Restrictions on the Authority of the Several States
From the New York Packet.
Friday, January 25, 1788.

Author: James Madison

To the People of the State of New York:

A FIFTH class of provisions in favor of the federal authority consists of the following restrictions on the authority of the several States:1. “No State shall enter into any treaty, alliance, or confederation; grant letters of marque and reprisal; coin money; emit bills of credit; make any thing but gold and silver a legal tender in payment of debts; pass any bill of attainder, ex-post-facto law, or law impairing the obligation of contracts; or grant any title of nobility. “The prohibition against treaties, alliances, and confederations makes a part of the existing articles of Union; and for reasons which need no explanation, is copied into the new Constitution. The prohibition of letters of marque is another part of the old system, but is somewhat extended in the new. According to the former, letters of marque could be granted by the States after a declaration of war; according to the latter, these licenses must be obtained, as well during war as previous to its declaration, from the government of the United States. This alteration is fully justified by the advantage of uniformity in all points which relate to foreign powers; and of immediate responsibility to the nation in all those for whose conduct the nation itself is to be responsible.

The right of coining money, which is here taken from the States, was left in their hands by the Confederation, as a concurrent right with that of Congress, under an exception in favor of the exclusive right of Congress to regulate the alloy and value. In this instance, also, the new provision is an improvement on the old. Whilst the alloy and value depended on the general authority, a right of coinage in the particular States could have no other effect than to multiply expensive mints and diversify the forms and weights of the circulating pieces. The latter inconveniency defeats one purpose for which the power was originally submitted to the federal head; and as far as the former might prevent an inconvenient remittance of gold and silver to the central mint for recoinage, the end can be as well attained by local mints established under the general authority.

The extension of the prohibition to bills of credit must give pleasure to every citizen, in proportion to his love of justice and his knowledge of the true springs of public prosperity. The loss which America has sustained since the peace, from the pestilent effects of paper money on the necessary confidence between man and man, on the necessary confidence in the public councils, on the industry and morals of the people, and on the character of republican government, constitutes an enormous debt against the States chargeable with this unadvised measure, which must long remain unsatisfied; or rather an accumulation of guilt, which can be expiated no otherwise than by a voluntary sacrifice on the altar of justice, of the power which has been the instrument of it. In addition to these persuasive considerations, it may be observed, that the same reasons which show the necessity of denying to the States the power of regulating coin, prove with equal force that they ought not to be at liberty to substitute a paper medium in the place of coin. Had every State a right to regulate the value of its coin, there might be as many different currencies as States, and thus the intercourse among them would be impeded; retrospective alterations in its value might be made, and thus the citizens of other States be injured, and animosities be kindled among the States themselves. The subjects of foreign powers might suffer from the same cause, and hence the Union be discredited and embroiled by the indiscretion of a single member. No one of these mischiefs is less incident to a power in the States to emit paper money, than to coin gold or silver. The power to make any thing but gold and silver a tender in payment of debts, is withdrawn from the States, on the same principle with that of issuing a paper currency. Bills of attainder, ex-post-facto laws, and laws impairing the obligation of contracts, are contrary to the first principles of the social compact, and to every principle of sound legislation. The two former are expressly prohibited by the declarations prefixed to some of the State constitutions, and all of them are prohibited by the spirit and scope of these fundamental charters. Our own experience has taught us, nevertheless, that additional fences against these dangers ought not to be omitted. Very properly, therefore, have the convention added this constitutional bulwark in favor of personal security and private rights; and I am much deceived if they have not, in so doing, as faithfully consulted the genuine sentiments as the undoubted interests of their constituents. The sober people of America are weary of the fluctuating policy which has directed the public councils. They have seen with regret and indignation that sudden changes and legislative interferences, in cases affecting personal rights, become jobs in the hands of enterprising and influential speculators, and snares to the more-industrious and lessinformed part of the community. They have seen, too, that one legislative interference is but the first link of a long chain of repetitions, every subsequent interference being naturally produced by the effects of the preceding. They very rightly infer, therefore, that some thorough reform is wanting, which will banish speculations on public measures, inspire a general prudence and industry, and give a regular course to the business of society. The prohibition with respect to titles of nobility is copied from the articles of Confederation and needs no comment. 2. “No State shall, without the consent of the Congress, lay any imposts or duties on imports or exports, except what may be absolutely necessary for executing its inspection laws, and the net produce of all duties and imposts laid by any State on imports or exports, shall be for the use of the treasury of the United States; and all such laws shall be subject to the revision and control of the Congress. No State shall, without the consent of Congress, lay any duty on tonnage, keep troops or ships of war in time of peace, enter into any agreement or compact with another State, or with a foreign power, or engage in war unless actually invaded, or in such imminent danger as will not admit of delay. “The restraint on the power of the States over imports and exports is enforced by all the arguments which prove the necessity of submitting the regulation of trade to the federal councils. It is needless, therefore, to remark further on this head, than that the manner in which the restraint is qualified seems well calculated at once to secure to the States a reasonable discretion in providing for the conveniency of their imports and exports, and to the United States a reasonable check against the abuse of this discretion.

