When in Doubt, Don’t

by Steve Palmer

When in doubt, don’t. These timeless words of wisdom were passed to my wife from her
Grandmother and they are now being passed along to our son.

This is a concept with many real life applications, even for those of us who are no longer eight years old. When I build a fence around my house with a gate in the front, this says to the potential guest that he may enter my property through the gate, but not elsewhere. Someone found crossing the fence at a different location would be considered a trespasser. When we want to make the same point with a bit more emphasis, we might put barbed wire atop the fence. Come in through the gate, or don’t come in.

In the world of Internet networking, this concept is known as “Default Deny”. Individual
rules are created to allow everything that is needed for the people who use the network.
The last (or first) rule in the firewall says that anything which is not allowed should be

If only our federal government could be counted on to follow rules as well as my eight year old son does, all would be good. In order to secure our Liberty the way a homeowner might
secure his home, the founders put the Tenth Amendment into the constitution to act as our

“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“.

Using those words, the founders said to the federal government, “When in doubt, don’t”.
The main body of the Constitution establishes the front gate by which Congress was invited
to act on our behalf. Most of the delegated powers are listed in Article I, section 8.
When the Congress establishes laws on these matters, it is acting as an invited guest.
However, when the Congress establishes laws on matters which have not been delegated to it,
it is climbing over the Tenth Amendment fence, erected to secure our Liberties. At those
times, the Congress is trespassing against the states and against the people.

Unfortunately, our representatives in Congress seem less able to accept their proper limits than my eight year old. This leaves us with a dilemma. When Congress authorizes the
executive branch to issue self-written search warrants, what do we do? When Congress
determines that smoking marijuana that was legally grown, sold and used in the state of
California is a federal matter, what do we do? When an 82 year old farmer in Worcestor,
Pennsylvania becomes a federal target for growing wheat on his own farm to feed his own
hens, what do we do? Seat belt laws, speed limits, the size of our toilets and the type
of our lightbulbs… the list is endless.

We have tried, repeatedly to remind them through the voting booth, “When in doubt, don’t”. They tell us they’re listening; they heard us this time and they’re going to change, but they never do. How long do we keep repeating the same actions and expecting different results? If “vote the bums out” was an effective strategy, it would have worked by now. It is time for a new strategy centered around the people and the states, the partners inside the long neglected Tenth Amendment fence.

We need to work with our neighbors and our state and local representatives to speak with
one voice… Dear Uncle Sam, When you visit, please come in through the front gate and under
the welcome sign. If the baggage you are carrying doesn’t fit through that Constitutional entryway, then I and my state are sorry to inform you that you’ll just have to stay the hell out. Oh, and if you’re not sure, then just remember “When in doubt, don’t”.

Steve Palmer is the State Chapter Coordinator for the Pennsylvania Tenth Amendment Center.


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