The Necessity of a Government as Energetic as the One Proposed to the Preservation of the Union
From the New York Packet.
Tuesday, December 18, 1787.

Author: Alexander Hamilton

To the People of the State of New York:

THE necessity of a Constitution, at least equally energetic with the one proposed, to the preservation of the Union, is the point at the examination of which we are now arrived.

This inquiry will naturally divide itself into three branches the objects to be provided for by the federal government, the quantity of power necessary to the accomplishment of those objects, the persons upon whom that power ought to operate. Its distribution and organization will more properly claim our attention under the succeeding head.

The principal purposes to be answered by union are these the common defense of the members; the preservation of the public peace as well against internal convulsions as external attacks; the regulation of commerce with other nations and between the States; the superintendence of our intercourse, political and commercial, with foreign countries.

The authorities essential to the common defense are these: to raise armies; to build and equip fleets; to prescribe rules for the government of both; to direct their operations; to provide for their support. These powers ought to exist without limitation, BECAUSE IT IS IMPOSSIBLE TO FORESEE OR DEFINE THE EXTENT AND VARIETY OF NATIONAL EXIGENCIES, OR THE CORRESPONDENT EXTENT AND VARIETY OF THE MEANS WHICH MAY BE NECESSARY TO SATISFY THEM. The circumstances that endanger the safety of nations are infinite, and for this reason no constitutional shackles can wisely be imposed on the power to which the care of it is committed. This power ought to be coextensive with all the possible combinations of such circumstances; and ought to be under the direction of the same councils which are appointed to preside over the common defense.

This is one of those truths which, to a correct and unprejudiced mind, carries its own evidence along with it; and may be obscured, but cannot be made plainer by argument or reasoning. It rests upon axioms as simple as they are universal; the MEANS ought to be proportioned to the END; the persons, from whose agency the attainment of any END is expected, ought to possess the MEANS by which it is to be attained.

Whether there ought to be a federal government intrusted with the care of the common defense, is a question in the first instance, open for discussion; but the moment it is decided in the affirmative, it will follow, that that government ought to be clothed with all the powers requisite to complete execution of its trust. And unless it can be shown that the circumstances which may affect the public safety are reducible within certain determinate limits; unless the contrary of this position can be fairly and rationally disputed, it must be admitted, as a necessary consequence, that there can be no limitation of that authority which is to provide for the defense and protection of the community, in any matter essential to its efficacy that is, in any matter essential to the FORMATION, DIRECTION, or SUPPORT of the NATIONAL FORCES.

Defective as the present Confederation has been proved to be, this principle appears to have been fully recognized by the framers of it; though they have not made proper or adequate provision for its exercise. Congress have an unlimited discretion to make requisitions of men and money; to govern the army and navy; to direct their operations. As their requisitions are made constitutionally binding upon the States, who are in fact under the most solemn obligations to furnish the supplies required of them, the intention evidently was that the United States should command whatever resources were by them judged requisite to the “common defense and general welfare.” It was presumed that a sense of their true interests, and a regard to the dictates of good faith, would be found sufficient pledges for the punctual performance of the duty of the members to the federal head.

The experiment has, however, demonstrated that this expectation was ill-founded and illusory; and the observations, made under the last head, will, I imagine, have sufficed to convince the impartial and discerning, that there is an absolute necessity for an entire change in the first principles of the system; that if we are in earnest about giving the Union energy and duration, we must abandon the vain project of legislating upon the States in their collective capacities; we must extend the laws of the federal government to the individual citizens of America; we must discard the fallacious scheme of quotas and requisitions, as equally impracticable and unjust. The result from all this is that the Union ought to be invested with full power to levy troops; to build and equip fleets; and to raise the revenues which will be required for the formation and support of an army and navy, in the customary and ordinary modes practiced in other governments.

If the circumstances of our country are such as to demand a compound instead of a simple, a confederate instead of a sole, government, the essential point which will remain to be adjusted will be to discriminate the OBJECTS, as far as it can be done, which shall appertain to the different provinces or departments of power; allowing to each the most ample authority for fulfilling the objects committed to its charge. Shall the Union be constituted the guardian of the common safety? Are fleets and armies and revenues necessary to this purpose? The government of the Union must be empowered to pass all laws, and to make all regulations which have relation to them. The same must be the case in respect to commerce, and to every other matter to which its jurisdiction is permitted to extend. Is the administration of justice between the citizens of the same State the proper department of the local governments? These must possess all the authorities which are connected with this object, and with every other that may be allotted to their particular cognizance and direction. Not to confer in each case a degree of power commensurate to the end, would be to violate the most obvious rules of prudence and propriety, and improvidently to trust the great interests of the nation to hands which are disabled from managing them with vigor and success.