The remaining particulars of this clause fall within reasonings which are either so obvious, or have been so fully developed, that they may be passed over without remark. The SIXTH and last class consists of the several powers and provisions by which efficacy is given to all the rest. 1. Of these the first is, the “power to make all laws which shall be necessary and proper for carrying into execution the foregoing powers, and all other powers vested by this Constitution in the government of the United States, or in any department or officer thereof. “Few parts of the Constitution have been assailed with more intemperance than this; yet on a fair investigation of it, no part can appear more completely invulnerable. Without the SUBSTANCE of this power, the whole Constitution would be a dead letter. Those who object to the article, therefore, as a part of the Constitution, can only mean that the FORM of the provision is improper. But have they considered whether a better form could have been substituted? There are four other possible methods which the Constitution might have taken on this subject. They might have copied the second article of the existing Confederation, which would have prohibited the exercise of any power not EXPRESSLY delegated; they might have attempted a positive enumeration of the powers comprehended under the general terms “necessary and proper”; they might have attempted a negative enumeration of them, by specifying the powers excepted from the general definition; they might have been altogether silent on the subject, leaving these necessary and proper powers to construction and inference. Had the convention taken the first method of adopting the second article of Confederation, it is evident that the new Congress would be continually exposed, as their predecessors have been, to the alternative of construing the term “EXPRESSLY” with so much rigor, as to disarm the government of all real authority whatever, or with so much latitude as to destroy altogether the force of the restriction.

It would be easy to show, if it were necessary, that no important power, delegated by the articles of Confederation, has been or can be executed by Congress, without recurring more or less to the doctrine of CONSTRUCTION or IMPLICATION. As the powers delegated under the new system are more extensive, the government which is to administer it would find itself still more distressed with the alternative of betraying the public interests by doing nothing, or of violating the Constitution by exercising powers indispensably necessary and proper, but, at the same time, not EXPRESSLY granted. Had the convention attempted a positive enumeration of the powers necessary and proper for carrying their other powers into effect, the attempt would have involved a complete digest of laws on every subject to which the Constitution relates; accommodated too, not only to the existing state of things, but to all the possible changes which futurity may produce; for in every new application of a general power, the PARTICULAR POWERS, which are the means of attaining the OBJECT of the general power, must always necessarily vary with that object, and be often properly varied whilst the object remains the same.

