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.
Theodore Roosevelt was one of the most colorful presidents to serve the Republic. He was a rancher in the North Dakota Badlands, led the Rough Riders up San Juan Hill and received a Medal of Honor for his gallantry, the only President with such a distinction. While climbing a Mountain in the Adirondacks of New York in 1901, word reached Vice President Theodore Roosevelt that the condition of President McKinley had rapidly deteriorated after an assassination attempt a week earlier. The next day, McKinley was dead, and Roosevelt was sworn into office as president. Roosevelt brought an ideology to the Office of the President that was a refutation of the American Founding, Progressivism. This ideology included a dramatic expansion of power vested in one person, the president. Read more
Senator Jefferson Davis’ response to William Seward’s State of the Country Speech was effectively a political speech- it was not meant to fully articulate the Southern cause of State’s Rights, nor was it a long-winded justification of that “peculiar institution,” slavery. Rather, Davis’ goal was to respond to Seward’s earlier speech, which condemned slavery. Within Davis’ speech, though, we find an idea more dangerous and pernicious than slavery as a positive good or that a State has rights; Davis rejected the central principle of the American Founding and Declaration of Independence, that “all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.” Read more
In this 1830 response to Edward Everett of Massachusetts James Madison maintains that a state does not possess the authority to strike down as unconstitutional an act of the federal government. If you find the essay long-winded, you are correct in this assessment. It is long-winded because James Madison was a hypocrite on the issue of nullification, supporting the notion when it suited him, and rejecting it when it did not. You may learn from this episode an important lesson about human nature. The greatest of founding fathers does not always make a great secretary of state, a great president, or a great elder-statesman. James Madison (and Thomas Jefferson) were no exceptions to this insight. Read more
Thomas Jefferson’s April, 1820 Letter to John Holmes came as the nation expanded westward into the Louisiana Purchase, and with the homesteaders and settlers came the question of slavery. In an attempt to address slavery and its role in the new territories, it was agreed by Congress that slavery would be allowed in Missouri but no other state North of the 36°30â€² line; additionally, Maine would enter the Union as a Free State. Read more
Today, much of the national political debate centers on the size and scope of the federal government. Whether the discussion is focused on federal spending, the debt, or the merits and demerits of a nationalized healthcare system, at its core, the debate is about how much power the federal government should properly wield. Read more
If Jay Leno were to conduct a “Man on the Street” segment and ask random Americans to name the first constitution for the United States, the answers would probably range from, “The Declaration of Independence,” to “the Preamble,” to “Who cares?” The answer, of course, is The Articles of Confederation and Perpetual Union. American ignorance of the Articles is problematic for several reasons, not the least of which being a lack of understanding about the fundamental structure of the American general government. The Articles of Confederation is, in fact, the most maligned and misunderstood document in American political history. It is the bedrock of the United States Constitution which replaced it, and the Founders’ conception of Union and the appropriate powers of government can be found in its Thirteen Articles. Read more
I’m honored and delighted Constituting America would extend me an opportunity to conclude this year’s round of essays on the amendment process and to address the genius of the U.S. Constitution.
Our Founding Fathers believed in some simple and yet, for their times, absolutely revolutionary ideas. One of these ideas was that every individual possessed fundamental rights even prior to these rights ever being put into writing. Recall the words of the Declaration that these rights were “unalienable” and their existence a “self-evident” truth.
Another revolutionary idea was that government power or action essentially occurs at the expense of individual rights and liberties. This idea turned completely upside down the reality of nearly every government in history to that point. Most systems of rule placed a monarch, tyrant, or oligarchy at the top of subservient masses. Even in colonial times, many of us may forget, Americans were “subjects” to the British crown.
A remarkable thing about our system is that we place all of the citizenry at the top of the hierarchy.
At the Constitutional Convention in 1787, the Founders put in writing exactly how Americans would rule themselves within a framework of individual liberty. The document announced to the world a new concept: limited government at the heel of free people.
George Washington described this concept in a letter to a nephew shortly after the conclusion of the convention. “The power under the Constitution will always be in the people. It is entrusted for certain defined purposes, and for a certain limited period, to representatives of their own choosing; and whenever it is executed contrary to their interests, or not according to their wishes, their servants can, and undoubtedly will, be recalled.”
Moreover, not only could representatives be changed, but the document itself could be altered. The Constitution’s amendment process is self-government at work. Other writers of this series over the past 90 days highlight more than two centuries of reform and adjustment. Our Founders set up an amazing basic framework where citizens will forever have the privilege and right, under Article V, of making amendments.
During my early years in the House I worked for the ratification of the 27th Amendment, a provision dealing with Congressional pay originally part of the Bill of Rights but left un-ratified until 1992. It was a privilege to see the genius of our Founders at work again, two centuries later. My respect for that genius has only grown.
Shortly after my swearing in as Speaker of the House at the start of the 112th Congress, the Constitution was read in full on the House floor. To the best of my knowledge, this had never been done before in American history. I hope and trust a new tradition has been initiated.
This was done not only to honor liberty-loving Americans who take seriously Washington’s advice to recall “contrary” representatives, but because my Republican colleagues had promised to put our founding documents in their proper perspective. In our Pledge to America, we said: “We pledge to honor the Constitution as constructed by its framers and honor the original intent of those precepts that have been consistently ignored – particularly the Tenth Amendment, which grants that all 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.”
My colleagues and I also passed a House rule that requires Members to cite Constitutional authority in every piece of legislation they introduce. The American people deserve to know that the laws we pass and the actions we take comport with the spirit of our Constitution.
Let me again thank Constituting America for their education work. They live by the admonition of James Madison: “A well-instructed people alone can be permanently a free people.”
Since its ratification in 1788 the success of our Constitution has been a precious gift worth defending. It is a light for the rest of the world and a torch to be handed to future generations.
The Honorable John Boehner represents the 8th Congressional District of Ohio, and is serving in the 112th Congress as the 53rd Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives.
June 22, 2012
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.
Modern Issues Of States’ Rights
Ninety percent, if not more, of what the central government does today is unconstitutional. All of the following legislation violates the Tenth Amendment: national healthcare, welfare, all federal education programs, federal highway construction and funding, the National Defense Authorization Act, gun control, the Federal Reserve System, etc., and these are just some of the large issues. An itemized list based on a modern federal budget would be too substantial to publish in a book length project, let alone a short essay. Proponents of the Tenth Amendment in the founding generation viewed it as a necessary check on the power of the general government and in particular the famous “sweeping” or “elastic” clauses of the Constitution, i.e., the “general welfare clause,” the “supremacy clause,” the “necessary and proper clause,” and now the infamous “commerce clause.” The Tenth Amendment was designed to keep domestic issues under the purview of the States and leave matters of commerce (meaning interstate and international trade) and defense in the hands of the general authority. In essence, every time the central government abuses its Constitutional authority it is violating the Tenth Amendment. But for the sake of argument, the most important and egregious violations of the Tenth Amendment today are as follows:
“Obamacare”: Regardless of what the Supreme Court decides in June, the “Affordable Care Act” is a gross violation of the Tenth Amendment to the Constitution. In fact, the States would do well to individually strike it down by invoking the Tenth Amendment, as Thomas Jefferson and James Madison did with the Virginia and Kentucky Resolutions of 1798 in response to the blatantly unconstitutional Sedition Act. As per Article 1, Section 8, regulating healthcare is not one of the delegated powers of the general government, and the commerce clause does not apply in this case because the general government cannot regulate the commercial exchange of individuals nor can it mandate that individuals engage in a commercial activity. Proponents of the Constitution continually argued in 1787 and 1788 that if the Constitution was mute on an issue, then the general government did not have the said power. The States, however, can, and thus if the States want to address healthcare, and the respective State constitution allows it, they are free to do so.
The National Defense Authorization Act for 2012: While this piece of legislation has support among Republicans, it unconstitutionally enlarges the powers of the executive branch and has the potential to place all American citizens under martial law, thus unconstitutionally suspending the civil court system in the United States. The general government cannot constitutionally interfere with the State judicial systems nor can it constitutionally give the executive branch the power to suspend habeas corpus. Those are not delegated powers in the Constitution and thus violate the Tenth Amendment. Abraham Lincoln unilaterally suspended habeas corpus in 1861 and while Attorney General Edward Bates supported it and the Congress retroactively “authorized” it, he was heavily criticized at the time. The Supreme Court even struck down his heavy handed tactics and later negated congressional attempts to supersede State courts with military tribunals during the Reconstruction era. Congress has forgotten or neglected to remember those decisions.
The Federal Reserve: The FED is at the heart of the current economic meltdown, and central banking has long been a contentious issue in American politics. During the Philadelphia Convention in 1787, the Pennsylvania delegation suggested giving the power for chartering a bank to the Congress but were soundly defeated. No matter. In 1791, Alexander Hamilton made a central bank “constitutional” by stretching the “necessary and proper clause” of the Constitution, something he said would never happen when arguing for ratification in the Federalist essays. The Bank of the United States failed re-charter in 1811 but was replaced with another in 1816, with James Madison’s support. His reason was dubious. Time and circumstances, he said, had made the Bank constitutional. Central banking supporters never looked back. Of course, Andrew Jackson destroyed this Second Bank of the United States, but the legislative precedent had been set. When the “Creature of Jekyll Island,” also known as the Federal Reserve System, appeared in 1913, thanks to Hamilton, Madison, and John Marshall who ruled the Bank was constitutional in the infamous 1819 McCulloch v. Maryland decision, no one questioned its constitutionality. But, if Americans followed the Constitution as ratified and amended by the Tenth Amendment, the Federal Reserve would fail the constitutional sniff test. Chartering a bank or a central banking system is not a delegated power of the general government.
