The balance to solve the problems inherent in past democracies are addressed in the Federalist Papers. One topic that takes precedent is the idea of popular sovereignty and its dangers that can result in the tyranny of the majority. Whereas most Founders would agree that man is rational and capable of solving problems through reason, and that the will of the majority may be correct, this will is quite fallible. The recognition of this aspect of human nature lays the foundation upon which the Constitutionalists will devise the mechanisms and safeguards within government to allow for popular sovereignty to rule, but tyranny of the majority to fail.

The very fact that these Federalist Papers were penned and published reveals a trust and confidence in the American population to deliberate and reason. In the very first of them, Federalist Paper 1, John Jay sets the tone by directly relating to the consensus of all three social contract theorists’ (Hobbes, Locke and Rousseau) beliefs that men are rational and capable of solving problems with reason (Baradat 68). “My arguments will be open to all and may be judged by all” (Rossiter 30). Publius (pen name), in the next paragraph, lays out his topics of argument and rebuttal in a cogent, logical way.

Federalist Paper No. 6, written by Hamilton, recognizes the dangers of the motives of men as represented in republics and represented as individual kings. Hamilton reminds us in his discussion responding to the advantages of the Confederation would create more harmony, “…would be to forget that men are ambitious, vindictive, and rapacious” (Rossiter 48). Hamilton shared Madison’s distrust of human nature, but believed in people’s ability to overcome said deficiencies with reason. This tone seems to contradict Thomas Jefferson’s notion that the nature of man is generally good. Locke recognized the “dignity of human nature” (Baradat 71) whereas Hobbes distrusted it (69).

Thomas Jefferson, too, respected the dangers that lie within the hearts of men. In his first inaugural speech, Jefferson states, “All, too, will bear in mind this sacred principle, that though the will of the majority is in all cases to prevail, that will, to be rightful, must be reasonable; that the minority possess their equal rights, which equal laws must protect, and to violate which would be oppression” (16).

Federalist Paper No. 10 is Madison’s discourse on the dangers of the so-called factions that can oppress the minority’s rights. Madison, like Plato, was weary of democracy and distrusted the masses in a crisis. Madison points out throughout his writings the crisis point of a society deteriorating the democracy into a dictatorship.

Madison so distrusted the masses that he devised and defended the notion of the checks and balances in government. If enough people with the same motive and ambition organized, this so-called faction as he called it could rule, via democratic institutions, to the detriment of the minority. By having a centralized government with divisions of power in the legislature, and the executive and judicial branches, the possibility of enough people creating that single-minded majority is lessened. The danger of the faction does not mean that a pluralistic viewpoint and mechanism cannot produce good for the community. Elected officials would be charged with rendering government for the good of the people, not the local, temporary will of the people. By dispersing power, even if an elected official was not the statesman of integrity representing the good of the people, the mechanism of diversifying power offered a safeguard against that potential tyranny.

Unlike Rousseau who thought the majority can do no wrong—that the general will of the people is always good by definition of it being the will of the majority—Madison examined too many historical examples to the contrary. People needed material well-being first in order to ponder and reason with rationality and with an outlook for the greater good. Crisis is what caused the rational to turn to the mob. Ay protecting individual rights, freedoms, and property, man can be free to exercise their thought for the greater good.

Madison’s view of the American people can best be summed up by Robert Middlekauff in The Glorious Cause: “But underlying any successful constitutionalism there had to be a virtuous people. The Founders, especially Franklin, Madison, and Wilson, believed that the Convention must risk all, indeed risk the Revolution, by trusting the virtue of the American People” (653).

Madison viewed the risks involved in democracy of the tyranny of the majority to be less intense in America than in other nations or nation-states because of the size of its territory and diversity of population over that vast land made the possibility of any one faction dominating another less probable. The House of Representatives would be popularly elected. The removal of the Senate from popular control separated the majority from the potential tyranny. The belief in popular sovereignty tempered with the fear of the majority’s tyranny resulted in the remedied called the bicameral legislative branch.

These limits “protected the rights of the minority and of property, rights which had helped set the revolution process in motion in the 1760s” (Middlekauff 653).

Madison as well as other founders also recognized a Providence that seemed to guide humanity and the new nation. Jefferson reiterated this. Although Christianity or any particular religion was not inserted into the publication of the Federalist Papers nor the Convention itself, clearly an underlying virtue subject to an Almighty underscored the sentiments of most Americans and its founders. Religion was referenced as a commonality among men, but not a cure for its ills. “Yet the Constitution managed to capture some of the morality long common in American life and clearly present in the first days of the Revolution” (Middlekrau 652). As mentioned previously, Locke also held the assumption that men are accountable to a God who created them and the natural law.

The contradiction that Madison and other nationalists had to reconcile was the notion that popular sovereignty—the will of the people and self-government—was necessary and proper, but that the ills that could result (tyranny of the majority) needed advance remedies. The Constitution and the federal government it frames exalt the virtues and curtail the ills as best architected thus far in history. “It [the Constitution] aimed to thwart majoritarian tyranny, but it not deny that sovereignty resided in the people. Government should serve the people, and in the Constitution the delegates sought to create a framework which would make such service effective, though not at the cost of the oppression of the minority“(Middlekauff 652).

Moreover, “The delegates placed their trust in the people because they had no choice: a public had to found itself on the people. Their suspicions of popular power led to a preoccupation with restraints and curbs on the undue exercise of power by deedless majorities” (653). Popular sovereignty and the fear of the tyranny of the majority was therefore reconciled by an appeal to the people to approve the strong federal government under the Constitutional framework proposed.

James Madison penned a document called “Vices of the Political System of the United States” in April 1787. In this, he outlined his discontent with the Article of Confederations. This document reveals additional insight to the underlying beliefs Madison had regarding the nature of man and its ills when demonstrated in a democracy. Madison writes of the causes of injustice in the Laws of the States in two places: the Representative bodies and in the people themselves. Madison asserted that appointments to representative bodies have three motives: ambition, personal interest, and public good. He feared that the public good as perceived could be a mask for the first two. The people from whom the representative is elected are also a so-called danger in Madison’s eyes. In this discussion, Madison further points out that the factions can still choose a representative that will not seek a greater good over the passions of the locality. Madison views that even reputation and religion cannot overcome this propensity for self-interest at the expense of others. These ideas in this document Madison penned are reiterated in Federalist Papers Numbers 10 and 51. By broadening the sphere of the republic, the dangers herein expressed are lessened (Green 517-518). Federalist Paper No. 51 examines the role of the checks and balances within the branches to protect the people by controlling each of the other branches and itself. The checks and balances protect the people from the government, and from each other, and the government from itself.

Therefore, this dual nature of man, a species created by God and guided by Providence, a species with innate capabilities such as reason and rationality; whose character traits include virtue, integrity and a quest for the common good; whose very nature is of equal value to all others and contains ambition and a desire for happiness and improvement. This nature also holds the ability to veer into darker traits such as brutish force to violate the rights of another via oppression to achieve self-interest. Reconciling these seemingly contradicting forces provides the premise on which the construction of the Constitution of a national federal government was framed. Democracy is both endowed by Nature as the right form of government, yet it is the very nature of the governed makes democracy dangerous. In this, then, is born the brilliant mechanisms of the Constitution that illuminate the will of the people and protect against its ills: Separation of power via an executive, legislative (bi-cameral) and judicial branch.

Championed by Madison, Hamilton, and Jay in the Federalist Papers and propelled by fellow founders such as Thomas Jefferson and Benjamin Franklin, this careful and meticulous examination of human nature brought forth a new paradigm on whose successes we enjoy liberty to this day.

Amy Zewe is a professor of English and the Humanities, completing graduate work at The George Washington University and Tiffin University. She is also a freelance writer and editor as a business communication specialist and offers commentary on political and social issues to various media outlets. Amy resides in Northern Virginia.

Works Cited

Baradat, Leon, P. Political Ideologies. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice Hall, 2009. Barron, Robert C. eds. Jefferson The Man in His Own Words. Golden CO: Fulcrum Publishers. 1998

Greene, Jack P. eds. Colonies to Nation 1763-1789 A Documentary History of the American Revolution. New York: W.W. Norton & Company. 1967.

Locke, John. Second Treatise of Government. Macpherson, C.B. eds. USA: Hackett, 1980.

Middlekauff, Robert. The Glorious Cause: The American Revolution, 1763-1789. New York: Oxford Press. 1982

Rossiter, Clinton, ed. The Federalist Papers. New York, NY: Signet, 1999.

Click Here to Read More Essays From This Year’s 90 Day Study!

Mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable, than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed. Thomas Jefferson Declaration of Independence

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George Washington’s Proclamation of Neutrality, Thomas Jefferson’s Louisiana Purchase, Abraham Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation, invasion of the South, and suspension of habeas corpus, Harry S. Truman’s railroad seizures, and the growth of militarism domestically and internationally by George W. Bush and Barack H. Obama are all examples of executive overreach; examples of when the President used powers not given to him by the Constitution or exercised by his predecessor. Executive overreach is neither unique to the American system nor new to our time.  Efforts to limit executive control, whether it be an elected president, entrenched oligarchy, or hereditary monarchy, have defined Western political thought and reform since Magna Carta was signed by King John of England in 1215 at Runnymede. The greatest and most enduring thinkers—John Locke, Baron de Montesquieu, Jean Jacques Rousseau—that influenced the political revolutions of the 18th Century and still define the contours of our current political paradigm were concerned with restraining executive authority through the dispersion of political authority. In 1776 the U.S. declared itself independent and proceeded to rid itself of an executive and parliament that had usurped their authority. But no sooner did America win its independence did it seek to reconcentrate power into a centralized governing structure by ridding itself of the Articles of Confederation and ratifying the U.S. Constitution. The responsibility of an enlightened and engaged citizenry is to thwart all efforts of overreach.

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In late January 1904 the president of Princeton University stepped to the podium of The Outlook Club in Montclair, New Jersey. Today, university presidents get into the news when some scandal erupts, but at the beginning of the last century they often enjoyed the status of what we now call “public intellectuals”—frequently quoted in the newspapers on the issues of the day, looked to for solutions to economic and social problems. Nicholas Murray Butler at Columbia, Charles William Elliot at Harvard, and Arthur Twining Hadley at Yale were well-respected national figures. The Outlook Club was exactly the platform for such a person; possibly named after The Outlook, a prominent magazine featuring literary and political commentary associated with the several “reform” movements of the day, the Club afforded its speakers an audience of university-educated civic leaders who used their influence to promote “good government”—by which they first intended government free of corruption and of the party “bosses” associated with it, but which would soon coalesce into something still more ambitious: Progressivism.

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Guest Essayist: Mr. Robert Frank Pence, Founder, the Pence Group

He was crying from all six of his eyes. Tears gushed together with a bloody froth. Within each mouth, with gnashing teeth, he tore to bits a sinner so that he brought much pain to three at once. The first was Judas Iscariot; the second is Brutus; and the other is Cassius.

In the Ninth Circle of Dante’s Hell are punished traitors against their lords. Judas, the principal offender against religious/ecclesiastic law, is being chewed by Lucifer for having betrayed Christ. Cassius and Brutus are ground down by Lucifer for having murdered their temporal lord, Julius Caesar (who, by the way, merits only a passing mention in Inferno 4 wherein he reposes with other virtuous pagans).

It ought to strike us as strange that the leader of the Roman Empire will remain forever in Limbo while several other pagans were placed by Dante in purgatory or paradise. Cassius and Brutus are not excused by Dante for having killed the tyrant who subjugated all of Rome, Read more

Guest Essayist: Geordan Kushner, Fellow at the Mathew J. Ryan Center for the study of Free Institutions and the Public Good, Villanova University

George Washington’s letter transmitting the Constitution to Congress marked a milestone achievement in the founding of the modern United States. George Washington, the President of the Second Continental Congress, sent his letter on September 17, 1787 after four months of having been locked in a crucible of sweltering summer heat, clashing political interests, grueling debate, tenacious deadlock, and demanding compromise. Even though a majority of the convention’s delegates agreed to and drafted a new Constitution, it was well known that the real battle was soon to be realized. The battle to come would be the struggle to ratify the Constitution in at least nine states, which was the minimum number required in order for it to have the force of law. Read more

Guest Essayist: Kevin R. C. Gutzman, J.D., Ph.D., Professor and Director of Graduate Studies Department of History, Western Connecticut State University and Author, James Madison and the Making of America

James Madison spent much of late 1786 and early 1787 at work on what one historian called his “research project.”  Having participated in helping bring about the interstate convention that was going to meet in Philadelphia in May 1787, he intended to apply both historical knowledge and practical experience to the task of shaping proposals he would make as a member of Virginia’s delegation to the convention.

To that end, he drafted a memorandum on the history of federal governments.  He also gathered his notes on problems in the American federal system under the Articles of Confederation into an eleven-point memorandum. Read more

Guest Essayist: William C. Duncan, Director of the Marriage Law Foundation

George Washington’s elegant and courteous letter to James Madison illustrates what America’s most eminent man thought about the existing government, or more properly, the need for reform of the system just prior to the Constitutional Convention of 1787 (as well as providing sage counsel about moderation in dealing with civil unrest and integrity in foreign relations, among other matters).

For Washington, the need for reform centered in the “inadequacy of the powers under which [the Confederation Congress] acts.” Read more

Guest Essayist: James Legee, Graduate Fellow at the Matthew J. Ryan Center for the study of Free Institutions and the Public Good, Villanova University

Five years after the surrender at Yorktown, circumstances were all but calm for the young republic.  George Washington, retired to Mount Vernon, wrote a letter to the second Secretary of Foreign Affairs under the Articles of Confederation, John Jay, articulating his concerns over the state of events.  Washington began the letter disquieted by the divergent foreign policies the states pursued.  The focus of the letter quickly shifted from foreign policy, to alarm Read more

Guest Essayist: Horace Cooper: Legal commentator and Fellow at the Center for Political and Constitutional Studies at Frontiers for Freedom

In 1783, George Washington drafts a letter that he asks to be sent to the state legislatures of all the states that made up colonies of the USA.  These states were Delaware, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Georgia, Connecticut, Massachusetts, Maryland, South Carolina, New Hampshire, Virginia, New York, North Carolina and Rhode Island.

Washington wrote as a retiring general and war hero to commend to his fellow citizens the need to examine its government’s existing operational flaws and pursue the kind of improvements that were soon to be found in a newly drafted US Constitution.   Read more

Guest Essayist: Brion McClanahan, Ph.D., Author of: The Founding Fathers Guide to the Constitution

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

Guest Essayist: Dr. Charles K. Rowley, General Director of The Locke Institute and Duncan Black Professor Emeritus of Economics at George Mason University

The Articles of Confederation and Perpetual Union was an agreement among the thirteen founding states that established the United States of America as a confederation of sovereign states and that served as its first constitution. The Second Continental Congress began to draft the Articles on June 12, 1776, and sent an approved version to the states for ratification in late 1777.

The first state to ratify the Articles was Virginia on December 17, 1777.  Read more

Pennsylvanian John Dickinson–who declined to sign the Declaration of Independence because he believed that the states should be organized politically before declaring independence–wrote the first draft of the Articles of Confederation in 1777. Signed into effect that year and ratified in 1781, the Articles provided the structure of government for the states until the Constitution was ratified in 1788. During that period, the Articles’ deficiencies became increasingly obvious, and by the time of the Constitutional Convention, few Founders, including Dickinson, defended its continuation. Read more

Guest Essayist: Allison R. Hayward, political and ethics attorney

Enacted on July 13, 1787, the Northwest Ordinance was a great achievement, and a document Americans should be proud to own.  Yet it emerged from a Congress that, under the Articles of Confederation, had not been able to achieve very much.  Circumstances in the territories, moreover, were very difficult, and the motives for passing the ordinance among many Members were less than honorable.  That shouldn’t change our positive view of the Ordinance, but might instead lead us to think about how petty motives can nonetheless, sometimes, lead to great things. Read more

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

With the certitude of wisdom and the patronizing tone one might recall from one’s own youth, the precocious young Alexander Hamilton offers to teach the Loyalist Samuel Seabury the true meaning of the rights of man. The pointed words used and Hamilton’s sarcastic references to the “Farmer’s” ignorance of the God-given nature of those rights are put in even greater relief when one is reminded that Seabury was one of a long line of bishops, rectors, and professors in the American Episcopal Church and extremely influential in the development of the American church’s doctrine after the Revolution. “If you will follow my advice, there still may be hopes of your reformation,” takes on more layers of meaning, when addressed to a Protestant Read more

Guest Essayist: Dr. David Bobb, Director, Allan P. Kirby, Jr. Center for Constitutional Studies and Citizenship, Hillsdale College

When in 1863 Abraham Lincoln began his address at Gettysburg battlefield with the phrase, “Four score and seven years ago,” he reminded his fellow citizens that their cause in the Civil War was also the cause of 1776.  In the year of America’s birth, Lincoln stated, “Our fathers brought forth on this continent, a new nation, conceived in Liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.”

America’s principles are liberty and equality, and our Founding understanding of their relationship was revolutionary. Read more

Guest Essayist: Marc Lampkin, Shareholder at Brownstein Hyatt Farber Schreck and graduate of the Boston College Law School

Amendment XX, Section 2:

The Congress shall assemble at least once in every year, and such meeting shall begin at noon on the 3rd day of January, unless they shall by law appoint a different day.

The XXth Amendment is fairly straightforward.  Often referred to as the “Lame Duck Amendment” the XXth Amendment’s purpose is to update gaps in the original draft of the Constitution setting the time and dates for the Congress and the President — in particular the amendment changed when terms of elected federal officials begin and end in order to line their terms beginning and ending with the election process.

The amendment’s purpose is to limit the chances that when Congress meets the legislators casting the votes were duly elected, rather than retirees or those who had failed to win re-election.

The primary sponsor of the XXth Amendment was Senator George W. Norris of Nebraska.  Senator Norris believed it to be his greatest legislative achievement.  It was passed on March 2, 1932.

When the Constitution was originally ratified, the outgoing Congress under the Articles of Confederation had set March 4, 1789 as the date for which the new federal government would begin.  On an ongoing basis the Constitution provided that the Congressional session would begin on the first Monday in December.

In addition, the second session would begin a month after the election and continue until March 3.  This had the effect of allowing Members to serve during the second session even if they had retired, were defeated, or simply had not chosen to run for re-election.

Initially the schedule made sense as it accommodated the travel and weather difficulties that faced the new nation.  At the time of the founding, roads were bad and travel long distances was often difficult.  Having four months from Election Day to the start of the session seemed prudent.  However, over time, the improvement in road building and the use of trains and boats made such a delay unnecessary.

In addition, the time delay had other pernicious effects.  When President Roosevelt was first elected he was required to wait four months before he could begin any steps to respond to the Great Depression.   Many across the nation believed that the provisions in the Constitution setting the dates for a 19th century world were particularly unhelpful in the 20th century.

This led to the push for passage of the XXth Amendment.

In addition to limiting “lame-ducks” from setting policy at the national level, the XXth Amendment also means that there was a shorter period between the election and the convening of the new Congress and that the outgoing President would have time to consider the outgoing Congress’ legislation.

Marc Lampkin is a Shareholder at Brownstein Hyatt Farber Schreck and is a graduate of the Boston College Law School

May 22, 2012

Essay #67

Guest Essayist: Kevin R. C. Gutzman, M.P.Aff., J.D., Ph.D., Associate professor of the Department of History and Non-Western Cultures at Western Connecticut State University

Amendment XIV, Section 1:

All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the State wherein they reside. No State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.

Section 1, Clause 2 of the 14th Amendment says, “No state shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States.” This Privileges or Immunities Clause applies a prohibition previously limiting the Federal Government’s powers to the state governments.

From the Federal Government’s earliest days, the Supreme Court, the Congress, and the president assumed that when the Constitution used technical legal terms having fixed historic meanings, those terms were to be read as having those meanings. If we apply this rule of construction to the Privileges or Immunities Clause, the precedent to which we must look is Justice Bushrod Washington’s decision in the case of Corfield v. Coryell (1823). In that case, Washington—sitting as circuit justice for Pennsylvania—described the “privileges and immunities of citizens in the several States,” mentioned in Article IV, Section 2.

According to Washington:
The inquiry is, what are the privileges and immunities of citizens in the several States? We feel no hesitation in confining these expressions to those privileges and immunities which are, in their nature, fundamental; which belong, of right, to the citizens of all free governments; and which have, at all times, been enjoyed by the citizens of the several States which compose this Union, from the time of their becoming free, independent, and sovereign…. They may … be all comprehended under the following general heads: protection by the government; the enjoyment of life and liberty, with the right to acquire and possess property of every kind, and to pursue and obtain happiness and safety; subject nevertheless to such restraints as the government may justly prescribe for the general good of the whole. The right of a citizen of one State to pass through, or to reside in any other State…; to claim the benefit of the writ of habeas corpus; to institute and maintain actions of any kind in the courts of the State; to take, hold and dispose of property, either real or personal; and an exemption from higher taxes or impositions than are paid by the other citizens of the State…[,] to which may be added, the elective franchise, as regulated and established by the laws or constitution of the State in which it is to be exercised. These, and many others which might be mentioned, are, strictly speaking, privileges and immunities, and the enjoyment of them by the citizens of each State, in every other State, was manifestly calculated (to use the expressions of the preamble of the corresponding provision in the old Articles of Confederation) “the better to secure and perpetuate mutual friendship and intercourse among the people of the different States of the Union.”

The first case in which the Supreme Court had an opportunity to construe the Privileges or Immunities Clause was The Slaughter-House Cases (1873). There, the Court divided the privileges and immunities of American citizens between those that are protected by state governments and those that are, as Section 1 of the Fourteenth Amendment puts it, “privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States.” While it declined to list all of the ones that fell under the Fourteenth Amendment, it did say that virtually all of our rights remained rights of state citizenship, not rights “of citizens of the United States”—just as they had been before the Fourteenth Amendment.

So, some of the “privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States” that it listed were “to come to the seat of government to assert any claim he may have upon that government, to transact any business he may have with it, to seek its protection, to share its offices, to engage in administering its functions[;] … the right of free access to its seaports, through which operations of foreign commerce are conducted, to the sub-treasuries, land offices, and courts of justice in the several States[;] … [a citizen’s right] to demand the care and protection of the Federal government over his life, liberty, and property when on the high seas or within the jurisdiction of a foreign government[;] … [t]he right to peaceably assemble and petition for redress of grievances[;] the privilege of the writ of habeas corpus[;] … the right to use the navigable waters of the United States, however they may penetrate the territory of the several States[;] … all rights secured to our citizens by treaties with foreign nations[;] … [the] privilege … to become a citizen of any State of the Union by a bona fide residence therein, with the same rights as other citizens of that State[; … and] the rights secured by the thirteenth and fifteenth articles of amendment, and by the [rest of the] fourteenth….”

Nowadays, liberal critics commonly decry the Court’s decision in Slaughter-House for not creating numerous new rights for federal courts and Congress to enforce against the states under the cover of the Fourteenth Amendment. However, as the Slaughter-House majority pointed out, to have taken a different position would have made the Court the “censor” of all state and local legislation with a supervisory power over all state laws. While the 20th-century Supreme Court carved out precisely such a role for itself, the Reconstruction-era justices remained committed to the Founders’ vision of a decentralized government in which most decisions were made by elected officials. It is unsurprising that they did not behave as modern liberal judges would behave.

Kevin R. C. Gutzman, M.P.Aff., J.D., Ph.D. is an American historian and New York Times bestselling author. He is an associate professor of the Department of History and Non-Western Cultures at Western Connecticut State University.

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

Amendment XIV, Section 1:
All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the State wherein they reside. No State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.

The citizenship clause of the 14th Amendment is one of four amendments to the Constitution that were intended to overturn or clarify Supreme Court rulings (the 11th, 16th, and 26th were the others). Prior to 1857, there had been much scholarly discussion and political debate, but no resolution or consensus, whether the basis of American citizenship was dependent or independent of state citizenship. Many supported the view expressed by South Carolina’s John C. Calhoun in his famous Senate speech on the Force Bill in 1833, “[Every] citizen is a citizen of some State or Territory, and as such, under an express provision of the Constitution, is entitled to all privileges and immunities of citizens in the several States; and it is in this and no other sense that we are citizens of the United States.” On the other hand, James Madison, discussing the need for Congress to provide uniformity in naturalization in Federalist 42, appears to assume that American citizenship cannot be left to the vagaries of state definitions.

The Supreme Court thoroughly examined the issue in the Dred Scott case in 1857. Chief Justice Roger Taney’s majority opinion addressed the interplay between state citizenship and American citizenship. He reasoned that “people of the United States” in the preamble and “citizens” in other parts were synonymous. The people of the United States were composed of the people of the States, as it was they who were the parties to the Constitution in light of the adoption process by state conventions. The “people” of those states were the “free” inhabitants. This was a concept of specific meaning, referring to whites only, not people brought to the colonies as slaves or their descendants, even if thereafter they had been freed. Accordingly, only those descended from white inhabitants and those people naturalized under federal law (since the first statute in 1790, only whites) could be American citizens. This fundamental principle overrode later decisions by individual states to recognize additional classes of state citizens. Scott had no basis claiming citizenship as that term was used in the Constitution. Therefore, he had no power to sue in federal court as a “citizen” of Missouri.

Taney’s argument had a weak link in that there were freed blacks, some of whom could vote in 5 of the 13 states at the adoption of the Constitution. Moreover, the privileges and immunities clause of the Articles of Confederation (the pre-cursor to its counterpart in the Constitution of 1787) had discussed the body of the states’ citizens in terms of their “free inhabitants.” An amendment proposed by South Carolina to insert “white” after “free” was overwhelmingly rejected in 1778. If that was correct, slaves could not claim citizenship, but free blacks could. Just in case, Taney cut off that argument by stating that Scott’s residence with his master in Wisconsin territory could not transmute his status from slave to free.

The main dissenting opinion, by Justice Benjamin Curtis, exploited that weakness, insisting that the Constitution established an understanding of American citizenship that plausibly could extend to all free persons born in the United States. Curtis agreed, however, that the states determined the basic parameters of citizenship, and that American citizenship was derived from the scope of citizenship recognized by the state of birth. The laws of Scott’s state of birth, Virginia, treated him as a slave; therefore he was not at that time a citizen of the United States. Nor would a slave who was temporarily taken into a free state thereby be made free. But when his master took him to reside in a free territory, Wisconsin, that action made Scott a free man and a citizen of the United States. When taken back to live in Missouri, he returned as a free man and became a citizen of that state.

Curtis accepted a unitary basis of citizenship for those born in the United States, one that was determined basically by state law. Taney, on the other hand, accepted a duality: United States citizenship was established by the understanding of the Framers of what made someone part of the “people of the United States.” While states could define state citizenship for themselves, they (or the Congress) could not go against this fundamental principle. Hence, even after the Civil War, freed blacks could not be citizens of the United States, short of a constitutional amendment.

Accepting Taney’s constitutional argument, Congress took that path with the 14th Amendment. United States citizenship was de-coupled from state citizenship, and the latter was made subordinate to the former. National citizenship appears based on place of birth (“jus soli”), the English common law principle going back to feudal antecedents when one’s station was connected to the soil where one was born. However, the amendment also adds that the person must be “subject to the jurisdiction” of the United States. This clearly excludes those children born in the United States to foreign diplomats. Does it also exclude those who are born in the United States to parents who happen to be here temporarily or illegally?