Who is likely to make suitable provisions for the public defense, as that body to which the guardianship of the public safety is confided; which, as the centre of information, will best understand the extent and urgency of the dangers that threaten; as the representative of the WHOLE, will feel itself most deeply interested in the preservation of every part; which, from the responsibility implied in the duty assigned to it, will be most sensibly impressed with the necessity of proper exertions; and which, by the extension of its authority throughout the States, can alone establish uniformity and concert in the plans and measures by which the common safety is to be secured? Is there not a manifest inconsistency in devolving upon the federal government the care of the general defense, and leaving in the State governments the EFFECTIVE powers by which it is to be provided for? Is not a want of co-operation the infallible consequence of such a system? And will not weakness, disorder, an undue distribution of the burdens and calamities of war, an unnecessary and intolerable increase of expense, be its natural and inevitable concomitants? Have we not had unequivocal experience of its effects in the course of the revolution which we have just accomplished?

Every view we may take of the subject, as candid inquirers after truth, will serve to convince us, that it is both unwise and dangerous to deny the federal government an unconfined authority, as to all those objects which are intrusted to its management. It will indeed deserve the most vigilant and careful attention of the people, to see that it be modeled in such a manner as to admit of its being safely vested with the requisite powers. If any plan which has been, or may be, offered to our consideration, should not, upon a dispassionate inspection, be found to answer this description, it ought to be rejected. A government, the constitution of which renders it unfit to be trusted with all the powers which a free people OUGHT TO DELEGATE TO ANY GOVERNMENT, would be an unsafe and improper depositary of the NATIONAL INTERESTS. Wherever THESE can with propriety be confided, the coincident powers may safely accompany them. This is the true result of all just reasoning upon the subject. And the adversaries of the plan promulgated by the convention ought to have confined themselves to showing, that the internal structure of the proposed government was such as to render it unworthy of the confidence of the people. They ought not to have wandered into inflammatory declamations and unmeaning cavils about the extent of the powers. The POWERS are not too extensive for the OBJECTS of federal administration, or, in other words, for the management of our NATIONAL INTERESTS; nor can any satisfactory argument be framed to show that they are chargeable with such an excess. If it be true, as has been insinuated by some of the writers on the other side, that the difficulty arises from the nature of the thing, and that the extent of the country will not permit us to form a government in which such ample powers can safely be reposed, it would prove that we ought to contract our views, and resort to the expedient of separate confederacies, which will move within more practicable spheres. For the absurdity must continually stare us in the face of confiding to a government the direction of the most essential national interests, without daring to trust it to the authorities which are indispensible to their proper and efficient management. Let us not attempt to reconcile contradictions, but firmly embrace a rational alternative.

I trust, however, that the impracticability of one general system cannot be shown. I am greatly mistaken, if any thing of weight has yet been advanced of this tendency; and I flatter myself, that the observations which have been made in the course of these papers have served to place the reverse of that position in as clear a light as any matter still in the womb of time and experience can be susceptible of. This, at all events, must be evident, that the very difficulty itself, drawn from the extent of the country, is the strongest argument in favor of an energetic government; for any other can certainly never preserve the Union of so large an empire. If we embrace the tenets of those who oppose the adoption of the proposed Constitution, as the standard of our political creed, we cannot fail to verify the gloomy doctrines which predict the impracticability of a national system pervading entire limits of the present Confederacy.


– Guest Essayist: Dr. John S. Baker, Jr., Distinguished Scholar in Residence, Catholic University School of Law; Professor Emeritus, Louisiana State University Law Center

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.


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 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 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

Essay #39

Guest Essayist: Dr. John S. Baker, Jr., Professor Emeritus, Louisiana State University Law Scho

Article 1, Section 8, Clause 3

3:  To regulate Commerce with foreign Nations, and among the several States, and with the Indian Tribes;

During the Ratification Debates, the power of Congress under Clause 3 of Article I, Section  8  “To regulate Commerce with foreign Nations, and among the several States, and with Indian Tribes” was not controversial.  It was generally recognized that the lack of such a power in the Articles of Confederation had damaged trade and finance among the states.  Moreover, without a power to superintend commerce moving from state-to-state, the United States as a confederation was hampered in negotiating trade treaties. Other nations, notably Great Britain, had experienced the inability of the Confederation to prevent States from violating treaty obligations of the United States.