All Social Welfare Legislation Including Education and Entitlement Spending: In the 1942 Supreme Court decision Wickard v. Filburn, the Court found that anything that might be considered “interstate commerce” fell under the authority of federal regulation, including economic activity such as growing your own food on your own land. In essence, the “commerce clause” has become the “Hey, you-can-do-whatever-you-feel-like Clause,” as federal judge Alex Kozinski pointed out in 2005. All federal social welfare spending falls either under the so called “commerce clause” or the “general welfare clause,” and according to the founding generation both were restricted by the Tenth Amendment. None of this legislation can be found in the enumerated powers of Article 1, Section 8 unless they are “stretched,” something opponents of the Constitution feared would happen. That was the driving force behind a “States’ Rights” amendment in the Bill of Rights to begin with. If the States had a backbone (and were not slopping at the federal trough) they would interpose their control over such issues, invoke the Tenth Amendment, and strike them from the books.
In 1788, Tench Coxe of Pennsylvania, an ardent supporter of the Constitution and member of the Continental Congress, wrote that,
[The general government] cannot interfere with the opening of rivers and canals; the making or regulation of roads, except post roads; building bridges; erecting ferries; establishment of state seminaries of learning; libraries; literary, religious, trading or manufacturing societies; erecting or regulating the police of cities, towns or boroughs; creating new state offices, building light houses, public wharves, county [jails], markets, or other public buildings…nor can they do any other matter or thing appertaining to the internal affairs of any state, whether legislative, executive, or judicial, civil or ecclesiastical.
And later he said, “In short besides the particulars enumerated, every thing of a domestic nature must or can be done by them [the States].” Translation, the general government in Washington D.C. cannot constitutionally do most of what it does today. To proponents of a Bill of Rights, the Tenth Amendment was there to legally ensure Coxe was correct. The Tenth Amendment is more than a protection of “States’ Rights,” it is a check on a tyrannical and unconstitutional abuse of authority by the central government.
Brion McClanahan holds a Ph.D. in American History from the University of South Carolina. He is the author of The Founding Fathers Guide to the Constitution (Regnery History, 2012), The Politically Incorrect Guide to the Founding Fathers (Regnery, 2009), and Forgotten Conservatives in American History (forthcoming with Clyde Wilson, Pelican, 2012).
April 16, 2012
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.
The Tenth Amendment:
Protecting Freedom Against Big Government
The Tenth Amendment protects Americans from big, intrusive federal government action. The heart of the Tenth Amendment is that the federal government has only those powers explicitly listed in the Constitution and all other powers are reserved to the States and to the people, and therefore explicitly denied to the federal government.
In contrast, state governments have all powers not explicitly prohibited or withheld by the state constitution or by the U.S. Constitution. Thus, states have broader powers and can, do things that Congress cannot do. For example, states can require young students to attend school and drivers to purchase automobile insurance.
Too often those in Congress and the White House assume that the federal government can do whatever the majority wishes. However, the Founders clearly and explicitly intended to prevent the majority from doing whatever it wished. Thus, they gave the federal government a very limited and carefully chosen list of powers and they reserved all other powers for the states and the people. They also provided an elaborate system of checks and balances – all to limit the power of the majority to impose its will.
The Founders felt so strongly about limited federal power as a bulwark of liberty that they added the Ten Amendment as the final exclamation point in the Bill of Rights – the federal government could not trample the rights of the people by assuming powers that it did not have, and that had been reserved to the states and the people.
At the heart of the debate over Obamacare before the Supreme Court is the question – does the federal government have the authority under the U.S. Constitution to require citizens to purchase a product? If the justices can read and understand the simple language of the Constitution, they will strike down the law because the federal government does not have the authority to do what it attempted to do in this statute.
This author is not a supporter of the Massachusetts healthcare law, but it is constitutional. There are significant differences between the Massachusetts law and ObamaCare, but perhaps the biggest difference is that Massachusetts had the authority to pass its healthcare law. That doesn’t mean it was a good idea, it just means it was constitutional. But the federal government did not have the authority to pass Obamacare. Obamacare exceeds the enumerated and limited powers given to the federal government and the limitations of the Tenth Amendment.
The Tenth Amendment is also an explicit statement of the governing principle of federalism. Federalism is the idea that there is a national government with limited powers and there are state governments with broader powers, both receiving their authority from the people. Simply stated, federalism recognizes the fact that the states are not merely political subdivisions of the federal government, but that they are separate governmental units that derive their power directly from the people and not from the federal government.
These are not old fashioned or outdated ideas. They constitute real and practical protections against the bullying powers of big government on the federal level. The Founders put in place checks and balances, limitations on power, and divisions of power – all designed to keep federal government from becoming too big, too powerful, and too intrusive. The Tenth Amendment is key to their wise designs to limit the power and scope of the federal government.
George Landrith is an attorney and the President of Frontiers of Freedom
April 13, 2012
THE TENTH AMENDMENT
Statements about the Tenth amendment tend towards opposing extremes. Some cite the Amendment in claiming more powers than the Constitution actually leaves in the states. On the other side, some claim that the Amendment is merely a “truism,” implying it does virtually nothing. The actual meaning of the Amendment lies in between these two one-sided views.
The Tenth Amendment reads as follows:
The most important word is the one that does not appear in the text, i.e., “expressly.” It is common for those who place great weight on the Tenth Amendment to state incorrectly that the Amendment says “powers not expressly delegated to the United States…” The Amendment, however, pointedly omits the word expressly.
By contrast, somewhat similar language in the Articles of Confederation did include the word expressly.
Each state retains its sovereignty, freedom, and independence, and every power, jurisdiction, and right, which is not by this Confederation expressly delegated to the United States, in Congress assembled. (emphasis added)
What difference in meaning does the word “expressly” make? The difference is that which distinguishes a confederation from a government. The Articles of Confederation provides that “The said States hereby severally enter into a firm league of friendship with each other…” (emphasis added). The Articles recognize that the States retained their full sovereignty and entered into a special kind of alliance or league. The Articles constitute a treaty involving multiple sovereignties and having several purposes. As a treaty, however, it is still a contract and each State delegates only those powers expressly written into the contract. Although “[t]he Articles thereof shall be inviolably observed by the States,” the document creates no government having the power to enforce its provisions. It provides only for states to send representatives to meet as the “United States in Congress” and to manage those powers expressly given.
The Constitution that emerged from the Convention, as all understood, was not a confederation or simply a league of friendship. Opponents of the Constitution, known as the Antifederalists, concluded that therefore the Constitution would create a consolidated or centralized government. The Federalist (written by Madison, Hamilton and Jay under the pseudonym of “Publius”) countered that the Constitution created a federal government of only limited powers and left most powers of government in the states.
Not persuaded, the Antifederalists contended that the Constitution’s limits on the federal government could and would be swept aside by its “necessary and proper clause.” Their arguments in opposition to the Constitution emphasized the document’s lack of a bill of rights. They urged that a statement of rights was necessary to protect liberty by limiting the power of the federal government and specifically to undo the effect of the “necessary and proper” clause.
The Constitution drafted at the Constitutional Convention contained no bill of rights. This was not an oversight. The Convention voted down George Mason’s proposal that a bill of rights be added. Moreover, during the Ratification period, The Federalist (#84) argued “that bills of rights, in the sense and to the extent they are contended for, are not only unnecessary in the proposed constitution, but would even be dangerous.” A bill of rights was unnecessary because “a minute detail of particular rights is certainly far less applicable to a constitution like that under consideration, which is merely intended to regulate the general political interests of the nation.” It was dangerous because it “would contain various exceptions to powers not granted; and on this very account, would afford a colourable pretext to claim more than was granted.”
The Federalists and Antifederalists held opposing ideas about the best means to protect liberty. Whereas the Antifederalists gave priority to bills of rights, the Federalists distrusted the efficacy of such “parchment barriers.” Rather the Federalists drafted the Constitution on the premise that protecting liberty requires a structure of separation of powers within the federal government and a division of powers between the federal and state governments. For that reason, The Federalist said “The truth is … that the constitution is itself, in every rational sense, and to every useful purpose, A BILL OF RIGHTS.”
Predictions of both the Antifederalists and Federalists have proved in part to be accurate. As the Antifederalists feared, the Necessary and Proper Clause has been used to expand the powers of the federal government greatly at the expense of the states, a trend aided (as discussed in a later essay) by the Seventeenth Amendment. The Federalists were correct that the Bill of Rights, aided by the Fourteenth Amendment’s judicially-developed doctrine of Incorporation, has been used to expand the powers of the federal government at the expense of the states.
