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According to John Locke, people give up their rights in the form of a social contract with other people for the protection of life, liberty, and property. Thomas Jefferson restated, or better yet, plagiarized Lockes ideas in the Declaration of Independence. The founders believed this social contract was in regards to the states since they were the first government over the people after independence was declared.
State governments have what is refered to as police power. This is the power to legislate for the health, safety, welfare, and morals of the community. The part about morals has been dropped. Basically, when legisatures get together to pass a bill, they first have to find out if they have the power.
The federal Congress looks in Article I, Section 8 for the enumerated powers. The State governments ask themselves if the bill promotes for the general health, safety, or welfare of the community. If it does, they can pass the bill, and that is police power.

Police power. (Law)

The inherent power of a government to regulate its police affairs. The term police power is not definitely fixed in meaning. In the earlier cases in the United States it was used as including the whole power of internal government, or the powers of government inherent in every sovereignty to the extent of its dominions (11 Peters (U. S.) 102). The later cases have excepted from its domain the development and administration of private law. Modern political science defines the power as a branch of internal administration in the exercise of which the executive should move within the lines of general principles prescribed by the constitution or the legislature, and in the exercise of which the most local governmental organizations should participate as far as possible (Burgess). Under this limitation the police power, as affecting persons, is the power of the state to protect the public against the abuse of individual liberty, that is, to restrain the individual in the exercise of his rights when such exercise becomes a danger to the community. The tendency of judicial and popular usage is towards this narrower definition.


© Webster 1913

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