The Supreme Court addressed that clause in 1898 in U.S. v. Wong Kim Ark. The majority ruled very broadly that anyone (other than the children of foreign diplomats) born on U.S. soil was a U.S. citizen. The dissent argued that the competing international law doctrine of blood relationship (“jus sanguinis”) applied, which required not only birth in the U.S. but that the child’s father did not owe allegiance to a foreign power. This was an old principle of Roman law and ancient Greek practice still used in many countries today. It would keep the native-born children at least of those who are here merely as visitors from claiming birthright citizenship.

How does this affect the current debate about “anchor babies” in connection with illegal entrants into the United States? Proponents of unrestricted citizenship argue for the broad language of Wong Kim Ark that generally has prevailed in the courts. However, there are several weaknesses. First, the issue of illegal entrants, or even of temporary visitors, was not addressed there. Mr. Wong himself had lived in the U.S. all of his life. Wong’s parents had been duly admitted as immigrants to the U.S. with a permanent domicile and were engaged in a business. They were not mere passers-through. Nor were they here illegally, a concept that was not an issue in American immigration law until the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882, years after the Wongs arrived. It was unnecessary for the Court to give such a broad reading to the 14th Amendment, and the justices simply may not have been aware of the ramifications of their language.

Second, the law-of-the-soil tradition carried with it “indelible allegiance.” Thus, a British subject could not renounce British citizenship, which led the British navy, after American independence, to search American vessels and “impress” into British service naturalized American citizens of British ancestry. Americans have roundly rejected that principle.

Third, the debates over the 14th Amendment included remarks by Senator Jacob Howard of Michigan, the amendment’s sponsor, that seem to say that the amendment does not apply to children of any foreigners or aliens, even if those children are born in the United States.

Fourth, Congress on several occasions throughout American history has employed jus sanguinis, for example, in legislation to recognize as citizens by birth the children born abroad to American citizens. This suggests that the 14th Amendment’s jus soli principle applies, unless Congress, as part of the sovereign powers of the national government, passes a law that rests on a different principle.

Overturning a century-old precedent is difficult, but distinguishing it due to changed social circumstances unanticipated at the time is more persuasive. Still, eroding the jus soli interpretation of the citizenship clause is a longshot, but the public debate likely will intensify the pressure for some political or constitutional accommodation.

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:

April 25, 2012 

Essay #48 

– 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: Horace Cooper, Constituting America Fellow

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The First Ten Amendments to the United States Constitution make up what is called “The Bill of Rights.”  This remarkable collection of limitations on the power of the national government was written by James Madison and heavily influenced by George Mason.  Today it operates as a barrier to oppressive government at all levels and protects citizen liberty.

While most Americans at the time of the writing of the US Constitution agreed that the Articles of Confederation had failed to provide the former colonies with the powers needed to insure the experiment in self-government would succeed, there was another contingent who argued that any new and expanded powers given to the central government must be overlaid with specific limits in order to ensure that the citizens rights wouldn’t be trampled.  They argued that rather than limiting principles, there should be specific prohibitions on what government is allowed to do, especially in the context of its treatment of its citizens.

The two camps generally called themselves Federalists and Anti-Federalists.  While the design and makeup of the original Constitution is a triumph of the Federalists, the Bill of Rights represents the success of the Anti-Federalists.

Timeless in their rigor and value, the Bill of Rights has proven to be a brilliant tool to limit government excesses and insure that the individual has the kinds of freedoms that many of us take for granted.  While the writers of the Constitution created a system of checks and balances that cause the three branches of government to be limited in their ability to achieve hegemony vis-à-vis the other, it is the Bill of Rights that has done more to protect individual liberty  — doing so by specifically placing limits on government power.

While the Federalists won the day with the original draft of the Constitution, it soon became clear that the American people wouldn’t accept the Constitution unless a Bill or Rights was agreed to.  Shortly after meeting, the first Congress began that process.  Originally 17 Amendments or changes to the Constitution were presented and passed by the House of Representatives. Of those 12 were passed by the United States Senate and sent to the states for approval in August of 1789. 10 of these  were  approved (or, ratified) with George Mason’s state of Virginia becoming the last to ratify the amendments on December 15, 1791.

Indubitably, liberties that we take for granted as Americans find their origin in the Bill of Rights.  One key aspect of the Bill of Rights is that instead of expanding or authorizing the powers of the central government, the Bill of Rights squarely and directly treats government power as a potential threat to citizen liberty and places clear and unequivocal barriers to government action.  More a list of what government cannot do, the Bill of Rights provides a zone of liberty that makes our American system of citizenship the envy of the world.

The supporters of the concept of the Bill of Rights understood that government’s tendency was to expand and over-run the individual.  And the beauty of the Bill of Rights, its simplicity is, it limits government power and by doing keeps Americans free.

Amendment I

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.

 The government cannot make you believe in a religion.

 The government cannot keep you from practicing any religion you choose.

 The government cannot keep you from saying what you wish.

 The government cannot keep you from writing what you want.

 The government cannot stop you from publishing what you wish.

 The government cannot keep you from joining together peacefully with others to express your views.

 The government cannot prevent you from complaining about what the government or others are doing to you.

The framers understood that freedom of faith, thought, political belief and other forms of expression were central to citizen liberty and they specifically barred government action in this arena.  Rather than leave to the majority whether Catholics, Protestants, Jews or even people of no faith would receive preference by the national government, the First Amendment insures that no religious group would be preferred nor would any be penalized.  It also prevents the government from using coercive powers to reward certain political thoughts or writings as well as punishing the same.  Finally it further insures that citizens have the right to complain specifically about the activities of the government and to engage in demonstrations as well as formally taking measures to get the government itself to change policies.

Amendment II

A well regulated militia, being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms, shall not be infringed.

 The government cannot take away your right to own and keep guns.

Rather than leave firearm access to the government, our Bill of Rights explicitly insures that the right to bear and own firearms is a fundamental right – not a privilege – that resides with every citizen.

Amendment III

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.

 The government cannot make you let soldiers to live in your house unless the country comes under attack and Congress specifically authorizes it.

Even though war-making activity is the quintessential government duty and activity, this power is not unlimited.  While it might be cost-effective or even efficient, government has to respect that our homes are our property and may not be overtaken by the military during peace-time and during war only in a legal manner determined by Congress.

Amendment IV

The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.

 The government cannot come into your home unless it has legal permission from a judge.

Perhaps one of the greatest threats that the citizen faces is the potential that the central government will use force to enter our property whether under pretext of solving crimes or ferreting out critics of the government residing therein.  The founders recognized that the principle that the individual citizen was the “king” of his own “castle” especially when the government sought unlawful entry was a powerful limit on government excesses.  Juxtaposing judges and other magistrates before the government can take, enter or search property protected liberty in the 18th century and the 21st as well.

Amendment V

No person shall be held to answer for a capital, or otherwise infamous crime, unless on a presentment or indictment of a grand jury, except in cases arising in the land or naval forces, or in the militia, when in actual service in time of war or public danger; nor shall any person be subject for the same offense to be twice put in jeopardy of life or limb; nor shall be compelled in any criminal case to be a witness against himself, nor be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor shall private property be taken for public use, without just compensation.

 The government cannot hold you in jail for a major crime without the knowledge and approval of your fellow citizens.

 The government cannot try a person twice for the same crime.

 The government cannot make incriminate yourself.

 The government cannot take away your life, liberty, or property without following the law.

 The government cannot take your private property from you for public use unless it pays to you what your property is worth.

King George and his predecessors in England had the ability to falsely accuse and even imprison or execute his opponents without even a pretext of any real violation of the law.  Our system rejects this idea.  The Bill of Rights requires that your fellow citizens be presented with the charges against you and that those charges not be presented to you more than once or that you or your property be taken from you without having legal recourse to challenge it.  Americans can’t be forced to give incriminating testimony against themselves and their assets can’t be confiscated by the government without being justly compensated.

Amendment VI

In all criminal prosecutions, the accused shall enjoy the right to a speedy and public trial, by an impartial jury of the state and district wherein the crime shall have been committed, which district shall have been previously ascertained by law, and to be informed of the nature and cause of the accusation; to be confronted with the witnesses against him; to have compulsory process for obtaining witnesses in his favor, and to have the assistance of counsel for his defense.

 The government cannot hold you in jail for a long time without a trial if you  are accused of having broken the law.

 The government cannot deny to you a speedy trial with a jury of your fellow citizens.

 The government cannot keep secret from you those who will speak against you.

 The government cannot prevent you from having your personal attorney.

 The government cannot keep you from having other people help you defend yourself in a courtroom.

Instead of the use of secret trials and star chambers, our system specifically requires that when people are accused the trials must not be unnecessarily lengthened and must be held in public.  The individuals who decide guilt or innocent – jurors – must be impartial and residents of the area where the accused crime was to have occurred.  Instead of announcing new charges mid-trial, the government must announce the charges with specificity and must present witnesses against him and must allow him to bring in his own witnesses to testify on his behalf and may not prevent him from having legal assistance if he chooses.

Amendment VII

In suits at common law, where the value in controversy shall exceed twenty dollars, the right of trial by jury shall be preserved, and no fact tried by a jury, shall be otherwise reexamined in any court of the United States, than according to the rules of the common law.

 The government cannot keep you from having a trial decided by your fellow citizens in civil disputes and the fact-finding by the jury in those trials cannot be overturned by other courts.

Civil cases, like criminal cases provide potential opportunity for liberties to be risked.  Our founders guaranteed that civil disputes will be subject to jury trials instead of the whims of government magistrates and also that the findings of jurors can’t be second guessed by judges.  The government can’t pick sides or use its judicial appointees to try  to influence the outcomes of civil disputes.

Amendment VIII

Excessive bail shall not be required, nor excessive fines imposed, nor cruel and unusual punishments inflicted.

 The government cannot make people pay an unfairly high amount of money for bail while they wait for a judge or jury to hear their case.

 The government cannot punish you for a crime in a cruel and unusual way.

The government is not allowed to skip the trial phase by holding citizens in jail with high bails having nothing to do with the severity of their crime or any flight risks they pose.  Even when citizens are found guilty, the federal government may not assess fines that aren’t connected with the severity of their crime nor may they issue punishments that are depraved and unduly harsh.

Amendment IX

The enumeration in the Constitution, of certain rights, shall not be construed to deny or disparage others retained by the people.

 The government cannot limit your rights to just those listed in the Bill of Rights.

Reaffirming the anti-federalists view that government tends to expand whenever and however it can and ultimately crowding out the rights and privileges of its citizens, our founders have made it clear that the Constitution and even the Bill of Rights do not attempt to outline every existing natural or inalienable right of citizens.

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.

 The government cannot claim to possess more power and authority than what the Constitution permits, and all other powers not listed in the Constitution belong to the states or individuals.

Since the Constitution is a charter of specific and enumerated powers, there are rights that exist above and beyond those addressed in it.  Those powers and rights that are not specifically addressed in the Constitution and those powers that are not banned by states through the Constitution are real and duly allowed to be exercised by the states and the people.

Horace Cooper, a Constituting America Fellow, is co-chairman for Project 21’s National Advisory Board and adjunct fellow with the National Center for Public Policy Research. In addition to having taught constitutional law at George Mason University, Mr. Cooper was general counsel to U.S. House Majority Leader Dick Armey.





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

Amendment XVII

The Seventeenth Amendment, adopted April 8, 1913, provides as follows:

1: The Senate of the United States shall be composed of two Senators from each State, elected by the people thereof, for six years; and each Senator shall have one vote. The electors in each State shall have the qualifications requisite for electors of the most numerous branch of the State legislatures.

2: When vacancies happen in the representation of any State in the Senate, the executive authority of such State shall issue writs of election to fill such vacancies: Provided, That the legislature of any State may empower the executive thereof to make temporary appointments until the people fill the vacancies by election as the legislature may direct.

3: This amendment shall not be so construed as to affect the election or term of any Senator chosen before it becomes valid as part of the Constitution.

The first sentence substitutes “elected by the people thereof” for the words “chosen by the Legislature thereof” in the language of the first paragraph of Article 1, Sect. 3. The amendment also provides the procedure for filling vacancies by election, but permitting states by legislation to allow the state’s governor to make temporary appointments.

Prior to the 17th Amendment, the Constitution provided for US senators to be elected by the legislature of each state in order to reflect that the Senate represented the states, as contrasted with the House which represented the people of each state.  Originally, U.S. senators did represent their own states because they owed their elections to their state legislature, rather than directly to the voters of the state. The Senate, thus, carried forward the (con)federal element from the Articles of Confederation, under which only the states were represented in the national legislative body.  As noted in The Federalist, the fact that state legislatures elected U.S. senators made the states part of the federal government.  As intended, this arrangement provided protection for states against attempts by the federal government to increase and consolidate its own power. In other words, the original method of electing senators was the primary institutional protection of federalism.

In the decade prior to the Civil War, over the issue of slavery, and increasingly after the Civil War, some state legislatures failed to elect senators. That development, plus charges that senators were being elected and corrupted by corporate interests prompted some states to adopt a system of de facto election of senators, the results of which were then ratified by the state legislature.  Proposals for a constitutional amendment providing for direct popular election of senators were long blocked in the Senate because most senators were elected by state legislatures.  Over time, the number of senators elected de facto by popular election increased.  Also, states were adopting petitions for a constitutional convention to consider an amendment to provide for popular election of senators.  As the number of states came closer to the number requiring the calling of a Constitutional Convention, the Senate allowed what became the Seventeenth Amendment to be submitted to the states for ratification.

A major factor promoting direct popular election of senators was the Progressive Movement.  This movement generally criticized the Constitution’s system of separation of powers because it made it difficult to enact federal legislation. The Framers had done so in order to protect liberty and to create stability in government.  The Progressives, on the other hand, wanted government to be more democratic and, therefore, to allow easier passage of national legislation reflecting the immediate popular will.

By shifting the selection of senators to the general electorate, the 17th amendment not only accomplished those purposes; but it also meant that senators no longer needed to be as concerned about the issues favored by state legislators. Predictably, over time, senators voted for popular measures which involved “unfunded mandates” imposing the costs on the states.  Senators were able to claim political credit for the legislation, while the states were left to pay for new national policies not adopted by the states.  Such unfunded mandates would have been unthinkable prior to adoption of the 17th amendment.

Ironically, more than the required number of state legislatures ratified the 17th Amendment, with little or no realization that the Seventeenth amendment would diminish state power and undermine federalism generally.  Many legislators apparently thought they had more important matters to attend to than to devote time to the struggles that often revolved around electing a senator. Such an attitude might have been understandable at a time when the federal government had much less power vis-a-vis the states.  What those legislators did not appreciate was that the balance of power favorable to the states was due to the fact that state legislatures controlled the U.S. Senate.  Over time, since adoption of the Seventeenth Amendment, the balance of power has consistently shifted in favor of the federal government.

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.

Guest Essayist: Dan Morenoff, Attorney


Article VII

The Ratification of the Conventions of nine States, shall be sufficient for the Establishment of this Constitution between the States so ratifying the Same.

We often conflate the history of our country and our constitution, as if the United States of America burst forth, full-grown, from the head of Zeus at ratification in 1789.  To understand what’s important about Article VII of the Constitution, though, you need to think about the government that existed before and authorized the convening of the Constitutional Convention.  Article VII is how the Founders changed the rules in the middle of the game to overstep their authority and remake the nation in ways the Articles of Confederation were designed to prevent.

The United States of America had existed as an independent nation for 13 years before ratification; even before that, the Continental Congress had convened for an additional 3 years – had it not, there would have been no organ of the United States capable of declaring our independence.  We had 14 Presidents before George Washington, 7 of whom were President under the nation’s first written Constitution, the Articles of Confederation.  And, throughout those years, the body that met, with the power to act for America, was the united States in Congress assembled.

It was this Congress that called what became the Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia.  It did so through a resolution calling for states to send delegates “for the sole purpose of revising the articles of Confederation and reporting to Congress and the several legislatures such alterations and provisions therein as shall, when agreed to in Congress and confirmed by the States, render the federal Constitution adequate to the exigencies of government and the preservation of the Union.”  This was consistent with the Articles themselves, which provided a mechanism for their own amendment.  Article XIII provided that “the Articles of this confederation shall be inviolably observed by every State, and the union shall be perpetual; nor shall any alteration at any time hereafter be made in any of them; unless such alteration be agreed to in a congress of the united States, and be afterwards confirmed by the legislatures of every State.”

But not all the states complied with Congress’s request that they send delegates to the Grand Convention to negotiate proposed amendments to the Articles of Confederation.  Rhode Island, happy with a system in which it often exercised effective veto-authority despite its miniscule size, flatly refused.  New York sent three (3) delegates, the incomparable Alexander Hamilton (a long-time supporter of amending the Articles to create a viable national government) and two staunch defenders of state autonomy included by George Clinton, New York’s soon-to-be-Anti-federalist Governor, for the all-but-stated purpose of voting against anything Hamilton supported.

So when the Founders met in Philadelphia, they faced a seemingly insoluble puzzle.  They met as delegates of states bound by a “perpetual” confederation amendable only by unanimous action.  They met with the task of proposing amendments sufficient to “render the federal Constitution adequate” to preserve that “perpetual” union.  And one of the states whose unanimous support they needed to amend the Articles sufficiently to preserve the Union had already announced through its refusal to participate that it would support absolutely nothing they suggested.

Article VII was how the Founders cut this Gordian Knot.

They would not abide by the Articles’ rules in proposing a replacement for the Articles.  Knowing that they could not meet the Articles’ requirements, they made up their own.  Rather than allow little Rhode Island’s intransigence to doom the convention (and the Union), they replaced the Articles’ unanimous-consent requirement with Article VII’s rule that the new Constitution would take effect for the ratifying states whenever nine (9) states agreed.

And their rule change was decisive.  As implicitly threatened, Rhode Island voted down the Constitution’s ratification in March 1788.*  Without Article VII, that would have been the end of the Constitution.  Because of Article VII, the ratification process continued, though, and the Constitution won its ninth (9th) and decisive state ratification from New Hampshire on June 21, 1788.  Virginia and New York followed by the end of July.  An election then followed, allowing Washington’s inauguration (along with a new Congress under the Constitution) on April 30, 1789, despite the fact that neither North Carolina nor Rhode Island had yet consented to the new regime.


*          Rhode Island’s version of this history asserts that the state rejected the Constitution because it lacked a Bill of Rights.  This is self-justification masquerading as history and ignores the state’s refusal to send delegates to the Convention at a time when no national government was contemplated and no need for a Bill of Rights even imaginable.  Even the U.S. Archives admits that Rhode Island only narrowly ratified after the ratification of the Bill of Rights when “[f]aced with threatened treatment as a foreign government.”



Dan Morenoff is a graduate of Columbia College of Columbia University and of the University of Chicago Law School, who proudly worked on the Legislative Staff of Senator Phil Gramm.  Dan is currently a lawyer in Dallas.


Guest Essayist: Nathaniel Stewart, Attorney

Article VI

1: All Debts contracted and Engagements entered into, before the Adoption of this Constitution, shall be as valid against the United States under this Constitution, as under the Confederation.

2: This Constitution, and the Laws of the United States which shall be made in Pursuance thereof; and all Treaties made, or which shall be made, under the Authority of the United States, shall be the supreme Law of the Land; and the Judges in every State shall be bound thereby, any Thing in the Constitution or Laws of any State to the Contrary notwithstanding.

3: The Senators and Representatives before mentioned, and the Members of the several State Legislatures, and all executive and judicial Officers, both of the United States and of the several States, shall be bound by Oath or Affirmation, to support this Constitution; but no religious Test shall ever be required as a Qualification to any Office or public Trust under the United States.


Article VI concerns the debts of the United States, the supremacy of the Constitution and federal law, and the sworn obligation of office holders to uphold the Constitution.

America’s War for Independence was an expensive war – and most of it had been financed.  Tens of millions of dollars had been borrowed from foreign governments and wealthy financiers – some of them even English – who were understandably concerned that their debtors might try to use the country’s new-found independence to avoid repaying their loans.  Indeed, the 1783 Treaty of Paris, which brokered the peace between Britain and the United States, expressly provided that lawfully-contracted debts were to be paid to creditors on either side.

This concern resurfaced as the fledgling country traded in the relatively weak Articles of Confederation for a more authoritative Constitution.  Article VI, clause one, of the new document reassured unpaid creditors that “All Debts contracted and Engagements entered into, before the Adoption of this Constitution, shall be as valid against the United States under this Constitution, as under the Confederation.” The ratification of the new Constitution then could not be used to shirk paying those who were rightfully owed under the old system.  It was well understood at the time that good credit must be established and maintained if the country would have any hope of survival or longevity.

The second clause, commonly known as the “Supremacy Clause,” makes clear that the Constitution is the binding legal authority on which the country was founded:  “This Constitution, and the Laws of the United States which shall be made in Pursuance thereof; and all Treaties made, or which shall be made, under the Authority of the United States, shall be the supreme Law of the Land; and the Judges in every State shall be bound thereby, any Thing in the Constitution or Laws of any State to the Contrary notwithstanding.” This may seem axiomatic to us today, but the issue was far from settled and “the source of much virulent invective and petulant declamation against the proposed Constitution,” (Federalist No. 33) for it was widely feared that the formation of the federal government would intrude upon the rights and liberties enjoyed by the states and the people.

Richard Henry Lee, a prominent anti-federalist, expressed this fear in the alliterative “Federal Farmer IV” when he warned, “It is to be observed that when the people shall adopt the proposed constitution it will be their last and supreme act; it will be adopted not by the people of New Hampshire, Massachusetts, &c., but by the people of the United States; and wherever this constitution, or any part of it, shall be incompatible with the ancient customs, rights, the laws or the constitutions heretofore established in the United States, it will entirely abolish them and do them away: And not only this, but the laws of the United States which shall be made in pursuance of the federal constitution will be also supreme laws, and wherever they shall be incompatible with those customs, rights, laws or constitutions heretofore established, they will also entirely abolish them and do them away.”

Both Alexander Hamilton and James Madison took up the debate and defended the clause.  Hamilton first explained, “If individuals enter into a state of society the laws of that society must be the supreme regulator of their conduct.  If a number of political societies enter into a larger political society, the laws which the latter may enact, pursuant to the powers intrusted [sic] to it by its constitution, must necessarily be supreme over those societies and the individuals of whom they are composed.  It would otherwise be a mere treaty, dependent on the good faith of the parties, and not a government, which is only another word for Political Power And Supremacy”  (Federalist No. 33).  But Hamilton, perhaps attempting to assuage the fears of men like Richard Henry Lee, insisted that the “acts of the larger society which are not pursuant to its constitutional powers” must then be held “invasions of the residuary authorities of the smaller societies” and will not become the supreme law of the land.  “These,” Hamilton argued, “will be merely acts of usurpation, and will deserve to be treated as such.”  Thus, although a supreme law was required for any proper government to function, the federal government would be limited in its scope to those laws pursuant to the Constitution.

James Madison’s Federalist No. 44 echoed Hamilton’s argument and contended that any Constitution without a Supremacy Clause “would have been evidently and radically defective.”  Madison warned in Federalist No. 44 that, were the state constitutions to exert supremacy over the federal Constitution, “the world would have seen, for the first time, a system of government founded on an inversion of the fundamental principles of all government; it would have seen the authority of the whole society every where subordinate to the authority of the parts; it would have seen a monster, in which the head was under the direction of the members.”

It didn’t take long for the question of legal supremacy to find its way to the Supreme Court.  Coincidentally, both the Supremacy Clause and the issue of pre-Treaty debt were taken up in the same case in 1796.  In 1779, during the War for Independence, Virginia had passed a law whereby all property within the state belonging to any British subject or which did belong to any British subject at the time of forfeiture was deemed to be the property of Virginia.  Not only did the statute confiscate British-owned property, it arguably nullified private debts owed by Virginians to British subjects.  In Ware v. Hylton, a British creditor sued an American debtor to recoup the money owed under a pre-war bond.  Virginia’s statute seemed to prevent the creditor from collecting his debt, and the Court was asked to decide: did Virginia’s law or the Treaty of Paris control the collection of the debt?

Making his only appearance as a lawyer before the Supreme Court, John Marshall argued brilliantly on behalf of the American debtor.  Justice Iredell, in the controlling opinion of the Court, ruled against the future Chief Justice:  “Under this constitution, therefore, so far as a treaty constitutionally is binding, upon principles of moral obligation, it is also, by the vigor of its own authority, to be executed in fact. It would not otherwise be the supreme law, in the new sense provided for, and it was so before, in a moral sense.”  The Treaty of Paris thus superseded Virginia’s contrary law, and the Court declined to give effect to the state statute.

Later, Chief Justice Marshall would pen the landmark decision in McCulloch v. Maryland (1819), ruling that Maryland’s tax on the Second Bank of the United States ran afoul of the Constitution.  Nullifying the state’s tax on the federal government, Marshall observed:  “If any one proposition could command the universal assent of mankind, we might expect it would be this— that the government of the Union, though limited in its power, is supreme within its sphere of action.”

A barrage of new federal laws from Capitol Hill and a long line of Supremacy Clause cases marched across the legal landscape in the twentieth century, leaving a blotted trail of nullified state statutes.  Today, “A state statute is void to the extent that it actually conflicts with a valid Federal statute,” (Edgar v. Mite Corporation (1982)), and such a conflict exists wherever compliance with both federal and state law is impossible; or where the state law stands as an obstacle to accomplishing the full purposes and objectives of Congress.

Thus, for example, the Supreme Court held in Raich v. Gonzales (2005) that California’s law permitting doctor-prescribed medical marijuana would frustrate Congress’s efforts to regulate the interstate marijuana market under the federal Controlled Substances Act.  And, as Justice Stevens’ majority opinion casually reminds us, “The Supremacy Clause unambiguously proves that if there is any conflict between federal and state law, federal law shall prevail,” because, as the Court had previously opined, “‘no form of state activity can constitutionally thwart the regulatory power granted by the commerce clause to Congress.’” (quoting Wickard v. Filburn (1942)).  We might now wonder whether – in the Court’s view – there remain any regulatory “acts of the larger society which are not “pursuant to its constitutional powers” or which might still invade “the residuary authorities of the smaller societies.”

The third clause of Article VI establishes two important and related principles.  First, its “Oath Clause” requires that “The Senators and Representatives before mentioned, and the Members of the several State Legislatures, and all executive and judicial Officers, both of the United States and of the several States, shall be bound by Oath or Affirmation, to support this Constitution . . . .” Once again, the Constitution is supreme, and a conscious effort was made for it to be supported and upheld not only by federal officers and judges, but by state officials as well.  As Hamilton explained in Federalist No. 27, the “Oath Clause” would help ensure that “the legislatures, courts, and magistrates, of the respective members, will be incorporated into the operations of the national government as far as its just and constitutional authority extends; and it will be rendered auxiliary to the enforcement of its laws.”

Second, the “No Religious Test” clause guarantees that “no religious Test shall ever be required as a Qualification to any Office or public Trust under the United States.” In the founding era, much of Europe and many of the new American states used religious tests to protect their preferred churches and religions.  In England, the Test Act of 1672 required all public officers to swear a conspicuously anti-Catholic oath declaring disbelief in “any transubstantiation in the sacrament of the Lord’s Supper.”  In 1789, Delaware, Maryland, Massachusetts, North Carolina, and Pennsylvania all had constitutions requiring that their public officials to swear belief in tenets of Christianity.  The “No Religious Test” clause prevented such requirements for holding federal office, but left any such qualifications for state officers untouched.

