicted would happen with the new Constitution. It's all very dismaying. Let's hope that there are five justices on the Supreme Court who still believe in a limited government.