Since the adoption of the Constitution, the Commerce Clause has been much more controversial.  Two early foundational cases in the Supreme Court, McCulloch v. Maryland (1819) and Gibbons v. Ogden (1824, address the Commerce Clause in the context of the broad issues of constitutional structure.  Later cases in the Nineteenth century, particularly following the Civil War, deal primarily with what is known as the “dormant commerce clause.” This doctrine involves the limits implied by the Constitution on the ability of the states to affect commerce, e.g. Cooley v. Board of Wardens (1852). Since the beginning of the 20th Century, the Supreme Court’s jurisprudence concerning both Congress’s power under the Commerce Clause and the limits on the states’ powers to affect interstate commerce has undergone occasional, significant shifts.

The political divide over the regulation of commerce came to the fore soon after the creation of the government under the Constitution. During the Presidency of George Washington, Treasury Secretary Alexander Hamilton promoted federal legislation designed to develop an active commerce built around manufacturing. His most controversial success was creation of the Bank of the United States, a corporation chartered by the federal government. Hamilton and Secretary of State Thomas Jefferson squared off over the authority of Congress to create a corporation.

The Hamilton-Jefferson debate was not simply one over a policy. The two men had radically different ideas about the role of commerce in the United States. Jefferson’s vision of an agrarian America opposed Hamilton’s promotion of a commercial republic, driven by finance as epitomized in the Bank of the United States. Jefferson favored a more passive commerce which served mainly as a means for selling agricultural production, especially abroad. This debate involved a fundamental disagreement about the nature and the extent of the federal government’s powers under the Constitution.

Long before the Supreme Court had the opportunity of addressing the issue, these two great statesmen publicly debated the constitutionality of the Bank. Their positions rested on opposing views regarding interpretation of the Constitution. Jefferson focused on the fact that the Constitution contained no power to create a corporation. He employed “strict construction” of the Constitution to argue that neither the Commerce Clause nor the “Necessary and Proper” Clause authorized creation of the Bank. Jefferson’s position was that Congress could rely on the “Necessary and Proper” Clause only to do that which was “absolutely necessary” to carry out one of the listed powers. Hamilton, on the other hand, justified creation of the Bank as a legitimate exercise of the federal government’s enumerated powers. His position coincided with his own explanation of federal powers laid out in Federalist #23. That is to say, the position of Hamilton and The Federalist, later embodied in McCulloch v. Maryland (to be analyzed later in the section addressing the “Necessary and Proper” Clause), was that the Constitution gives Congress a limited number of powers, but places no limit on the powers actually given.

The term “strict construction,” as used by Jefferson, differs from what the public apparently understands to be the meaning of that term. By “strict construction,” Jefferson means a narrow construction of the words in the Constitution. According to Jefferson, for example, the “Necessary and Proper” Clause only authorizes that which is “absolutely” necessary. The Constitution, however, does not include the word “absolutely” to modify “necessary.”

Today, those who refer to “strict construction” do not necessarily adopt Jefferson’s narrow construction. Generally, those who use the term mean simply this: following the text of the Constitution. For them, the term “strict construction” is the opposite of a “liberal” interpretation,” which involves going beyond the words of the Constitution.  Those, on the other hand, who support liberal construction justify doing so under the banner of “a living Constitution” which they contend must be “updated” by the Supreme Court. Justice Scalia, who opposes the notion of “the living Constitution,” surprises many when he says he is not a “strict constructionist.” Rather, the Justice describes himself both as an “Originalist” and a “textualist,” a methodology he explains as one which gives to the words of the Constitution the original meaning of the particular text.

Chief Justice Marshall’s opinion in Gibbons v. Ogden (often referred to as “the Steamboat case”) definitely rejected the Jeffersonian version of “strict construction.” Rather, Marshall’s reading of the Commerce Clause involved what today could best be described as “originalist” and “textualist.” The case addressed two issues: 1) whether, under the Commerce Clause, Congress had the power to enact legislation regulating river transportation; and 2) whether a New York statute granting a monopoly on steamboat traffic was constitutional.