Perhaps surprising to us today, this clause received a fair amount of debate and resistance from anti-federalists during ratification.  In Massachusetts, for example, one “principal objection” to the Constitution was its lack of a religious test – “rulers ought to believe in God or Christ,” it was argued.  Federalist Oliver Ellsworth defended the constitutional ban on religious tests, believing them to be “utterly ineffectual,” and arguing that “If we mean to have those appointed to public offices, who are sincere friends to religion, we, the people who appoint them, must take care to choose such characters; and not rely upon such cob-web barriers as test-laws are.”  Ellsworth’s view won out, of course – although it remains a rather open question whether we, the people who appoint our public officers, have taken much care to choose those predicted “sincere friends to religion.”

Nathaniel Stewart is an attorney in Washington, D.C.

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

Article V

The Congress, whenever two thirds of both Houses shall deem it necessary, shall propose Amendments to this Constitution, or, on the Application of the Legislatures of two thirds of the several States, shall call a Convention for proposing Amendments, which, in either Case, shall be valid to all Intents and Purposes, as Part of this Constitution, when ratified by the Legislatures of three fourths of the several States, or by Conventions in three fourths thereof, as the one or the other Mode of Ratification may be proposed by the Congress; Provided that no Amendment which may be made prior to the Year One thousand eight hundred and eight shall in any Manner affect the first and fourth Clauses in the Ninth Section of the first Article; and that no State, without its Consent, shall be deprived of its equal Suffrage in the Senate.

Article V, which provides the methods for formal amendment is, arguably, the most important provision in the Constitution outside the creation of the structure of government.  That article embodies a compromise over a very contentious issue that was grounded in conflicting doctrines of republicanism and higher law theory swirling during the Revolutionary War period.

On the one hand, 17th and 18th century republican theory called for decisions by majority vote, albeit under a restricted franchise.  This was a proposition that manifested itself in the post-Glorious Revolution English constitutional system in which a majority of the Parliament (effectively, the House of Commons) not only enacted “ordinary” legislation but controlled constitutional change, as well. Under the English system, there was no categorical distinction between ordinary laws and those of a foundational, i.e., constitutional, nature.  For example, the Charter of Rights did not become politically binding until passed in 1689 as a parliamentary bill. This was a manifestation of a “constitution” that, being unwritten, was considered solely a fundamental political ordering, rather than also a fundamental law.  Hence, there was no formal constitutional amendment process outside an appeal to Parliament to pass or repeal laws that were “constitutional” in the operative sense.

This English Whig republicanism had many adherents in the United States among leaders of the Revolution. For them, the problem was not the theory but the practitioners.  Not surprising, then, some early state constitutions, too, placed the amending power with the legislatures.  Even if a state constitution contained a bill of rights that was immune from legislative tinkering, any violation of that command was to be resolved through political action.  Moreover, anything outside that bill of rights was left to legislative change.

Yet, by the 1780s, an entirely different conception became dominant. To be sure, reaction against the entrenched constitutional order arose from the experience of Americans with the militant republicanism of the day embodied in legislative majorities that, in too many states, contributed to political and economic turmoil exacerbated by class warfare rumblings and the trampling of rights in property. Experience may have sufficed to cause disenchantment with the existing constitutional structure, but it was not enough to explain the emergence of the alternative.

Enter the “higher law” conception of constitutions. Americans had lived in colonies governed, directly or indirectly, by royal charters. By their thinking, Americans were in a contractual, and therefore “legal,” relationship with their proprietors and the Crown through these charters and patents, and Parliament simply had no control over them. Local laws were valid, as long as they conformed to the charter.

This emergent “higher law” constitutionalism also had religious and political roots. Focusing on the latter, it was a component of social contract theory. The republican version of the legitimacy of governmental action under the social contract focused on the political mechanism to be used after the commonwealth was formed, namely, legislative majorities. The higher law doctrine focused on the relationship of the majority’s act to the qualitatively superior action of creating the commonwealth. In a strict version of that view, unanimous consent was required to form the social contract.  In the American experience, the Mayflower Compact provided one such example. At the same time, looking at disparate social contract theorists, such as Thomas Hobbes and John Locke, one finds much ambiguity and question-begging assumptions about how exactly the social contract’s obligations arise.

The colonial experience with royal charters fairly early suggested that such documents were first, law; second, fundamental; and third, not amendable as ordinary legislation. They were law because written and, being in the nature of contracts, binding on all signatories (and, perhaps, their successors). They were fundamental because they dealt with matters that went to the very organization of the political commonwealth. They were not amendable as ordinary laws because each free person had to consent to the changing of the deal that created the basis of political obligation and made the acts of government different from those of a brigand. If unanimity was impractical, at least a supermajority ought to be required. Thus, the charter for Pennsylvania as early as 1701 called for amendments to be adopted only upon 6/7 vote of the assembly.

A pure form of this approach was found in the Articles of Confederation. As the Articles can be considered the formal basis for the formation of a political commonwealth, the United States of America, and in light of the fact that the document repeatedly refers to that commonwealth as a “perpetual union,” it is a social contract.  As such, it could only be amended by the consent of all signatories to the compact, though, of course, a state might provide that a majority within its legislature sufficed to bind the state.

That unanimity requirement was quickly perceived as a parlyzing defect of the Articles.  When the Framers of the Constitution considered the matter, they believed that they had to find a way that avoided the potential for constitutional turbulence from radical republican majoritarianism as well as for constitutional sclerosis from rigid social contract-based unanimity. They urged that the supermajority requirements of Article V appropriately split the difference. This is not a matter readily settled.  The procedure has only been invoked successfully 18 times (the original ten amendments having been adopted at one time). What is clear, though, is that the relative difficulty of the procedure has allowed the unelected judiciary to take on the role of de facto constitutional amendment to a much greater extent than the Framers likely anticipated and than what is consistent with classic republican ideals.

Judging by early state experimentation, constitutional change was to occur, if anything, more directly through the people than Article V allows. Constitutions were typically the job of special conventions whose work would be ratified by popular vote.  Actions by such special bodies and by the people themselves were more immediate realizations of popular sovereignty than actions by legislatures, even by legislative supermajorities. George Washington characterized them as “explicit and authentic acts of the whole people.” It was impractical, however, at the national level, to have all people gather at town halls. Nor was it deemed practical — or wise — to have a national vote on amendments.

In Article V, the mechanism of popular participation is the convention. That mechanism is available for the proposal of amendments emanating from the states and the adoption of the amendments by the states. It is interesting, and perhaps disappointing from the republican perspective, that the first has never been used and the second has been used only to repeal another constitutional amendment, regarding alcohol prohibition. Instead, Congress typically proposes, and state legislatures dispose.

There is, however, an institutional reason why no constitutional convention has been called to draft amendments. Plainly put, Congress and the political elites fear that a convention could ignore any specific charge from Congress and draft a whole new constitution. That is, after all, what happened in Philadelphia in 1787. If a matter came close to receiving the requisite number of petitions from states, it is likely that the Congress would itself adopt an amendment and submit it to the states. That is precisely how Congress got around to proposing the 17th Amendment for the direct election of Senators after enough states submitted petitions to put them one short of the required 2/3. Currently, the proposed balanced budget amendment is just two states short.

More troubling to some is whether the people could go outside Article V to form a convention.  That was an issue raised, but not resolved, before the Supreme Court in 1849 in a case involving an insurrection in Rhode Island under the guise of adoption of a “popular constitution.”  Traditionalists point to Article V as providing the means the people have chosen to limit themselves, lest constitutional instability be the order of the day.  In response, republicans assert that American bedrock principles of popular sovereignty (found, among other places in the Federalist Papers) do not admit of so limiting the people’s power. The people ultimately control their constitution, not vice versa. James Wilson, no wide-eyed radical, speaking in the Pennsylvania ratifying convention, defended the Framers’ alleged departure from their charge by the Confederation Congress by declaring what was a self-evident truth to most Americans at the time, that “the people may change the constitutions whenever and however they please.”

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:

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

Article IV, Section 2, Clause 1-3

1: The Citizens of each State shall be entitled to all Privileges and Immunities of Citizens in the several States.
2: A Person charged in any State with Treason, Felony, or other Crime, who shall flee from Justice, and be found in another State, shall on Demand of the executive Authority of the State from which he fled, be delivered up, to be removed to the State having Jurisdiction of the Crime.
3: No Person held to Service or Labour in one State, under the Laws thereof, escaping into another, shall, in Consequence of any Law or Regulation therein, be discharged from such Service or Labour, but shall be delivered up on Claim of the Party to whom such Service or Labour may be due.

Of these clauses in Article IV, Section 2, the last, the Fugitive Slave Clause, similar to one adopted by the Confederation Congress in the Northwest Ordinance contemporaneous with the drafting of the Constitution, is now a dead letter. Another, the Extradition Clause, imposes a theoretical duty (“shall…be delivered”) on the state governors. But the Supreme Court ruled in 1861 that judicial compulsion, by writ of mandamus, was unavailable. As a result, governors have considered themselves at liberty to refuse requests for extradition when, in their opinions, justice so demands. Rather, the clause is enforced (more or less) politically through interstate compacts, uniform state laws, and (indirectly) federal fugitive-from-justice legislation.

The first clause, the (“Interstate”) Privileges and Immunities Clause, has a long pedigree, yet remains murky in meaning and ambiguous in scope. It is derived from Article IV of the Articles of Confederation (as are the Constitution’s Extradition and Full Faith and Credit Clauses). The existence of these clauses in both charters is evidence of the continuity reflected in the Constitution’s Preamble “to form a more perfect [not a new] Union.” These clauses also are one more manifestation of the bedrock federalism principle of union among states (rather than simply creation of a national government over the states) that runs through both charters.

The Constitution’s version of the P&I Clause is a redaction of the more compendious version in the Articles. Unfortunately, concision did not bestow clarity. Four different meanings have been advanced. The first is that the clause is actually a restriction on Congress not to pass laws that discriminate among different states and the citizens thereof. This interpretation received support from Justice Catron in his concurring opinion in the Dred Scott Case. It is constitutionally obsolete today.

Another interpretation is that the clause guarantees the citizens of each state various rights that are enjoyed by citizens in any other state. That view was specifically rejected by the Supreme Court a century ago. It would have given the Supreme Court the kind of power of review over state laws that it came to acquire more gradually through judicial expansion of the 14th Amendment by the “incorporation” of various Bill of Rights guarantees into the due process clause and the creation of new categories of unconstitutional discrimination under the equal protection clause.

A third interpretation is that the clause guarantees the right of a citizen of a state to exercise the rights that he has in his own state even when visiting another state, that is, to carry his rights of state citizenship throughout the Union. That view, as well, has been rejected by the Supreme Court, albeit implicitly, well over a hundred years.

The fourth, and constitutionally accepted, understanding is that the clause prohibits certain forms of discrimination by a state against citizens from other states who are sojourning within its borders. This creates a kind of equal protection principle. The Constitution had no clause that prohibited discrimination against (some) individuals overtly as the 14th Amendment’s Equal Protection Clause does today. But there were some clauses that operated through a limited and implied non-discrimination principle. The P&I Clause is one.

The P&I clause does not apply to corporations or other merely “legal” persons. Nor does it apply to aliens. Neither of those limits is significant today, in light of the Court’s expansive reading of the 14th Amendment. The P&I Clause also provides no minimum protections of rights. To the extent the state limits the exercise of rights of its own citizens, it may do so for outsiders coming into the state, at least under this provision. Outsiders have the right not to be treated unfavorably due to their status as visitors, but have no right to be treated more favorably.

Not all rights are protected. The exact definition has always been elusive. The seminal opinion in this area is a circuit court opinion by Justice Bushrod Washington from 1823, Corfield v. Coryell. He wrote: “We have no hesitation in confining these expressions to those privileges and immunities which are, in their nature, fundamental; which belong, of right, to the citizens of all free governments; and which have, at all times, been enjoyed by the citizens of the several states which compose this Union, from the time of their becoming free, independent, and sovereign.”

Such flourishes, while rhetorically satisfying, do not provide concrete guidance. Justice Washington carries on, but does little to penetrate the verbal fog; “What these fundamental principles are, it would perhaps be more tedious than difficult to enumerate. They may, however, be all comprehended under the following general heads: Protection by the government; the enjoyment of life and liberty, with the right to acquire and possess property of every kind, and to pursue and obtain happiness and safety; subject nevertheless to such restraints as the government may justly prescribe for the general good of the whole.”

He finally delivers himself of some examples of protected rights, privileges, and immunities. “The right of a citizen of one state to pass through, or to reside in any other state, for purposes of trade, agriculture, professional pursuits, or otherwise;…to institute and maintain actions of any kind in the courts of the state; to take, hold and dispose of property, either real or personal; and an exemption from higher taxes or impositions than are paid by the other citizens of the state….These, and many others which might be mentioned, are, strictly speaking, privileges and immunities, and the enjoyment of them by the citizens of each state, in every other state, was manifestly calculated (to use the expressions of the preamble of the corresponding provision in the old articles of confederation) ‘the better to secure and perpetuate mutual friendship and intercourse among the people of the different states of the Union.’”

Such rights, deemed fundamental to the concept of a single nation, do not include the right to hunt game, to fish, or to engage in certain “quasi-public” businesses, such as insurance. Nor does it include a right to vote or to attend college at in-state rates, though, oddly, it includes the right not only to receive welfare payments without residency requirements, but to receive the same level of payment as those who have lived in the state for many years. To curtail even marginally the opportunities of welfare recipients to spend their “down time” in a state with higher benefits than their current domicile by having to meet the new state’s residency requirement is an intolerable burden on the right to travel. To be sure, the Supreme Court’s decisions on the matter rest on uncertain constitutional foundations, that eminent tribunal having referred to Article IV, to the Commerce Clause, to the 14th Amendment’s Equal Protection and (most recently) Privileges or Immunities Clauses as havens for a right to travel. Since states would like these welfare recipients to keep traveling, the Court has also re-characterized the right as “moving to another state.”

The P&I Clause of Article IV apparently was intended as a significant part of the constitutional edifice. With the Supreme Court’s inflation of the 14th Amendment, and Congress’ frequent resort to legislation under the commerce clause, it has become virtually redundant. Still, every decade or so, a case comes along to remind us that there is “still some life left in the carcass.”

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:

Guest Essayist: Cynthia Dunbar, attorney, author, speaker and Assistant Professor of Law at Liberty University

Article IV, Section 1

Full Faith and Credit shall be given in each State to the public Acts, Records, and judicial Proceedings of every other State.  And the Congress may by general Laws prescribe the Manner in which such Acts, Records and Proceedings shall be proved, and the Effect thereof.

The desires to both strengthen and unify their new country beyond what the Articles of the Confederation had accomplished and at the same time preserve the sovereignty of the individual states motivated the Framers in their drafting the Constitution.  This principle of federalism, or the governmental structure of coexistent sovereigns, necessitated the creation of the Full Faith and Credit Clause. Since each state would be an independent sovereign with its own laws and polices there would obviously need to be a method of guaranteeing that judgments rendered in one state would be recognized by the courts of all other states within the union. The Supreme Court of the United States (SCOTUS) in Milwaukee County v. M. E. White Co., 296 U.S. 268, 56 S. Ct. 229, 80 L. Ed. 220 (1935) reaffirmed this intent of the Framers that the individual states be “integral parts of a single nation throughout which a remedy upon a just obligation might be demanded as of right, irrespective of the state of its origin.”

Consequently, we see that the real essence of the Full Faith and Credit Clause is to ensure that valid judgments rendered in one jurisdiction can be uniformly enforced within alternate jurisdictions.  This prevents parties from having to litigate the same claim numerous times prior to execution of the judgment being recognized.  For example, if a court of competent jurisdiction in Alabama enters a judgment against John Doe for $25,000.00 to Jane Doe, and John Doe later moves to Arizona, Jane Doe would be able to execute the judgment against John Doe in Arizona without having to relitigate the entire case in Arizona.

The SCOTUS in Magnolia Petroleum Co. v. Hunt, 320 U.S. 430, 438, 64 S. Ct. 208, 213, 88 L. Ed. 149 (1943) said “we assume . . . that the command of the Constitution and the statute is not all-embracing, and that there may be exceptional cases in which the judgment of one state may not override the laws and policy of another.”  The court has referred repeatedly to “well-established” exceptions; however, they have never delineated a list of what constitutes a well-established exception.  For a judgment to be enforceable in a sister jurisdiction, it would have to have been a valid judgment in the original jurisdiction, one which would have withstood all valid legal defenses.  In other words, one could not enforce a judgment in an alternate jurisdiction on the basis of “Full Faith and Credit” where the judgment would have been unenforceable in the original jurisdiction.

During the constitutional convention the basic structure of the Full Faith and Credit Clause was borrowed from the Articles of Confederation and then expanded.  However, the ultimate source for this principle came from the uncodified common law, as did most constitutional and statutory provisions at the inception of our nation.  The reality of the importance and impact of the common law was reaffirmed by Justice Cardozo‘s statement that most constitutional provisions were “built upon a substratum of common law, modifying, in details only, the common law foundation.” CARDOZO, THE GROWTH OF THE LAW (1924) 136

According to Justice Story, the specific details of the underlying principles in the common law had, unfortunately, not been definitively ascertained.  He lamented this overall ignorance of this area of the law in his Conflict of Laws treatise of 1834.   “There exists no treatise upon it in the English language; and not the slightest effort has been made, except by Mr. Chancellor Kent, to arrange in any general order even the more familiar maxims of the common law in regard to it.”

What is pivotally important from a historical aspect is that the Full Faith and Credit Clause in no way created a uniform framework of laws.  It was merely a vehicle for enforcement of judgments, not a means of usurping state legislative authority and policy making decisions.  An obvious example of this is seen by our acceptance of differing laws within differing jurisdictions. Nobody would ever contend that the Full Faith and Credit Clause allows a citizen of Texas to avoid criminal prosecution in Missouri for driving 75 mph on an interstate that has a speed limit of 60 mph simply because the same interstate has a 75 mph speed limit in Texas.  The distinctions between state laws are numerous and many as is their right and prerogative.

Consequently, the more recent push to utilize the Full Faith and Credit Clause to force policy issues on dissenting states is constitutionally and historically unfounded.  In 1993 The Supreme Court of Hawaii alluded to the fact of an equal protection challenge to a state not recognizing a same-sex marriage.  The fact that states historically recognized marriages that were contracted within another state should not have been legally relevant or determinative for two simple reasons. First, this issue deals purely with a clear conflict of laws, not recognition of a court’s ruling or judgment through analysis of its laws. Second, the states uniformly recognized the marriages of other states because they did not present blatant opposing public policy issues pertaining to how marriage was defined that would serve to override their own laws.

In response to the dicta in the 1993 case, the United States Congress passed the Defense of Marriage Act, better known as DOMA, which not only defined marriage, it also granted to the states the express right to not recognize a same-sex union performed outside of its jurisdiction.  This Act has continuously been under attack and the current administration’s Department of Justice is even refusing to fulfill its obligation to enforce it.  In response, Congress has been forced to acquire special counsel at additional expense to taxpayers in an attempt to see the DOJ’s obligations fulfilled. Had there been a clearer and more historically accurate understanding of the scope and extent of the Full Faith and Credit Clause, this entire issue could have been avoided.  Unquestionably, Full Faith and Credit was never intended to impose legislative policy onto a competing jurisdiction beyond that expressed within an actual court ruling or judgment for execution and enforcement.

Cynthia Noland Dunbar is an attorney, author and public speaker and is frequently seen on Fox & Friends.  A former elected member of the Texas State Board of Education, she currently is an Assistant Professor of Law at Liberty University School of Law and teaches on our Constitutional and common law heritage.

Guest Essayist: Julia Shaw, Research Associate and Program Manager at the B. Kenneth Simon Center for American Studies, The Heritage Foundation

Article 1, Section 10, Clause 3

3:  No State shall, without the Consent of Congress, lay any Duty of Tonnage, keep Troops, or Ships of War in time of Peace, enter into any Agreement or Compact with another State, or with a foreign Power, or engage in War, unless actually invaded, or in such imminent Danger as will not admit of delay.

The Founders understood that the federal government can threaten individual liberty, but so can the state governments.  The Constitution recognizes threats from both actors and, therefore, contains specific limitations on both.  Article 1, Section 9 limits the federal government; Article 1, Section 10 limits state governments.

Section 10 consists of absolute prohibitions on the states (e.g., prohibitions relating to military and monetary powers) and qualified prohibitions on the states (i.e., prohibitions that Congress may suspend).

Section 10, Clause 3 contains qualified prohibitions on a variety of activities. The prohibition on states charging duties of tonnage prevents state-specific protectionism and protects Congress’s commerce power.  Because standing armies were a grave threat to the new republic, the constitution prohibits them at the state level.  States may maintain militias, but not standing armies. But, the most significant portion of the clause concerns the ability of states to enter into agreements with foreign nations or other states. As Michael S. Greve notes in Compacts, Cartels and Congressional Consent, “For a federal republic, and especially for a nascent federal republic, the prospect of separate, unsupervised agreements among its member-states and between a member-state and a foreign nation must constitute a cause for alarm.”[1]

The Articles of Confederation forbade the states from entering into an agreement with foreign powers. Additionally, any “treaty, confederation, or alliance whatever” among the states required congressional consent, and Congress would settle any disputes arising between the states. But the Articles of Confederation proved ineffective. The Constitution supplied a remedy. The Constitution created a new apparatus for the federal government to engage foreign nations: the president would be the chief actor in foreign affairs. He would negotiate treaties and, in turn, the Senate had to ratify treaties before they went into effect.   Individual states could not enter into agreements or treaties with foreign nations. But, in the event of foreign invasion, an individual state could respond.

Agreements between the states pose threats to federal powers, to states not party to the agreement, and even to individual rights. By requiring such agreements to have the consent of Congress, other states would be informed of the agreement and able to protect their interests and the rights of their citizens. In many ways, congressional approval on state compacts was a compromise. James Madison wanted to give the federal government a much broader power over the state governments: specifically, he advocated a congressional negative on state laws. Delegates at the Convention compacts clause rejected Madison’s proposal—three times—as overly nationalist and unnecessarily broad. The Convention instead opted for federal supremacy over certain categories of activity, blanket prohibition of some activity, and congressional approval for any agreement between the states. Together these prohibitions mollified Madison’s concerns and protected against state governments’ encroachments on liberty.

Though the Compacts Clause makes clear that forming compacts is prohibited without the consent of Congress, it is not clear what form that consent must take.  Does it require a law be passed and signed by the president?  Or can Congress accomplish it without presentment? Nor does the clause specify whether Congress must consent prior to the formation of the compact. There is also debate about the scope of these compacts. Compacts prior to 1921 primarily concerned boundary disputes. Compacts in the later 20th century include complex regulatory schemes that may present separate constitutional problems. These ambiguities will likely be tested as states become more creative with the scope and substance of their agreements.

Julia Shaw is the Research Associate and Program Manager at the B. Kenneth Simon Center for American Studies, The Heritage Foundation.

[1] Michael S. Greve, Compacts, Cartels, and Congressional Consent, 68 M.L.Rev. 285, 296 (2003).

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

Article 1, Section 10, Clause 1

1:  No State shall enter into any Treaty, Alliance, or Confederation; grant Letters of Marque and Reprisal; coin Money; emit Bills of Credit; make any Thing but gold and silver Coin a Tender in Payment of Debts; pass any Bill of Attainder, ex post facto Law, or Law impairing the Obligation of Contracts, or grant any Title of Nobility.

What if a state, laboring under a significant budget deficit, decided to repudiate its general obligation bonds?  What if that state, further, enacted an increase in the income tax, retroactive to the beginning of the year?  Would Article I, Section 10, clause 1 permit such actions?

The first part of that clause, along with clause 3 of the section, restricts the states to only a very limited capacity at international law, and states may exercise even that residue only with permission of Congress.  The Articles of Confederation restricted these powers already, as the exercise of them by the states would undermine national sovereignty.  The new Constitution simply tightened them and made them more concise, in recognition of the fact that these restrictions were an integral part of the establishment of a stronger Union.

The second part of that clause, dealing with money, bills of credit, and gold and silver as legal tender, addressed the pestilence of paper money issued by the states.  Many of the Framers saw this as a particular problem that contributed to the insecurity of property in various states and the economic turbulence that, in turn, produced political turbulence and threatened the republican experiment.  It had been the practice even of colonial assemblies to fund the costs of military campaigns by quasi-confiscatory practices of issuing bills of credit (paper money on the credit of the colony) to merchants and suppliers of war materiel.  After the war, those bills of credit rapidly depreciated, as the colonists declined to vote the taxes necessary to pay them.  Once the bills reached a sufficiently low level, they could be taxed out of existence relatively painlessly.

It was hardly surprising, then, that the states (and the Continental Congress) would resort to that same hoary practice on declaring independence.  By war’s end, Congress had issued $226 million in bills of credit, for which it had received $45 million in goods and services, as Americans increasingly took into account this species of public finance fraud.  However, the paper currency itself had depreciated essentially to nothing, a massive (and conscious) expropriation of private property by inflation, engineered by a body that lacked the formal constitutional powers to do so.  “Not worth a Continental” was not a metaphor.  Benjamin Franklin defended this confiscatory practice as an equitable form of taxation as these bills were held more by the upper-middle and upper segments of society than by the poor.  John Adams dismissed critics of the devaluation with a curt, “The public has its rights as well as individuals.”  In the end, Congress never redeemed the paper currency.

If the Congress was bad, in some ways the states were worse.  Not only were there problems with the emission of bills of credit (though that was less significant than for Congress), but with other, broader confiscatory and debt cancellation laws.  To the extent that such laws injured the interests of Loyalists and British creditors, they violated the peace treaty with Great Britain and threatened to reignite the war.  To the extent they hit their own citizens, the states were flirting with class warfare.  At best, even in the absence of a specter of violence, state politics circled around the vortex of the depreciated bills, as holders, speculators, and debtors (who were not always different persons) jockeyed for political and economic advantage.  This contributed to the instability of state politics and prevented establishing a basis for long-term social peace and material prosperity.

Historians, including conservatives such as Forrest McDonald, indict this period after independence for making Americans less secure in their property rights than they had been under King George.  To an increasing number of Americans, especially younger figures such as Hamilton and Madison who were not as tied to the “revolutionary spirit,” the reason was that “governments were now committing unprecedented excesses, even though–or precisely because–governments now derived their powers from compacts amongst the people.”  The period was a vivid illustration that democratic self-rule does not, without more, set a society on the path to the security of property and long-term well-being.  Even more alarming was the fact that those same state governments were acting under constitutions that nominally protected individuals’ liberty and property from just such majoritarian muggings.

It is no wonder then, that many of those who gathered at the convention in Philadelphia, viewed the levelling tendencies of such fiscal and redistributionist laws with consternation and as evidence of the irresponsibility of popular majorities.  There was no opposition to the portions of Article I, Section 10, that negated the states’ abilities to coin money, issue paper currency, or make anything but gold and silver legal tender.  Some delegates wanted that prohibition extended to Congress, but the majority demurred.  The need for paper money during emergencies, combined with the Madisonian faith that a more effective balance between debtor and creditor interests would produce better political checks against excesses at the national level than within the states, gave the majority pause about tying the hands of Congress.

In hindsight, both sides can claim vindication.  Certainly, the issuance of fiat money during the Civil War helped the Union’s war effort.  On the other hand, the flood of trillions of dollars sloshing around today during peacetime can easily become a tsunami that destroys the economic well-being of large numbers of Americans.  And, contrary to Franklin, devaluation and inflation typically hit the lower and middle classes more than it does the wealthy.  Inflation is a brutally regressive tax.