Had they attempted to enumerate the particular powers or means not necessary or proper for carrying the general powers into execution, the task would have been no less chimerical; and would have been liable to this further objection, that every defect in the enumeration would have been equivalent to a positive grant of authority. If, to avoid this consequence, they had attempted a partial enumeration of the exceptions, and described the residue by the general terms, NOT NECESSARY OR PROPER, it must have happened that the enumeration would comprehend a few of the excepted powers only; that these would be such as would be least likely to be assumed or tolerated, because the enumeration would of course select such as would be least necessary or proper; and that the unnecessary and improper powers included in the residuum, would be less forcibly excepted, than if no partial enumeration had been made. Had the Constitution been silent on this head, there can be no doubt that all the particular powers requisite as means of executing the general powers would have resulted to the government, by unavoidable implication. No axiom is more clearly established in law, or in reason, than that wherever the end is required, the means are authorized; wherever a general power to do a thing is given, every particular power necessary for doing it is included. Had this last method, therefore, been pursued by the convention, every objection now urged against their plan would remain in all its plausibility; and the real inconveniency would be incurred of not removing a pretext which may be seized on critical occasions for drawing into question the essential powers of the Union. If it be asked what is to be the consequence, in case the Congress shall misconstrue this part of the Constitution, and exercise powers not warranted by its true meaning, I answer, the same as if they should misconstrue or enlarge any other power vested in them; as if the general power had been reduced to particulars, and any one of these were to be violated; the same, in short, as if the State legislatures should violate the irrespective constitutional authorities. In the first instance, the success of the usurpation will depend on the executive and judiciary departments, which are to expound and give effect to the legislative acts; and in the last resort a remedy must be obtained from the people who can, by the election of more faithful representatives, annul the acts of the usurpers. The truth is, that this ultimate redress may be more confided in against unconstitutional acts of the federal than of the State legislatures, for this plain reason, that as every such act of the former will be an invasion of the rights of the latter, these will be ever ready to mark the innovation, to sound the alarm to the people, and to exert their local influence in effecting a change of federal representatives. There being no such intermediate body between the State legislatures and the people interested in watching the conduct of the former, violations of the State constitutions are more likely to remain unnoticed and unredressed. 2. “This Constitution and the laws of the United States which shall be made in pursuance thereof, and all treaties made, or which shall be made, under the authority of the United States, shall be the supreme law of the land, and the judges in every State shall be bound thereby, any thing in the constitution or laws of any State to the contrary notwithstanding. “The indiscreet zeal of the adversaries to the Constitution has betrayed them into an attack on this part of it also, without which it would have been evidently and radically defective. To be fully sensible of this, we need only suppose for a moment that the supremacy of the State constitutions had been left complete by a saving clause in their favor. In the first place, as these constitutions invest the State legislatures with absolute sovereignty, in all cases not excepted by the existing articles of Confederation, all the authorities contained in the proposed Constitution, so far as they exceed those enumerated in the Confederation, would have been annulled, and the new Congress would have been reduced to the same impotent condition with their predecessors. In the next place, as the constitutions of some of the States do not even expressly and fully recognize the existing powers of the Confederacy, an express saving of the supremacy of the former would, in such States, have brought into question every power contained in the proposed Constitution. In the third place, as the constitutions of the States differ much from each other, it might happen that a treaty or national law, of great and equal importance to the States, would interfere with some and not with other constitutions, and would consequently be valid in some of the States, at the same time that it would have no effect in others. In fine, the world would have seen, for the first time, a system of government founded on an inversion of the fundamental principles of all government; it would have seen the authority of the whole society every where subordinate to the authority of the parts; it would have seen a monster, in which the head was under the direction of the members. 3. “The Senators and Representatives, and the members of the several State legislatures, and all executive and judicial officers, both of the United States and the several States, shall be bound by oath or affirmation to support this Constitution. “It has been asked why it was thought necessary, that the State magistracy should be bound to support the federal Constitution, and unnecessary that a like oath should be imposed on the officers of the United States, in favor of the State constitutions. Several reasons might be assigned for the distinction. I content myself with one, which is obvious and conclusive. The members of the federal government will have no agency in carrying the State constitutions into effect. The members and officers of the State governments, on the contrary, will have an essential agency in giving effect to the federal Constitution. The election of the President and Senate will depend, in all cases, on the legislatures of the several States. And the election of the House of Representatives will equally depend on the same authority in the first instance; and will, probably, forever be conducted by the officers, and according to the laws, of the States. 4. Among the provisions for giving efficacy to the federal powers might be added those which belong to the executive and judiciary departments: but as these are reserved for particular examination in another place, I pass them over in this. We have now reviewed, in detail, all the articles composing the sum or quantity of power delegated by the proposed Constitution to the federal government, and are brought to this undeniable conclusion, that no part of the power is unnecessary or improper for accomplishing the necessary objects of the Union. The question, therefore, whether this amount of power shall be granted or not, resolves itself into another question, whether or not a government commensurate to the exigencies of the Union shall be established; or, in other words, whether the Union itself shall be preserved.