On the first issue, the Court analyzed the text as follows: a) the federal law “regulates”; b) river transportation falls within the meaning of “commerce”; and c) the commerce, being between the states of New York and New Jersey is “among the states.” The federal statute, thus, fell within Congress’s power to “regulate Commerce … among the Several States.”  The Court accordingly held that the federal law to be constitutional. On the second issue of the state monopoly which conflicted with the federal statute, the state statute had to give way under the Constitution’s Supremacy Clause.

The challenger to the New York monopoly argued the power over commerce given to Congress was an exclusive one which could not be exercised by the states. Gibbons found it unnecessary to decide that issue. A later Supreme Court opinion, Cooley v. Board of Wardens (1852), addressing primarily the power of a state to regulate matters related to a harbor, decided that the Commerce power was not exclusive to the federal government. Unfortunately, Cooley did not pay particular attention to the text of the Commerce Clause, which does not give Congress power to regulate all commerce, but “commerce among the States.” Instead, the Court took it upon itself to divide commerce between what is “national” and what is “local,” a distinction not grounded in the text. As a result of Cooley and later cases, the Court followed several theories to decide when a state could regulate commerce and when the federal government could do so.

In the course of things, the Court conflated the tests for what states could do and what the federal government could do. From cases involving state regulation, the Court looked to whether the law was “affecting” or “substantially affecting” interstate commerce. If what the state did was deemed to impede “interstate commerce,” then the statute was held to be unconstitutional as a violation of the “dormant commerce clause.”  While the Court’s authority to imply a “dormant commerce clause” is itself debatable in terms of an originalist or textualist interpretation, transferring that text to the Congress’s power under the Commerce Clause clearly conflicts with an originalist or textualist interpretation of the clause, which nowhere mentions “interstate commerce.”

The Court’s departure from the text of the Commerce Clause has involved two wild swings. Prior to 1937, the Court declared certain pieces of federal legislation unconstitutional which it said did not actually regulate interstate commerce. In the view of the Court’s majority, the unconstitutional law had the purpose of regulating something else, e.g., manufacturing, and therefore fell within the powers of the states to regulate. The extreme case on this side was Hammer v. Dagenhart (1918), a case which held Congress could not enact a child-labor law. During the early years of the presidency of Franklin Roosevelt, the Court declared unconstitutional several key pieces of New Deal legislation which created a serious constitutional conflict between the Court and the two political branches.

In 1937, however, a majority of the Court began to uphold New Deal legislation on the theory that Congress’s purpose in enacting the law was to regulate some activity which “substantially affected,” and eventually simply “affected,” interstate commerce. The extreme example was Wickard v. Fillburn (1942), a case in which the Court upheld the power of the federal government to regulate how much wheat a farmer could grow. Even though some of the wheat was for self-consumption and specifically not for commerce, it was said to “affect interstate commerce” by with-holding wheat from the wheat market. Under this approach, Congress came to expect that the Court would uphold almost any legislation that simply claimed to regulate some activity which “affected interstate commerce.”

Since the mid-1990s, and for the first time since the mid-1930s, the Supreme Court has declared unconstitutional two acts of Congress which were purportedly passed pursuant to the Commerce Clause.  U.S. v. Lopez (1995) held that Congress could not enact a law prohibiting possession of a weapon within a school-zone because the activity regulated was not commerce.  In U.S. v. Morrison (2000), the Court declared unconstitutional the “Violence Against Women Act.” More recently, however, in Gonzales v. Raich (2005), the Court upheld the ability of the federal government to punish the growing at home of marijuana for personal medical purposes. In doing so, the Court re-affirmed Wickard and the notion that, under the “Necessary and Proper” Clause, Congress can regulate activities otherwise beyond its power in order effectively to regulate a nationwide market.

As of this writing, the Supreme Court has not addressed the Healthcare Reform legislation enacted in 2010. When it does so, the federal government will rely on Wickard and Raich and the states and individuals challenging the law will rely on Lopez and Morrison.

Dr. John S. Baker, Jr. is Professor Emeritus at Louisiana State University Law School.