The foundational explanation of the Necessary and Proper Clause came in Chief Justice Marshall’s opinion in McCulloch v. Maryland (1819). The opinion addressed the Necessary and Proper Clause as an additional, not the primary, reason for upholding the constitutionality of the Bank of the United States. Jeffersonian Republicans, many of whom had been Antifederalists, opposed this decision as an unconstitutional expansion of Congress’s powers. Chief Justice Marshall’s opinion, however, was perfectly consistent with, and generally tracked language in several essays from, The Federalist.
Over the years, especially since the New Deal, the centralizers of national power have often relied on a distorted interpretation of the Necessary and Proper clause which disregards the fundamental principle that the federal government is one of limited powers. Accordingly, they dismiss the Tenth Amendment as simply a “truism.” The defenders of state power, on the other hand, emphasize the Tenth Amendment, almost as if nothing else in the Constitution matters. They generally fail to understand The Federalist explanation – confirmed by Chief Justice Marshall’s opinion in McCulloch – that Congress has the fullness of those powers actually given to Congress and that the Constitution includes the Necessary and Proper Clause in order to leave no doubt about the fullness of the powers actually given.
When during the First Congress James Madison spoke for the Bill of Rights he had introduced, among other points he argued that they were of “such a nature as will not injure the Constitution.” Specifically, what became the Tenth Amendment did not injure the Constitution because it did not convert it to a confederation. That is to say, the Tenth Amendment pointedly did not use the word expressly.
As to any power actually given by the Constitution, Congress has the fullness of that power. Congress’s exercise of power is nevertheless limited– first by the fact that it is not given every power of government. Secondly, Congress encounters procedural limits on the implementation of its enumerated powers due to bicameralism and separation of powers. The division of powers between the federal and state governments which effectively limited Congress’s exercise of enumerated powers has been undermined by the Seventeenth Amendment’s provision for direct election of senators.
The U.S. government has over the years consolidated power to a degree feared even by the Federalists, and much more so by the Antifederalists. To point solely to the Tenth Amendment, however, as the primary limit on the expansion of federal power is to misunderstand the Constitution. The Tenth Amendment is a ‘truism” in the sense that it merely confirms that the Constitution creates a federal government with a limited number of powers, those related to national defense, foreign affairs, foreign trade, and trade among the states. See Federalist # 23 and #45. Like the Necessary and Proper Clause, a proper interpretation of the Tenth Amendment must be connected to the Constitution’s structure of divided and separated power.
Dr. John S. Baker, Jr. is the Distinguished Scholar in Residence at Catholic University School of Law and Professor Emeritus of Law at Louisiana State University Law Center.
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April 12, 2012
The enumeration in the Constitution, of certain rights, shall not be construed to deny or disparage others retained by the people.
In the waning days of the Philadelphia Convention in 1787, George Mason of Virginia, Elbridge Gerry of Massachusetts and Luther Martin of Maryland began pressing for the addition of a comprehensive bill of rights to the final draft of the Constitution. Roger Sherman of Connecticut immediately rejected their plea. A bill of rights, he said, was unnecessary because “The State Declarations of Rights are not repealed by this Constitution; and being in force are sufficient….” Sherman, a man who Thomas Jefferson regarded as one of the finest statesmen of the founding generation, reasoned that because the Constitution was mute on civil liberties and because it was a document with delegated and enumerated powers for the general purposes of the Union—the States United—the general government could no more legislate on matters of trial by jury than it could on the minutia of state law. Gerry’s proposal to form a committee to draft of a bill of rights was unanimously defeated (votes were by State), and as a result Mason said he would rather cut off his right hand than sign the document. This exchange began the process for codifying the language of the Ninth Amendment.
During the ratifying process in the State conventions, several leading proponents of the document made arguments against a bill of rights that mirrored those Sherman gave in the Philadelphia Convention. James Wilson of Pennsylvania, perhaps the most ardent nationalist among the founding generation, said in the Pennsylvania Ratifying Convention that “A bill of rights annexed to a constitution is an enumeration of the powers reserved. If we attempt an enumeration, every thing that is not enumerated is presumed to be given. The consequence is, that an imperfect enumeration would throw all implied power into the scale of the government, and the rights of the people would be rendered incomplete.”
Alexander Hamilton of New York, the most famous nationalist of the founding period, echoed Wilson in Federalist No. 84. Adding a bill of rights, he said, “would contain various exceptions to powers which are not granted; and on this very account, would afford a colourable pretext to claim more than were granted. For why declare that things shall not be done which there is no power to do?” Both Hamilton and Wilson contended that a bill of rights would destroy liberty rather than protect it by allowing scheming men to enlarge the power of the central authority. In short, if a particular liberty was not protected by the list of rights, they believed it could be assumed that the government had the power to abridge that liberty. And, since all powers delegated to the general government were enumerated in the Constitution, they wondered why open that Pandora’s Box?
Thus, the modern Ninth Amendment was born. As proposals for a bill of rights flooded into James Madison’s hands in the months after the Constitution was ratified, he quickly realized that individuals needed assurances that their liberties would not be circumscribed by the Constitution nor would they be left to flutter in the wind should ambitious men usurp power from the States or the people. The Tenth Amendment protects the States and most importantly the federal compact among the States. The Ninth does the same for the people individually by implicitly recognizing the validity—and to the founding generation supremacy—of the several State declaration of rights. It is an enhancer. The original preamble to the Bill of Rights expressly stated that they were “restricting clauses” on the general government only. The Ninth Amendment ensured that the powers of the general government as operating on individuals would be further checked by the States. State declaration of rights often tended to be more detailed and comprehensive and therefore served as a more effective shield for the people.
Madison said in 1789 that Hamilton’s argument against the Bill of Rights was “one of the most plausible…I have ever heard against the admission of a bill of rights into this system; but, I conceive, that it may be guarded against.” He was referring to the Ninth Amendment. Of course, the powers of the general government in the modern era have spiraled out of control and today the two most ignored Amendments in the Bill of Rights are the Ninth and Tenth, arguably the most important Amendments to the founding generation. The States have always stood at the vanguard of individual liberty. American citizens should remember that their first line of defense against both the State and Federal government rests in their separate State bill of rights. The founding generation believed that those declared rights coupled with the Ninth Amendment would prevent the modern leviathan in Washington D.C. We need to protect their legacy.
Brion McClanahan holds a Ph.D. in American History from the University of South Carolina. He is the author of The Founding Fathers Guide to the Constitution (Regnery History, 2012), The Politically Incorrect Guide to the Founding Fathers (Regnery, 2009), and Forgotten Conservatives in American History (forthcoming with Clyde Wilson, Pelican, 2012).
April 11, 2012
The Philadelphia Convention finished the Constitution and sent it on to Congress and to the states in September 1787. There was no Bill of Rights. George Mason, delegate from Virginia, had suggested adding one at the last minute, but his fellow delegates, who had been in session for three and a half months, wanted to get done and get home. They believed they had designed a structure of government that would prevent despots or overbearing majorities from seizing power; a list of rights struck them as mere ornament. “Whatever fine declarations may be inserted in any constitution,” argued New York delegate Alexander Hamilton, in the Federalist Papers (#84), “the only solid basis of all our rights” was “the general spirit of the people and of the government.”
In the year-long national debate over whether to ratify the Constitution, it became clear, however, that the American people wanted solid protections written into the new fundamental law. Religious minorities, in particular, were alarmed that the Constitution made no specific mention of their right to worship as they wished. James Madison of Virginia, like most of the delegates to the Philadelphia Convention, originally saw no need for a Bill of Rights; it would be, he feared, a “parchment barrier,” adding nothing of substance to the structural safeguards already built into the new system. But under pressure from Baptists in his home state—a minority sect long bullied by their Anglican neighbors—and from his best friend, Thomas Jefferson, who was then serving as a diplomat in Paris, Madison came around. “A bill of rights,” Jefferson wrote him, “is what the people are entitled to against every government on earth.” Madison came to see that rights written down in black and white would become “fundamental maxims of good government.” They would “rouse the attention” of Americans, who would rally to defend them.
So in June 1789, in the First Congress, Madison, who had been elected as a representative from Virginia , took the lead in drafting a set of amendments. He originally wanted to shoehorn his new additions into the body of the Constitution, but most of his colleagues favored adding them at the end. Congress submitted twelve amendments to the states for ratification in September 1789. The first, which regulated the size of congressional districts, fell by the wayside. The second, which concerned congressional pay, was not ratified until 1992, when it became the 27th Amendment. But by December 1791, the remaining ten amendments had been ratified—the Bill of Rights of today. Their distinct position, and the magic number ten—like another famous set of laws—ensured that they would “rouse the attention” of Americans, as Madison put it.
There had been bills of rights in English and American law for centuries, and the men who drafted the American Bill of Rights drew on these precedents. The right to petition (1st Amendment) and to trial by jury (6th Amendment) went back to Magna Carta (1215). The right to bear arms (2nd Amendment) and the prohibition of excessive bail and fines and of cruel and unusual punishments (8th Amendment) appear in the English Bill of Rights (1689). The Virginia Declaration of Rights (1776) enshrined freedom of the press and free exercise of religion (1st Amendment), and forbade arbitrary search warrants (6th Amendment) and compelling anyone to testify against himself (5th Amendment).