One tool of the Framers was to ban retrospective laws.  The first was the prohibition on ex post facto laws, one that also applied to the national government under Article I, Section 9.  Apparently many of the Convention (including Madison) thought that ex post facto laws covered all retrospective laws.  This produced a moment that demonstrates that the Framers were ordinary humans, finding their way through the constitutional fog, not infallible divine creators.  The day after the vote, John Dickinson sheepishly announced that he had looked up “ex post facto” in Blackstone and found (correctly) that this only prohibited retroactive criminal laws.

Similarly, bills of attainder (legislative decrees of punishment of individuals used expansively during the English Civil War, but not unknown even in the newly-independent states) were prohibited for the states and the national government, primarily because of their retroactive application to acts already committed.  Bills of attainder and ex post facto laws were viewed as such outrageous infringements of liberty that they were denounced as contrary to the protections of the social contract and the very nature of a republican government of free men.

But that still left the issue of retrospective civil laws.  The contract clause of Article I apparently was the vehicle to deal with the vexatious laws that, in tandem with the paper currency policies, cancelled debts or otherwise interfered with existing contracts.  Although the origin of the clause is obscure, it is similar to one found in the Northwest Ordinance of 1787, passed by the Confederation Congress.  The author at the Convention probably was Hamilton, who, after his personal experience with Pennsylvania’s capricious revocation of the charter of the Bank of North America, also saw the potential of the clause to protect banks and other corporations from state harassment.

The contracts clause was an early vehicle for the Supreme Court to promote the rule of law and the stability of rights in property.  Chief Justice Marshall, in particular, read the clause broadly to protect individual rights in contracts.  Indeed, his interpretation went so far as to prevent the states from interfering with the obligations of contracts even prospectively, a view that was probably beyond that envisioned by the Framers and which led to Marshall’s only dissent in a constitutional case in 34 years on the Court.

Much has changed since then.  Today, the Supreme Court has reinterpreted the categorical language of the clause to prohibit only laws “unreasonably” impairing the obligation of contracts.  This has effectively eviscerated the clause’s protections against most state laws that interfere with purely private contractual relations, even those that are retrospective.  States, and the federal government (to which the contracts clause does not apply directly), are relatively free to force creditors to revise terms of existing debt instruments, such as mortgages) when debtor interests gain enough political traction.

Neither of our hypothetical state laws would be unconstitutional under the ex post facto clause, as they do not deal with crimes.  There being no “contract,” the only limitation on the retroactive tax increase would be vague notions of “notice” to the taxpayers under the due process clause of the 14th Amendment.  The repudiation of state bonds would be a closer case, and states well may run into difficulties under the contracts clause if they were to try to repudiate their bonds (or to curtail vested public employee pensions).

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: .

Guest Essayist: George Schrader, Student of Political Science at Hillsdale College

Article 1, Section 8, Clause 14-16

14:  To make Rules for the Government and Regulation of the land and naval Forces;

15:  To provide for calling forth the Militia to execute the Laws of the Union, suppress Insurrections and repel Invasions;

16:  To provide for organizing, arming, and disciplining, the Militia, and for governing such Part of them as may be employed in the Service of the United States, reserving to the States respectively, the Appointment of the Officers, and the Authority of training the Militia according to the discipline prescribed by Congress;

In discussions of the constitutional interaction between the federal government and the military, much of the conversation centers on the office of the president.  This is logical, as the president is declared the, “commander in chief of the army and navy of the United States” in Article Two of the Constitution.  What should not be overlooked, however, is the important role the legislature plays in how America’s armed forces operate.  While the president may have greater direct control over the military, especially in times of war, Congress’s powers under Article One, Section Eight provide both an important check on presidential power, as well as a means for maintaining security within the nation.

Perhaps the most prominent theme throughout this section of Article One is the intent of removing some control of the military from the president and placing it in the hands of Congress.  Examples of this are seen in Clause Fourteen’s allowance for Congress to, “make rules for the government and regulation,” of the army and Clause Fifteen’s reliance on the legislature to summon, “the militia to execute the laws of the Union.”  One may reasonably ask why the Founders, who spoke often in the Federalist Papers of having an independent and energetic executive, would make such enormous cessions of executive power to the legislature.  The answer appears to be rooted primarily in a fear of tyranny.

When one considers the concerns of average citizens during the time of the Founding, one of the most common fears was that America would slide into a tyrannical monarchy.  The most likely origin for such a monarch was the president, a suspicion supported by history.  Most popular forms of government, from the democracy of Athens to the republic of Rome, had collapsed into a tyranny once a sufficiently devious dictator found a weakness in the government’s structure.  Furthermore, these tyrants often obtained and secured their power through the use of the executive’s military control.  Examples of this abound, from Caesar in ancient Rome to Napoleon in France.  If America’s army were to overthrow the popular government it would most likely be at the behest of the president.

This fear of a powerful military president led to some problems for the Founders.  Legislatures, by their nature, make laws and do not independently enforce them.  Furthermore, it was generally understood that foreign diplomacy was best carried out by an entity separate from the legislature for reasons too nuanced to explore here.  Congress was therefore unfit to control the military by itself.  The military could also not be entirely entrusted to the states in the form of completely independent militias, as the nation’s experience under the Articles of Confederation proved that this system was too unorganized to react quickly to an emergency.  A president was literally the only solution.

Regardless of the necessity of independent executive control over the military, the Founders were still not comfortable simply allowing the president to wield unchecked control over the nation’s armed forces.  The limitations described in these clauses, along with Congress’s power over the budget, provide precisely these checks by creating situations in which the president’s normally supreme role in the military is eclipsed by the legislature.  It is interesting here to note that the limitations, particularly Clause Fourteen’s call for the legislature to create rules for the military, were carefully selected so as to only grant Congress powers that fit within its typical duties of creating law.  In this manner, the Founders reduced the threat of a military dictatorship led by an over-ambitious president without gravely distorting the purpose of the American legislature.

While not an issue which is frequently considered today, at the time of the Founding the threat of a military coup weighed heavily upon the minds of many Americans.  Though weakening the authority of the president over the military has its disadvantages, the Founders’ decision to do so in ways consistent with the purpose of Congress created perhaps the best possible compromise between presidential power and civic security.

George Schrader is a student of political science and German at Hillsdale College.

Guest Essayist: Horace Cooper, legal commentator and a senior fellow with The Heartland Institute

Article 1, Section 8, Clause 10-13

10:  To define and punish Piracies and Felonies committed on the high Seas, and Offences against the Law of Nations;
11:  To declare War, grant Letters of Marque and Reprisal, and make Rules concerning Captures on Land and Water;
12:  To raise and support Armies, but no Appropriation of Money to that Use shall be for a longer Term than two Years;
13:  To provide and maintain a Navy;

It is especially timely to discuss the so-called “war” powers of Congress in light of recent events internationally.  Although much focus at present is directed at the issue of the President’s authority, this essay will focus exclusively on the United States Congress.

  • To define and punish Piracies and Felonies committed on the high Seas, and Offences against the Law of Nations;
  • To declare War, grant Letters of Marque and Reprisal, and make Rules concerning Captures on Land and Water;
  • To raise and support Armies, but no Appropriation of Money to that Use shall be for a longer Term than two Years;
  • To provide and maintain a Navy;

Pointedly Congress does not have specific authority to carry out the prosecution of a military engagement, but it does have significant authority to participate in the decision and continuation of that military engagement.  In that sense, the “War Power” is divided between the President and Congress.

Many Americans forget that the “War Powers” under the Articles of Confederation ostensibly rested with the national government but was far more attenuated in reality because it relied upon an enthusiastic acquiescence of the several states:  Article III of the Articles of Confederation. The said States hereby severally enter into a firm league of friendship with each other, for their common defense, the security of their liberties, and their mutual and general welfare, binding themselves to assist each other, against all force offered to, or attacks made upon them, or any of them, on account of religion, sovereignty, trade, or any other pretense whatever.

The Founders sought to address this matter.  Not unlike the present debates over the President’s authority to carry out military actions, the Founders feared the ability of the monarch to enter into war without the consent of the people as they had witnessed the royal wars for centuries in Europe.  At the same time, they had learned that they should not take the principle of diffusion of war power too far.  In their mind, the Articles of Confederation had in fact gone too far and it represented a major national security threat for the newly independent United States of America.

As James Madison would explain to Thomas Jefferson in a letter in 1798, “The constitution supposes, what the History of all [Governments] demonstrates, that the [Executive] is the branch of power most interested in war, & most prone to it. It has accordingly with studied care, vested the question of war in the [Legislature].”

Thus, specific war powers are granted to the Congress – not the least of which is the actual power to declare war.

During the existence of the Articles of Confederation, the national government had the sole authority to create courts for the trials of piracy and related felonies committed on the high seas.  However, the national government did not have any authority to address the issue of compliance with the existing international rules against piracies and other crimes on the high seas.  Prior to the Revolution, all of the European nations had entered into agreements but the U.S. did not have authority to enforce these rules or to reject them.  The Constitution specifically addresses that limitation and gave the Federal government the ability to choose to comply, reject or modify international agreements regarding piracy.

First, Congress has the specific power to “declare war.”  A declaration of war is a formal declaration issued by at least one national government indicating that a state of war exists between that nation and another.   Congress has officially declared war five times.  In Federalist 69 Hamilton reminds readers that the power to declare war was an important one since the President of the U.S. did not have it.  Under the Constitution, Hamilton explains, the president’s authority was:

“. . . in substance much inferior to it. It would amount to nothing more than the supreme command and direction of the land and naval forces . . . while that of the British King extends to the declaring of war and to the raising and regulating of fleets and armies; all of which by the Constitution would appertain of the legislature.”

Next, let us look at the power of Congress to grant letters of Marque and Reprisal.  This power grant a far more unusual and yet clearly lawful means for Congress to carry out its international and/or national security interests.  Here’s the essence of the power:  Congress can authorize a private person or private army – not a part of the United States armed forces – to conduct reprisal military-like operations outside the borders of the U.S.

Not unlike the powers exercised by the French Foreign legion, our Constitution authorizes Congress to grant such a right presumably with payment or a bounty in any instance in which the citizens of the U.S. are injured by individuals or armies of another country whenever the other country denies justice to the American(s) who have been harmed.

Additionally there is the rarely examined “capture clause” – the power of Congress to establish the rules for the distribution of spoils of captured enemy ships or captured territories.  In the modern war era, military victims publicly eschew the capturing or claiming of the goods and property of the conquered parties.  However, this was not always so.  In fact, the so-called “capture clause” was considered extremely important to the fledgling nation of America.

Often times the federal government could not afford to pay soldiers or obtain credit to buy armaments.  By being able to set up a means for disposing of the goods and other spoils that were captured in battle, the U.S. had an alternative way to address this issue.  General George Washington declared during the Revolutionary War that a centralized and standardized system for the handling of prizes was vital to the war effort. In fact, one of the first federal courts created by the United States government under the Articles of Confederation was the Federal Appellate Court of Prize – which existed to adjudicate disputes over spoils captured in war.

The final war power of Congress involves the authority to raise and support armies and to provide and maintain a navy.  While most of the early residents of America recognized that the federal government should have authority to “raise and support” armies, ultimately there was some disagreement over how that power should be dispersed.  Under the crowns of Europe, kings could not only declare war, they also had individual power to “raise and support” armies without needing the input of their subjects.  Even when Kings co-existed with Parliaments, their ability to exercise their war powers nearly carte-blanche stymied the ability of their subjects to exercise any significant influence – not just in war – in nearly all matters of national interest since wars sapped resources, finances, and labor in a way that Parliament couldn’t readily counteract.

Additionally the standing army operated as a direct threat not just on the purse strings of the nation but a clear threat was aimed at the citizenry as well especially when these forces concentrated themselves within the home territories in large numbers.  Instead of giving this power to the President, our system specifically requires that Congress approve the creation and timing of all rules involving the establishment of an army and navy.  In fact, this grant of authority is the basis for Congress’ power to establish the Uniform Code of Military Justice as well as selective service requirements.  With regard to the army in particular, the Constitution included the appropriations limitation as a means to quell fears that a standing army might be used to threaten American citizens.

Indeed Congress has broad power when it comes to war making.  But it is noteworthy that this power is divided in many ways with the President – not as a point of confusion or a result of a lack of trust in either the executive or the legislature, but instead as part of a precise calculation that if both the President and Congress must collaborate in order to carry out war, war would not be entered into easily or for long.

Horace Cooper is a legal commentator and a senior fellow with The Heartland Institute

Guest Essayist: Allison Hayward, Vice President of Policy at the Center for Competitive Politics

Article 1, Section 8, Clause 7-8

7:  To establish Post Offices and post Roads;

8:  To promote the Progress of Science and useful Arts, by securing for limited Times to Authors and Inventors the exclusive Right to their respective Writings and Discoveries;

Clauses 7 and 8 of Article 1, section 8 demonstrate both the interest the Founders had in facilitating economic growth and prosperity, and the belief they shared that such power had to be made explicit in the Constitution.  The would not have been satisfied to hold, as we now do, that Congress’s regulatory power is presumed unless constrained by a specific provision.  Such a open-ended power would become tyrannical, they thought.

At the same time, they weren’t opposed to governmental intervention if appropriate to serve the general welfare.  The federal legislative power in particular could counterbalance provincialism in the states.  Having just been through the disaster that was the state of things under the Articles of Confederation, many Framers understood that greater federal power was necessary.

The debate was over how much would be too much power.

The “Post offices and post roads”in clause 7 sound quaint, but in fact were an enormously important piece of infrastructure.  Post roads were some of the first roadways built, and many former post roads remain today in our communities, whether we recognize them as such or not.  But whenever the government provides such infrastructure, there is also the danger of waste, fraud, and corruption between the members with control over the funding, and their constituencies.  Thomas Jefferson, for one, thought the power would prove “a source of boundless patronage in the Executive.” and “a bottomless abyss of public money.”

Jefferson wasn’t entirely incorrect.  Postmasters have been patronage appointments.  The location and accessibility of post offices is a critical constituent issue, and employment in the Post Office is valued as a safe, reliable and well-compensated career.  For shrinking communities, the potential they might lose “their” post office is a cruel final blow to civic pride.  The Post Office monopoly on “mail” delivery has eroded as the private package delivery industry – and email – have taken over tasks once done by the post office.  But these private communications are heavily dependent on a physical infrastructure that was build by government.  Had it been left to local communities and individuals, no doubt road would have been built, but with “local” priorities in mind, not national ones, with consequences for the nation’s westward expansion and domestic cohesion.

Clause 8 provides Congress with the power to legislate in the areas of patents and copyrights.  The founders believed the protection of intellectual property was important to the growth and prosperity of the nation.  Also, the author’s “copy right” was a right in English common law and was respected by the colonial America; and Parliament protected an investor’s right to his invention for 14 years.  Alexander Hamilton even advocated funding the emigration of “Artists and Manufacturers in particular branches of extraordinary importance.”  The Founders appreciated the good incentives these rights would create, by giving people with successful and popular ideas the ability to profit from them for a time.

The world of patents today is struggling with some extreme applications of these principles.  Because a person can “patent” an invention without actually bringing the invention into existence, subsequent inventors who do make commercially beneficial use of an idea can be compelled to “lease” the unused patent, or pay damages for infringement.  Rather than encourage industry and the useful arts, such patent litigation adds costs to the commercially active innovator, which are ultimately passed along to consumers.

Allison Hayward graduated from Stanford University with degrees in political science and economics, and received her law degree from the University of California, Davis.  She clerked for Judge Danny J. Boggs of the United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit.  Hayward is Chairman of the Federalist Society’s Free Speech and Election Law Practice Group. She also serves on the Board of the Office of Congressional Ethics.  She is an active member of the California and Washington, D.C. bars, and she is a certified FINRA arbitrator.

Guest Essayist: Troy Kickler, Founding Director of North Carolina History Project and Editor of

Article 1, Section 8, Clauses 5-6

5:  To coin Money, regulate the Value thereof, and of foreign Coin, and fix the Standard of Weights and Measures;

6:  To provide for the Punishment of counterfeiting the Securities and current Coin of the United States;

When the U.S. Constitution was drafted at the Constitutional Convention of 1787 and then submitted to the states to ratify, convention delegates attempted to correct what they considered to be weaknesses in the Articles of Confederation.  They worked to strengthen the national government’s role in monetary policy and eliminate factors that might prevent a unified American economy, with the states working in concert.  Three steps to achieve those goals included the clauses pertaining to the coinage of money, a standard of weights and measurements, and the punishment of counterfeiting

Under the Articles of Confederation, the national government and the states had the authority to coin money.  But in Article 1, Section 8, the enumerative article that gives certain powers to the United States government, the Constitution specifies that Congress have the exclusive right to coin money.

During the Revolutionary War (1776-1783), states had accumulated much debt and some had difficulty paying for their war costs.  As a result, state governments issued bills of credit to provide a form of debt repayment.  Meanwhile during the 1780s, inflation started soaring.  The issuance of paper money, North Carolina Founder Hugh Williamson writes in his 1788 essay, “Remarks on the New Plan of Government,” contributed to a ruinous economy and a loss of honor on the global stage.  Convention delegates, therefore, included the coinage clause as a means to stop inflationary measures and bills of credit that abounded across the states.  (Another clause–Article 1, Section 10–prevents states from issuing bills of credit and paper money.)

Although paper money is commonplace in today’s world, it is absent from Article 1, Section 8.  The Founders were familiar with the practice of printing money and more than a few had definite opinions regarding the practice.  Some scholars have suggested and even argued that its omission indicates that Congress does not have the authority to print paper money or issue bills of credit.  A series of Supreme Court cases in the late 1800s, including Knox v. Lee (1871) and Julliard v. Greenman (1884), however, expanded the government’s role in monetary policy; the Court ruled that the power was inherent in a sovereign government.

In 1787, convention delegates also included the weights and measurements clause to promote uniformity in trade.  Allowing states to separately value foreign currency and create individual exchange rates, writes Joseph Story in Commentaries on the Constitution (1833), invited “infinite embarrassment and vexations in the course of trade.”  A uniform system ensured national honor and also lessened the chances that the innocent would be subjected to “the grossest frauds.”  Indeed, a fixed standard removes confusion in the market place and limits the efforts of the deceitful.

The Framers also believed that a Congressional authority to value foreign coin helped ensure uniformity in trade.   In Federalist 42, James Madison feared that the “proposed uniformity in the value of the current coin might be destroyed by subjecting that of foreign coin to the different regulations of the different States.”  To Madison, the clause was a needed corrective.  It reduced, if not eliminated, monetary confusion and bolstered the American economy.

In the essay, Madison also links the constitutional provision for giving the national government the authority to punish counterfeiting with the weights and measurements clause.  Both were necessary to secure the value of American coin and eliminate confusion in trade.

Some scholars have contended that the counterfeiting clause is superfluous; the authority to punish counterfeiting is inherent in the power to regulate coinage, the argument goes.   Legal scholar David F. Forte, however, points out that the Framers included it for three reasons: to distinguish counterfeiting from treason, as it had been considered in England; to ensure that Congress had authority over international incidents on American soil that involved counterfeiting of foreign currency; and to ensure national supremacy in monetary policy.

The coinage, weights and measurement, and counterfeiting clauses solved various commercial and monetary problems, and they eliminated confusion in market places by enumerating certain powers to the national government.   They also were symbolic, buttressing federal supremacy in monetary policy.

Troy Kickler, Ph.D., is the Founding Director of North Carolina History Project and Editor of

Guest Essayist: Horace Cooper, legal commentator and a senior fellow with The Heartland Institute

Article 1, Section 8, Clause 4

4:  To establish an uniform Rule of Naturalization, and uniform Laws on the subject of Bankruptcies throughout the United States;

Here are two special grants of authority to Congress that the framers of the Constitution agreed were necessary.  The first power is Congress’ authority “to establish an UNIFORM RULE of naturalization throughout the United States.”

Naturalization is defined as the process of becoming a citizen or the establishment of citizenship rights.  At the time of creation of our Constitution, naturalization was commonly recognized as “The act of investing aliens with the privileges of native subjects.” It was also common among most of the European nations that the law draw a distinction between being a citizen and being an alien (a visitor or temporary resident).  Arguably, this distinction, which we still observe today, existed at least as early as the foundation of the Roman Empire.

The power to establish “uniform” rules of naturalization is among only three that Alexander Hamilton identified in Federalist #32 as being exclusive powers of the federal government.  The other two being setting rules and exercising jurisdiction over the District of Columbia and the right of Congress to exclusively “lay duties on imports and exports.”

Prior to the adoption of the U.S. Constitution, the states had created their own individual rules for determining citizenship.  As sovereigns, they could do so.  However, with the ratification of the Constitution, Congress was given the authority to establish a uniform naturalization policy – one for the entire nation.

Here’s an interesting side note:  Modern readers may not be aware that throughout much of the early part of our nation’s history policymakers were aggressively trying to encourage migration to the U.S. and it was felt that by granting central authority to the Federal Government barriers to immigration could be lowered.

The lack of a uniform immigration rule was — generally speaking — considered one of many defects in the Articles of Confederation.  James Madison notes in Federalist #42 that “The dissimilarity in the rules of naturalization has long been remarked as a fault in our system, and as laying a foundation for intricate and delicate questions.”  Madison and the other founders were concerned about the fact that now that the states were a nation, should Virginia be allowed to set the naturalization rules for South Carolina or vice versa? As long as states had this citizenship power, they would in essence interfere in the ability of people who happened to arrive in a given state to be able to migrate to another state.  This would frustrate the notion that we were actually citizens of a nation.

Also in Federalist #42 Madison posits the potential that without a uniform rule for citizenship a person could become a resident of two different states – one with strict rules for admission and another with less strict.  In the event this individual committed a crime that might lead to forfeiture of his citizenship rights in one state, he could potentially argue that his rights in the other state allow him to supersede the penalty.  “The new Constitution has accordingly, with great propriety, made provision against them, and all others proceeding from the defect of the Confederation on this head, by authorizing the general government to establish a uniform rule of naturalization throughout the United States.”

Now turning to the topic of bankruptcy.  Notwithstanding Madison’s view that “The power of establishing uniform laws of bankruptcy is so intimately connected with the regulation of commerce, and will prevent so many frauds where the parties or their property may lie or be removed into different States, that the expediency of it seems not likely to be drawn into question….” there is quite a bit of discussion that could be had on this topic.

Today the discussion of bankruptcy is fraught with disputes over the moral legitimacy of needing to give bankrupt individuals a second chance versus a system that allows scofflaws to walk away from their financial obligations.  The American federal system of bankruptcy from its inception has erred on the side of the “second chance” perhaps because so many of the earliest U.S. residents were men and women who migrated for to America for a “second chance.”

Bankruptcy or insolvency is a legal status of a person who cannot repay the debts he owes to his creditors. Note that unlike naturalization law, even though bankruptcy cases are filed in United States Bankruptcy Court (units of the United States District Courts), and there are federal laws which govern bankruptcy procedure, state laws have a significant impact on the outcome of disputes.

While the framers might have dismissed the need for a comprehensive discussion on the topic – the topic of bankruptcy is not only interesting, it is example where the U.S. was quite advanced in its attitudes – well ahead of other countries of its day.

The American system is in many ways a response to the history of Bankruptcy while being much more modernist.  In England, the first official bankruptcy laws were passed in 1542, while Henry VIII ruled.   Under its terms, a bankrupt individual was considered a criminal and was subject to criminal punishment, which could range from imprisonment in debtors’ prison to hanging.  By the early Eighteenth century, a significantly more enlightened attitude dawned.  The British adopted statutes that allowed the discharge of some debts as long as debtors agreed to pay what they could afford.

Under the Articles of confederation, most states were still throwing into jail individuals who could not pay their debts.  Robert Morris, a signer of the Declaration of Independence was one of many prominent Americans subject to this indignity.   However, because of Congress’ grant of this power, the U.S. was able to take the lead in the uniquely American practice of debtor’s “relief.”   Under its terms, not only was prison ended for debtors, but also individuals could choose to initiate bankruptcy for themselves rather than wait for creditors to force them and the Court’s involvement ensured a far more equitable accounting of the debts and the ability to discharge those that simply could not be paid.

As the process of examination unfolds throughout this 90 day cycle it becomes increasingly clear that the United Constitution is a remarkable document which addresses policy issues of the past and the present in very careful and well thought out ways.

Horace Cooper is a legal commentator and a senior fellow with The Heartland Institute

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

Article 1, Section 8, Clause 2

2:  To borrow Money on the credit of the United States;

Article I, Section 8, clause 2, confers on Congress the power to borrow money on the credit of the United States.  Borrowing is simply a means of raising revenue. One can glimpse the importance and ubiquity of this tool of public finance by the fact that the framers placed it as the second power granted to the new Congress.  Right after the powers to tax and spend. Those powers, along with the coining of money and punishing counterfeiting, constitute the federal revenue powers.

Borrowing on the credit of the United States was of vital concern during the Founding Era.  The difficulty that the U.S. had to finance the Revolutionary War impressed men such as Alexander Hamilton and his mentor in financial matters, Robert Morris.  It was the eventual success of John Adams and others in convincing the Dutch bankers to loosen their purse strings that opened access for Americans to international financial markets and contributed much to independence. Hamilton’s experience is reflected in Federalist 30, where he explains the importance of public credit to finance emergencies such as wars, and the connection between taxes (and, more broadly, responsible fiscal policies) and creditworthiness.

After the war, the economic plight of the United States worsened.  The war debts of the states and the United States posed a long-term threat to the country’s economic health. That condition, many feared, would inevitably turn into a political threat to the republican systems in the states and to the Confederation.  The fiscal and monetary policies of the states exacerbated the situation, as, in the words of James Madison’s in Federalist 10, a “rage for paper money, for an abolition of debts, for an equal division of property [and] for other improper [and] wicked projects” set in.  During the debates on the Constitution, Rhode Island was often (and not always entirely fairly) set up as a paradigm of bad economic policies run amok.  That is what happens when a state declines to show up for the debate, as Rhode Island opted to do.

But the problem was national and systemic, with the country locked in an apparent long-term cycle, or perhaps a spiral, of economic woe.  One problem, in the eyes of many, was the absence of banks.  The British had strongly disabled the formation of banks in the colonies, correctly seeing them as potential threats to British dominance. During the war, the Confederation’s Superintendent of Finance, Robert Morris, at the instigation of Alexander Hamilton, obtained a charter for the Bank of North America, an American prototype private national bank loosely patterned after the Bank of England.  The charter was immediately suspect, since the Articles of Confederation did not allow Congress to charter banks or other corporations.  As a precaution, the Bank eventually also obtained a state charter from Pennsylvania, a step that soon confirmed to Hamilton and other nationalists the folly of state control over public finance. The legislature of Pennsylvania, taking the position that it could, with impunity, take away vested property rights confirmed by a predecessor legislature, revoked the charter in 1785.

Though these constitutional weaknesses and political currents eventually caused the Bank of North America to fail as a national bank, the pattern was set. Indeed, Morris and Hamilton in their arguments to the Confederation Congress developed the constitutional arguments in favor of implied national powers that Hamilton would repeat in his push for the Bank of the United States in 1791, arguments the Supreme Court adopted in its landmark decision in McCulloch v. Maryland in 1819.

In the same vein, the economic and political arguments in favor of (and against) the Bank of North America would resonate in the political debates over the Bank of the United States and its successor until Andrew Jackson’s veto of the re-charter of the Second Bank of the United States in 1832.  Those same arguments would be repeated in the debate over the establishment of the Federal Reserve system and continue today.