Guest Essayist: John S. Baker, Jr., the Dale E. Bennett Professor of Law at Louisiana State University

Article 1, Section 8, Clause 1
1:  The Congress shall have Power To lay and collect Taxes, Duties, Imposts and Excises, to pay the Debts and provide for the common Defence and general Welfare of the United States; but all Duties, Imposts and Excises shall be uniform throughout the United States;

Article 1, Section 8 enumerates the powers of Congress.  Listing those powers indicates that the federal government is one of limited powers.  Unlike a unitary sovereign which has all the general powers of government, the federal government has only limited sovereignty.  At the same time, the federal government possesses the fullness of any power actually given to it. As Federalist #23 makes plain, on those matters for which the Constitution has delegated responsibility to the federal government, i.e., national defense, foreign relations, regulation of national and foreign commerce, and preserving the public peace against insurrection, the federal government’s “powers ought to exist without limitation.”  All of which is to say that the powers of the federal government are limited in number, not that a listed power itself is limited beyond what is stated in the text of the Constitution.

As a result, it becomes essential to determine the meaning of the text for each enumerated power. Improper interpretation through either expansion or contraction does damage to the legitimate role of the federal government.  Giving the federal government a power not enumerated moves it closer to possessing full sovereignty. Limiting a given power enfeebles, at least partially, the ability of the federal government to carry out its legitimate responsibilities. Experience has also taught that the federal government can be enfeebled in the exercise of its legitimate powers because it expends resources illegitimately exercising powers not enumerated in the Constitution.  The built-in efficiency of the Constitution’s federal design is that it gave to the federal government, and left to the states, those responsibilities which each level of government was best able to perform.

The federal government has in large measure been able to exercise non-enumerated power through misconstruction of the first clause in Article 1, Section 8.  This clause illustrates the interpretive challenge.  To understand the challenge, it is necessary closely to inspect the text of this clause which reads as follows: “The Congress shall have Power To lay and collect Taxes, Duties, Imposts and Excises, to pay the Debts and provide for the common Defence and general Welfare of the United States; but all Duties, Imposts and Excises shall be uniform throughout the United States;”

Notice that after the word “Power” the word “To” is capitalized. Then notice that “to” before “pay” is not capitalized. Every enumerated power thereafter begins with “To,” without repeating “The Congress shall have the Power.” In other words, each clause beginning with a capitalized “To” states a separate, enumerated power. Nevertheless, books on Constitutional Law routinely treat this first clause as having two distinct powers: to tax and to spend. Textually, however, the clause states only one power which is the power to tax (in order) to pay debts and provide for the common defense and general welfare of the United States.

The Supreme Court has, at times, had to struggle with whether congressional legislation which purports to impose a tax  is in fact a tax when its purpose appears to be regulatory, e.g., a tax on gambling which was illegal at the time.  If the clause in fact grants a single power which ties taxes to paying debts and providing for the common defense and general welfare, then the issue changes.  Rather than an issue of whether the tax is really a tax, the question becomes whether – even if it is a tax — it meets the purpose language of the text.  If so read, regulatory taxes that do not raise revenue to pay government expenses would become constitutionally questionable. In other words, a reading of only the taxing language of the text – I suggest – has resulted in giving Congress regulatory powers it does not possess under a reading of the language as a single power.

Incidentally, this kind of careful attention to the text is not “strict” or “narrow” construction. It is textualism of the kind that Justice Scalia writes and practices.  As he says, he is not a “strict constructionist.” He attempts to give words in the Constitution their full meaning without either narrowing or broadening their legitimate sense.

Another mischaracterization of this clause refers to it as “the General Welfare Clause.” If Congress had a power simply to legislate for the “general welfare,” there would be no need to list any other powers.  Under such a construction of the Constitution, the federal government would in no way be a limited one.  Few, if any, students of the Constitution, however, would openly claim Congress has such unlimited power.  Nevertheless, the spending language in the clause – viewed as distinct from the taxing language –can be distorted to achieve the same unlimited power.

As discussed in United States v. Butler (1936), one of the few Supreme Court cases to address the spending language of the clause, the clause has been a matter of dispute nearly since the beginning when Madison and Hamilton disagreed over its interpretation. (The legislation addressed in Butler also involved a tax collected to fund the spending.) Madison contended that the power to tax and spend for the general welfare had to be tied to one of the other enumerated powers.  Hamilton, and later Justice Joseph Story, disagreed. They said the power was a separate power, limited only by the requirement that its exercise be for “the general welfare.” Although Butler adopted the Hamilton-Story position, it declared the particular legislation unconstitutional.

If the discussion above regarding the use of “To” and “to” means that the clause does not contain two powers, it should also establish that the clause contains a power separate from those which follow, as Hamilton and Story contended. If then Madison was incorrect, does this clause create a power so broad that it makes the enumeration of other powers superfluous? Both Justice Story and the Butler opinion recognize that there must be some limits on spending for the general welfare, but Butler did not elaborate.