But the Bill of Rights added two brand-new provisions. The 9th amendment protects all “other” rights not specifically mentioned in the Constitution, while the 10th amendment “reserves” powers not assigned to the federal government to the states and to the people. These fortify the structural balance of the Constitution itself. They are a warning to the future: just because we haven’t thought of everything doesn’t mean you can grab for power.
Jefferson, as he often did, found just the right words to describe the impact of the Bill of Rights, which in this case came from his experience as an amateur architect: “a brace the more will often keep up the building which would have fallen” without it.
The Bill of Rights is a worthy addition to the great work that was done in Philadelphia in 1787.
Distinguished author and historian Richard Brookhiser is the author of James Madison; America’s First Dynasty about John Adam’s family; Gentleman Revolutionary, about Gouverneur Morris; and Alexander Hamilton, American.
February 21, 2012 – Essay #2
1: The eighteenth article of amendment to the Constitution of the United States is hereby repealed.
2: The transportation or importation into any State, Territory, or possession of the United States for delivery or use therein of intoxicating liquors, in violation of the laws thereof, is hereby prohibited.
3: This article shall be inoperative unless it shall have been ratified as an amendment to the Constitution by conventions in the several States, as provided in the Constitution, within seven years from the date of the submission hereof to the States by the Congress.
If nothing else, the 21st Amendment to the Constitution underscores the slippery slope that comes from both the adaptation of Constitutional prohibitions to the mores of the day, and the legal gymnastics that invariably ensue.
If you’ve already read Professor Joerg Knipprath’s excellent essay on the 18th Amendment here at Constituting America, you understand what led to the Prohibition era in the United States. It became clear within the matter of a decade that America’s statist experimentation with a wholesale ban on alcohol was an abject failure—but because the nation had taken the extraordinary step of banning the manufacture, sale and use of a something within the Constitution, it would take another constitutional amendment to repeal that ban.
But while this act of “liberal fascism” (as Jonah Goldberg so aptly put it) took many years to come to fruition and ratification, it was undone in a matter of mere months. This is because the architects of the 21st recognized something that should remain foremost in the minds of citizen activists when they are trying to figure out if politicians will do the “right thing” on issues. They recognized that when push comes to shove, politicians will invariably be beholden to a narrow range of vocal special interests, and are thus apt to do something profoundly stupid for the rest of us.
When it comes to ratification of constitutional amendments, we are provided with two methods—the state legislature method, which had been the primary method of ratification of most of the Amendments to that point; or the state convention method. In the case of the 21st, the architects chose the latter. The reason for this is simple: the proponents of the 21st wanted to avoid the political pressures that had, in fact, led to the adoption of the 18th amendment in the first place. State legislators continued to be beholden to the temperance movement, a loud group whom it was perceived held great political power.
Using a method of state conventions, the 21st Amendment was ratified just months after it was passed by Congress.
The 2nd section of the amendment makes manifest the axiom of the road to hell being paved with good (legal and political) intentions. While the architects clearly wanted to do the right thing and preserve those essential elements of state sovereignty guaranteed in the 10th Amendment, the broad, sweeping language has puzzled legal scholars and presented case after case to the courts.
Fundamentally, the questions arise as to whether or not the powers reserved to the states in section 2—to essentially decide for themselves if the state will remain “dry”, trump other rights guaranteed or powers created or reserved elsewhere in the Constitution. Can a state ban the total use of alcohol, for instance, even in religious situations, thereby trumping both the 1st and 14th Amendments? The answer is no, it can’t but it took a ruling by the Supreme Court to make that certain.
Clearly, the states have the power to exercise tremendous control over the alcohol that is manufactured and purchased within their borders. But like all other powers in our republic, those too are limited.
America’s foray into constitutionally prohibiting the sale of a good in the marketplace offers us a helpful object lesson for those attempting just the flip-side today. Today we’re not talking about the federal government trying to enact a sweeping ban on the sale of a good—we’re talking about attempts to enact a federal mandate on the purchase of a good: health insurance.
Citizens implicitly understand the Constitution’s limitations in the imposition of the individual mandate: Congress simply has no power to compel individual Americans to purchase a good. We will most likely see the Supreme Court striking down those provisions of the recent comprehensive health care reform legislation on those very grounds.
But with almost similar certainty, when that happens, we will see a movement, similar in many respects to the Temperance movement, attempting to pass and ratify an amendment to make the compelled purchase of such a good constitutionally legal.
We know from careful study of the constitution and an implicit understanding of the concepts of limited, enumerated, and separated powers just how terrible such an amendment would be. We need only look at the tortured history of the 18th and 21st amendments, and their impacts on American society and legal frameworks, to see directly what would happen if such a mandate were to come to constitutionally pass.
If there’s anything that we’ve learned from our foray into using the Constitution to tinker with both the marketplace and societal norms, it’s that it not only doesn’t work well, it has horrendous unintended consequences.
Andrew Langer is President of the Institute for Liberty http://www.instituteforliberty.org/
The last amendment in the Bill of Rights, the 10th, is an apt bookend for the 1st. In fact, taken together with the 9th Amendment, it can be said that the entire vision the founders had for the United States can be found in these two amendments.
The Founders were inherently skeptical of concentrated government power—it is why we were initially conceived as a loose confederacy of sovereign states. When that ultimately collapsed, the Founders looked towards federalism, a political system in which power is diffused among various branches and levels of government. As the Supreme Court said only 20 years ago, “federalism secures to citizens the liberties that derive from the diffusion of sovereign power.”
What was envisioned was a system of “dual sovereigns,” separate, but (at least as conceived) co-equal systems of government, a system in which the federal government had carefully enumerated powers, the states had carefully enumerated powers, and that which had not been delegated would be retained by the people. In other words, power flows from the people to the government, and as the High Court said 70 years ago: “The amendment states but a truism that all is retained which has not been surrendered.”
Abuse of the Commerce Clause led to a near-ignoring of the 10th Amendment by federal authorities for decades. It was only in the 1990s that there began a resurgence of these principles, as the High Court finally began to recognize that the Founder’s vision of the nation had become rather twisted. They began to restate that vision, and the reason why, re-affirming that efforts to grow federal power should only be undertaken with great deliberation. In one of the most poetic Supreme Court passages ever written, Justice Sandra Day O’Connor wrote:
[T]he Constitution protects us from our own best intentions: it divides power among sovereigns and among branches of government precisely so that we may resist the temptation to concentrate power in one location as an expedient solution to the crisis of the day.
How often have we seen federal power enlarged, or attempts made to grow federal power, for just those reasons?
Many of the cases brought to the Supreme Court in the 1990s and beyond have centered on the problem of Congress essentially compelling the states to act in a particular manner—or forcing those states to act as agents of the federal government. There are a number of problems with this, from a basic “good government” perspective—not the very least being it forces those states to spend money on federal priorities, rather than their own. Moreover, it removes policy prioritization an additional level away from an impacted population.
Again, as the High Court said in New York v. United States:
States are not mere political subdivisions of the United States. State governments are neither regional offices nor administrative agencies of the Federal Government. The positions occupied by state officials appear nowhere on the Federal Government’s most detailed organizational chart. The Constitution instead “leaves to the several States a residuary and inviolable sovereignty,” The Federalist No. 39, p. 246 (C. Rossiter ed. 1961), reserved explicitly to the States by the Tenth Amendment.
Since the 1990s, there has been a line of cases in which these principles have been reasserted by the High Court. In 1995, the Supreme Court finally found a limit to the Commerce Clause by striking down the Gun-Free School Zones act in United States v. Lopez. Two years later, in Printz v. United States, the Court struck down portions of the “Brady Bill”. The court has repeatedly stated now that regardless of how well-intentioned a federal law might be, Congress cannot ignore the Constitution’s precepts on limiting federal power and not forcing a state to substitute federal priorities for its own. The federal government can encourage, it can even “bribe” with federal funds, but it cannot out-and-out compel a state to act in an area in which the states hold their own sovereign power.
In New York v. United States, Justice O’Connor called the 10th a “tautology”, a restatement of what is obviously true. But given the erosion of the 10th Amendment over the course of the republic’s history, and the even greater erosion of constitutional knowledge, this so-called tautology needs to be restated. When discussing the principles undergirding our founding, regardless of the audience, it is helpful to reiterate the following, as underscored by the 10th Amendment: government does not have rights. People have rights. Government has powers—powers that we have narrowly and carefully ceded to it by limiting some measure of our rights. All that we have not surrendered, we have retained, and we must defend those rights earnestly and vigorously.
No Soldier shall, in time of peace be quartered in any house, without the consent of the Owner, nor in time of war, but in a manner to be prescribed by law.
In the realm of constitutional law, obscurity knows no better companion than the Third Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. No direct explication of the Amendment appears in the reams of opinions the Supreme Court has issued since 1789. In fact, save for Engblom v. Carey (1982), no explication offered by the whole of America’s judicial branch directly engages the tenets of the Amendment. And yet, the significance of the Third Amendment lives on as a jewel that has an inherent value which cannot be augmented or diminished by present-day utility.