Howdy from Texas. I thank Professor Knipprath for joining us today, and all of you who have joined us on our blog.

When Juliette and I were in Boston we ran into a semi- circle of statues surrounding the American flag. One of the statues was inscribed “Religion” and the statue was of a man praying as he looked up to the flag. The other statue was inscribed “Industry” and it was a man at work. The other statue was inscribed “Learning” and it was a young man reading a book.

These are the three virtues that keep America great.

1. Religion – a moral basis for our lives and a moral compass for our country
2. Industry – the great American work ethic, free enterprise
3. Learning – as John Adams said, “Liberty can not be preserved with out a general knowledge of the people.”

I say, “Liberty can not be sustained with out a general knowledge of the United States Constitution.”

Americans are grossly void of such knowledge, even with the “Cultural Elite.” Recently, a respected political analyst stated that the Constitution denied him and women the right to vote.

This statement represents the negative knee jerk reaction to the Constitution and why the “irrelevancy” aspect permeates our society. The rest of the panel piped in about the Amendments, saying that they are a part of the Constitution, to which this particular analyst commented that they should then be taught with the Constitution.

Well, the Amendments ARE the Constitution, the continuation of our Constitution. They tell the history of our country, warts and all, in an honest and forthright way. Why wouldn’t it be taught? The continuing pages of our Constitution mirror our country’s continuation. The amendment process was stipulated in the Constitution because our founding fathers knew the “genius of the people” would want to make changes. It is there for all of us to see – past, present and future generations – the growth of our country and thus the relevancy that the Constitution imbues.

The most ironic question begs, why would this political analyst assume that Cathy and I would want to start a foundation that stresses the learning of a Constitution that would deny African Americans the right to vote, deny women the right to vote? Not to mention, deny the Bill of Rights – the first ten amendments?

This is the great challenge that we Constitutionalists encounter today – the misinterpretation of the Constitution – the easy, convenient dismissal of the Constitution as antiquated – the mantra that it is a document that is to be tossed aside.

When we, as Americans toss aside our Constitution, we toss aside our individual liberties. Tread on the Constitution and we tread on our freedoms.
Disregard our roadmap and we lose our way.
Dishonor the principles and we lose our dignity.
Renounce its structure and we lose our footing.
Blight its flame and we die in the darkness of a people who knew not, sought not, her own country’s light.

The learning of our Constitution is the moral industry of our day.

Janine Turner

Tuesday, June 29th, 2010


In Federalist No. 44 Madison completes his list of and defense of powers delegated to the federal government.  In this essay he discusses restrictions on the authority of the States in Article I, Section 10 of the Constitution.  Most of these restrictions make sense, even today, such as the restriction on States entering into treaties, coining money, producing paper money, granting any title of nobility etc.

In Article 1, Section 10, States are also prohibited from passing bills of attainder and ex post facto laws.  I wanted to know more about this, and did a little research in the  Heritage Guide to the Constitution .  On page 170 essayist David Forte writes, “The framers regarded bills of attainder and ex post facto laws as so offensive to liberty that they prohibited their use by both Congress (Article 1, Section 9, Clause 3) and the states.”  Essayist Daniel Troy points out “these are the only two individual liberties that the original Constitution protects from both state and federal intrusion.”

It quickly came back to me that ex post facto laws are retroactive laws, punishing an act that was lawful when it took place.

I had to look up bill of attainder, though.  Webster defines bill of attainder (also known as an act or writ of attainder) as “an act of legislature declaring a person or group of persons guilty of some crime and punishing them without benefit of a trial.”