The Supreme Court has since ignored Butler’s notion that the clause contains any justiciable limits.  A year after Butler, the Court upheld the parts of the Social Security Act dealing with unemployment compensation, Steward Machine Co. v. Davis (1937), and old-age benefits, Helvering v. Davis (1937). In Buckley v. Valeo (1976), the Court rejected a challenge to federal spending that financed presidential campaigns, saying “[i]t is for Congress to decide which expenditures will promote the general welfare.”

It may be that the term “general welfare” has acquired a meaning that, at least in Congress, extends well beyond the interpretation of Hamilton and Story.  For Hamilton who promoted infrastructure spending on canals and bridges, the spending was not for local “pet projects” or so-called “earmarks.” Rather, such spending was to promote economic development generally; it benefitted more than a single state. Underlying the term “general welfare” seemed to be the idea that the federal government could spend on matters that generally benefitted the whole country. It was assumed not only that state governments would tax and spend on projects that benefitted their own state, but that they would not and should not tax and spend on projects to benefit other states.  As with the original understanding of the Commerce Clause and other provisions in the Constitution, Congress was given the taxing and spending power for the general welfare in order to do for the states as a whole what none of them individually could do.

Congress’s idea of spending for the general welfare has often been used to “persuade” states to accept policy regulations which Congress lacks any power directly to impose.  Congress achieves the regulatory end through conditioning receipt of the funds.  Certain conditions attached to spending are not only reasonable, but required. Accordingly, the federal government ensures the proper use of funds by imposing accounting and reporting requirements and establishing other standards for spending the money.  Congress, however, also manipulates conditions in what amounts to a form of “bait and switch;” it adds new conditions after states have become dependent on federal funding for such programs as highways and Medicaid. These new conditions are ones that a number of the states likely would not have accepted when the program began because they impose burdensome obligations or infringe on a state’s legislative powers.  States, nevertheless, almost always accept the new conditions because they claim to have “no choice” — that is, except to drop the program or pay for it with state funds.

Rather than raise their own state taxes, with no diminution in federal taxes, states take the money because other states do and/or they get some return on the federal taxes paid by their citizens.  Thus, the states at least acquiesce in – if not lobby for – high levels of federal spending with the accompanying federal taxes and/or deficits to support that spending. With almost all states participating in those spending programs directed to the states, the Congress can claim that those programs address the “general welfare.”

States have not been successful before the Supreme Court in claiming Congress’s imposition of new conditions is unconstitutional because they “coerce” states which have “no choice” other than to agree to the new conditions.  In South Carolina v. Dole (1987), the Court rejected a constitutional challenge to Congress’s direction that the Transportation Department withhold 5% of the highway funds due to a state if the state did not prohibit persons under the age of 21 from purchasing or possessing alcoholic beverages.  Congress certainly had no power under which it could directly establish a national drinking age.  The Constitution left such police power issues with the states.  Nevertheless, the Court determined, inter alia, that drunk driving was a “national concern.” Of course, it was not a concern that each state was incapable of addressing individually.  Justice O’Connor argued in dissent that the condition was an unconstitutional infringement on state powers and noted that the Court’s discussion of federal spending in United States v. Butler (as distinct from other reasoning in the case) remains valid.

The last part of the clause (“all Duties, Imposts and Excises shall be uniform throughout the United States;”) guarantees that one region of the country having more voting power in Congress cannot use that power to disadvantage other states economically.  This provision ties in with the prohibition on taxing exports (Art. 1, Sect. 9, cl. 5) and the power over commerce among the states and with foreign nations (Art. 1, Sect. 8, cl. 3). It represents one example of how the Constitution, as finally drafted, coordinates its different parts into a comprehensive and consistent plan of government.

Professor John S. Baker is the Dale E. Bennett Professor of Law at Louisiana State University.

Saturday, May 29th, 2010

As I read Federalist 23, I thought about attacks the United States has endured in the last century: especially the air attack on Pearl Harbor, and September 11, when hijacked commercial airliners were flown into the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, and United Airlines Flight 93 was crashed before it could reach its target.  These types of attacks have been unimaginable to the people of the United States, even our leaders at the highest levels of government, until they occur.  And the only certainty is that our country will eventually be attacked again, in a new creative way, that we once again cannot imagine.