The common law lineage of the Third Amendment stretches deep into history. Early Anglo-Saxon legal systems held the rights of homeowners in high regard—viewing firth (or peace) to be not a general thing encompassing the entire community, but rather a specific thing comprised of “thousands of islands . . . which surround the roof tree of every householder . . . .” But Saxon-era legal institutions never had to contend with quartering issues. This is due primarily to the absence of standing armies and the reliance on fyrd—a militia to which all abled bodied men owed service for a period normally not to exceed forty days in a given year. Not until the Norman Conquests of 1066 did popular grievances against quartering (also known as billeting) begin to manifest.
Attempts to codify provisions against quartering predate the Magna Carta—most notably appearing in 12th century charters like Henry I’s London Charter of 1131 and Henry II’s London Charter of 1155. But early attempts to prevent involuntary quartering by law proved inadequate, especially as armed conflicts transitioned from feudal Saxon-era fyrds to monarchs hiring professional soldiers. Men of questionable character comprised the bulk of these mercenary armies. Kings pressed criminals into service in exchange for having crimes and misconduct forgiven. Though they fought well, these men would draw little distinction between friend and foe and would continually mistreat civilians.
As time drew on, other efforts to quell quartering fell well short of success. The problem compounded exponentially under Charles I, who engaged in expensive and wasteful wars that spanned across Europe. Charles I conducted these wars without receiving approval from Parliament. Parliament balked at the idea of financing Charles’ wars—forcing the soldiers in Charles’ army to seek refuge in private homes. By 1627, the problem became severe enough that Parliament lodged a formal complaint against quartering in its “Petition of Right.”
But the “Petition of Right” did nothing to change quartering practices. During the English Civil War, both Royalists and Roundhead armies frequently abused citizens through quartering—despite the official proclamations that damned the practice. During the Third Anglo-Dutch war, conflicts between soldiers and citizens erupted over forced quartering. In 1679, Parliament attempt to squelch concerns by passing the Anti-Quartering Act, which stated, “noe officer military or civil nor any other person whatever shall from henceforth presume to place quarter or billet any souldier or souldiers upon any subject or inhabitant of this realme . . . without his consent . . . .” James II ignored the Act and the continued grievance over billeting helped propel England’s Glorious Revolution. Upon William II’s ascension to the throne, Parliament formulated a Declaration of Rights that accused James II of “quartering troops contrary to law.” Parliament also passed the Mutiny Act, which forbade soldiers from quartering in private homes without the consent of the owner. Parliament extended none of these limited protections to the colonies.
In America, complaints against quartering began surfacing in the late 17th century. The 1683 Charter of Libertyes and Privileges passed by the New York Assembly demanded that “noe freeman shall be compelled to receive any marriners or souldiers into his house . . . provided always it be not in time of actuall warr in the province.” The quartering problem in the colonies grew exponentially during the mid-18th century. The onset of the French-Indian War brought thousands of British soldiers onto American shores. Throughout much of Europe, the quartering issue had dwindled due to the construction of permanent barracks. Colonial legislatures recoiled at the thought of British soldiers having such accommodations and repeatedly denied British requests for lodging.
The close of the French-Indian War brought about even more challenges. In an attempt to push the cost of defending the colonial frontier onto the colonists, Parliament passed the Quartering Act of 1765. The Act stipulated that the colonies bear all the costs of housing troops. It also legalized troop use of private buildings if barracks and inns proved to be insufficient quarters. In an attempt to secure the necessary funding for maintaining the army, Parliament passed the Stamp Act—“as a result, the problems related to the quartering of soldiers became entwined with the volatile political issue of taxation without representation.”
Quartering issues continued to surface, worsening gradually with each occurrence. In 1774, Paliament passed a second Quartering Act that was more arduous than the first. Due to its specific legalization of quartering in private homes, the second Quartering Act would become one of the “Intolerable Acts” lodged against the King and Parliament. Grievances against British quartering practices appeared in a series of declarations issued by the Continental Congress: the Declaration of Resolves, the Declaration of Causes and Necessities, and the Declaration of Independence.
After successfully gaining independence from Britain, many states enacted new constitutions or bills of rights that offered protection against involuntary quartering. As had been the case in England, the quartering issue was entwined with the maintenance of a standing army. The 1787 Constitutional Convention, and the Constitution that arose from it, gave Congress the power to raise and support armies. The Constitution focused little attention on individual rights. That omission troubled many delegates both at the Convention in Philadelphia and at the ratification debates throughout the states.
Chief among the concerns pertaining to the military provisions of the Constitution was a fear that the new American government might be as oppressive as the British one it aimed to replace. As Patrick Henry noted:
“one of our first complaints, under the former government, was the quartering of troops upon us. This was one of the principal reasons for dissolving the connection with Great Britain. Here we may have troops in time of peace. They may be billeted in any manner—to tyrannize, oppress, and crush us.”
The Anti-Federalists routinely stressed the Constitution’s lack of protection against standing armies and involuntary quartering. Many states echoed the concerns of the Anti-Federalists. Of the ninety types of provisions submitted to Congress, only seven appeared more frequently than provisions addressing quartering.
But James Madison and the Federalists viewed such provisions as unnecessary. Any Constitution that provides a democratic process for the maintenance of a standing army will, by consequence, solve any quartering issues that may arise. As Madison noted during the Virginia ratification debates:
“He says that one ground of complaint, at the beginning of the revolution, was, that a standing army was quartered upon us. This is not the whole complaint. We complained because it was done without the local authority of this country—without the consent of the people of America.”
Madison also expressed skepticism about the need for a bill of rights. In a letter to Thomas Jefferson, Madison eschewed bills of rights as “parchment barriers” easily trampled by an overwhelming majority in a respective state. Nevertheless, Madison took up the challenge of constructing a federal bill of rights and among his proposed amendments, which he derived from the previously mentioned state proposals, was an amendment addressing quartering.
The House debate on the Amendment was short. A few members wished to edit the text of the Amendment, imbuing in it a stronger protection of the homeowner, but all such measures were defeated and the Amendment became one of the ten enshrined in the Bill of Rights.
As mentioned before, the Third Amendment is one of the least litigated provisions of the Constitution. Perhaps this lack of legal cases is due to the self-evident nature of the Amendment. As Justice Joseph Story notes, “this provision speaks for itself. Its plain object is to secure the prefect enjoyment of that great right of the common law, that a man’s house shall be his own castle, privileged against all civil and military intrusion.” Yet the absence of litigation does not itself entail that the Amendment has at all times existed without violation.
Involuntary quartering on the part of United States soldiers appears to have happened during the War of 1812. While Congress did declare war on England, thus giving itself the authority to regulate quartering, it failed to provide any regulations governing the practice of billeting. After the war, Congress did provide payment to those whose property was used “as a place of deposit for military or naval stores, or as barracks . . .”
The Civil War brought about another instance of quartering under the Third Amendment—though its case is substantially more complicated than the War of 1812. Congress did not declare war on the Confederacy and it is unclear how periods of insurrection affect the Third Amendment’s distinction of peace and war. Regardless, even if a de facto state of war existed, Congress never issued any regulations governing the practice of quartering. Yet instances of the Union Army quartering in private homes appear in both loyal and rebel states. The question of whether this action violated the Third Amendment is unsolved and is likely to remain so, as no Third Amendment case ever arose out of the Civil War era.
The lack of litigation and judicial action has left open some interesting questions about the applicability of the “self-evident” Third Amendment. One of these questions involves the Amendment’s applicability to the states. Today, America’s troops enjoy barracks and accommodations so sufficient that it seems unlikely that troops would ever need to be garrisoned in a private home. Yet the question remains that, if an issue did somehow arise, would a state’s National Guard regimen be obligated to follow the Third Amendment (if no such provision existed in a state’s Constitution)? That question arose in 1982 with Engblom, yet the question still lacks a definitive answer.
Though it is sometimes ridiculed and is rarely discussed, the Third Amendment enshrines a right with a common law history as rich as any. Quartering abuses committed against the colonists propelled America into the Revolutionary War. After victory, the Founders worked to protect the public against any future abuses. The onset of the modern military tactics has seemingly thrown the usefulness of the Third Amendment into doubt, yet the Amendment still provides interesting and unanswered questions about federalism and the interaction of overlapping constitutional protections.
 This sentence paraphrases a metaphor from Grounding for the Metaphysics of Morals in which Immanuel Kant describes a good will as “a jewel … which has its full value in itself. Its usefulness or fruitlessness can neither augment nor diminish this value.”
 Bell, Tom W.. “The Third Amendment: Forgotten but not Gone.” William and Mary Bill of Right’s Journal 1, no. (1993): 117-118.
 Fields, William S., Hardy, David T., “The Third Amendment and the Issue of the Maintenance of Standing Armies: A Legal History .” American Journal of Legal History 35, no. (1991): 395-397.
 English Historical Documents: 1042-1189, at 945 (David C. Douglas & George W. Greenway eds., 1953) (“Let no one be billeted within the walls of the city, either [a soldier of the King’s household] or by the force of anyone else.”)
 Fields & Hardy supra note 3 at 403
 The late Tudors had a bit of success expanding and improving the traditional militia system, but this system collapsed under James I, a pacifist who favored the repeal of militia statutes.
 Hardy, B. Camron. “A Free People’s Intolerable Grievance: The Quartering of Troops and the Third Amendment.” Virginia Calvacade 33, no. 3 (1984): 127
 Fields & Hardy supra note 3 at 403 – 405
 Great Britain. Statutes of Great Britain. London: , 1950. Print.