While the Federal Reserve remains controversial in many quarters, the original Hamiltonian program probably saved the Republic.  Through the complex system Hamilton advanced as Secretary of the Treasury, the infirmities of the public debts of the United States and the states were eliminated by guaranteeing creditors payment on their previously depreciated securities.  A crucial step to restore confidence was to have the United States assume the war debts of the states.  The debt repayment was financed in part through an excise tax on whiskey that, while unpopular in certain quarters, was generally supported by the public.  The Bank of the United States was the final piece in Hamilton’s mosaic and would serve as a depository for government funds.  The use of those funds as well as the profit from private loans to other (state-chartered) banks and to large commercial borrowers would provide a return on their investment to private investors and to the government.  The latter could use those profits to help repay the war debts and to furnish internal public infrastructure improvements (later reflected in Henry Clay’s “American system”).  More significantly for the stability of public credit and the money supply was that the Bank could control the terms of credit it extended to borrowers. By selecting the interest rates for loans and having the option to demand repayment of loans in specie, it could temper the enthusiasm that state banks otherwise might have to overextend themselves through the issuance of bills of credit (paper bank notes).

As a result, the U.S. almost overnight gained access to the Amsterdam financial markets and, hence, to the world. Foreign capital flowed into the United States to help develop manufactures and commerce and put the United States on the road to a modern economy and prosperity.  Hamilton was not naive.  Despite what some of the agrarian anti-Bank theorists, such as Virginia’s Senator John Taylor of Caroline (a man who considered Jefferson and Madison sell-outs of the republican cause), claimed, neither the Bank nor Hamilton was bent on destroying American liberty.  Hamilton feared a government-controlled bank, but thought that the private control of the bank would keep corrupt political forces at bay.  Similarly, public and private tendencies towards credit bubbles would be constrained by two things.  First, the interests of investors and directors in safety as well as profits would make them sufficiently conservative. Second, he proposed that repayment of long-term public debt be immediately secured through a commitment of designated revenue to pay interest and principal (“sinking fund”).  Hamilton insisted that the Latin root of credit, credere (“to believe”), reflected the true source of credit.  “States, like individuals, who observe their engagements, are respected and trusted: while the reverse is the fate of those, who pursue an opposite conduct.”  While the states and the Confederation had abdicated their responsibilities and the country had suffered accordingly, Hamilton believed that his program lessened those dangers.

In practice, regrettably, Hamilton’s cautious and balanced approach has been cast aside. The only measure today appears to be how much can be borrowed on the increasingly suspect credit of the United States, rated as it is on the perceived ability of Americans to pay and the country’s status as the still safer haven for international funds than are the bonds of other countries.  Debt is rolled over, not retired, as more debt is added.

I happened to come across a book written fewer than forty years ago. The author recounted in horror that the gross national debt (not the annual deficit) topped the stratospheric level of $450 billion.  Even more scandalous to him was the explosion of the national debt from roughly $40 billion in 1940. Those are the kinds of numbers that today sound like unattainable frugality as a measure even of annual deficit, never mind as a measure of gross national debt. Even adjusted for inflation and population growth, the cumulative effect of the borrowing binge reflected in today’s debt is staggering compared to that time not so long ago.

Today’s questionable fiscal and monetary policies are not novel, of course.  The Lincoln administration’s massive borrowing and its manipulation of the currency is one stark early example.  FDR’s unilateral cancellation of gold clauses in public bonds (upheld by the Supreme Court in a stunning exercise of sophistry in Perry v. U.S. in 1935) and his comparatively massive, for that time, expansion of the debt, is another. But even those actions arguably were more defensible than today’s deficit borrowing. There is no massive war; the economic recession is not of the same degree; the borrowing is used to fund entitlements, not infrastructure.  Worse, the deficit is not a matter of a few years, but, by now, of generations.  It is structural. Worst of all, there is a lack of seriousness and urgency on the part of the political branches.  As Hamilton feared, that foundation of sound credit, the “belief” and confidence of creditors, is unlikely to be maintained in the teeth of such profligacy.

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: .

Guest Essayist: William C. Duncan, Director of the Marriage Law Foundation

Article 1, Section 6, Clause 1
1:  The Senators and Representatives shall receive a Compensation for their Services, to be ascertained by Law, and paid out of the Treasury of the United States.6   They shall in all Cases, except Treason, Felony and Breach of the Peace, be privileged from Arrest during their Attendance at the Session of their respective Houses, and in going to and returning from the same; and for any Speech or Debate in either House, they shall not be questioned in any other Place.

Under the Articles of Confederation, members of Congress were paid by the State they represented. In the Philadelphia Convention, there was some support for continuing this practice but the delegates opted instead to have national legislators receive uniform pay from the federal government.

In the ratification debate, the example of Rhode Island was invoked because it had failed to pay its representative in the Confederation Congress, thus effectively recalling them from service and leaving the state unrepresented. Under the Confederation, this was perhaps not too risky since the national government had so little power that it was unlikely to do much damage to the state’s interests. Under the new, more robust, national government created by the Constitution, lack of representation would be more impactful. The very real possibility that states would be added from the Ohio territory; states which would likely be poor and unable to pay legislators much; was also a relevant consideration in determining to pay members of Congress from the public fisc.

In both cases, the plan of representation on the national government might be frustrated if states and citizens were left unrepresented for lack of state money to pay salaries or unwillingness to appropriate it. (Although, on the other hand, there might be some value in having less representation from states that have bankrupted themselves through financial mismanagement.)

The other salient question for the Constitutional Convention was what the pay would be. An early draft suggested “liberal” compensation and Benjamin Franklin proposed “moderate.” The final decision was to proceed without a modifier. Congress could decide its own salary, though with the understanding that constituents would be watching. The check provided by voters was later strengthened by the adoption of the 27th Amendment which prevented any Congressional pay raise from going into effect before an intervening election allowed voters to weigh in on the vote for the raise.

The second part of the clause is referred to as the “Speech or Debate Clause.” It has an honorable pedigree stretching back at least to the English Bill of Rights of 1689. The Articles of Confederation (article 5) contained a similar provision. The clause “provides legislators with absolute immunity for their legislative activities relieving them from defending those actions in court.” United States v. Jefferson, 546 F.3d 300 (4th Cir. 2008).

The concern here is that the legislative branch of the new national government be protected from attempts to either intimidate or punish members for their expression in Congress. Thus, for instance, members cannot be sued for libel based on comments they make in debates in the House and Senate and are not subject to prosecution for those statements. This ensures not only a robust debate but the independence of the legislative branch.

The controversies related to this Clause have typically involved its scope. When a Senator placed classified government documents (the Pentagon Papers) into the public record and was reportedly trying to arrange private publication of the papers, a grand jury issued a subpoena to a member of the Senator’s staff. In the resulting case, the U.S. Supreme Court said the actions of Congressional aides in pursuance of duties that would be protected by the Clause if done by members of Congress were also protected. The court did not prevent the grand jury from investigating the private publication question since such was outside the scope of legislative duties. See Gravel v. United States, 408 U.S. 66 (1972).

Criminal conduct, such as corruption or accepting bribes is not legislative work (one can only hope) and is also not protected by the Clause. See United States v. Brewster, 408 U.S. 501 (1972). In another case, the Supreme Court said a defamation lawsuit based on statements in a Senator’s press release was not protected by the Clause. See Hutchinson v. Proxmire, 443 U.S. 111 (1979).

On the other hand, legislators are protected while “speaking on the House or Senate floor, introducing and voting on bills and resolutions, preparing and submitting committee reports, acting at committee meetings and hearings, and conducting investigations and issuing subpoenas.” Tod B. Tatelman, “The Speech of Debate Clause: Recent Developments,” CRS Report for Congress (2007) pp.2-3 at

William C. Duncan is director of the Marriage Law Foundation ( He formerly served as acting director of the Marriage Law Project at the Catholic University of America’s Columbus School of Law and as executive director of the Marriage and Family Law Research Grant at J. Reuben Clark Law School, Brigham Young University, where he was also a visiting professor.

Guest Essayist: Scot Faulkner, Executive Director, The Dreyfuss Initiative on Civics

Article 1, Section 5, Clause 3

Each House shall keep a Journal of its Proceedings, and from time to time publish the same, excepting such Parts as may in their Judgment require Secrecy; and the Yeas and Nays of the Members of either House on any question shall, at the Desire of one fifth of those Present, be entered on the Journal.

Documenting public processes have been part of governing since the rise of early civilizations.  From the Sumerians in 2500 BC, to ancient Egypt and Babylon, governments have kept journals of their actions and public meetings. 

The Founding Fathers knew the importance of maintaining a Journal of Proceedings from the English House of Commons. James Wilson, a member of the Committee on Detail which compiled the provisions of the draft Constitution, was a follower of the great British parliamentary scholar Sir William Blackstone.  He quoted Blackstone’s Oxford 1756 lectures, which underscored the importance of a public record for holding officials accountable, “In the House of Commons, the conduct of every member is subject to the future censure of his constituents, and therefore should be openly submitted to their inspection.”

The Constitution’s “Journal of Proceedings” wording flows from the Articles of Confederation. In March 1781 the Continental Congress approved the following provision: “…and shall publish the Journal of their proceedings monthly, except such parts thereof relating to treaties, alliances or military operations, as in their judgment require secrecy; and the yeas and nays of the delegates of each state on any question shall be entered on the Journal, when it is desired by any delegate; and the delegates of a state, or any of them, at his or their request shall be furnished with a transcript of the said Journal, except such parts as are above excepted, to lay before the legislatures of the several states.”

But what is the Journal?  Every day the Congress approves the “Journal” of the previous session.  This is the official outline of actions taken during the previous meeting of each Chamber, like a set of minutes.  It is codified in Section 49 of Thomas Jefferson’s 1812 Parliamentary Manual that governs Congressional operations.  Members of Congress do not approve the Congressional Record.  That transcript of House and Senate proceedings has a colorful history.

The transcribing of Congressional debate was begun by private publishers.  House and Senate proceedings, roll calls, debates, and other records were recorded and published in The Debates and Proceedings in the Congress of the United States (1789–1824), the Register of Debates in Congress (1824–1837), and the Congressional Globe (1833–1873).

During the 36th Congress [December 5, 1859 to March 3, 1861] it was decided that federal funds should be used for transcribing Congressional proceedings and that the Government Printing Office should publish the verbatim record. The Congressional Globe was contracted to provide stenographers in the House and Senate Chambers. In 1873, the Globe’s contract was not renewed, and the Congressional Record was born.  The Clerk of the House and the Secretary of the Senate now oversee documenting and transcribing the verbatim proceedings of their respective chambers.

The Congressional Record is still not an accurate verbatim transcript of the proceedings and debate for each Chamber.  Members routinely insert remarks and documents after the fact.  While these “revised and extended remarks” help Members explain their actions, they are considered “secondary authorities” when it comes to determining legislative intent.  Secondary authorities are generally afforded less weight than the actual texts of primary authority during Judicial review.

The chronicling of Congress has come almost full circle.  While the Congressional Record remains the official transcript of proceedings, CSPAN, a nonprofit private entity, provides live coverage of each Chamber.  The cameras are owned and maintained by the Architect of the Capitol, while their operations and broadcasts are operated by staffs of the Chief Administrative Officer in the House and the Secretary of the Senate.  CSPAN receives the signal and airs it on its various cable television channels.  Live House broadcasting began on March 19, 1979 while Senate coverage commenced on June 2, 1986. 

Article 1, Section 5, Clause 4

Neither House, during the Session of Congress, shall, without the Consent of the other, adjourn for more than three days, nor to any other Place than that in which the two Houses shall be sitting.

The Constitutional Convention of 1787 made sure the two Congressional chambers had equity when it came of the operations of the Legislative Branch.  Neither the House nor the Senate may adjourn for more than three days (excluding Saturdays, Sundays, and holidays) without the concurrence of the other Chamber. The formal end of a Congress is when the Legislative Branch adjourns “Sine Die” (from the Latin “without day”) meaning “without assigning a day for a further meeting or hearing”.  The Constitution [Article 2, Section 3] also grants the President the authority to summon the Congress for a special session if circumstances require.  The Twentieth Amendment to the Constitution also sets a formal start and end time for each Congress.

These various provisions have led to numerous unintended consequences.

One of the first instances was when the Southern states seceded from the Union.  They deprived the sitting Congress of a quorum.  In order to continue governing, President Abraham Lincoln issued the very first Presidential Order on April 15, 1861, Executive Order 1.

The most complex consequence of Clause 4 relates to when Congress takes a recess and when it adjourns. A recess is a temporary halt to activity on the floor. Everything stops, and when the recess ends, the chamber resumes from where it left off. A recess might last 10 minutes or it might last weeks. The length of time does not matter. An adjournment is a formal end to business in the chamber, and upon return the chamber does not resume from where it left off. Just like a recess an adjournment can be for one minute or for three weeks. However, unlike a recess, an adjournment creates a new legislative day (this is more relevant to Senate proceedings).

Certain things happen, under the standing rules of the House and Senate, precisely because it is a new legislative day. Much of it is routine business: the reading of the previous day’s journal, filing of reports, delivery of messages from the House, etc., but there are also consequential things.  In the Senate, during the first two hours of each new legislative day, motions to proceed are not debatable, and therefore cannot be filibustered.

Any formal break in Legislative Branch activity also opens the door for a President to take certain actions.  This includes making appointments which require Senate confirmation, and “pocket vetoing” legislation.  A pocket veto means that the Congress cannot override the veto because it is not in session.  An adjournment of the Legislative Branch also allows the President to reconvene Congress for a specific action [Article 2, Section 3].  Congressional leaders have devised ways to avoid inadvertently unleashing Presidential activism.

The Congress can take a break from legislative activity, and still avoid a formal recess or adjournment, by meeting in a “pro forma” session. Pro forma means “for the sake of formality”.  In recent years pro forma sessions have prevented Presidents from making recess appointments, and in the case of President George W. Bush in 2008, deprived him calling a special session to reauthorize the Protect America Act and the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act.

As long as a Member convenes either the House or Senate to formally open and close a session there is no recess or adjournment.  Members sometimes compete to see how fast they can conduct a pro forma session.  The record is currently held by Senate Jack Reed of Rhode Island who completed the task in 12 seconds.

Scot Faulkner served as the Chief Administrative Officer of the U.S. House of Representatives.  He earned a Masters in Public Administration from American University, and B.A. in Government from Lawrence University.  He is the Executive Director of The Dreyfuss Initiative on civics



Guest Essayist: Professor William Morrisey, William and Patricia LaMothe Chair in the United States Constitution at Hillsdale College

Article 1, Section 2, Clause 5

“The House of Representatives shall chuse the Speaker and other Officers; and shall have the sole Power of Impeachment.”

The Articles of Confederation had established a federal government in which all three powers—legislative, executive, and judicial—resided in one body, the Congress.  This proved unwieldy and ineffectual.  In principle, such an arrangement violated the Jeffersonian precept that any person or institution holding all of these powers constitutes a tyranny.  The popular foundation of Congress under the Articles mitigated this danger but did not remove it, inasmuch as popular majorities might well tyrannize.  The primary guard against Congressional tyranny thus consisted precisely in Congressional incompetence, an incompetence derived not from the incapacity of its members but from the structure of the institution itself.  At Philadelphia, the Framers needed to remove the structural impediments to good government while simultaneously preventing governmental efficiency from malign use.  Separated, balanced, but also interdependent branches of government, each exercising one of the three powers, could prevent tyrannical government without preventing firm government.

The House of Representatives chooses its own officers, including its chief officer, the Speaker of the House.  This seems obvious to us now, but consider the other possibilities.  The Framers might have empowered the President to choose these officers, selecting them from each newly-elected batch of Representatives.  This quite obviously would have compromised the independence of the House from the Executive branch.  In the most recent Congressional election (for example) it would have enabled President Obama to choose the officers of a House that had been elected in part as a popular rebuke to the president’s party and its policies.  Alternatively, the Framers could have provided that the Speaker and perhaps some of the other officers might be elected by the Electoral College—i. e., by representatives of the people as a whole meeting prior to and independently of the first meeting of the newly-elected House.  But this would elevate them to same status as the president and vice-president; separation and balance of powers requires that equal prestige be attached to the legislature as a branch of government and not to particular members within it.  Choice of the House officers by the House members ensures that those officers will be well known and esteemed by the majority of their colleagues.  Other methods of selection could not guarantee this.

The power of impeachment bespeaks the character of the American regime, of republican government itself.  In his 1791 Lectures on Law, James Wilson writes, “The doctrine of impeachments is of high import in the constitutions of free states.  On one hand, the most powerful magistrates should be amenable to the law; on the other hand, elevated characters should not be sacrificed merely on account of their elevation. No one should be secure while he violates the Constitution and the laws; every one should be secure while he observes them.”  The laws are the considered judgments of the elected representatives of the American people; to violate them while entrusted with a Constitutional office must deserve the swiftest punishment consistent with a fair trial.  However, only a violation of the law can deserve such punishment, or else no sensible person would undertake the responsibilities of public office.  To keep impeachment and trial within the bounds of the rule of the people’s law, as distinguished from the envy, partisan rancor, or other passions of the hour must be a fundamental purpose of any just and reasonable constitution-maker.

The Framers assigned the power of impeachment to the House.  That the House wields the sole power of impeachment speaks not only to the separation of powers but to their interdependence.  The House alone can impeach an officer of the federal government.  Impeachment means accusation or indictment, parallel to the power of a grand or petit jury.  Under the British constitution the House of Commons was regarded as “the grand inquest of the nation”; as the most democratic branch, the one most frequently elected, the United States `house of commons’ indicts officers in the name of the sovereign—namely, the American people, unencumbered by any dynasty or aristocracy.  This provides for the independence of the House from all other branches, including the other legislative branch.

But, once impeached, the accused officer then has his day in court, so to speak, not in the House but in the Senate; further, presiding over that trial will not be any senator but the Chief Justice of the United States.  This illustrates and provides for the interdependence of the three branches.  Without interdependence, the American government would feature branches not merely separated but isolated from one another.  Each branch would go its own way, leading to governmental incoherence—to what Publius calls, in another connection, a hydra or many-headed monster.  The incompetence of the Articles of Confederation Congress would reappear, albeit in a more complex, interesting, and elegant form.

As intended by the Framers, impeachment and conviction of wayward federal officers has proven rightly difficult but possible in cases of clear malfeasance.  Removal from office has remained mostly in the best hands—namely, the people themselves, who elect, re-elect or dismiss their representatives in free elections.

Article 1, Section 3, Clause 1

“The Senate of the United States shall be composed of two Senators from each State, chosen by the Legislature thereof, for six Years; and each Senator shall have one Vote.”

Publius famously asserted that “the science of politics” had “received great improvement” in modern times.  (Some fifty years later, Tocqueville rather more dramatically—he was French—called for “a new politics for a world altogether new”). The newness of American politics and of American political scientists consisted of two things: first, our freedom from rule by monarchic dynasties and titled aristocrats; second, our freedom from the already formidably centralized government of Europe.  The “New World” that Europeans had `discovered’ was new to them; what they had discovered was of course a very old world populated by Amerindian nations and tribes.  It was new to the Europeans.  The real newness of the New World arose from the politics of the European settlers, governing themselves largely unsupervised by European ruling classes and institutions.

Freedom from monarchs and aristocrats meant that Americans could found a regime not seen since antiquity, a republic in which the people were sovereign, with no admixture of any families or classes that claimed a superior right to rule.  For example, although most states required property ownership of voters and of office-holders, nothing but ill luck or incapacity barred today’s pauper from property ownership and full citizenship rights tomorrow.  The socially egalitarian regime of the United States could better reflect the natural equality of human beings enunciated in the Declaration of Independence, vindicating in the revolutionary war for independence.

Political communities coalesce not only in the form of their regimes.  They also form themselves as relatively large or small societies in terms of population and territory and as relatively centralized or decentralized with respect to their ruling structures.  The polis of ancient Greece, small and centralized, contrasted sharply with the contemporary empires of Persia and of China—huge but decentralized entities which gave their provinces substantial latitude for self-government because it had to.  In antiquity, no ruler commanded a ruling apparatus that could do much more than exact tribute from the peoples it conquered, quell uprisings, and defend imperial borders.

The modern state changed this.  Envisioned in principle by the Italian Renaissance writer, Niccolò Machiavelli, and put into practice by the Tudor dynasty in England, the Bourbon dynasty in France, and many others, the state combined some of the size of an empire with the centralization of the polis or `city-state.’  With their standing, professional armies funded by revenues collected by state employees or `bureaucrats’ from societies whose energies were funneled into commercial acquisition, and industrial productivity spurred by the new, experimental science aiming at the conquest of nature—all guided by reformed financial institutions—states quickly became the most powerful polities ever seen.

The American founders needed to frame a modern state in order to defend American citizens from the statist empires of Europe that still bordered them to the north and south, and also from the still-powerful Amerindians in the west. As we know, they wanted a republican regime for this state.  But could a centralized, modern state have a republican regime (and keep it, as Franklin pointedly remarked)?  Did the centralized ruling apparatus of modern statism not lend itself to the rule of the one or of the few?  European statesmen thought so; for the next century, they expected the new republic to implode.  On occasion, it very nearly did.

The invention of statesmen devising a new political science for a new world, the United States Senate answers these questions, both with respect to the regime of republicanism and the polity of statist confederalism.

In the Philadelphia Convention, the framers eventually agreed that the unicameral legislature of the Articles of Confederation should be replaced by the bicameral legislature that had been most copiously advocated by John Adams in his treatise, Defence of the Constitutions of the United States.  Gouverneur Morris of Pennsylvania argued for bicameralism as a pillar of what Aristotle and other classical political philosophers had called a `mixed regime’—one that balanced the rule of the few who are rich with the rule of the many who are poor.  The Senate, Morris said, ought to represent the interests of the commercial oligarchies consisting of urban merchants and financiers as well as country gentlemen.  The House ought to represent everyone else—particularly the middling classes of small farmers and shopkeepers.  “The two forces will controul each other,” providing “a mutual check and a mutual security,” Morris asserted.  The British Constitution exemplified such a mixed regime, albeit with a House of Lords—titled aristocrats—not American-style commoners who happened to be wealthy.  John Dickinson of Delaware hoped that the Senate would “bear as strong a resemblance to the British House of Lords as possible.”

James Madison of Virginia saw the regime implications of the Senate more clearly.  The Senators would represent no particular class or caste; they would represent the constituent states of the United States.  Without titles of nobility (banned in the Constitution) or any set level of wealth, the Senators as such would have no interests separate from those of the people.  The Senate therefore would fit easily into a pure or unmixed republic.  At the same time, the six-year terms of office would lend the Senate some of the virtues of an aristocracy: steadiness of purpose, the tendency to take a longer view of things that that likely among the representatives in the more democratic House, with their biannual re-election worries.

The design of the Senate also addressed the dilemma of statism.  Under the Articles of Confederation, the country had suffered from the inefficiencies, injustices, and dangerous of excessive decentralization.  At the Convention, however, delegates from the smaller states in the Confederation feared relinquishing any more of their sovereignty, fearing domination by the large states.  The Framers had already tied the House to the democratic principle of proportioning the number of representatives from each state to the size of its population.  Large-state delegates advanced the Virginia Plan: a bicameral legislature, membership of both houses being determined by population.  Small-state delegates countered with the New Jersey Plan, which would have retained the Articles of Confederation’s unicameral legislature, with one vote per state.  All accounts of the Convention emphasize that the debate between small-state and large-state delegates consumed more time and energy than any other item.  How could the small states defend themselves in the new legislature without sacrificing the just, republican claims of the large states?

The answer—called the Connecticut Compromise because advanced by Roger Sherman of that state but also propounded by Dickinson—stipulated bicameralism but with two different modes of election that satisfied both sides and also guaranteed the independence of one house from the other.  If the Senators were selected by the House, the Senate would have no independence and bicameralism would be nominal; if Senators were selected by voters in each state they might prove better demagogues than statesmen.  The Compromise established that state legislators choose the senators.  The legislators would have every reason to send their ablest men to defend the interests of their state in the national capital—men of “distinguished characters,” as Dickinson put it.  For his part, Sherman and George Mason of Virginia argued that confederal union must give each state—especially the small ones—the means of defending themselves within the national councils.

Setting the number of each state’s senators at two accomplished all of these purposes.  As John Randolph of Virginia argued, a Senate smaller than the House would be “exempt from the passionate proceedings to which numerous assemblies are liable”; the more intimate chamber would conduce more to deliberation than to verbal pyrotechnics.  This comported with the `aristocratic’ character of the Senate.  At the same time, delegations of two senators instead of one reduced the risk of a state being disenfranchised by accident or illness; two senators voting individually and not as a bloc precluded the possibility of a deadlocked (1-1) vote, which also would effectively disenfranchise a state on those occasions when senators from the same state disagreed.  Finally, giving every state an equal number of senators calmed the fears of the smaller states; confederalism would sustain them, not overwhelm them.

By designing the United States Senate, the Framers thus addressed both the `regime’ question and the `polity’ question.  The Senate reinforces the republican regime by providing an institutional platform for deliberation and steadiness of purpose that a large, unicameral legislature might lack.  The Senate also reinforced a confederal polity—a modern state sufficiently centralized and powerful to defend itself in a dangerous world, but sufficiently responsible to its constituent political parts to prevent that centralized power from usurping the right and duty of self-government.

Will Morrisey holds the William and Patricia LaMothe Chair in the United States Constitution at Hillsdale College; his books include Self-Government, The American Theme: Presidents of the Founding and Civil War and The Dilemma of Progressivism: How Roosevelt, Taft, and Wilson Reshaped the American Regime of Self-Government.

Posted in Analyzing the Constitution Essay Archives | 7 Comments »

7 Responses to “February 28, 2011 – Article 1, Section 2, Clause 5 and Section 3, Clause 1 – Guest Essayist: Professor William Morrisey, William and Patricia LaMothe Chair in the United States Constitution at Hillsdale College”

  1. Ron Meier says:

February 27, 2011 at 10:31 pm

Thanks Professor Morrisey; I found the discussion on the Senate to be especially enlightening.

I wonder how different things might be today if the original intent of the method of choosing Senators were adhered to instead of changing that method to election by the same method as Representatives are elected? For example, would the extensive use of Federal mandates (education, highway construction, etc.) have passed the Senate if the states, rather than the people, were represented in the Senate?

  1. Ralph T. Howarth, Jr. says:

February 28, 2011 at 12:26 am

@Ron Meier, not to mention the all-around carrot and stick methods of regulation over areas Congress is not granted power to do by the states. Our statesmen go to Washington D.C. to have to endure a system of inducements, bribes, and compromise in order to get money that left their state to come back and fund what are local affairs within their state. If money leaves the state to only come back for municipal affairs then something is out of whack. All taxes used to be collected by the states themselves and then paid out of the state’s office to the US Treasury. We ought to go back to that to where people just file one income tax form with their state that pays the federal income tax in some percentage out of the state tax. That way the states pay the taxes to the federal like they used to and it will be the states the hold the purse strings. With such an arrangement then much of the current carrot and stick methods of the federal government would subside; that, and restoring the election of Senators by state legislatures.

Prof. Morrisey’s expository essay reminds me of how the terms “confederal” and “federal” were used so interchangeably. I sought to find a difference and picked up on two characterstics that differentiate the two:

1) A confederacy tended to not have delegated legislative powers in a central government,
2) and likewise tended to have a legislature convened on an as needed basis.

Otherwise the two terms were rather interchangeable in political science.

