Alexis de Tocqueville once said that the limits placed on the central power in the new world are different from the limits placed on national power in the old world. In the New World, the national government has jurisdiction in certain specific areas. It is prohibited by law and custom from transgressing the boundaries of its jurisdiction. In that sense its power is severely limited. But within those boundaries it is sovereign and almost completely beyond challenge. If something such as war or taxing power is deemed a ‘federal matter,’ challenges to that power, for example the Whiskey Rebellion, were historically rare and suppressed mercilessly when they did occur.
On the other hand, Tocqueville says, the Old World functioned quite differently. The monarchs tended to be in constant conflict with other political powers regarding proper jurisdiction. The crown and the aristocracy and the colonies and provinces were engaged in an eternal game of tug of war, with each citing their own interpretation of law and custom to attempt to limit the jurisdiction of the others. Tocqueville observed that the limits to the powers of the central government in that case were largely imposed by the practical limits of enforcement. If a province was too well armed, then they went unmolested. If the aristocracy had the armies to resist, then they resisted. If colonies were too far away or protected by seasonal factors, then they had greater liberty. The monarch could only rule what he had the power to take and to keep, whereas America at the time that Democracy In America was being written tended to respect federal authority even where federales were few and far between.
It seems to be that as the United States federal government and the Presidency in particular have gradually morphed into something more like a European monarchy, our attitude towards its sovereignty has shifted. Certainly no state or province or faction of the ruling class would dare to challenge the military might of the United States in a single act of open revolt. But as time goes on we challenge it in small acts of secret revolt. Violation, for example, of our draconian system of immigration laws has become quite common. How many appointees to the federal bench or to the office of Attorney General must be caught in nannygate scandals involving child care payments to illegal aliens made under the table before we get the fact that our governing class, even that part which is directly pledged to enforce the law, routinely ignore this law?
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