 Bell supra note 2 at 123
 Schwartz,Bernard. Roots of the Bill of Rights. Bernard Schwartz. 1980
 Fields & Hardy supra note 3 at 417
 Id at 417-18
 The Founder’s Constitution. 1 ed. 5, Amendments I-XII. Philip B. Kurland and Ralph Lerner. Indianapolis: Liberty Fund, Inc., 217
 Fields & Hardy supra note 2 at 424
 Kurland & Lerner supra note 14 at 217-18
 Id at 218
 Bell supra note 2 at 136
 Little, Charles. “Statues at Large Vol. 3.” A Century of Lawmaking for a New Nation: U.S. Congressional Documents and Debates, 1774 – 1875 . Available from http://memory.loc.gov/ammem/amlaw/lwsllink.html. Internet; accessed 22 May 2011.
 Bell supra note 2 at 137
 Id at 141-142
Robert Chapman-Smith is the Instructional Design Associate at the Bill of Rights Institute, an education non-profit based in Arlington, Virginia. He holds a Bachelor of Arts in Philosophy from Hampden-Sydney College.
Article I, Section 4, Clauses 1-2
1: The Times, Places and Manner of holding Elections for Senators and Representatives, shall be prescribed in each State by the Legislature thereof; but the Congress may at any time by Law make or alter such Regulations, except as to the Places of chusing Senators.
2: The Congress shall assemble at least once in every Year, and such Meeting shall be on the first Monday in December,5 unless they shall by Law appoint a different Day.
Article I, Section 4, cl. 1, delegates to the state legislatures the authority to determine the time, place and manner of electing Senators and Representatives. However, with one qualification that has been rendered effectively moot by the 17th Amendment, Congress may supersede state law.
This is one of few clauses in the Constitution that affirmatively require the exercise of authority by the states. It raises interesting questions about the applicability of the traditional “default” view that all powers not affirmatively delegated to Congress or explicitly denied to the states, are reserved to the states or the people, as reflected in the 10th Amendment. Does this explicit provision “create” power for the states to act? Or, does the clause require the states to exercise a power they already have, but that they could ignore in the absence of this command?
Justice Stevens, writing for the majority, and Justice Thomas, writing for four dissenters, debated that issue in a fascinating case, U.S. Term Limits v. Thornton, in 1995. Term Limits addressed the constitutionality of an Arkansas state constitutional amendment that imposed term limits on its Senators and Representatives. Technically, the opinion involved the interpretation of the “qualifications” clause of Article I, Section 2, clause 2, whether term limits constituted an unconstitutional addition to the listed qualifications. But both sides (especially Justice Thomas) explored the applicability of Article I, Section 4, and the question of state power to act when the Constitution is silent.
The majority held that the states have no powers to act in matters that spring exclusively out of the existence of the national government created by the Constitution, unless the Constitution itself delegates that power to the states. Justice Stevens quoted the brilliant early-19th century nationalist Justice Joseph Story that, “No state can say, that it has reserved, what it never possessed.” He also noted that Alexander Hamilton, writing in Federalist 59, had warned of the danger to the Union’s existence if the states had the exclusive power to regulate Congressional elections.
In Stevens’s view, the Constitution created the national government ex nihilo, and the states had reserved powers only in those areas previously within their legislative discretion. Hence, since there was no affirmative grant to states to add qualifications for federal representatives, such power did not exist. Stevens viewed Article I, Section 4, as evidence for this proposition, as it (in his view) delegated authority to the states to act that, in the clause’s absence, would not have existed, while giving Congress ultimate control.
Stevens’s position makes it unclear why the clause is needed at all. Presumably, if the states do not have the inherent power to control the manner of election of the national legislature, but such power rests instead in the federal government, Congress already has ultimate control over the manner of election. Also, if this was delegation to the states, there is no need to declare what the states “must” do, and what Congress “may” do.
Justice Thomas found Stevens’s view to be exactly backwards. Since the states once had all powers, including the power to create whatever Union they wanted, or none at all, they also retained whatever authority they had not surrendered or that was not denied them in regards to the composition of the national government. Since the Constitution does not deny the states the power to add (but not subtract) from the listed qualifications, term limits are constitutional. Moreover, Article I, Section 4, does not detract from the general position that the states have all reserved powers. Thomas saw this provision not as a delegation to the states from the people, created by the Constitution. Rather, this is an imposition on the states of a duty to act, where otherwise none would exist.
Thomas pointed out that, without such a clause, the states could still determine the time, place, and manner of electing members of the national legislature. But they also might refuse to elect members of Congress, to cripple the federal government just as Hamilton warned. This clause, then, imposed a duty on the states (“must”) to exercise that power, subject to the authorization to Congress (“may”) to override the states’ choices. As a corollary, if the clause did not exist, Congress would have no power to act.
Until 1842, Congress left regulation of such elections to the states. States did not adhere to a single standard of electing Representatives (Senators were still elected by state legislatures). Often, at least some Congressmen were elected at-large. In that year, Congress began to require that single-member districts be used. By 1911, federal law mandated that such districts be “composed of a compact and contiguous territory and containing as nearly as practicable an equal number of inhabitants.”
When a later law eliminated that last requirement, substantial malapportionment occurred. Eventually, the Supreme Court waded into this “political thicket,” using another related provision, Article I, Section 2, to strike down apportionment that resulted in districts of disproportionate populations. A nearly absolute “one man-one vote” equality emerged to assure that, as nearly as practicable, “one man’s vote in a congressional election is to be worth as much as another’s.”
Additional questions raised by this clause are whether Congress could regulate primaries that, after all, are an integral part of the election process (based on Supreme Court opinions, today it probably could) or financing of Congressional elections (yes, within the broad contours of the First Amendment). Congress can prescribe the mechanics of voting, as well.
State laws are still important. For example, states still control the requirements for recounts, as a number of candidates in various close races in November, 2010, discovered. As well, states have different rules (and interpretations by state courts) for replacing candidates who drop out shortly before the election. Frank Lautenberg of New Jersey was permitted to replace corruption-plagued Democratic Senator Robert Torricelli on the ballot when the latter withdrew a month before the election. On the other hand, Texas Republicans were not permitted to replace Tom DeLay’s name on the ballot when he withdrew five months before the election.
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. He has also spoken on business law and contemporary constitutional issues before professional and community forums. Read more from Professor Knipprath at: http://www.tokenconservative.com/ .
Article 1, Section 3, Clause 3
3: No Person shall be a Senator who shall not have attained to the Age of thirty Years, and been nine Years a Citizen of the United States, and who shall not, when elected, be an Inhabitant of that State for which he shall be chosen.
In setting out the framework for the fledgling government, the founders grappled with the most basic issue of creating a government that would not be so powerful as to overwhelm the citizenry, but still strong enough to withstand the test of time. The Senate, created as an analog to the upper house of Britain’s parliament, was meant to be a more deliberative body than the House of Representatives.
As such, the qualifications are rather different than those set out for House members. House members need only be 25 years of age, American citizens for only seven years, and need not be actual residents of their congressional district at the time of the election.
In fact, the qualifications set out in this section are rather more proscriptive than those set out in other sections, and it begs the question, “why.” Keeping in mind that this project will discuss the 17th Amendment at a later time, suffice it to say that initially United States Senators were to be selected by the legislatures of individual states. Because those doing the selection would be a narrower group in size and scope, the founders wanted to make certain that appropriate choices would be made by these state legislators. While there is tremendous accountability in having legislators do that selecting, nevertheless the authors of the Constitution thought it best to place strict rules on those qualifications.
Digging deeply into those qualifications themselves, what first jumps out is that the age requirements are greater than those for the House. If we are to understand that the Senate was to be the more deliberative of the houses of the US Congress, then this makes perfect sense. The founders recognized that the Senate ought to have a greater level of gravitas (given the limitations on size)—and such gravitas generally comes with age and experience. Even in the 18th Century, there was a tremendous leap in maturity between the ages of 25 and 30 (which, given life expectancies at the time was approaching middle age). Madison, in Federalist #62, referred to this as “stability of character.”
This requirement also opens the possibility of potential Senators gaining federal legislative experience by first being members of the US House of Representatives.
Most people are surprised to learn that there are no actual “residency” requirements for US House members—they must merely inhabit the states whose districts they are supposed to represent. The Constitution’s authors had tremendous faith in the people in terms of being able to decide the propriety of those they would directly elect. In both the requirements for House members and for Senators, they use the word “inhabit” to make it abundantly clear that they wanted these elected officials to live in their states—and again, the founders came down somewhat more strictly on potential Senators. According to various historical accounts, Convention Delegate (and member of the committee to author the Declaration of Independence) Roger Sherman moved specifically to substitute “inhabit” for “resident” for these reasons.
While there may have been adequate reasons for not requiring habitation in House districts in the 18th and early 19th centuries, given the finite number of Senators from each state the founders wanted to ensure that someone from that state would be representing that state’s interests in the Senate. This was especially important when one considers that given the realities of travel and transportation at this time, as well as prevailing political perceptions (as evidenced later by the 9th and 10th Amendments), the states themselves were viewed as sovereign entities in their own right.