  1. Janine Turner says:

February 28, 2011 at 1:40 pm

I thank you Professor Morrisey, for your wonderful essay today! I personally feel so lucky to have the opportunity, as the co-chair of Constituting America, to not only be hosting this forum but to be learning from it, as well!! I never knew that in the Articles of the Confederation the legislative, executive and judicial branch all operated under one body – the congress. It is equally fascinating to concretely understand the amazing forethought of our founding fathers regarding the impeachment process – the independence of the people’s house yet the interdependence of the subsequent actions once an impeachment was initiated. The house initiates it, the senate holds the proceedings and the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court presides over it. Amazing! Once again, this process regarding impeachment reiterates the importance of three independent branches that must yet integrate to govern. Re: Article 1, Section 3, Clause 1 – I find the process of how they came to a compromise compelling. I’ve always known of the “great
compromise,” I now know it was the “Connecticut Compromise” due to Roger Sherman of Connecticut. It is interesting to understand the interpretations of Gouverneur Morris’ insights, then Madison’s and finally Sherman’s, not to mention John Adam’s inspiration of the bicameral
legislature! Divine providence, mixed with the talents of brilliant, learned men, both saved and lead the struggling country through it’s infancy. A republic was nurtured through it’s adolescence – now in adulthood – can we the people keep it? At this point, we can only keep it, through knowledge and sacrifice that parallels the passions of our founding fathers. Thank you Professor Morrisey and to all of you who are joining us! Spread the word about this forum!

No one should be secure while he violates the Constitution and the laws; every one should be secure while he observes them.”

  1. ThreeDogs says:

February 28, 2011 at 2:35 pm

I have to echo the sentiments of both Ralph and Ron in wondering what things would be like today without the 17th amendment. Looking forward to that discussion down the line.

Thanks Mr. Morrisey!

  1. Cutler says:

February 28, 2011 at 6:49 pm

The essay was interesting and enlightening, but I love the comments by Mr. Meier and Mr. Howarth. But no, that would be too close to the intentions of the Founding Fathers for the present Regime to tolerate. So for now we must use the present method to slowly take back the Senate with strong conservative leaders who, along with the public will take back America from those who would tear away its foundations.

  1. zac allen says:

February 28, 2011 at 7:58 pm

Well… The senators to this day should be sent there by our legistlature. Its what kept Federalism intact. That way they would be sent there representing the states an its best interest… if they didn’t they could be recalled. i.e… The bank bailout TARP resolution. Anyway…the 1930′s took a grat leap away from what our founders intended. As a side note…. Every time the media or politicians call us a democracy, they should be corrected, and remind them we are federal republic, with representive democracy….. Not mob rule

  1. Anglo says:

March 1, 2011 at 9:22 am

No one should be secure while he violates the Constitution and the laws; every one should be secure while he observes them.” in comparison to-Separated, balanced, but also interdependent branches of government, each exercising one of the three powers, could prevent tyrannical government without preventing firm government.

Such is the folly of the two party system when at any time it can hold dominance over any two of the three branches of government. Such as has and is being experienced today as there are sufficient grounds for impeachment to be exercised as concerning the executive branch.

Guest Essayist: W. B. Allen, Havre de Grace, MD

Article 1, Section 2, Clause 3: Representatives and direct Taxes shall be apportioned among the several States which may be included within this Union, according to their respective Numbers, which shall be determined by adding to the whole Number of free Persons, including those bound to Service for a Term of Years, and excluding Indians not taxed, three fifths of all other Persons.

Amendment 14, Section 2: Representatives shall be apportioned among the several States according to their respective numbers, counting the whole number of persons in each State, excluding Indians not taxed. But when the right to vote at any election for the choice of electors for President and Vice-President of the United States, Representatives in Congress, the Executive and Judicial officers of a State, or the members of the Legislature thereof, is denied to any of the male inhabitants of such State, being twenty-one years of age, and citizens of the United States, or in any way abridged, except for participation in rebellion, or other crime, the basis of representation therein shall be reduced in the proportion which the number of such male citizens shall bear to the whole number of male citizens twenty-one years of age in such State.

Amendment 26, Section1. The right of citizens of the United States, who are eighteen years of age or older, to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of age.

The so-called “three-fifths” clause of the U. S. Constitution is actually a provision for determining the number of representatives allotted to the several states in the Union. However, it provides the most frequently circulated charge against the Constitution. Simply put, for a long time almost everyone in America has misunderstood the three-fifths language in the Constitution. Here we speak directly and only to the origin of that language, in order to correct the record. We begin, however, by listing the Fourteenth Amendment and the Twenty-Sixth Amendment, because of their implications for the original text. Note that the Fourteenth Amendment supersedes the three-fifths clause, in particular directly tying the rule of representation to eligibility to participate in elections. That was not the case originally. Moreover, it ties eligibility to participate in elections (in relation to penalties for the denial of that privilege) to an age of majority listed as “twenty-one years of age.” However, the Twenty-Sixth Amendment establishes the age of eligibility for voting at “eighteen years of age” without having altered the language of the Fourteenth Amendment. Thus, once again the eligibility to vote has become disconnected from the rule of representation, as it was in the original constitution.

Now, regarding the three-fifths clause, the general account is that the Framers regarded black people as only three-fifths human (whatever that might mean). That, in turn, is supposed to prove that the Framers were bigots and that their opinion of black people was low indeed. The palpable surface of the framing documents reveals the truth. Consider what they did in fact mean, then judge how well the Framers confronted their moral dilemmas.

In April, 1783 (not 1787) in the Confederation Congress the three-fifths compromise emerged after six weeks of debate. An eighth article was proposed for the Articles of Confedration, apportioning expenses for the Confederation on the basis of land values as surveyed. There the discussion opened, only to reveal how difficult it was to assess land values 2

and, in the rude conditions of those times, to produce accurate surveys. Thus, they resorted to numbers instead, speaking of population as a rough approximation of wealth. Taking the numbers of people in the respective states, they hit upon the following language:

expenses shall be supplied by the several states in proportion to the whole number of white and other free inhabitants, of every age, sex, and condition, including those bound to servitude for a term of years, and three fifths of all other persons not comprehended in the foregoing description, except Indians not paying taxes in each state.

What, then, does three-fifths apply to? Slaves, carefully and legally defined. But re-read the opening clause, delimiting “the whole number of white and other free inhabitants.” To whom does that apply? Surely not whites only, nor only males, since “every age, sex, and condition” is further appended. Clearly, they aimed at every free human being, white and non-white. As is generally known, the only significant number of free non-whites in the United States in 1783 were American blacks (another 10,000 of whom were emancipated between 1776 and 1787). There were not in the United States of 1783, for example, any Asians. Thus, these legislators included American blacks among the free inhabitants; the following three-fifths clause applied not to blacks generically but rather to persons in the peculiar legal relation of slavery. Three-fifths of the number of slaves were counted, not in terms of their humanity but with respect to their legal status in the respective states.

The Confederation Congress fully affirmed the humanity of American blacks through the language of “white and other free inhabitants.” Was that recognition of humanity withdrawn when this same language was taken up again in 1787 in the Constitutional Convention? Here is the provision:

Representatives and direct taxes shall be apportioned among the several States which may be included within this Union, according to their respective numbers, which shall be determined by adding to the whole Number of free Persons, including those bound to Service for a Term of Years, and excluding Indians not taxed, three fifths of all other Persons.

The lapse of four years has brought changes. But what are the changes? On the surface the changes are primarily editorial, introducing economy and exactness of language. As any composition teacher would point out, the first thing to notice is the elimination of redundancy. Why should it be necessary to say the “whole number of white and other free inhabitants, of every age, sex, and condition,” when the “whole number of free persons” says the same thing? Further, “adding three fifths of all other persons” at the end is less awkward than the inclusion clause of 1783. Finally, the substitution of “Service” for “servitude” continues the liberal impulse of 1776. Moreover, this rule of representation says nothing about who gets the right to vote. Thus, 1787’s freedom language includes women and blacks; it does not exclude them.

W. B. Allen

Havre de Grace, MD

Posted in Analyzing the Constitution Essay Archives | 18 Comments »

18 Responses to “February 24, 2011 – Article 1, Section 2, Clause 3 of the United States Constitution – Guest Essayist: W. B. Allen, Havre de Grace, MD”

  1. Scott Miller says:

February 24, 2011 at 1:20 am

Wasn’t the three fifths clause also intended to prevent slave owning states from gaining an unfair advantage over free states by preventing them from including slaves in a count of a state’s population and giving the slave states permanent control of the House of Representatives?

This would go along with the “life, liberty, and pursuit of happiness clause of the Declaration of Independence which was originally written as “life, liberty, and property”, but changed to “life, liberty, and happiness” to prevent slave states from making the case that the word “property” must include slaves.

Between the two wouldn’t slavery have become constitutionally protected and recognized legal institution? It would have given the slave states permanent control of Congress because the slave state would have used control of Congress to insure that all future states admitted to the Union would have been slaves states, would it not?

  1. Joe Short says:

February 24, 2011 at 9:11 am

Why is the “indians not taxed” language included?

  1. Brad says:

February 24, 2011 at 12:22 pm

“including those bound to Service for a Term of Years”

Of whom does the Constitution refer? These individuals do not appear to be identified as slaves, but rather a specific legal class of free persons.

?prisoners…? debtors?…

  1. Toni says:

February 24, 2011 at 12:46 pm

I think the majority of those who misunderstand or misinterpret this whole three fifths thing either do it on purpose to use to their advantage, or simply have not done the research to find out for themselves.

The first category knowingly and willingly try to change what was in the hearts of our founding father’s. This frustrates me to no end. I believe for America to continue to be free we must keep in mind the hearts and minds of our founding fathers. We must take the time to know their morals and deeply held beliefs.

We must also keep in mind that they were not from our time. We cannot judge them based on who we are today. We must see them and understand them in their own time for who they were then and what our country was like then. I love this stuff.

We’re having our First Patriot’s club on March 4th and I’m so excited to teach these young Patriots the constitution and their founding father’s. I believe we must know them as well as the document to gain true understanding.

  1. Susan says:

February 24, 2011 at 1:08 pm

Brad, at the time of the writing I think there was still indentured servitude. This was a contracted period of servitude for the payment of transport and relocation to America.

  1. Ralph T. Howarth, Jr. says:

February 24, 2011 at 2:42 pm

@Joe Short: Indians not taxed are the Indians who ware not particularly US Citizens. The Indians were and are a protectorate of the federal government where the Indians were treated as a foreign country. It is interesting to note that during the Treaty of Paris meetings led by Benjamin Franklin that Franklin secured the welfare of the American Indians from the European powers citing that they were a people “not able to defend themselves.” The Treaty of Paris then kept Europe out of the affairs of the American Indian. Had this not been done; the perpetual European wars may have persisted to intermeddle with the American Indian affairs. As was then, and in the years afterward, there were intents among the British Crown to keep arming the American Indians and incite war with the American “rebels”.

@Brad: bound to Service for a Term of Years are those of indentured servants primarily from Europe. These are people who either contracted their fare of transport to the states or were in debt already and arrangements were made with the shipping companies conveying goods of trade to the Americas. Many were debtors who were subject to the ill-gotten practice of being jailed for their debt where they could not work off their debt and so in a somewhat not-by-choice fashion were made indentured servants to the shipping companies. The shipping companies then would sell the contract of labor in the Americas to bidders. The indentured servants typically served a term of no more than seven years under the Judeo-Christian ideal of a seven year’s release.

  1. Brad says:

February 24, 2011 at 4:23 pm

@Susan and Ralph: Thank you for the clarification. This dialogue is wonderful.

  1. Donna Hardeman says:

February 24, 2011 at 6:25 pm

You guys should look at David Barton’s explanation on utube. Fabulous.He explains how Frederick Douglas realized the 3/5 clause was an anti-slavery clause.Talks about Georgia, NC & SC wanting to count all their slaves so they could have more votes.Northern states came back saying – you want to count your “property” we’ll count our horses and goats!(All from the Constitutional Convention notes). The neat thing he points out is that the 3/5 clause actually applied to the population of slaves – not each individually meaning that a state would have to have 50,000 slaves to enable them to get one representative. That clause is so cool because it’s true – everyone misunderstands it – and it’s fun to set them straight!!

  1. Barb Zakszewski says:

February 24, 2011 at 11:36 pm

Interesting, so women and blacks had the right to vote since the beginning?? Yet were denied that right because of incorrect readings of the original Article within the Constitution? Am I understanding this correctly? that is amazing, if it’s true!! I had to re-read the explanation regarding the 3/5 clause several times, but it does make sense now.

  1. Ralph T. Howarth, Jr. says:

February 25, 2011 at 12:25 am

@Barb: That is correct; but the right to vote for women in particular was not uniform among the states. If you think about it; in order for their to be a women’s suffrage amendment to the U.S. Constitution there had to be 3/4ths states that ratified the amendement. Do you think that all of a sudden 3/4ths the states went from seeing the error of their ways to suddenly advocating a woman’s right to vote?

In colonial times, for example, Pennsylvania voting rights were orchestrated around property ownership to land holders. Men were the primary land-owners of estates; but if a woman’s husband passed away, then the property fell to her and she then had the right to vote in his stead. Later, states like Idaho made law that give women the right to vote without any such land-holding impediments and gave an cablanche right to vote for women. They did this to encourage women to risk pioneering the unclaimed lands mostly populated by men and populate the territory.

  1. Ralph T. Howarth, Jr. says:

February 25, 2011 at 5:27 am

The 3/5ths clause is a penchant play on political correctness.

Michele Backmann was right. The founders did wrestle with the slavery issue.

During the constitutional convention [or ConCon] debates August 21, 22, 1787 the premise was that each state was an independent nation and the auspices of the convention was not much more than a trade union. When it came to the issue on slavery there certainly were a variety of views and it was recommended to ban the importation of slavery and/or abolish slavery; but it was passed over to the states as a state matter as the purpose and scope of the convention was not that of religion, morality, or humanity. The original submitted draft of the Constitution brought to the ConCon 1787 actually forbade outright the blocking of the slave trade and forbade imposing a tax provision on the importation of slaves, so it appears. The draft evidently was revised to instead postpone the blocking of the slave trade and allowed a tax on the trade instead of none. So the end result of the draft constitution going into the ConCon was a marginally tougher instrument on slavery that what was proposed.

As James Madison made record in his ConCon notes, Mr. Rutledge noted: “Interest alone is the governing principal with nations. The true question at hand is whether the Southern States shall or shall not be parties to the Union.” Mr. Ellsworth noted: “The morality or wisdom of slavery are considerations belonging to the states themselves.” And, “[t]he old confederation had not meddled on this point, and he did not see…bringing it within the policy of the new one…” Mr. Sherman also noted that the slavery issue, being the purview of the several States, was already addressed by the abolition movement “and that the good sense of the several States would probably by degrees compleat [the abolition].”

So what we have on the table was the making of a stronger union versus a very loose, virtual one. The confederate congress really had no power to speak of and figuratively had to have permission of ten states to sneeze, and then had to have permission of ten states again to get a handkerchief. Yet, if the abolition of slavery was promulgated in the Constitution, then the southern states would not have ratified it. Hence, the 3/5ths compromise was retained in order to deter the southern states from not ratifying; and by implication, leaving the union. And abolition was allowed passively by the Constitution, by leaving with the states their own accord to abolish slavery as some statesmen like Mr. Sherman thought the abolitionist movement was already showing much success in that direction. Mr. Pickney also concurred thinking the Southern States will eventually block the importation of slaves of their own volition.

A comparitive could be if the USA, Canada, and Mexico took NAFTA and upgraded to a federal union while cartels still exist.

  1. Susan says:

February 25, 2011 at 9:51 am

I know that the women of New Jersey voted in elections up until about 1800 when sufferage was rescinded.

  1. Shelby Seymore says:

February 25, 2011 at 11:56 am

Personally, I am so annoyed with the excuse or the complaint, “The founding fathers only saw blacks as three fifths of a person.” No. Stop. Grow up. Fredrick Douglas figured this out. The founders put the three fifths clause into the Constitution so that the South wouldn’t have so much power. If slaves were counted as a whole person the founders knew they’d never get rid of slavery. It was a way to undermine slavery, not keep it going. Do your homework.

  1. yguy says:

February 25, 2011 at 12:16 pm

Interesting, so women and blacks had the right to vote since the beginning?? Yet were denied that right because of incorrect readings of the original Article within the Constitution? Am I understanding this correctly?

I think not. I see nothing in A1S2C3 that addresses suffrage, which was, like citizenship, left to the states to deal with originally.

  1. Ron Meier says:

February 25, 2011 at 2:03 pm

My take from what I read above, ignoring the “did they or didn’t they” this or that, is that the founders knew they couldn’t get rid of slavery in the new Constitution because the southern states would then not likely approve the Constitution. They figured that the growing abolition movement would eventually take care of the problem in the individual states, without federal involvement, so let’s not upset the cart and let’s get the Constitution we need into law now so the greater benefits would accrue to the weak, but growing nation. Let it be a state problem that will resolve itself. Unfortunately, they were not correct in this assessment, and the Civil War erupted 80 years later. It’s like life; you give it your best shot with your most pragmatic decision based on the greater good, and pray that you are making the optimal choice with respect to the things over which you have little or no control.

  1. Shannon_Atlanta says:

February 25, 2011 at 6:49 pm

Great dialogue!! Learning alot here.

  1. Ralph T. Howarth, Jr. says:

February 25, 2011 at 9:23 pm

Another tid-bit people don’t know is not only were the several states under the AoC considered separate countries, and that the Crown of England issued a treaty for each and every colony than that of the gamut moniker of “these United States of America”, is that Quebec was invited into the union twice. Quebec was simply viewed as another colony of British pesuasion…though it was also under control of the French for a time. Quebec was invited first under the AoC and invited a second time during the ratification of the US Constitution. Quebec choose not to but may very well have been another state in the US. To date, the border between the US and Canada has been arguably the most peaceful border between two countries in the history of the world. In WW1&2, and much of the NATO alliances thereafter, Canada has continued to be an ally. How Americans and Canadians managed border disputes is remarkable.

  1. Janine Turner says:

February 28, 2011 at 12:39 pm

Thank you, Mr. Allen for your enlightening essay! It is truly informative and powerful in it’s honest representation of what is to be interpreted from both the Articles of Confederation and the Constitution on this subject. Your essay is a fabulous reference for those who choose to study our founding documents. Firstly, I am grateful that our founding fathers did not use land values to account for representation and instead used populace. Secondly, I am grateful for your interpretation and clarification of the 3/5 clause. Thirdly, I am eternally grateful that our founding fathers had the insight to leave to their posterity the right to amend the Constitution. They knew changes were going to be needed.

Guest Essayist: David Bobb, Ph.D., director of the Hillsdale College Allan P. Kirby, Jr. Center for Constitutional Studies and Citizenship, in Washington, D.C.

The Preamble to the United States Constitution

We the People  of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.

The Preamble to the Constitution was added at the last minute by the Constitutional Convention, roundly criticized upon its announcement, and even today lacks any legal standing.  So what does it mean, and why does it matter?

“We the People” was a powerful and even revolutionary way to announce the Americans’ new form of government, for encapsulated in these three opening words was the argument for a new regime that is in keeping with the principles advanced in the Declaration of 1776, and defended in the War for Independence.

Whereas the previous compact of the United States, the Articles of Confederation, had been a “firm league of friendship” joined by states, the new Constitution was formed by the people as a whole.  The national government was sovereign, not the states.  To Anti-Federalists, the Constitution went awry from the outset, for in its first phrase, they held, it announced a form of government that would eliminate the power of the states and thereby destroy the liberties of the people.  Nothing could be further from the truth, Federalists responded correctly, for unless the nation wished to continue in abject weakness, it needed to empower the national government to do what the states could not, thus ensuring that the liberties of the people would be secure.

Owing to the fluid style and incisive intellect of Pennsylvanian Gouverneur Morris, who despite being the most loquacious of the delegates to the Constitutional Convention was also among the most profound, the Preamble was his parting gift to the nation, drafted as he did the final edits to the document as a whole.  Remedying the weaknesses of the Articles, the new Constitution would accomplish all of ends stated in its Preamble.  Morris gave those ends concise expression, and despite his clarity, they were misunderstood in his day, and often, for very different reasons, continue to be misunderstood in ours.  Take, for example, two of the six ends, or goals, adduced in the Preamble:  the first, which is “to form a more perfect Union,” and the fifth, to “promote the general Welfare.”

To some Anti-Federalists, the phrase “to form a more perfect Union” was taken to entail a process of perfection whereby the states would be gradually crowded out, and more and more power would be given to the central government, so that when the evolution was complete all three main functions—legislative, executive, and judicial—would be held by one consolidated power.  Such would not only be a violation of the Constitution’s set-up, it would also trammel everything the Declaration had stated against the King’s own arrogation of authority.  Publius and many other Federalists had a ready response for this erroneous reading.

There are many who today take the phrase, “to form a more perfect Union,” to mean that the steady march of Progress must carry us closer and closer to perfection.  Intent on leaving behind old, outdated ideas, and replacing them with a “new foundation” for our government, contemporary Progressives take the Preamble out of context in supposing it an endorsement of their agenda.

“To form a more perfect Union” meant nothing about the future, and everything about the past.  It meant, simply, that the Constitution would be an improvement upon the Articles of Confederation, which left much to be desired in its anemic, nearly non-existent central government.  The Constitution is the architecture of our equality and liberty not because of some supposed Progressivism in the Preamble, but rather because of its foundation in principles that are enduring.

While some Anti-Federalists wondered whether the fifth end, or purpose, of the Preamble, to “promote the general Welfare,” would, along with its recapitulation later in the first article of the Constitution, create too broad a grant of power, the overwhelming consensus at the time of the Founding was that the word “general” precluded the kind of projects that today we know as “pork.”  Today the Preamble’s “general Welfare” reference is occasionally cited in error as a constitutional grant of authority.  The Preamble can confer no such legal boon, and even if it could, the phrase “general Welfare” would allow very little, if any, of the legislative activity that the frequent misreading of the first clause of the Constitution’s Article I, Section 8, has permitted.  In other words, to “promote the general Welfare” must be understood within the limited government context in which it was written.

Limited government for the Founders did not mean weak government.  On the contrary, government had to be strong to secure the rights of the people.  This is obvious when three other ends not examined in detail here are considered.  To “establish Justice,” “insure domestic Tranquility,” and “provide for the common defence”:  How do each of these ends require strong government—stronger than provided under the Articles of Confederation?

The Constitution’s Preamble states six ends of government, the sixth of which is, to “secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity.”  It is this phrase, especially, that might remind us of the president of the Constitutional Convention, and the “Father of our Country,” George Washington, whose birthday should remind us how much we owe to him for the “blessings of liberty” that we so richly enjoy today.

David J. Bobb, Ph.D. is director of the Hillsdale College Allan P. Kirby, Jr. Center for Constitutional Studies and Citizenship, in Washington, D.C. Click on to read Dr. Bobb’s biography.


This entry was posted on Sunday, February 20th, 2011 at 11:18 pm and is filed under Uncategorized. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

46 Responses to “February 21, 2011 – Analyzing the Constitution for 90 Days – The Preamble to the United States Constitution – Guest Essayist: David Bobb, Ph.D., director of the Hillsdale College Allan P. Kirby, Jr. Center for Constitutional Studies and Citizenship, in Washington, D.C.”

  1. Trevor says:

February 21, 2011 at 3:50 am

The Preamble was considered in the debate in the States prior to ratification. It is an integral part of The Constitution and thus must have legal standing. “We the People” is an important bridge from America’s founding document The Declaration of Independence, particularly the second paragraph, which lays out the hierarchy of authority and the rationale that “…Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed”.

You state, “The national government was sovereign, not the states.” I disagree entirely. The Constitution grants dual sovereignty by establishing vertical checks and balances in the form of a Federal Republic where the national government is sovereign in those matters related to its delegated powers listed in Article I, Section 8 while the states are sovereign in all other areas. This was further affirmed in the Bill of Rights Preamble and the Ninth and Tenth Amendments.

I agree with your analysis of the “General Welfare” clause in the Preamble. This meaning is reconfirmed in Article I, Section 8 as I believe Madison further explained in the Federalist Papers.

  1. Lucy says:

February 21, 2011 at 8:13 am

I am so ever thankful that the Preamble was included , even if it was at the last minute. For me, personally, it sets a clear tone as to WHO the Constitution was a voice for.

As Dr. Bobb states: ““We the People” was a powerful and even revolutionary way to announce the Americans’ new form of government, for encapsulated in these three opening words was the argument for a new regime that is in keeping with the principles advanced in the Declaration of 1776, and defended in the War for Independence. ” It continued the theme that it was “WE THE PEOPLE”… not the King, Queen, or anyother ruling person.. but the PEOPLE. It is the People that want this gov’t and our responsibility.

Our founding fathers were brilliant.

  1. Roberta Castillo says:

February 21, 2011 at 8:48 am

First of all, I think your word “defence” in the preamble is spelled incorrectly. DEFENSE is better

  1. Susan says:

February 21, 2011 at 9:21 am

If by sovereignty it was meant that the Federal could contract in the name of the States as an entity rather than requiring separate ratifications I have no problems with the statement but if it means a superceding of sovereignth of the States I object.

  1. Shannon_Atlanta says:

February 21, 2011 at 9:34 am

I am interested in hearing other’s views on whether or not the Ant-Federalists were correct (in their interpretation of the future problem with the preamble) now that we have had 200 plus years to look back.

I have heard many times the argument that “promote the general Welfare” means to provide everything for everyone. I know that the Founder’s definition of Welfare was that which helped to keep the states together; however, that has been lost in the 20th and 21st centuries.

Another thing I find interesting is this: If one reads closely, he or she will have the answer spelled out clearly as to what the Founders meant.

They want to PROVIDE for the defence (that action takes a proactive, monetary avenue) yet only PROMOTE the general Welfare (ie, kinda like creating an atmosphere whereby the states can do their business without the federal government ‘providing’ anything of monetary value.) In today’s society to promote is kinda like doing PSA’s and having the president speaking out about the dangers of drunk driving, while ‘providing’ is actually funding.

  1. CAPT JACK says:

February 21, 2011 at 9:39 am

Liberty and the framers and founding fathers never knew how the people that live under these protections would defame and protest and denounce it.That the men and women that fought, bled, and died for the right of free speech and liberty would be so defamed and spat upon when they came home from 12,000 miles away from family and friend’s in Viet Nam.This government,and congress has become a joke.we need another George Washington NOW before we destroy ourselves and this country.In the words of Thomas Jefferson,(If the govt. is big enough to give you everything you need, it is big enough to take them away.)

  1. Brad says:

February 21, 2011 at 9:59 am

Janine and Cathy,
I am so grateful to you both for resuming the dialogue and blogs of last year. I enjoyed the Federalist Papers and now truly look forward to the Constitution. What you do for us as citizens of this great Republic is nothing short of true patriotism.
Let the reading begin !!!

  1. Vicki says:

February 21, 2011 at 10:13 am

Imagine encountering the Constitution without its preamble, never having heard of it, and knowing nothing about the United States of America.

It is still the same document, but the statement up front that provides the reader with context is missing.

  1. Donna Hardeman says:

February 21, 2011 at 10:50 am

Is Dr. Bobb going to come back at the end of the day and respond to some of the questions raised? I would like his answer to Trevor’s comment about vertical checks and balances. There is so much awareness recently of the abrogation of states’ rights and the federal government announcing its sovereignty in any area it so chooses. I actually think Dr. Bobb would agree with Trevor’s statement that federal government has sovereignty in the “biggies” listed in Article I, Section 8 but, Dr. Bobb, wouldn’t you agree that the states have sovereignty over everything else not specifically delegated to the federal government?