Alexander Hamilton knew this. His words, “The circumstances that endanger the safety of nations are infinite….” and, “it is impossible to foresee or define the extent and variety of national exigencies, or the correspondent extent and variety of the means which may be necessary to satisfy them,” ring true as we remember the wars our country has fought through the years since 1787, and the many times the President has had to send troops into hostile situations.

The founders wisely built checks and balances into our national defense.  While the Congress is given the power in Article I, Section 8 to declare war and to raise and support troops, the President is designated as the Commander in Chief in Article II, Section II, a power used broadly by Presidents to send troops where the President has deemed necessary. The War Powers Act of 1973 attempted to clarify and formalize consultation with Congress by the President when sending troops into hostile situations, and put a time limit on troops sent by the President without Congressional approval.  The Constitutionality of this law has been questioned, some have advocated for its repeal, and most recently in July, 2008 a bi-partisan Commission led by former Secretaries of State James Baker and Warren Christopher, recommended improvements.

While there is tension between the executive and congressional branches over the parameters of their war powers, it is imperative that our government provide for our defense, and be given the power to do so. Whether it be stopping Hitler and Japan in World War II, halting the spread of communism, as was attempted in Vietnam, or fighting terrorists in Afghanistan and Iraq, our American Troops, directed by our Commander in Chief, have bravely kept our country safe and preserved our liberty.

It is fitting we read Federalist No. 23 on this Memorial Day Weekend.  Let us honor those men and women who have sacrificed their lives so that our freedom lives on, and let us be thankful for the wisdom of our founders who knew that providing for the common defense was best left in the hands of our federal government.

Cathy Gillespie


Saturday, May 29th, 2010

Today, our guest Constitutional Scholar of the day, Mr. Troy Kickler’s, insightful essay states, “Hamilton and other Federalists believed, write constitutional scholars Colleen A. Sheehan and Gary L. McDowell, that interest, reputation, and duty would bind the representatives to the Constitution and public opinion.”

I find this quote intriguing, especially the section ”..duty would bind the representatives to the Constitution and public opinion.” This singular line encapsulates wisdom and inspires reflection.

The first reflection is upon the word, “duty.” Duty seems to be a word that is lost in our American culture today. As the decades descend from World War II, the sense of duty to ones country appears to be diminishing. I looked up the word, “duty,” and found the following definition: ”a social force that binds you to a course of action demanded by that force. ” The definition was followed by a quote by John D. Rockefeller, Jr., ”every right implies a responsibility; every opportunity an obligation, every position, a duty.”  Today the focus of America’s representatives as well as many Americans and the American culture seem to be one of self-interest. With the blessing of the Providential rights that are secured for us in our Constitution lay a responsibility. One of those responsibilities is to know, respect and understand the United States Constitution, as well as to encourage others to do so. The same should apply to the American Culture. How far we have drifted from the days when patriotism and love of country were, as President Ronald Reagan said, “in the air.” Is our country perfect? No. But as the Former Senator Patrick Moynihan said, “show me a better one.” We, as patriots who love our country and appreciate the founding principles upon which she was founded, need to rise to counter the palpable negativity that permeates our air today.  One has to question whether our Congressional representatives are bound to their duty of their country and constituents, or to themselves.

The second reflection is upon the statement that duty would bind representatives to the “Constitution.” “..bind one to the Constitution.” The more I read the United States Constitution and the Federalist Papers, the more I realize how much we have strayed from the Constitution in cultural thought, personal awareness, legislative acts and supreme court rulings. This slow usurpation is due to a lack of knowledge and by a lack of pressure applied on our representatives to uphold the Constitution’s principles.  As a Republic we rule through our representatives, thus, our vote is our voice. The checks and balances of our government begin with us. Thus, I suppose, there is a responsibility that we, as patriots, must own – if our representatives have grown callous and irreverent regarding the Constitution, it is because we have allowed it by our lack of diligence and duty to hold them accountable. How well do they know the United States Constitution?  How do they intend to abide by its stipulations? These should be the questions of paramount importance.

The third reflection is upon the two words, “public opinion.” “Duty would bind the representatives to the Constitution and public opinion.” Public opinion seems to be virtually ignored by our representatives today.  As mentioned in Federalist Paper No. 22 and in previous papers, Publius had a respect for the “genius of the people.” The American people have a genetic disposition and inherent ability to seek the truth and know the truth and American patriots rise to the challenge of duty. ”The experience of history” has proven this to be a tried and true trait of  Americans. All of the attempts by the current branches of government to “reason” their way around the Constitution and govern a Republic without respecting the Constitution, and the history of the American spirit, will do so in vain. Duty to preserve our great country, founding principles, bill of rights and free enterprise will be the Paul Revere ”call to action” of our day.