According to the Senate’s official history, the 9-year citizenship requirement was a compromise—between those who believed that anything less would allow for people with a remaining “dangerous attachment” to their mother countries to gain undue influence in American affairs (especially given the Senate’s role in ratifying treaties with foreign nations), and those who believed that anything more would hinder “positive immigration” and offend those nations in Europe who had lent support for our revolution.
It is interesting to note in this regard that this qualification differs greatly from that of the President’s. The founders recognized that because the Senate’s power was diffused among many members, the President, as Commander-in-chief and the Chief Executive of the United States, acts with a solitary and unilateral power (within limits). So while the President must be a natural-born citizen, the same does not hold true for Senators.
All in all, while relatively straightforward, once again the founders demonstrated their brilliance in laying out a strong yet simple framework for our nation’s government.
Andrew Langer is President of the Institute for Liberty http://www.instituteforliberty.org/
Friday, June 4th, 2010
Thank you to our Guest Constitutional Scholar Blogger, Julia Shaw! And thank you to all who posted your comments today.
While reading Federalist 27, I found myself thinking, “How was Hamilton so wrong?”
He begins by arguing with one of the premises of the anti-federalists:
“As far as I have been able to divine the latent meaning of the objectors, it seems to originate in a presupposition that the people will be disinclined to the exercise of federal authority in any matter of an internal nature.”
Hamilton may be correct that people will be accepting of the federal government if it is well administered, but as Peter Roff so correctly points out in his coment today, it is impossible to effectively manage the behemoth the federal government has become. And while most people do not mind the exercise of federal authority in the internal matters enumerated as federal powers in the Constitution, what they do mind is the federal government’s usurpation of those powers that according to the 10th Amendment are ”reserved to the States respectively, or to the people.”
This quote startled me as well:
“The inference is, that the authority of the Union, and the affections of the citizens towards it, will be strengthened, rather than weakened, by its extension to what are called matters of internal concern.”
Ask any small businessperson who is struggling to comply with EPA, OSHA, IRS, and numerous other sources of “red tape,” if his or her affection towards the federal government is strengthened or weakened by all the mandates, regulations, rules and laws with which he must comply.
Hamilton could not have imagined the reach the modern day federal government has into U.S. citizen’s “internal” lives. He had no way of knowing the 17th Amendment would be added to the U.S. Constitution, one of many factors that threw off the systems of checks and balances the founders had so carefully constructed to avoid a power grab by the federal government.
Hamilton got this right, however:
“It will be sufficient here to remark, that until satisfactory reasons can be assigned to justify an opinion, that the federal government is likely to be administered in such a manner as to render it odious or contemptible to the people, there can be no reasonable foundation for the supposition that the laws of the Union will meet with any greater obstruction from them, or will stand in need of any other methods to enforce their execution, than the laws of the particular members.”
Many would argue that we are moving into the “odious and contemptible” zone with the ever expanding powers of the federal government contained in some of the legislation passed in the last few years. At least 13 states would deem the health care bill “odious and contemptible,” as they mount their constitutional challenges to it.
In the comments section tonight, Adam proposed an interesting idea – a fourth branch of government entitled the Accountability Branch. I would argue that branch already exists, but it goes by another name: “We The People.” We are charged with keeping the government accountable. As Janine wrote so eloquently in her Fox News Op Ed, Your Vote is Your Voice, http://www.foxnews.com/opinion/2010/04/30/janine-turner-supreme-court-justice-constitution-elections-elected/, our power to vote is the great leveler in restoring the balance to our government.
In order to use that power wisely, We The People, of the Accountability Branch, must be educated and awake. Thank you to all of you for your participation, and for your wakefulness! Let’s keep spreading the word, and inviting others to join us!
Good night and God Bless,
Friday, June 11th, 2010
Thank you to Professor Knipprath for your excellent insight into Federalist No. 32. We greatly appreciate your generous gift of time to the 90 in 90: History Holds the Key to the Future Project!
The purpose of Federalist 32 seems to be to reassure citizens that the Federal Government’s power to tax will not preclude states from raising the revenue they need to operate their state governments. While making that point, Publius gives us an excellent tutorial in the balance of power that exists between the federal government and the states, under the Constitution:
“the State governments would clearly retain all the rights of sovereignty which they before had, and which were not, by that act, EXCLUSIVELY delegated to the United States.”
This sounds very much like the language in the 10th Amendment:
Amendment X: 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.
Publius goes on to explain the three types of cases where the Federal government is granted exclusive authority, overriding state sovereignty:
(1) “Where the Constitution in express terms granted an exclusive authority to the Union;
(2) where it granted in one instance an authority to the Union, and in another prohibited the States from exercising the like authority;
(3) and where it granted an authority to the Union, to which a similar authority in the States would be absolutely and totally CONTRADICTORY and REPUGNANT.
Making it clear that states will be allowed to levy taxes on “all other articles,” except imports and exports, Publius does caution that it might not always be prudent for the federal government and states to exercise their concurrent taxation powers and tax the same articles, but that “an inconvenience of the exercise of powers” doesn’t “extinguish a pre-existing right….” Most people would agree that modern day levels of taxation at the state and federal levels have passed the point of prudence!
The balance of power between the federal and state governments Hamilton describes in the beginning of the essay was structured to ensure our freedom. The disturbance in the equilibrium of the balance of power between the federal and state governments has resulted in greater levels of taxation at the state and federal levels, thus limiting our personal financial freedom and damaging the economy.
As unfunded federal mandates on the state governments have grown, the states’ need to raise revenue has increased. IRS.gov lists only nine states without an income tax! As the states’ need to raise revenue has increased, they have become more and more dependent on federal dollars, with mandates attached, thus altering the balance of power even more. As the federal government has ventured in to areas our founders never intended, its need to raise revenue has increased as well.
Once again, we see the damage done by disturbing the delicate balance of power so artfully designed by our founding fathers. The more we learn about the original structure and design of our government, the better equipped we are to work to restore the equilibrium which protects our liberty.
Good night and God Bless,
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!
Monday, June 28th, 2010
James Madison wrote Federalist No. 58 to defend the construction of the House of Representatives, and in particular to refute the charge that “the number of members will not be augmented as the progress of population demands.” This is an interesting issue and one that demands both a retrospective and contemporary analysis.
He began by stating that the objections against the House on the aforementioned basis “can only proceed from a partial view of the subject, or from a jealousy which discolors and disfigures every object which is beheld.” Madison simply pointed to the fact that the Constitution explicitly stated that the House will be reapportioned every ten years following a mandatory federal census and that the initial number of representatives was to be for “the short term of three years.” He illustrated that this design was based on several State constitutions, and the United States Constitution, in contrast to the State models, had more teeth. The United States Constitution stipulated that each State must have at least one representative in the lower House and that no member would represent more than thirty thousand inhabitants. States had gradually increased the numbers of representatives in their legislative bodies without such explicit language, and Madison argued that this would surely be the case under the United States Constitution.
Moreover, because the Congress was a bicameral legislature, it could check schemes by one house or the other to seize control of the government. The Senate was, in Madison’s words, the “representation…of the States,” while the House was “a representation of the citizens.” No house, he argued, would allow the other to compromise their specific constitutional authority, and no faction in either house would be able to garner enough support to destroy the other. Of course, Madison was restating his beliefs in the “checks and balances” of the federal government under the Constitution. And, if the Senate, controlled by the smaller States, tried to block reapportionment, the House could refuse to fund the government. As Madison stated, “This power over the purse may, in fact, be regarded as the most complete and effectual weapon with which any constitution can arm the immediate representatives of the people, for obtaining a redress of every grievance, and for carrying into effect every just and salutary measure.”
Of course, Madison based his arguments on the premise that the United States Constitution maintained a federal republic and did not create a “national” government. The States still had equal representation in the Senate. He was negating objections that were born from the federal convention in Philadelphia, namely that the “small States” would be swallowed up by the “large States.” In many ways, “large State” and “small State” were code words for “national” and “State’s rights.” The “small States” enjoyed equal representation under the Articles of Confederation in a federal republic. The “large States” often believed they were under-represented and thwarted by “factions” of “small States;” thus, they wanted the greater control a “national” government offered. Madison tepidly argued (he wanted a much more powerful central government at the Philadelphia Convention), as did many Federalists who initially supported the Constitution, that the Constitution did not change the nature of the United States government, only the structure. As such, the House could add members without jeopardizing the equality of the States through the Senate.
Madison cut to the heart of the debate near the end of the essay. Some members of both the Philadelphia Convention and the State ratifying conventions believed that the House contained too few members to be a truly representative body of the “people.” A thirty thousand to one ratio did not allow for enough democratic control of the government. Madison answered by stating, “the more numerous an assembly may be, of whatever characters composed, the greater is known to be the ascendency of passion over reason. In the next place, the larger the number, the greater will be the proportion of members of limited information and weak capacities.” Madison said that history had proven that large legislative bodies were typically hijacked by “a single orator, or an artful statesman….Ignorance will be the dupe of cunning, and passion the slave of sophistry and declamation.” He continued:
The people can never err more than in supposing that by multiplying their representatives beyond a certain limit, they strengthen the barrier against the government of a few. Experience will forever admonish them that, on the contrary, AFTER SECURING A SUFFICIENT NUMBER FOR THE PURPOSE OF SAFETY, OF LOCAL INFORMATION, AND OF DIFFUSIVE SYMPATHY WITH THE WHOLE SOCIETY, they will counteract their own views by every addition to their representatives. The countenance of the government may become more democratic, but the soul that animates it will be more oligarchic.
