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The 10th Amendment to the United States Constitution is a guarantee of States' rights. The Constitution
designed the federal government to be a government of limited and enumerated, or listed, powers. This
means that the federal government only has powers over the things that are specifically given to it in the
Constitution. All other powers are reserved to the States. The 10th Amendment in the Bill of Rights reads
"The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are
reserved to the States respectively, or to the people."
Purpose of the 10th Amendment
Why did the Founding Fathers put the 10th Amendment into the Bill of Rights? The explanation is that
they did not want the central government to become too powerful. They didn't want a government that
was located far away from their homes dictating how they lived their daily lives. They wanted as much
power as possible to be retained in their local state legislatures.
Today, the 10th Amendment idea of limiting the federal government's power has been severely weakened
by many years of gradual changes in the view of what is and what is not a federal power. The main
culprits in this weakening of the 10th Amendment have been the Supreme Court and Congress itself.
History of the 10th Amendment
To better understand the modern day position of the 10th Amendment in our culture, we have to look
back at the history of this Amendment and the reasons the Founding Fathers added it in the Bill of
If you remember your history, you will remember that during the Revolutionary War, on July 2, 1776, the
thirteen colonies all declared their independence from Great Britain at once. The day the declaration was
voted upon and passed was July 2, not July 4 as most people think. The decision was publicly
announced for the first time on July 4 and that is why Americans celebrate independence on that day.
As soon as the thirteen colonies declared independence, they became thirteen individual sovereign
states or countries. Each state created its own new government. They had no legal ties to the other
states except in the few arrangements they had made to cooperate together in their war against Great
Britain. It would be as if the United States, Canada, Mexico, England and France all got together as a
group today and declared war on China. The leaders of these five countries would get together and make
agreements about who would do what in the war and how they would cooperate. This wouldn't make them
all one great big country. They would still be five separate, but cooperating countries.
That was the state of things after July 4, 1776. It should be stated that the new states were already
studying ways to formally join themselves together at this time, but they hadn't done it yet. On the same
day a declaration of independence from Britain was proposed to Congress by Richard Henry Lee of
Virginia, which was June 6, 1776, he also proposed "That a plan of confederation be prepared and
transmitted to the respective Colonies for their consideration and approbation." The Congress
immediately put together an exploratory committee to consider this issue. You can read the Lee
Resolution here, in which Richard Henry Lee made his proposal.