God Bless,

Janine Turner


Guest Bloggers: Troy Kickler, Ph.D., Director of the North Carolina History Project and Daren Bakst, J.D., L.L.M., Director of Legal and Regulatory Studies at the John Locke Foundation

Friday, May 28th, 2010

Federalist #23

When Alexander Hamilton attended the 1787 Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia, he was thirty-six years old.  Despite his young age he was a leading statesman, who was knowledgeable not only regarding current events at home and abroad but also the classics and the historical lessons that they contain. The future, first U.S. Secretary of the Treasury, Hamilton incorporated his political observations and knowledge into The Federalist.

Hamilton penned more than half of The Federalist essays.  In them, he pointed out the defects of the Articles of Confederation and argued that the Constitution and the powers that it enumerated to the national government were necessary for the Union’s survival.  To remain under the Articles, Hamilton contended, meant certain death for the Union, for the states would continually act in their self-interest and ignore the Union’s interest.  Laying the foundation for his reasoning in subsequent commentaries (24-29), the New York lawyer put forth this particular argument in Federalist 23: “The Necessity of a Government as Energetic as the One Proposed to the Preservation of the Union.”

When debating Anti-Federalists–those who questioned or opposed the Constitution’s ratification–Hamilton and other Federalists used the word “energetic” to describe a government that had power to fulfill its given responsibilities such as providing for a national defense.  An “energetic” government was not one that encroached on individual rights.  It meant simply giving life to a dormant national government and allowing it to exercise and fulfill its responsibilities.

In Federalist 23, Hamilton asks what are the proper duties of a national government.  He contends they are providing for the common defense, preserving public peace, regulating interstate commerce and foreign trade, and conducting foreign affairs.  For the remainder of the essay, Hamilton emphasizes why it is essential for the national government to provide for the common defense and what means are necessary for it to ensure the Union’s longevity.

To charge someone with a responsibility yet not empower them to perform their duty is imprudent.  That is what Hamilton believed.  In Federalist 23, he writes that if the national government is given the task of providing for the common defense then it should have the necessary authority to do so.  Even the framers of the Articles, Hamilton points out, understood this necessity: they allowed Congress to ask the states for unlimited requests for men and money to wage war; however, they erroneously trusted states to provide adequate goods and munitions and men for the national government to use at its discretion.  States many times ignored requests.

The assumptions of the framers of the Articles, Hamilton declares, were “ill-founded and illusory,” and he claims that states worked strictly for their self-interests. To make the Union last, a change in governmental structure, Hamilton contends, was imperative: power and the means necessary must be given to the national government to provide for a common defense.  To meet this particular end, Hamilton argues that the federal government should, in effect, bypass the states and “extend the laws of the federal government to the individual citizens of America.”

In regards to national defense, Hamilton believes it is “unwise and dangerous” to not give the national government power to provide for a common defense: the powers “ought to exist without limitation, because it is impossible to foresee or define the extent and variety of national exigencies, or the correspondent extent and variety of the means which may be necessary to satisfy them.” He reminds his political opponents that to withhold such means and power from the national government is counterproductive and welcomes national instability.  (Hamilton was aware of the lingering Anti-Federal skepticism and considered many of their objections to be merely nitpicking).

The change in government was needed to preserve national interests, and the proposed federal government was worthy of the people’s trust.  Hamilton and other Federalists believed, write constitutional scholars Colleen A. Sheehan and Gary L. McDowell, that “interest, reputation, and duty would bind the representatives to the Constitution and public opinion.”  That belief is expressed and implied in Federalist 23.

Although Anti-Federalists and Federalists waged a genuine and intense intellectual battle, both were concerned with protecting American liberties.  In many ways, they were champions of freedom and had much in common.  Both considered constitutions essential to the existence of a free society, and both believed that restraints should be placed on government.  Both would be horrified how far many modern-day lawmakers and constitutional theorists have strayed from original intent.

–Troy Kickler, Ph.D., is Director of the North Carolina History Project and Daren Bakst, J.D., L.L.M., is Director of Legal and Regulatory Studies at the John Locke Foundation.