Madison’s arguments in Federalist No. 58 are contemporary for two reasons. First, his contention that the Constitution did not destroy the federal republic is true when coupled with the Tenth Amendment to the Constitution and the original election of the Senate by State legislatures. The Seventeenth Amendment, which allowed for the direct election of senators, destroyed one vestige of State control over the government. In essence, both houses are now “national” legislative bodies, something Madison argued against in Federalist No. 58 (but supported in his Virginia Plan). Second, Madison was correct when he asserted that large legislative bodies are unresponsive and doomed to failure.
But in 1790, the population of the United States stood at around four million, and the largest State, Virginia, had less than 800,000 people. That is one legislative district today. Twenty-six States have a greater population than the entire United States in 1790 with four States exceeding the 1840 population of the United States. If the Framers believed that a ratio of thirty thousand to one was sufficient for a representative legislative body and that a population of four million constituted a “country,” then would not the States today—forty three of which have a population greater than one million and many which have the approximate thirty thousand to one ratio in the original Constitution—be better handling the majority of legislative issues? The Founders would think so.
Friday, July 16th, 2010
Brion McClanahan, Ph.D., is the author of The Politically Incorrect Guide to the Founding Fathers. He teaches history at Chattahoochee Valley Community College in Phenix City, AL.
In Federalist 82, Alexander Hamilton continues his defense of the federal judicial arrangements proposed in the Constitution, focusing here upon the relation between the national and state judicial systems. In brief, Hamilton argues that the jurisdiction of the national and state courts is concurrent with respect to any issue not strictly forbidden to the states by the Constitution or laws. To understand the doctrine of concurrent jurisdiction, a brief look at the power structure elaborated in the Constitution will be helpful.
The Constitution establishes three main branches of government. In Article I, Section 8, specific lawmaking powers are assigned to Congress. In Article II, Sections 2 and 3, executive powers are assigned to the President. Judicial power is assigned to the Supreme Court (and lower federal courts that Congress chooses to establish) in Article III, Section 2. The judicial power is precisely stated to be the power to decide cases and controversies arising under the Constitution, laws and treaties of the United States.
After establishing and assigning powers to the national government, the Constitution then places some limits on how national power can be exercised. This is done first in Article I, Section 9, where the government is denied the power to pass ex post facto laws or bills of attainder, for example. Article I, Section 10 places a similar set of limitations on the state governments. After the Constitution was adopted, the First Congress proposed twelve amendments, ten of which were adopted. These amendments, now referred to as the Bill of Rights, were designed to impose additional limits on the national government.
The final article in the Bill of Rights is the Tenth Amendment. This provision is declaratory, meaning that it simply states what was already implicit in the Constitution. It reserves to the states all powers not assigned to the nation (e.g., in Articles I, II, or III) or denied to the states (e.g., in Article I, Section 10). Some powers granted to the nation are obviously allowed to the states as well (e.g., taxation, general law enforcement, and application of law by courts). These are called “concurrent” powers.
Hamilton’s argument in Federalist 82 is simply that one of the concurrent powers shared by both the state and national judiciaries is the power to apply federal law in cases properly arising in the courts. This means that state courts are empowered to decide federal questions (whether constitutional or statutory) in the first instance, subject to appeal to the U. S. Supreme Court or to inferior federal courts that Congress chooses to establish. This reading of the Constitution is necessitated by the fact that the Constitution itself established no inferior federal courts at all and severely restricted the Supreme Court’s trial jurisdiction to a narrow range of cases.
This reading of the Constitution is also necessitated by the very nature of judicial power. According to Hamilton, “The judiciary power of every government looks beyond its own local or municipal laws, and in civil cases lays hold of all subjects of litigation between parties within its jurisdiction, though the causes of dispute are relative to the laws of the most distant part of the globe. Those of Japan, not less than of New York, may furnish the objects of legal discussion to our courts. When in addition to this we consider the State governments and the national governments, as they truly are, in the light of kindred systems, and as parts of ONE WHOLE, the inference seems to be conclusive that the State courts would have a concurrent jurisdiction in all cases arising under the laws of the Union where it was not expressly prohibited.”
When concurrent powers exercised by both the state and national governments conflict, Article VI of the Constitution grants supremacy to the nation, stating that “This Constitution, the Laws Pursuant to it, and federal Treaties are the Supreme Law of the Land, anything in the constitution or laws of a state to the contrary notwithstanding.” Thus state judges are instructed to invalidate conflicting state laws. If they fail to do this, Article III, Section 2, which extends national judicial power to all cases arising under the Constitution, empowers the federal courts to overrule the state courts.
In the Judiciary Act of 1789, Section 25, the First Congress enacted Hamilton’s understanding of concurrent jurisdiction explicitly, authorizing the United States Supreme Court to reverse or affirm any judgment of a state’s highest court in which a national law is invalidated or in which a state law is upheld against a federal constitutional challenge. In other words, if a state court invalidates a national law, then the Supreme Court is authorized to reverse or affirm that state court decision. This means that the concurrent jurisdiction of the state and national courts extends even to federal constitutional issues.
The bottom line in Hamilton’s argument about concurrent jurisdiction is that there is no strict separation of national and state judicial authority under the Constitution. The Founders envisioned a more flexible arrangement that allows courts to draw upon all legitimate legal authorities and sources in order to resolve disputes peacefully. That is the essence of the judicial function.
Wednesday, August 18th, 2010
Robert Lowry Clinton is professor and chair of the Department of Political Science at Southern Illinois University Carbondale.
Today, many speak of the Bill of Rights as if it is the whole Constitution, but that is not correct. The first ten amendments to the Constitution have taken on a very different meaning than what was envisioned. In fact, the Constitutional Convention considered and unanimously rejected a motion to draw up such a bill of rights for the constitution its delegates were framing.
In Federalist 84, Alexander Hamilton answers the objection that the proposed Constitution did not include a Bill of Rights. But in this penultimate essay, we learn a key principle of the Constitution and realize why the framers’ intentions and the original meaning of the Bill of Rights is perfectly consistent with the Constitution as a document that limits government in order to secure the rights proclaimed in the Declaration of Independence.
Hamilton begins by pointing out that the Constitution itself contained several related provisions protecting rights, such as the clauses against ex post facto laws, religious tests, and the impairment of contracts. In creating a limited government by which rights were to be secured and the people free to govern themselves, the Constitution, as Hamilton insisted, is itself a bill of rights.
The more important reason for not including a bill of rights at the national level of government had to do with the difference between the state and federal constitutions. Since states had broader reserved powers, bills of rights in state constitutions made sense: They were necessary to guard individual rights against very powerful state governments. But the federal government only possessed those limited powers that were delegated to it in the Constitution. As such, the federal government did not possess the power to address basic individual rights, so there was no need for a federal bill of rights—indeed, one might be dangerous. Such a bill of rights, Hamilton argued, “would contain various exceptions to powers which are not granted; and on this very account, would afford a colourable pretext to claim more than were granted. For why declare that things shall not be done which there is no power to do?”
Put another way, why state in a bill of rights that Congress shall make no law abridging free speech if Congress in the Constitution has no power to do so in the first place? And does a bill of rights that forbids the federal government from acting in certain areas imply that the government has the power to act in other areas? If that were the case, as Madison earlier warned, then the government was “no longer a limited one, possessing enumerated powers, but an indefinite one, subject to particular exceptions.”
Nevertheless, the lack of a bill of rights similar to those found in most state constitutions became an important rallying cry for the Anti- Federalists during the ratification debate, compelling the advocates of the Constitution to agree to add one in the first session of Congress. So Madison, who along with Hamilton had opposed a bill of rights, drafted the language himself to make sure these early amendments did not impair the Constitution’s original design.
The twofold theory of the Constitution can be seen especially in the Ninth and Tenth Amendments: The purpose of the Constitution is to protect rights that stem not from the government but from the people themselves, and the powers of the national government are limited to those delegated to it by the people in the Constitution. They also address the confusion that might arise in misreading the other amendments to imply unlimited federal powers (Hamilton and Madison’s chief concern). While the Ninth Amendment notes that the listing of rights in the Constitution does not deny or disparage others retained by the people, the Tenth Amendment states explicitly that all government powers except for those specific powers that are granted by the Constitution to the federal government belong to the states or the people.
The original purpose of the Bill of Rights—stated by both the Federalists and the Anti-Federalists—was to limit the federal government. Today, the Bill of Rights mainly serves to secure rights against the state governments—the exact reverse of the role these amendments were intended to play in our constitutional system.
The Bill of Rights is indeed a distinctive and impressive mark of our liberty. Unlike the citizens of many other countries, Americans are protected from their government in the exercise of fundamental equal rights. But there should be no mistake that it is first and foremost the constitutional structure of limited government—the great theme of The Federalist and the point of Federalist 84—that secures our unalienable rights and the blessings of liberty.
Matthew Spalding is the Director of the B. Kenneth Simon Center for American Studies at The Heritage Foundation.