  1. Ralph T. Howarth, Jr. says:

February 21, 2011 at 11:09 am

For perspective, the 1st draft of August 6, 1787 was a preamble written as follows:

“We the people of the States of New Hampshire, Massachusetts, Rhode Island and Providence Plantations, Connecticut, New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Delaware, Maryland, Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, and Georgia, do ordain, declare, and establish the following Constitution for the Government of Ourselves and our Posterity.”

Similar; but different. The preamble apparently was amended to reflect the more national intents; but that nationalization is limited to Art 1, Sec 8. It is that design that specifically makes a federal system, to which we do not constitutionally have a national government; but open license of federal government has formed a defacto national government that ignores the enumerated powers of Art 1, Sec 8. Case in point:

Records of the Federal Convention
Published Under Direction Of The United States Government
From The Original Manuscripts.
Reprinted 1895 Albert, Scott, Chicago, Page 725
Article 1, Section 8, Clause 7

[2:615; Madison, 14 Sept. 1787]

Doctor Franklin moved to add after the words “post roads” Article I Sect. 8. “a power to provide for cutting canals where deemed necessary”.

Mr Wilson seconded the motion.

Mr Sherman objected. The expense in such cases will fall on the United States, and the benefit accrue to the places where the canals may be cut.

Mr King thought the power unneccessary.

Mr King — The States will be prejudiced and divided into parties by it. In Philadelphia and New York, it will be referred to the establishment of a bank, which has been a subject of contention in those cities. In other places it will be referred to mercantile monopolies.

Mr. Wilson mentioned the importance of facilitating by canals the communication with the Western Settlements. As to Banks he did not think with Mr. King that the power in that point of view would excite the prejudices and parties apprehended. As to mercantile monopolies they are already included in the power to regulate trade.

Col: Mason was for limiting the power to the single case of Canals. He was afraid of monopolies of every sort, which he did not think were by any means already implied by the Constitution as supposed by Mr. Wilson.

The motion being so modified as to admit a distinct question specifying & limited to the case of canals.

New Hampshire — Massachusetts — Connecticut — New Jersey– Delaware –Maryland — North Carolina — South Carolina — no

Georgia — Pennsylvania — Virgina — aye [ Ayes–3; noes–8. ] The motion was not agreed to.

  1. arthur says:

February 21, 2011 at 11:31 am

We the people, the people of what? The citizens of the sovereign States, who sent representatives to the convention. To form a more perfect union, a union of what? The States, who sent representatives to the convention. To provide for the common defense and general welfare of what and who? The States and the citizens that lived within them. Dr Bobb states that the Articles of confederation was a compact, a“firm league of friendship” but forgets that the confederation also states “in perpetuity”. What was the weaknesses of the Articles? He doesn’t answer that question, I will, the one reason for the constitution convention was to agree on a way to force the States to pay it’s share of the debt accrued during the war of independence by the union. Who is Publius? An alias on essays to be published in news papers anonymously. They are not legal anything. The weight that they are given because they were printed in a volume titled the federalist papers is an illusion. If you want a better understanding of the constitution, read Madison’s notes on the convention taken down at the time. You can find them at the Avalon Project website. If the federal entity is sovereign then why doesn’t the representative from the District of Colombia have a vote? People certainly live there. I’m just getting started and I will post more to help in the understanding of our union of “nations” with constitutions written before the federal and which our federal constitution reflects.

  1. Susan says:

February 21, 2011 at 12:03 pm

arthur, the weakness was in the structure that demanded unanimity before any measure could go forward. This resulted in one state blocking almost all regulations on commerce. This state was Rhode Island. This caused paralysis of all.

  1. Ron Meier says:

February 21, 2011 at 12:07 pm

Janine & Cathy,

Thanks so much for continuing your program. I was concerned after finishing last year’s program on the Federalist Papers that Constituting America would die. I learned much about our founder’s intentions by the studies on the Federalist Papers, and have found it useful when crossing swords with people I know who pontificate on the Constitution’s meaning but who have not read the Constitution and FP or tried to understand their meaning. You’re doing a great service to our society. Blessings to both of you.

  1. Ralph T. Howarth, Jr. says:

February 21, 2011 at 12:36 pm

At the time of the writing of the Constitution, the word “welfare” had the meaning of “happiness” or “prosperity”. So it can be said, “to promote the general happiness/prosperity”. Many today come to associate that clause with the societal safety net of unemployment and disability welfare, which still would not be a “general welfare” but that of a particular welfare and not that of charity: charity is the conscientious and voluntary giving to a particular cause where welfare is operative from the mandated taxation to a general treasury.

In addition, the Preamble was revised in part because when the original draft’s Preamble named New York, it was New York, if I recall right, objected and abstained in participating in the 1787 ConCon. Since New York was not present, it precipitated either striking New York from the Preamble or another option such as a more collective term of United States.

I say the Anti-Federalist were right in their concerns of a runaway federal government. George Mason’s objections in September 7-15, 1787 included a statement:

“Under their own construction of the general clause, at the end of the enumerated powers, the Congress may grant monopolies in trade and commerce, constitue new crimes, inflict unusual and severe punishements [realize Mason is the father of the Bill of Rights that came up after], and extend their powers as far as they shall think proper; so that the State legislatures have no security for the powers now presumed to remain to them, or the people for their rights.

The government will set out a moderate aristocracy: it is at present impossible to forsee whether it will, in its operation, produce a monarchy, or a corrupt, tyrannical aristocracy; it will most probably vibrate some years between the two, and then terminate in the onr or the other.”

Mr. Gerry had likewise this to say also among other things: “…By the general power of the Legislature to make what laws they may please to call necessary and proper…”

And more can be illuminated of sentiments of dissent on the Constitution just within the 1787 ConCon, let alone the Anti-Federalist debates that followed during the ratification process into the 1790s. In terms of Mason’s forsight, we are presently in the moderate aristocracy stage vibrating between a defacto monarchy in the President that assumes legislative powers in extended Executive Orders and a tyrannical aristocracy in the Congress that presumes executive powers in regulatory oversight. One will upstage the other eventually if the course is not changed. At present we have the SCOTUS that passes judgement on state laws for powers not granted to the Congress to legislate upon; but with consensual validation of aggregation of jurisdication, has now put the rights of the people subject to the opinions of a few.

Oh, and DEFENCE is the spelling used in the original, not DEFENSE of our present English.

  1. Shannon_Atlanta says:

February 21, 2011 at 12:47 pm

Arthur, you said:”Who is Publius? An alias on essays to be published in news papers anonymously. They are not legal anything.”

True, the papers weren’t legally binding. However, they were a DEFENSE of the COTUS. In those papers we find WHY the framers thought the way they did. It is a good way to see why the COTUS came out the way it did.

True, Madison’s notes are a great insight; but the Constituting America site deals with the Federalist Papers, not Madison’s notes. Therefore, it may be better to discuss the narrow points made within them and the COTUS-or else we will get off on a tangent that will take away from why we are all here. Maybe you can start a blog that deals with Madison’s notes on the Convention?

  1. zac allen says:

February 21, 2011 at 2:24 pm

I may have been confuse on how it was written, but the States are the Sovereign, not the Federal Government, even with the Constitution. The Federal Government is merely an agent of the States. I one said earlier, the Preamble set the tone , and was not supposed to be used to supercede or define any of the articles that follow. Great stuff!!!! I like it!!!

  1. Rudolph Moreno Pena says:

February 21, 2011 at 2:25 pm

With respect to the question, “What does the Preamble to the United States Constitution mean to you?”.

Though in my late 50′s and a college drop out early on, my desire and capacity to seek knowledge and understanding has never been greater than in these times of witnessing the aggressive march of Liberal-Progressivism in America. I greatly appreciate the efforts and perseverance of Janine, Cathy & the Constituting Crew for bringing this important online study of America’s foundation to the general public. This is a good reliable source for understanding and motivation for advancing to other levels.

In my (humble) estimation, the Preamble was an obvious and much needed statement of intent aimed directly at the King of England with no room for doubt as to our resolve to be free of British rule. The boldness and timing of it seems that it could have been a last minute dare with defiance and determination. It is that kind of American resolve that makes me such a proud American of Hispanic ancestry. A mere and common blue collar citizen, though I have never been in the military, being yet in my late 50′s, well worn and still somewhat physically able, I would not hesitate to do and give whatever sacrifice is required to protect this country from enemies both foreign and domestic. To preserve America, I would give my all. To that end, if the intention of the Preamble could be painted in the expression of an American face, it would present nothing less than a countenance of stalwart love with a determined look of duty and honor, and service to country. This, while in stride with a faithful reliance on God.

For a solid parallel to the Preamble, I would encourage all to read General MacArthur’s May 12, 1962 West Point speech, “Duty, Honor, Country”. To me, it states the ironic beauty of American character and the selfless will of sacrifice. To me it absolutely defines the Preamble and the incredible courage that it took to express it.

God Bless “Constituting America

  1. zac allen says:

February 21, 2011 at 2:30 pm

Also…. As I consider myself a Jeffersonian Anti-Ferderalist, I must make note, that what the Anti-Federalist feared has come to fruition today… It is the dumbing down of our society that has allowed it to happen. Things like this can only help, if it will reach the right people.

  1. Trevor says:

February 21, 2011 at 3:26 pm

The Federalist Papers were important because they were intended to sell the States on the Constitution and show why the Anti-Federalist fears were unfounded. In other words, for the most part they confirm that even the Federalists (Madison, Hamilton, Jay, Washington et al) intended the national government to be limited to those powers enumerated in Article I, Section 8 and why the term “General Welfare” was not an open ended power.

  1. Gary says:

February 21, 2011 at 6:50 pm

To me, the preamble to the Constitution is a stirring introduction that sums up the intention of the founding fathers in what was to follow after in the articles. It sets the tone for what is spelled out in greater detail later. As such, I have always found the preamble to the Constitution to be inspiring and a wonderful reminder of what our federal government is supposed to be about. When comptemplated as a whole, and compared to what we find now in practice, it’s pretty obvious that over the last 230 years, the three branches of our federal government have grossly over-extended their powers. The preamble to the Constitution, in this matter then, is a rallying cry for those of us who believe that a limited form of government is not only what was intended by our founding fathers, but it is what we so sorely need again today.

  1. Luci says:

February 21, 2011 at 8:12 pm

Everyone seems in agreement that our three branches of government have gotten way out of hand from what they were supposed to be but most are forgetting that it is “we the people” who allowed it. We were so busy believing the “media” that formed our minds to accept “patient gradualism” that we little by little didn’t even notice the subtle changes they shoved at us – TV, movies, stories, articles, music, art, immorality,you name it – and so here we are – unable to even recognize the great Country and people we once were.
‘They” wanted to get us from A to Z but we’d rebel and so they took us from A to B to C and pretty soon we are at Z and we wonder how we got here. Well, now we know. We were asleep. God gave us Obama for a reason. He’s thrown us from A to Z in such a whirlwind that we finally said WHOA! And now, with God’s help, wide awake, WE WILL TAKE OUR COUNTRY BACK!

  1. Ralph T. Howarth, Jr. says:

February 21, 2011 at 8:51 pm

The Federalist Papers experience was last year’s project. This year is on the Constittuion itself. Constituting America is about all matters that concern the formation, proclamation, and ratification of the US Constitution as it was put into affect. As James Madison’s 1787 ConCon notes is our only window of a detailed account of what transpired in that secret meeting to change the operation of government, Madison’s information is very relevant to this year’ project on analysis of the U.S. Constitution rather than the Federalist Papers to promote ratification of the U.S. Constitution as the ConCon dialog tells us just what were precisely going on in the minds of the framers of the same as the document instrument was drafted.

  1. Alyssa says:

February 21, 2011 at 9:12 pm

To me, the premable of the consitution means that the people decided what kind of government they wanted to live under.

  1. Thomas S Mackie says:

February 21, 2011 at 10:15 pm

At the time the Constitution was written, ALL thriteen colonies were established under the common law of England. King George signed over his sovereign authority to each one of these colonies in the Treaty of Paris. It is very confusing that these men would have chosen these words since it would have been impossible for such a group to exist as “We the People” of anything…each was citizen of his own Colony (State if you wish). While I share your enthusiasm, it is somewhat “telling” that these individuals chose to so word this organic document, a document that is nothing more than the organizational document outlining the duties and responsibilities of that corporation….”telling” in that they apparently intended for the Federal Animal to flourish…it did. The Federalist Papers were nothing more than the sales and marketing effort of those men. The Antifederalist Papers tell the true story and foretold as much way back then.

  1. Cutler says:

February 21, 2011 at 10:25 pm

The Preamble, in my opinion, in one, concise paragraph, adequately describes our founding father’s intentions for this country’s government and the Constitution, limiting it to six, “missions” if you will, to “form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the general welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity.”

  1. Ron Meier says:

February 22, 2011 at 12:15 am

To those anti-Federalists out there, I have a question. How would it have worked out better to have retained the Confederation? If you would not have retained the Confederation, what would you have put in its place? Why would that have worked better than the Constitution?

  1. Judy says:

February 22, 2011 at 1:26 am

What a utopia our country would be if our federal and state governments would have followed just the preamble let alone the entire constitution.

I could be off on a couple of these but I am really tired at the moment.


“We the People of the United States”

No longer the people of another country, king or territory but one people. No longer the people whose allegiance if for their sovereign state but allegiance to state and federal union

“in Order to form a more perfect Union”

States would acknowledge and encourage the union to be accountable to the constitution.

“establish Justice”

The federal union would no longer tolerate the injustice of oppression, tyranny, slavery or unlawful imprisonment

“insure domestic Tranquility”

The federal union would keep states accountable for keeping liberty and freedom for all people

“provide for the common defence”

The federal union would keep the sovereignty of the nation safe

“promote the general Welfare”

Key word: Promote NOT Provide: The people’s constitutional rights would be a priority

“secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity”

The freedom and liberty of the people would not be infringed upon by state or federal governments

“do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.”

This constitution is a bond between states and the federal; people and federal; people and states

  1. Richard says:

February 22, 2011 at 4:10 am

Trevor made an excellent point about the dual sovereignty with both the National government being sovereign as well as the States being Sovereign. David J. Bobb stated the the National government was sovereign but the States were not. It is my understanding that Trevors view is correct. If we want to have a correct understanding of these daily teachings, it seems we need to have the authors of these contributions address these stated contradictions or some means to set the record straight.

  1. James Burtner says:

February 22, 2011 at 9:42 am

Let me start by stating what the preamble means to me, then I will go on to comment on his blog. In my mind, the preamble is similar to a business mission statement or a personal mission statement, which lays out the goals and purpose of uniting the states into a whole, while at the same time allowing the people and individual states to govern themselves in most every other area of life.

It continued the idea established in the Declaration of Independence that men are born free, but establishes the reality that some men will use their freedom, and governments will use their power, to infringe upon the rights and freedom of others. For this reason, the people must relinquish a limited amount of their own freedom in order to establish a government to conduct the business of the nation, and to protect each man’s individual freedom. It requires citizens to follow good conduct in their dealings with others, and laws are established to this end.

The preamble lists the general duties of the federal government, and limits the federal government to those duties alone. The entire purpose of the Constitution was to lay out the federal government’s specific responsibilities as granted to them by the people of the nation, and was designed to specifically rectify problems they had faced due to the weakness of the Articles of Confederation.

In his blog, Dr. Bobb points out that it was a last minute addition to the Constitution. This is a little surprising because it so beautifully lays out the general role of the federal government. He also points out that there are those today who see the phrase, “to form a more perfect union”, as a means of continuing to evolve to a point where the states would lose their power and the federal government would be the sole governing power. This is a serious misreading of the constitution, as he points out, and the reason the country is where it is today. As he states, “to create a more perfect union” is based not on the future, but on the past, and the weakness they had found the Articles of Confederation to contain. The Constitution was designed to remedy those problems, not take the power of the states away, but to unite them as one nation that could operate and function as a whole without betraying the local interests of individual states.

  1. Ralph T. Howarth, Jr. says:

February 22, 2011 at 3:33 pm

The “insure domestic Tranquility” clause rode upon the coat tails of the Shay’s Rebellion that had just occurred up to the 1787 ConCon. Having a strong federal government insured that the states could call upon the federal for help with insurrection and rebellion going on in the state, and by having free trade and a standard of weights and measures among the states would help assure lower and fairer prices of products and prevent shortages that might precipitate a rebellion. This measure was not intended to be a federal grant to impose jurisdiction on the plenary police powers of states.

The U.S. Constitution was written to define and limit the federal government and only left a provision that the federal will guarantee to ever state a republican form of government. Not until the 14th amendment was there federal supervision on the plenary police powers of states in the form of questions on Due Process (rights to defend oneself in court) and Equal Protection of the Laws (rights to sue someone in court). Those matters, of course, is a latter reading in this 90 days Constitution reading.

  1. Mark Carr says:

February 22, 2011 at 8:21 pm

It is interesting how the Constitution has taken on so many meanings to so many people. I am very concerned about our current leaders who want to quote from the Preamble as if it is the whole document. They cherry-pick the things they want to reach their own progressive ends, most of which are directly against the word and spirit of the whole document. We need people to realize the Preamble is the introduction to the main body of the Constitution and that we all need to learn the whole thing in context before jumping off in the wrong direction.

Thank you for this opportunity to write to you all.

  1. Debbie Bridges says:

February 22, 2011 at 8:38 pm

The Constitution was created for several reasons. The Constitution created a Federal government that would have the power to collect taxes, pay debts, regulate trade amongst the States, negotiate peace treaties with Indians and negotiate with foreign countries. Other countries would not recognize the Untied States in foreign trade agreements and treaties because we didn’t have a unifying Federal government. They were not willing (rightly so) to deal with 13 individual States when negotiating with the United States. Hence, the Articles of Confederation wasn’t working for this reason as well as the other problems already discussed in this thread. The Preamble beautifully announced to the world that we had come together as One Nation with One Federal government to be our voice and protector while at the same time retaining and protecting the individual sovereignty of the separate States and their citizens.

  1. Janine Turner says:

February 23, 2011 at 11:55 am

Dr. Bobb, I thank you for your fabulous essay and for your generosity of time!
I never knew that Governeur Morris wrote the Preamble and that it was written last.
Knowkedge is power and only by truly understanding the words of the Constitution can one debate the wide array of misinterpretations that bombard citizens today. Your words enlighten the path one journeys on his/her destiny to defend our Republic.

  1. Jerry Turner says:

February 23, 2011 at 4:08 pm

WOW. It is so refreshing to read the words all of you have written. I thought I must be the only person left in common America who understood the general ideas and principles of the Constitution. People say all kinds of “stuff.” But they can never back it up with real source material. This was more informative and educational than any class I’ve ever taken. Maybe there is hope. I still doubt it, but with the middle east transforming their governments and all you intelligent individuals out there teaching fellow Americans; it gives me just a little hope.

  1. Shelby Seymore says:

February 23, 2011 at 4:38 pm

We provide for the common Welfare. Not provide Welfare. Which is one of the biggest reasons we are in a 14+ trillion dollar debt. I know welfare is a “good thing,” but only when churches or private businesses try to help the needy. Period. John Locke said the government provides protection from foreign attacks, protection from criminals, and actual needed infrastructure (which turtle crossings don’t count!). Welfare started when the poverty was 13%. Now in 2011, it’s still 13%! It didn’t help, in fact it’s making the rest of the nation less wealthy.

  1. Gene Hinders says:

February 24, 2011 at 12:52 am

The Preamble, to me was a way to sum up what the Founding Fathers had laid out for us…an 18th century “sound bite” if you will…and one of the most powerful statements to ever had been made.

  1. yguy says:

February 24, 2011 at 4:08 pm

The Preamble to the Constitution was added at the last minute by the Constitutional Convention, roundly criticized upon its announcement, and even today lacks any legal standing.

How can it have any less “legal standing” than the rest of the Constitution which was ratified along with it?

So what does it mean, and why does it matter?

In maximal contravention of those who make it out to be a throwaway line, I submit that the Preamble is properly viewed relative to the rest of the Constitution as Christ said the two Great Commandments ought to be viewed relative to Mosaic law; i.e., the Preamble tells us where we’re going, and the rest of the Constitution tells us how we mean to get there. In the same vein, I would call attention to Christ’s act of healing on the day of rest; and just as the Sabbath was made for man rather than man for the Sabbath, the Constitution was made for America rather than America for the Constitution. One consequence of this view is that regardless of whether a President can constitutionally suspend the Great Writ (which he can, IMO), Lincoln acted constitutionally by doing so during the Civil War.

  1. yguy says:

February 24, 2011 at 4:16 pm

The Constitution grants dual sovereignty by establishing vertical checks and balances in the form of a Federal Republic where the national government is sovereign in those matters related to its delegated powers listed in Article I, Section 8 while the states are sovereign in all other areas.

I say baloney. I say there is only one sovereign entity according to the Constitution, and that is We the People, our will being expressed by a supermajority of states per A5. No government entity has ANY sovereignty under the Constitution, as they are all vassals of those who consent to be governed by them.

  1. Todd says:

February 24, 2011 at 7:32 pm

I think you are picking nits regarding soverignty. Government, in the context of the document is “the people”. I think this goes without saying. But you are correct.

  1. yguy says:

February 24, 2011 at 9:45 pm

Government, in the context of the document is “the people”.

If that’s true, then the master is his servant, and his command to the servant is a command to himself. Obviously that makes no sense, since We the People delegate certain tasks to our servants in government because we can’t or won’t do them ourselves.

  1. Ruth Harper says:

February 25, 2011 at 11:17 pm

As the name “Preamble” says, it “walks before,” or introduces, the Constitution. As such, it identifies the parties: in this case “We the People” and “the United States,” and it establishes the nexus or connection that binds them together. According to my Black’s Fifth, the preamble is also “explanatory of the reasons for its enactment” the pronoun referring to the Constitution)and states “the objects … to be accomplished.” In that sense, it is indeed analogous to a mission statement as someone has already said.

It is true that it does not grant any powers; Black’s again, this time quoting a particular case: it “neither enlarges nor confers powers.”

  1. Ruth Harper says:

February 26, 2011 at 6:58 am

A Caveat Against Injustice
– or –
An Inquiry into the Evils of a Fluctuating Medium of Exchange

Oddly, the specific issue under the Articles… that caused great problems and inequities, as stated in a book called Miracle on Main Street, and explicated in another, called E Pluribus Unum, was the lack of a lawful “money of account” among the states. Some places used specie coin, others paper “money” that was essentially worthless, with resulting chaos, rioting, and bloodshed.

The most familiar example was Shay’s Rebellion which arose at least in part because those western farmers had no specie money (gold or silver coin) with which to pay taxes demanded by their brethren in Boston on the East Coast who only dealt in specie because they could demand it for the products they traded with foreigners.

Thus, with Shay’s as a trigger, the Constitutional Convention was called in large measure to solve the problem of a lack of uniform currency or money of account (as opposed to the paper “continentals” that were “of no account” or just plain worthless).

Hence the specific concerns listed in the Preamble

“…to form a more perfect union,” (one money; uniform currency),

“establish justice,” (paper, like corn or apples, does not last or hold value as do gold and silver),

“ensure domestic tranquillity” (There was contemporary fighting over money issues),

“provide for the common defense,” (pay soldiers in money that has real value),” and especially,

“promote the general welfare,” (general well-being does not happen with a fluctuating medium of exchange! It happens with business and enterprise done with a stable medium of exchange; something that holds intrinsic value),”

“and secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity…,” (what greater blessing than being able to buy and sell and save for a rainy day in something that has enduring value, and then even pass it on to our offspring?)

  1. Ruth Harper says:

February 26, 2011 at 8:18 am

Oops! The author of the “Caveat …,” was Roger Sherman, the only Founder to sign and/or help write all four of our really important founding documents: the Continental Association of 1774, the Declaration of Independence, the Articles of Confederation, and the Constitution of the United States.

But his “Caveat Against Injustice – or – An Inquiry into the Evils of a Fluctuating Medium of Exchange,” predated all those by more than 20 years! He wrote the Caveat in 1752, based on real-life experience. Like the authors of the Federalist Papers, Sherman modestly hid behind a pseudonym: He called himself a “Lover of Good Law” which, borrowing Greek, was “Philo eu nomos” (though not spaced as I did it here). When only two copies were known to exist, F. Tupper Saussy, author of The Miracle on Main Street saw the copy inscribed by Mr. Sherman to a friend wherein he had crossed off the Greek nom de plume and wrote in his own name.

One can go to the Connecticut State Library in Hartford and search out the file of a lawsuit in which Roger and his brother William sued James Battle for “paying” a debt of 129 pounds with nearly worthless paper from the “Rogue State” of Rhode Island. The Sherman brothers lost the case, but won the war, so to speak, because Roger lived to write into the new 1787 Constitution, Article I, section 10, that “No State shall … make any Thing but Gold and Silver coin a tender in payment of debts….” I believe his imprint is on other clauses as well, but just that one would be sufficient glory could we but interest state authorities in living up to it by demanding that the Federal Reserve be audited, and then sent packing, and that our mints resume making real money so we could all give up the “paper is money”charade!

  1. Susan says:

February 26, 2011 at 12:42 pm

yguy, I believe the thinking for the representative republic was to hire a ‘representative’ to take care of that portion of the business of governance so that the majority of the people could continue in a more efficient day-to-day operation of life and the provision for his family and community.

  1. Ralph T. Howarth, Jr. says:

February 26, 2011 at 3:24 pm

Ruth, I had no idea that Philoeunomos was Roger Sherman. I thought the name/title had something to do with the Bible’s Philemon. Now I know different and pleasantly something more. Thank you very much!

  1. craig eyrich says:

February 28, 2011 at 6:22 pm

dear janine and cathy, i am so happy that ‘classes’ have resumed!–i will follow this assiduously and try to support your website as best i can!– as i’ve said in the past–i never learned anything from opening my mouth and i am truly grateful for the learned commentaries from the other devotees of this website!–your friend in liberty, c.eyrich

Guest Essayist: Horace Cooper, Legal Commentator and Director of the Institute for Liberty’s Center for Law and Regulation

The Federalist Papers were written from 1787 to 1788 by Alexander Hamilton, James Madison and John Jay.   They were published in several New York State newspapers to persuade New York voters to ratify the proposed constitution that had been crafted at the Philadelphia Convention in 1787.  Numbering 85, the essays outlined the ways the new federal government would operate and why this type of government was the best choice for the United States of America. Each of the essays were signed “PUBLIUS” and they remain today as an excellent reference for anyone who wants to understand the United States Constitution.

Hamilton opens Federalist #1 with an introduction of the present state of affairs in the then existing United States of America and his plan to explain over a series of Papers why the new federal government created by the U.S. Constitution was necessary.  Premised in his argument is a fundamental foundation upon which our system of government is based — self-government or rule by the consent of the governed.  From its inception our Constitution’s validity was tied to the notion that formal acceptance and ratification by the people and the state legislatures was necessary in order to be legitimate.  Our Constitution was neither self-enacting nor imposed from a ruler.

At the time of the writing of Federalist #1 the United States of America is governed by the Articles of Confederation. Drafted by the Second Continental Congress in 1776, the Articles of Confederation had been submitted to the states for ratification in November of 1777.

As outlined by the Continental Congress, the federal government by 1787 had the authority to make war, negotiate diplomatic agreements and treaties, and acquire and oversee new territories that had not yet become full-fledged states.

