The federal government acts like it stands as sovereign in the American system, but that was never intended by those who created it. In fact, the federal government was never meant to serve as anything more than an agent, exercising the specific powers delegated by the true sovereign – the people.
While many Americans assume the federal government sits at the top of the power pyramid, it actually belongs on the bottom. Under the intended constitutional system, “we the people” hold the top position of authority, with the states under them and the federal government only supreme within the limited scope of the explicit powers delegate to it.
The very first words of the Constitution make this clear.
Have you ever wondered why these three words appear in large, ornate letters? When an 18th century British king issued a grant, his name always appeared at the top in the same fashion. The framers merely replaced the king’s name with “We the People,” signifying the sovereign authority from which the delegation of power flowed. (1)
So, the ultimate and final authority always remains in the people. But the states also hold an important position in the American system.
Before the Constitution was drafted and ratified, the sovereign American people had already organized into independent political societies. The people delegated powers to their colonial/state governments, and each was considered an autonomous, sovereign political unit. The British Crown recognized them as such in the Treaty of Paris ending the Revolution.