The Historical Context of Commissions on Federalism

To understand the need for these Commissions on Federalism, we must understand their context in American history and what they can provide us in our efforts to reaffirm the checks and balances of Constitutional governance in our modern age.

The popular parts of the history leading up to the American Revolution and the period between the Battles of Lexington and Concorde and the formal Declaration of Independence are well known and celebrated.  They include such items as the Boston Massacre, the Boston Tea Party, the series of laws perpetrated by Parliament against the colonies, the ride of Paul Revere, and the grandiose actions of politicians and common-folk alike.  But, one interesting item that is often overlooked by all but studied scholars and history-buffs is the creation of organizations known as Committees of Correspondence.

Committees of Correspondence were unofficial political bodies established by American patriots leading up to the American Revolution.  They set up lines of communication between townships, cities, counties, and colonies regarding the abridgment of rights by the official government and organized passive (and later active) resistance to such abridgment.  For example, while the Boston Tea Party is popularly credited to the enigmatic Sons of Liberty, it was actually coordinated and carried out by the Boston Committee of Correspondence under the direction of its founder and leader, Samuel Adams.

These Committees of Correspondence became necessary for the colonists to maintain their efforts in defense of liberty since the official governments were increasingly turned into puppet governments by the crown.  This was especially true in the royal colonies, where the governor was appointed by the king directly and could disband colonial assemblies sympathetic to the patriot cause.  Some historians have even described the Committees of Correspondence as effective shadow governments since many colonists viewed them, and not the official government, as the legitimate voices of the governed and protectors of their liberties. 

The Committees of Correspondence afforded the oft-quarrelling colonies an unprecedented amount of coordination in their responses to British action.  Patriots throughout the colonies were often aware of British actions and outrages before word had traveled through traditional means.  Notably, the Committees undertook to document all actions by the British government alleged to be violating the colonist’s rights as Englishmen.

During the times of upheaval prior and subsequent to the American Revolution, three unofficial (and in the minds of the King and Parliament, illegal) congresses were called

in the American Colonies, the Stamp Act Congress and the First and Second Continental Congresses.  Given that these gatherings were considered illegitimate by the official government, they were not organized through nor were the delegates chosen by the official colonial governments.  They were, in fact, organized and planned by the Committees of Correspondence and the delegates were chosen largely from among the ranks of those serving on such committees.

My final point, as it relates to the Committees of Correspondence, is on the Declaration of Independence itself.

The Declaration of Independence is not only a national treasure, but it is a document heralded across the world as an authoritative primer on the rights of mankind and the illegitimacy of monarchial and autocratic regimes.  The ratification of this document by the Continental Congress and its audacious delivery to King George III, combined with George Washington’s ability to keep the Continental Army intact, signaled both to Britain and to the world that the former colonies had every intention and every ability to establish a new nation.  Thomas Jefferson not only lays out one of the strongest arguments for natural liberty in history, but he efficiently and unequivocally enumerates every despotic action of King George III upon which the colonies derived their right and duty to throw off his rule.

Were it not for the dogged and efficient manner in which the Committees of Correspondence identified, relayed, and documented the excess tyrannies of British rule, I doubt Thomas Jefferson could have provided such detail and legitimacy in his unrelenting rebuke of the British monarchy.

It can indeed be argued that without the Committees of Correspondence, the American Revolution would have never taken place or, at the very least, it would have been an unorganized and confusing effort doomed to failure.

This brings me to our present need to establish Commissions on Federalism.

Our present form of constitutional government does not require us to establish “shadow governments”, nor to organize active resistance against a government whose authority does not derive from the consent of the government.  While the lines of separation between state and federal government, as well as the checks and balances within the federal government itself, might be frayed and worn they nevertheless remain intact and simply awaiting America’s citizens to make effective use of them again.  But, what we do need is an effective manner

in which to communicate and organize inter-state assertion of state sovereignty, effective platforms from which to decry encroachments by the federal government enacted under direction of both major parties, and a dogged and consistent attempt to recognize and categorically document the proposals, policies, and laws emerging from all levels of government which are combining to threaten the balance of power established by the US Constitution.

There is no short-list of attempts to re-establish constitutional accountability and consideration of the principles of federalism in our government.  There is, however, a very short-list of achievements and success deriving from these attempts.  How many well-intentioned movements and operations have we seen dither into nothingness, collapse from the disproportion of means to vision, or endure only to become newly established manifestations of traditional entities, declaring accountability but desiring only power.

What we at the Federalist Coalition propose to create by forging these Commissions on Federalism is not a new movement, a new party, or a new ideology, and it is the farthest thing from a silver-bullet or magic-bean that will at long last re-establish what has been corroded by a century’s worth of over-extending federal authority and imperial presidential behavior.

What we are proposing and what we are fighting for, is to firmly lay a persistent and functioning foundation for the re-assertion of state sovereignty today, tomorrow, and ten years from now.  We can have all the best ideas in the world.  We can channel all the indignant and righteous anger of an American generation whose birthright of liberty is being threatened by expanding government. And, we can argue our points in forums and social media until we are blue in the face. But, without an effective medium to coordinate each state’s vision of its place in the national identity into a joint enterprise of federalism, without like-minded entities diligently documenting and relaying amassed abuses to each other and to the people, without the legitimacy provided by enshrining the principles of federalism and the need to re-assert these principles into each state’s legislative body, our best efforts will continue to fall short of meaningful change.

The Federalist Coalition believes that these Commissions on Federalism can provide this persistent and functioning foundation.  But, not only this, we believe that by empowering Commissions within the framework of state government we can establish a valuable tool for bipartisan support for federalist principles as well as establish a springboard for civic education both of the people and of the people’s representatives.  It should be a universal desire for states and their citizens to not be subject to the whims of the federal government as its reins are taken hold by one political party or another, and it should be the earnest desire of all Americans to understand the nature of their government and be empowered to participate in it as effectively as possible.

The foundation of our liberty, as established in our war for independence, was one of organization and communication allowing people of varying interests and beliefs to come together and fight for a single common purpose.  With the Federalist Coalition’s support of these new Commissions, we believe we are drawing upon the lessons of the past in order secure our liberty for the future.  We believe that as more Americans become aware of what federalism is and what the benefits of a government designed upon its principles are, that we truly can establish a coalition spanning the political spectrum.  These Commissions on Federalism can and will provide the organization and communication needed to press forward and reaffirm the protections our freedoms and liberties require.

We ask state representatives and state senators of all political parties to consider our efforts and support the creation of Commissions on Federalism in their states, and we ask all concerned citizens to reach out to their representatives and ask them whether they would support such an initiative.  Above all else, be involved, speak out, and become active participants in this great and diverse republic.

If we want freedom, liberty, and federalism we must seize it for ourselves.  The time has come to stop waiting for others to do it for us.


For more information on Federalism Commissions, please email

One Response so far.

  1. Gwen McNatt says:

    This is the most articulate essay about the mission of Federalists that I have ever read. Bravo,Justin!