Madison states, “Bills of attainder, ex-post-facto laws, and laws impairing the obligation of contracts, are contrary to the first principles of the social compact, and to every principle of sound legislation.”  David Forte, in the Heritage Guide, points out that some States had enacted these types of laws after the Revolution, and our founding fathers wanted to  eliminate these tyrannical practices many had suffered under, under the crown.

It is interesting to note that the federal government’s powers are specifically enumerated in the Constitution, while the States’ powers are not enumerated.  By listing only what the States are prohibited from doing, the groundwork is laid for what eventually became the 10th Amendment:

“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.”

Madison spends a good deal of the second half of his essay defending the “necessary and proper clause.” We last heard about the “necessary and proper,” clause in Federalist No. 33, The Same Subject Continued: Concerning the General Power of Taxation, by Alexander Hamilton.

In both Federalist 33, and Federalist 44, Publius addresses what is to be done if the federal government oversteps its bounds, as many opponents of the necessary and proper clause feared.

Hamilton stated in Federalist No. 33:

“If the federal government should overpass the just bounds of its authority and make a tyrannical use of its powers, the people, whose creature it is, must appeal to the standard they have formed, and take such measures to redress the injury done to the Constitution as the exigency may suggest and prudence justify.”

And Madison in Federalist No. 44:

“If it be asked what is to be the consequence, in case the Congress shall misconstrue this part of the Constitution, and exercise powers not warranted by its true meaning……in the last resort a remedy must be obtained from the people who can, by the election of more faithful representatives, annul the acts of the usurpers.”

A recurring theme of the Federalist Papers is that the responsibility to uphold the Constitution rests with the people.

To uphold the Constitution, we must first know it, and understand it.

I am grateful for all I am learning each day.  Some days I learn from an enlightening quote that pops off the page.  Other days, I delve deeper into a topic I don’t quite understand or want to learn more about.  Every day, I learn from all of your blog comments and through our wise and talented Guest Constitutional Scholar Bloggers. Thank you to Pofessor Knipprath for being one of our most frequent contributors!  We love your essays!

Thank you for joining us on this journey, as we strive to continue learning, so we can live up to the phrase our founders bestowed upon our collective intellect, “the genius of the people.”

Good night and God Bless!

Cathy Gillespie

Monday, June 28th, 2010

Guest Essayist: Joerg Knipprath, Professor of Law at Southwestern Law School

Federalist 44 completes a series that examines specific grants of power to Congress. Madison identifies two classes of powers. One involves direct limits on the states; the other involves a direct grant to Congress and indirect limits on the states.

Among the first, Madison cites prohibitions—carried over from the Articles—against foreign policy by states, a practice that is inconsistent with even weak notions of union. A more significant innovation is the prohibition on the coinage of money and the use of paper currency (bills of credit). Such activities, he believes, can be carried out responsibly only by the national government, a conviction that, one trusts, would be shaken to its foundation were he alive today. His disquisition on the perils from profligate printing of paper money is illuminating:

“The loss which America has sustained since the peace, from the pestilent effects of paper money on the necessary confidence between man and man; on the necessary confidence in the public councils; on the industry and morals of the people, and on the character of republican government, constitutes an enormous debt against the states ….”

Why he believes that the federal government would be less scandalously addicted to easy money policies than states such as Rhode Island is difficult to fathom, and he undertakes no explanation. Presumably, he places his faith in the contest of interest groups spread throughout the large republic, especially debtors versus creditors, that would limit the likelihood of an extended “rage for paper money” that he condemned in Federalist 10. If so, he misjudges the effect on spending from “log-rolling,” “earmarks,” and patronage fostered by special interest groups and guarded by entrenched Congressional barons. Even if these factions were unlikely to influence the federal government individually, they quickly learned to act in concert, a habit that the pragmatic Framers either were derelict in ignoring or believed might be controlled through constitutional structures.

His explanation for the prohibitions of bills of attainder (legislative decrees of criminal guilt against an individual or group that were routinely used against political opponents in 16th and 17th century England) and of ex post facto laws (laws that retroactively criminalize conduct), as well as of laws that impair the obligation of contracts, is instructive. The last clause arose from experience with the practice by states to cancel public and private debts (at first those owed to British subjects, but later also obligations owed to American creditors) and to meddle otherwise in vested contract rights. A contentious topic at the Convention, Madison justifies the “contracts clause” as needed to combat economic distortions and social disturbance caused by persons seeking government support for their economic schemes: “[The people] very rightly infer, therefore, that some thorough reform is wanting, which will banish speculations on public measures, inspire a general prudence and industry, and give a regular course to the business of society.”

However, if such interferences with vested contracts were to originate in federal law, they would still be invalid. Like bills of attainder and ex post facto laws, they are so fundamentally destructive of security in one’s person and property, Madison writes, that they violate the “first principles of the [Lockean] social compact.” This raises an interesting point, one eventually taken up by the judiciary. If a constitution does not expressly address the legislature’s power to abridge a particular personal right, does that silence permit the legislature to limit that right? Or are there extra-constitutional limits on the discretion of the political majority, beyond those expressly enumerated in that constitution?

If appeal may be made to such extra-constitutional principles in political debate to prevent adoption of a law (which surely may be done), will such an appeal also lie in a judicial proceeding to declare the law unconstitutional once it is adopted (a much more dubious proposition)? If the answer to the last point is affirmative, exactly what principles may be considered, and how would the judge know? “First principles of the social contract” flows easily from the pen of the writer and the lips of the orator, but it is freighted with assumptions and epistemological uncertainties. Judges are chosen for their knowledge of the law, not their “wisdom” as political or moral philosophers, notwithstanding any contrary assertion by the occasional Supreme Court nominee.

Are same-sex marriage, polygamy, suicide, or abortion part of such “first principles”? We can be fairly certain of what Publius would have said. What about the right to pursue a calling or to run a business without a myriad of labor, environmental, and other regulations that dull initiative? The response of the Framers in 1780s republican mode (not in the then just-emerging “classic liberal” mode) might be surprisingly equivocating.

The second class of grants to Congress discussed in Federalist 44 includes the necessary and proper clause and the supremacy clause, topics already addressed by Hamilton in Federalist 33. The examination of the necessary and proper clause is a preview of the famous McCulloch v. Maryland case in 1819, considered by many the Supreme Court opinion with the greatest impact on American politics. The initial issue in McCulloch was Congress’s power to charter the Second Bank of the United States, a controversy that had begun even during the Articles with the debate over Robert Morris’s Bank of North America and persisted through the wrangling in George Washington’s cabinet in 1791 over Hamilton’s proposal for the First Bank of the United States.

Congress has no express power to charter corporations or banks. Echoing Publius, Chief Justice Marshall noted in McCulloch that every power to accomplish an end carries with it, by necessary implication, the power to adopt the means to achieve it. This is a fundamental principle of agency law, and Congress has been delegated certain tasks by the people. It is also an inherent aspect of government. But there is a flaw. The Constitution is not silent about those means.

Luther Martin, Maryland’s wily attorney general in McCulloch, argued instead that the necessary and proper clause provides an express definition of the means to be employed, thereby negating any theory of implied powers. He then claimed that “necessary and proper” requires a showing of indispensability. Marshall disagreed, ruling that “necessary” meant “convenient” or “appropriate.” His interpretation vastly expanded the constitutional discretion for Congressional action. In light of that ruling it is noteworthy that Madison describes the power conferred under that clause as “indispensably necessary” and equates this to those means that are “requisite,” which the dictionary defines as “essential.” One is left to speculate whether the role of the national government might be different today, had Martin’s—and, apparently, Madison’s—more restrictive definition prevailed.

Monday, June 28th, 2010

An expert on constitutional law, Prof. Joerg W. Knipprath has been interviewed by print and broadcast media on a number of related topics ranging from recent U.S. Supreme Court decisions to presidential succession. He has written opinion pieces and articles on business and securities law as well as constitutional issues, and has focused his more recent research on the effect of judicial review on the evolution of constitutional law.  Prof. Knipprath has also spoken on business law and contemporary constitutional issues before professional and community forums.  His website is