However, by the time of the Philadelphia Convention that year many of the inadequacies of the Articles of Confederation were obvious.  The government created by the Articles was incapable of providing the authority and power needed to be a fully functioning authority. Instead of a division of authority among three separate branches, the federal government exercised all of its authority through a unicameral legislature called the Congress of Confederation.   Ironically, such a concentration of power masked the overall weakness of the federal government.

In order to change or amend the Articles, it required unanimous approval of the states.  This standard made making any changes or reforms nearly impossible.  The federal government had no power to tax and as such could not meet even its most basic financial responsibilities.  A threshold requirement that nine of 13 states approve major laws passed by the Congress limited the ability of Congress to act on any but the most uncontroversial matters.  In addition, it is significant that the Articles provided no authority for Congress to resolve conflicts between the states or to set up countrywide rules to encourage merchants and commerce.

Hamilton along with many other of our Founders recognized that if the United States was ever to become an economic powerhouse capable of defending itself from enemies without and within it was essential that the changes proposed in the Constitution were adopted.  You see it was not simply dumb luck that we have this national charter.  Now more than 200 years later we Americans share in the legacy created by these men and women who had such foresight and wisdom.

The Philadelphia Convention convened in May of 1787 and did not finish until September.  When the convention finished Delegate Benjamin Franklin was approached by a woman.  She asked Mr. Franklin, “What have you given us?  A monarchy or a republic?”  He famously replied, “A republic…if you can keep it.”  Therein lies our task as citizens today.

Wednesday, April 28th, 2010

Horace Cooper is a Legal Commentator and Director of the Institute for Liberty’s Center for Law and Regulation

47 Responses to “April 28, 2010Federalist No. 1, General Introduction, For the Independent Journal (Hamilton) – Guest Blogger: Horace Cooper, Legal Commentator and Director of the Institute for Liberty’s Center for Law and Regulation

  1. Peter says:

    It is particularly interesting to me that Hamilton and Madison, who worked so well together to produce the Constitution and see it through to ratification, later became the driving force behind the first two political parties (The Federalists & The Jeffersonian-Republicans, which today are known as the Democrats). United in the cause of bringing the nation into being, they later split over the direction it should take.

    It would be interesting to see how–and if–the differences that later developed between are foreshawdowed in The Federalist Papers. Perhaps some of the experts could build that analysis into their commentaries as the series moves forward.

  2. Lillian Harvey says:

    “…it will be equally forgotten that the vigor of government is essential to the security of liberty; that, in the contemplation of a sound and well-informed judgment, their interest can never be separated; and that a dangerous ambition more often lurks behind the specious mask of zeal for the rights of the people than under the forbidden appearance of zeal for the firmness and efficiency of government. History will teach us that the former has been found a much more certain road to the introduction of despotism than the latter, and that of those men who have overturned the liberties of republics, the greatest number have begun their career by paying an obsequious court to the people; commencing demagogues, and ending tyrants.”

    I wonder how Mr. Hamilton would feel about the “power grab” enacted on the backs of the American people in the form of “Healthcare *access through mandated insurance purchase*” as an Individual Right? He certainly didn’t think much of the “rights” of people over the “firmness and efficiency” of government.

    It is clear that the anti-Federalists had a reason to be nervous for the future of our country and establishing a federal system without a clear delineation between the rights of individuals and the powers granted to government by those individuals. Without that rich debate, would we have ever gained the deep appreciation for the liberty and prosperity that was possible as this country grew? To even think that modern day Progressivism is in anyway aligned with the thinking of either of these schools of thought is absurd, imho. How far away they are from what the Founders were talking about and doing.

    Do our selected leaders of today really understand how far this process has strayed? I feel there are tricks and tyrants afoot.

    Are you all as blown away by what you are reading as I am? I studied these documents in school, of course. But I feel like I am finally understanding them because there are such contrasting ideas being practiced in our government today. Process is everything. I understand why these 1st Principles were adopted and why they fought so hard to enact them. Time to restore the Republic to 1st principles. No pain, no gain.

  3. Will says:

    @Lillian Harvey
    Yes, I’m pretty much blown away by understanding the deeper meanings in these documents. Until this project I never really understood how things like Social Security, Medicare and parts of the health reform bill really *are* unconstitutional, and should be abolished.

  4. Lillian Harvey says:

    Finding the reset button is one thing, but pushing it is another. Each day, I’m finding more courage to accept the consequences of doing just that. There are more of us to convince that we are on the wrong track and there will be sacrifices to get us straight. Projects like this one are our best hope to help us make the necessary case through educated and considered argument against the legislative waste passed for the “good of the people”.
    Donna had a great description of how the study of case law and rulings on precedents rather than original intent has assisted in getting us off track. Being able to see legislative proposals through the principles laid out in the Constitution demonstrates that most have no place being enacted at the Federal level. There is so much bloat in the Executive as a result. Of course “Washington is broken”. This structure was not designed to carry that extraordinary and unnecessary weight.

  5. Susan Craig says:

    From Ecclesiastes “There is nothing new under the sun”. It continues to amaze me at the well rounded understanding of the human condition that our Founding Fathers had. How our ‘education’ has failed us.

  6. Carolyn Attaway says:

    I made the comment to my husband last night, that since I started reading the Constitution again through this series, watching the news took on a complete new dimension. Listening to Congressmen discuss the Immigration Laws and the Goldman Sachs debacle, I am realizing that many have no idea what they are talking about. Congressman and newscasters alike are saying things like ‘This Law Makes it a Crime to be an Illegal Immigrant’. I had to clean out my ears when I heard that one. Surely I was mistaken. Sadly, I wasn’t.

    And I could have cried when I heard the congressmen grilling Goldman Sachs CEO’s. They had no idea what they were asking, and could not understand the answers. Don’t get me wrong. I do not believe Goldman Sachs is an innocent victim in this mess, but the dog and pony shows our Congress puts on is embarrassing. And it’s all for political gain. I find it hard to believe they will prosecute Goldman Sachs; just like passing an immigration law, it is to dangle the carrot in front of unsuspecting voters for the November election.

    Our country burns, while our Congress fiddles. I wonder if Benjamin Franklin knew how prophectic his words would be.

    On another note, I find it interesting that all the letters are signed PUBLIUS. Publius was the “Chief man of the Island of Malta” mentioned in Acts 28:7 (Another proof that our founders read the Bible). How appropriate that they used the name of the man who entertained Paul and his companions while they were shipwrecked on Malta, and were seeking a permenant place of residence. Paul and his companions stayed on the island until the stormy season had passed. Could our founders have felt that same way in trying to ratify the proposed Constitution? I find this very interesting and it sheds a new light on this process for me.

  7. Carolyn Attaway says:

    I forgot to add on my previous post, that I believe with Knowledge comes Responsibility. As we read and discuss the Constitution and Federalist Papers, we are being charged with passing what we learn to others. No more couch activists! If we are to help restore our country, we must step into it. Finding the perfect balance between teaching and not preaching, will be a challenge for me, I know. But I heard a great piece of advice that other day on the radio. The talk show host was talking to a priest who works out west. The priest said the difference between liberals and conservatives, is that liberals use their emotions for their arguments, while conservatives use facts. When dealing with feelings, one must tread carefully.

  8. Shannon Castleman says:

    Carolyn, right on. agree with you that Goldman Sach’s is not a Saint. However, if my Economics degree taught me anything, it is this: They have the right to short an invenstment just as we have the right to wait for that new pair of jeans to go on sale. (That is basically ‘shorting’ the position.)

    If people are wise stewards of their money, and diversify their investments like the BIBLE commands, they really wouldn’t be hurt by one bad apple.

  9. Susan Craig says:

    My ‘couch’ efforts have included posting the days revelation on my local news station’s blog site and calling the HS principle and ensuring that the HS was aware of the educational tools and contest available for his students.

  10. Maggie says:

    I, too, am embarrassed at the debacle going on with the grilling of Goldman Sachs…especially since the one doing most of the grilling (and using profanity) is from my district. I agree that those doing the grilling have no idea what they are talking about. Yes, something needs to be done about reigning in Wallstreet but how and at what cost? The government itself is up to its eyeballs in the cause of the financial mess we are in. Our founders KNEW that humans crave and seek power and that power corrupts (“Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely. Great men are almost always bad men.”….John Emerich Edward Dalberg Acton). That is exactly why they were so careful in their drafting of our Constitution and the follow up Federalist papers. The government was not MEANT to be Big Brother. Their “powers” were meant to be very limited. Government is neccessary to prevent anarchy, but “we the people” are the ones in power (alteast we are supposed to be).

  11. Robert Shanbaum says:

    What a curious commentary on Federalist #1! Mr. Cooper, could you have written less about the actual content of Hamilton’s essay?

    The bulk of the essay is not about government at all. It opens and closes with a bit about the importance of the decision. But in the middle five paragraphs, Hamilton gets to his main purpose, which is to “poison the well” – to try to bias the reader against the other side, which Hamilton expects to rise in opposition to the new Consititution, before he has a chance to speak. Look at the litany of characteristics that the opponents will have: “ambition, avarice, personal animosity…” They will have some personal interest in the preservation of more powerful state governments (“…power, emoluments, and consequences of the offices…”). Essentially, it’s an exercise in mudslinging – but it’s the most elegant and dignified mudslinging since Marc Antony’s eulogy in Julius Caesar.

    Federalist #1 doesn’t shed much light on the Constitution at all, except to the extent that it sheds light on the way politics worked in the Eighteenth Century. And when I read the following, in which Hamilton predicts how his adversaries will behave, I can’t help but think, this could have been written yesterday:

    “A torrent of angry and malignant passions will be let loose. To judge from the conduct of the opposite parties, we shall be led to conclude that they will mutually hope to evince the justness of their opinions, and to increase the number of their converts by the loudness of their declamations and the bitterness of their invectives.”

  12. Robert Shanbaum says:

    Lillian, you do realize, do you not, that when Hamilton wrote that “a dangerous ambition more often lurks behind the specious mask of zeal for the rights of the people”, he was referring to people whom he expected would oppose the Constitution by arguing that it would give the government too much power to infringe on people’s rights? You realize, don’t you, that those people – the ones who argue that they’re interested in “the rights of the people” – those are the bad guys in Hamilton’s narrative?

    The good guys here, according to Hamilton, are the ones who promote the virtues of a government having “firmness and efficiency”.

    I ask because in your comment immediately following the citation, it sure looks like you could be positioning yourself as one of Hamilton’s bad guys when you argue that the government’s actions are a “power grab enacted on the backs of the American people.” That sounds to me like it could be characterized as a “zeal for the rights of the people.” Whether one would see it as a “specious mask” of the same is probably a matter of one’s political persuasion.

    You might want to read a little more about Hamilton. He’s something of a problem for those who are seeking support in the Constitution for de minimis government. In the Philadelphia Convention, for example, he proposed a centralized government in which the former states were stripped of their sovereignty altogether. (Importantly, to give you comfort, he did not prevail, obviously).

    Elsewhere in these blogs, Hamilton was referred to as “evil” because he favored centralized, powerful government (which he did indeed, to a greater degree than any modern progressive of whom I’m aware). But whether you like his politics or not, he was in fact one of the framers of the Constitution, and he apparently saw sufficient comportment (dare I say, “potential comportment”) between it and his politics to allow him to go to the trouble of working for its ratification by writing these articles.

    To answer your question about how Mr. Hamilton would feel about your alleged “power grab”, I’d say, he would be perfectly alright with it.

    On that same topic, it may interest you to know that in 1798, the fifth Congress created the Marine Hospital Fund, which established a network of federally-run hospitals along the eastern seaboard to care for sailors and seamen, financed by a federal tax on their wages of twenty cents per month. That system persisted into the 1980’s. I think that in addition to what the Founders and Framers wrote, it’s instructive to look at what they did.

  13. David Hathaway says:

    My interest in the Federalist Papers was begun when I read the recent biography of Alexander Hamilton, written by Ron Chernow. It was an interesting read, especially since Hamilton went on to found and The First Bank of The United States, the first Fed. I highly recommend this book.

    I’m sorry that I have delayed reading the Federalist Papers for so long. Thanks for the guided opportunity to make up for lost time.

  14. Karen Sherer says:

    I LOVE this opportunity to really refresh my understanding of the roots of our wonderful country by reading and blogging with all of you about the Constitution and the Federalist Papers! I’ve never blogged before so I was excited to finally find a topic I could respond to that offers something new and, perhaps, worthwhile. @ Carolyn Attaway: you provide so much food for thought, and maybe Madison did name Publius from the Publius of the Acts of the Apostles as the author of the Federalist Papers but the edition I am using had an insightful introduction by a man named Charles A. Kessler. He wrote that Publius Valerius Publicola was instrumental in establishing the republic of Rome. He called Publius the founder and savior of Rome and that Plutarch compares and contrasts this man with Solon the democratic lawgiver of Athens in “Parallel Lives”. Kessler wrote that Hamilton named the author of the papers “Publius” to trump the anti-federalists who were using “Cato” and Brutus” (also heroes of the Roman republic) as pseudonyms for their anti-federalist papers.
    Also @Carolyn: I hope to end my career as a “couch activist” as I become more able to defend my political belief with facts. And I also heard that interview on talk radio about the difference between liberals and conservatives and I find that really true.

  15. Carolyn Attaway says:

    @Susan – Great “couch” activities! I didn’t even think about the local news station blog. Good idea.

    @Shannon and Maggie – I for one am glad that the GOP has stopped the Financial Reform from getting to the floor for debate. I do not trust this Congress with Financial Reform, especially since they will not even address Fannie and Freddie, or want to put more bailouts for Big Banks in this bill. That just scratches the surface. I would love for this Senate to stop anything from going through until after the election AND they address spending!

    And the Founders had it right about Congress should not be a full time job. I cannot even begin to describe my emotions when I heard Tim Geithner comment “I never had a real job”. Doesn’t that spike confidence in his abilities to help the ‘real’ world?

  16. Carolyn Attaway says:

    @Karen – Awesome piece about Publius Valerius Publicola. I find it intriguing that the name Publius is close to the word Public, which can be defined as people constituting a community, state, or nation, or a particular group of people with a common interest, aim. I am really enjoying learning so much from everyone’s input about our founding documents.

    The hardest thing I have found about getting off the couch so far is pulling my friends with me.

  17. Thomas Soyars says:

    While true when written this part may be even more true today:

    “It has been frequently remarked that it seems to have been reserved to the people of this country, by their conduct and example, to decide the important question, whether societies of men are really capable or not of establishing good government from reflection and choice, or whether they are forever destined to depend for their political constitutions on accident and force. If there be any truth in the remark, the crisis at which we are arrived may with propriety be regarded as the era in which that decision is to be made; and a wrong election of the part we shall act may, in this view, deserve to be considered as the general misfortune of mankind.”

  18. Ron Meier says:

    At my church, we are having a sermon series titled “Get off your donkey.” It is based on the story of the Good Samaritan, Luke 10:34, who got off his donkey to serve his fellow man, even though the injured man was one others, including priests, avoided and refused to help. In like manner, by following this program, we should have the courage to get off our donkeys, armed with the knowledge of what our founders wanted this great country to be, and be ready to “fight the good fight, keep the faith, and finish the race,” 2 Timothy 4:7. We have a lot of work to do, and it’s time to get off our own donkeys and force our leaders to get back on the track our founders placed us on more than 200 years ago. The tea parties are a good start, but only a start. Remember what Edmund Burke said, “All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men (and women) to do nothing.”

  19. Ron Meier says:

    And, thanks to Janine and Cathy for getting this going! Two women who listened to Burke and got off their donkeys.

  20. Ron Meier says:

    Interesting comment when Hamilton says: “a dangerous ambition more often lurks behind the specious mask of zeal for the rights of the people than under the forbidden appearance of zeal for the firmness and efficiency of government.” It’s interesting to me that much of the rhetoric in DC today is supposedly based on making everything better for everyone other than the wealthy; it seems that this is a ruse to convince the people that having more government will make this happen, when the ultimate end game is to maximize control over the majority of the people. 50% don’t pay income taxes now; if the Administration and Congress can move that up to 70% or so, then they’ll have the people right where they want them.

  21. Jesse says:

    As I finished Federalist 1, I concluded that it set out the plan for the series of essays, what was to be discussed, and tried to debunk one of the first objections – that the individual states are better off without being under the umbrella of a nation.

    My personal belief is in line with Federalist 1 – America is a great country because of its ability to bring the talents, resources, opinions and people of the individual states together while allowing the states to experiment and maintain their individuality.

  22. Andy Sparks says:


    The Publius pseudonym used by Hamilton, Madison, and Jay was named for the Roman Consul Publius Valerius Publicola who supposedly helped form the Roman Republic. He lived around 500BC, well before the birth of Christ.

  23. Melanie says:

    How impressive you all are in your commentaries! I suspect the only thing our Founding Fathers would be proud of and respect today (were they to awaken to our current state) would be the new rebirth of patriotic activism, the passionate rediscovering of our heritage, and the determination of Americans to restore our great republic to it’s true form of constitutionally limited government of, by, and for The People.

    Lillian rightly appreciates how wise our Founders were in their understanding of human nature, and how delicate and difficult to maintain a limited government would be. I can never get over the profound wisdom of our Founders in that they not only understood the nature of their righteous endeavor, but they understood how unique in the annals of all human history their undertaking was! They were IN the moment, and they KNEW they were in the moment. How grand! Lillian, it does just blow one away.

  24. Chuck Plano, Tx says:

    Carolyn here is a question, if to become a naturalized citizen you must be able “to speak, write and read words in the English Language in their common usage” and it is violation of the law to vote if you are not a citizen, why do we need to print voting ballots in any language but English and provide interperters at voting places as is required by the Voting Rights Act of 1964? Is it because we knowing allow People who are not Citizens to vote?? I have ask this question of Congressmen in the past and have never received an answer.

  25. Shannon Castleman says:

    Chuck, great point. As a matter of fact, that is the main reason Obama and his ilk are against the AZ law-because many of their voting base will leave. The Democrats have to rely on illegal votes/ACORN tactics/the Black Panthers with their bats at a voting place in Philly, etc. to win an election.

    They cannot win on the merits of the debate.

  26. Carolyn Attaway says:

    @Chuck – That is a good question. I do believe all official tests, such as citizenship, driver’s licenses, voting, etc, all should be in English. But keep in mind, there are many in Congress who do not want to make English the official language of the United States. As a matter of fact, do we even have an offical language yet?

    According to Congress.Org – ’2/26/2009–Introduced.National Language Act of 2009 – Makes English the official language of the U.S. government. Requires the government to: (1) conduct its official business in English, including publications, income tax forms, and informational materials; and (2) preserve and enhance the role of English as the official language of the United States of America. Provides that no person has a right, entitlement, or claim to have the government act, communicate, perform, or provide services or’
    Bill # H.R.1229

    Original Sponsor:
    Peter King (R-NY 3rd)

    Cosponsor Total: 31
    (last sponsor added 04/21/2010)
    1 Democrats
    30 Republicans

    Only 31 sponsors, pretty amazing huh?

  27. Horace Cooper says:

    Several commenters have mentioned that Hamilton’s repeated preference for an efficient central government meant that he would embrace the sizeable federal government that exists today. However no fair reading of Hamilton and his writings would yield this assessment. Hamilton’s arguments about a strong central government should be juxtaposed against the organizational handicaps of the government that existed under the Articles of Confederation. His view was that the government needed to more capable and agile in order to accomplish the limited set of objectives outlined in the Constitution — not the all encompassing objectives presently undertaken by the modern Federal Government. Additionally as a member of the burgeoning merchant class Hamilton believed that there was a fundamental responsibility of the federal government to encourage commerce. For him the lionshare of the regulatory state would be anathema.

    H Cooper

  28. Rob D says:

    @Robert S:

    Liberty basically means limiting other people’s power, and to do this effectively, you support a lesser power against a greater: the pope against the emperor, the king against the pope, the parliament against the king, and so forth.

    When the States dominated, it makes sense to strengthen the central government. Now the balance is tipped the other way, so we oppose Washington’s excesses.

    “Power being almost always the rival of power, the general government will at all times stand ready to check the usurpations of the state governments, and these will have he same disposition towards the general government. The people, by throwing themselves into either scale, will infallibly make it preponderate. If their rights are invaded by either, they can make use of the other as the instrument of redress.” —Hamilton, Federalist #28

    Also, please let’s appreciate our guest commentators. If there’s more to add, then you can happily add it.

  29. Andy Sparks says:


    You are right on. The Federalist essays are propoganda! They were written specifically to convince New Yorkers to ratify the constitution because many parts of that state had anti-federalist sentiments. It’s important to remember that Madison and Hamilton were strong supporters of a more energetic federal government. Both had witnessed first hand the anemic government under the AOC as representatives from their respective states. They were not proponents of limited government (Madison would become so, but not at this time). In fact, Madison had proposed that the Constitution allow the federal government to negative any state law and was deeply concerned when it was not adopted. Hamilton all but proposed the government be an electable monarchy with the executive and Senate being elected for life. Hamilton, of all the founders, would probably be the most proud of how the USA became a world superpower.

  30. Debbie says:

    The signing of the the name Publius interested me enough that I looked up the definition in Wikpedia. The name Publius is a Roman masculine given name meaning “public” in Latin, one of the small group of common forenames found in the culture of ancient Rome.

    There are also references to other Publius names, such as: Publius Valerius Publicola (Roman Consul), Publius Clodius Pulcher (Republican politician), Publius Cornelius Scipio (Roman Consul), Publius Quinctilius, (Roman General and Politician), Publius Clodius Thrasea Paetus (Senator during Nero’s Reign), and Publius Aelius Fortunatus (Roman Painter).

    In actual fact we may never really know who was the real Publius, or was the name used because it meant public.

  31. I so love this, hello everyone. There is so much going on these days that you could almost lose your place if you didn’t press to maintain your focus . I am not complaining but I find the rapid fire of the political scene makes me ponder some of the tactics outlined in the book- Rules for Radicals -. This site is so helpfull,giving an intellectual boost via articulating my own as well as marinating my thoughts in all that is offered on this site.I watch and listen to cable news and radio programing to gather opinions,and while I value the points of view,this site has helped.
    Someone said that we should get rid of Social Security, Medicare and some of the Health care bill,I have to respecfully say if that were to happen, I would be mad as a hatter…. I have been paying into these (not health care )for well over 40 years, holy mackeral that would probably cause many of us older folks to get out our pitch forks.As I would be in the front line. I understand (I think) the point that was trying to be made but fair is fair.
    AZ,I am following this situation very closely and have heard things that range from the sublime to the ridiculous.Bottom line the Goverment has failed and in their failure have denied the citizens in boarder states and all states actually their Constitutional Rights. This group of people are not fullly included in the discussion of civil rights and I don’t think for one minute that it is a mistake.To stand the two groups side by side might provide too much lite on the subject for any real question to even be proposd.The Feds need to get off thier butts and do their jobs,.
    Debate debate debate is the name of the game ,what I find distressing is the demonizing of opposing opinions, . This keeps us honest, or should ,using tricks or slight of speech is a shame.
    Enough from me I guess I should get down off my soapbox. Good Night all.

  32. Shannon Castleman says:

    Andy, good comments. However, I take a different approach than you based on your comment: “It’s important to remember that Madison and Hamilton were strong supporters of a more energetic federal government.”

    It is my belief the reason they wanted a more energetic Federal Government is because under th AOC, the feds couldn’t even raise taxes in order to fund what the constitution stipulated.

    I would rather ask a different question: Pick the most ‘big government’ “Founding Father”, bring him bck to life, bring him to America in the year 2010, and ask him his thoughts.

    Tell that Founding Father that the feds and state governments want to tell me how much salt to eat, want to tell McDonald’s they can’t serve toys with Happy Meal, want to tell cops in AZ they can’t research someone’s citizenship who has been pulled over for a DUI, want to tell me I have to purchase health care insurance, and then record their thoughts.

    I don’t believe the quotes would be printable:)

  33. WeThePeople says:

    @Peter, I too find that interesting that Hamilton and Madison went on to be so influential. It’s odd that their beliefs, or at least one of them, changed. But wasn’t Andrew Jackson behind the creation of the democratic party?
    I think that by signing the papers by the name PUBLIUS, the actual writers separated themselves (all of them being significant political figures of the time) from the Federalist Papers, and made the connection back to the people. I think that, despite the elevated language, it would make the public feel more closely related to the topics addressed in the papers. It would make them feel like the concerns expressed here should be theirs as well.

  34. Tricia Revolinsky says:

    “From its inception our Constitution’s validity was tied to the notion that formal acceptance and ratification by the people and the state legislatures was necessary in order to be legitimate. Our Constitution was neither self-enacting nor imposed from a ruler.”
    What confuses me about this is that the creators of the Constitution decided that the Constitution was effective immediately and that the Articles of Confederation were debunk. They didn’t wait for all the states to ratify that the AOC was now null and void. They hoped that most of the states would ratify it and all the others would fall in behind them. Only after stubborn little Rhode Island ratified it, did it really become a true document formally accepted by the people. Until that point, the Constitution was in all respects, self-enacting.

  35. Carolyn Merritt says:

    The US Constitution that Hamilton, Madison & Jay defended has become one of the most copied and admired documents in the history of mankind. The Federalist itself was published in Spanish in 1811 by the Venezualan Manuel Garcia de Sana, along with copies of the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution. The Federalist influenced movements in Argentina, Mexico, Brazil and in Europe.

    Hamilton believed in the future greatness of America and believed that our nation could and would be one of power and strength. He somehow knew the United States would be a world power. (And wouldn’t apologize for it either).

  36. the articles of confederation was an absolute disaster. The states didnt wait to ratify it and because of this many problems arose. Even after the constitution was formed these states were fihting over many other issues than the ge=reat compromise resolved. ONly after rhode island ratifed the constitution did the people of the new wnited states accept the constitution. Be fore this document was ratified howver, the articles did a bad job at holding the counrty together, and only after the constitution was formed did the US truely become a self sustaining nation.

  37. Greg Zorbach says:

    In response to the two posts by Robert Shanbaum, in no particular order:
    Of course “Federalist #1 doesn’t shed much light on the Constitution at all.” It is, after all, titled “General Introduction.” As Mr. Cooper points out, The Federalist Papers “were published in several New York State newspapers to persuade New York voters to ratify the proposed constitution that had been crafted at the Philadelphia Convention in 1787.” It seems to me that to argue means to point out the superiority of your argument and the flaws in opposing ones, as well as any ulterior motives that may exist in those making those opposing arguments. I’m perplexed as to why you would find Mr. Cooper’s blog to be “curious.” He is after all, commenting on a general introduction to an 85-article two-volume set. It did not surprise me that: “The bulk of the essay is not about government at all.” It was billed as an essay on Federalist I, which got the process of persuasion under way. As Mr. Cooper put it: “Premised in his argument is a fundamental foundation upon which our system of government is based — self-government or rule by the consent of the governed. From its inception our Constitution’s validity was tied to the notion that formal acceptance and ratification by the people and the state legislatures was necessary in order to be legitimate. Our Constitution was neither self-enacting nor imposed from a ruler.” Messers Hamilton and Cooper were both setting the stage for what was/is to follow.
    The sense I got from this rereading of Article I was that Hamilton was attempting to introduce the Publius articles by remarking on the “mud-slinging” as you put it, that had marked debate to that point in order to keep that most-important public dialog (as Jay puts it in today’s reading – Federalist II) more substantive, and with candor, even good will. The history of politics is replete with evidence of Hamilton’s warning that those who would stand to lose power (the states’ legislators) under the new Constitution would oppose its ratification, regardless of the strength of the arguments for it. We see that same dynamic in play today: Congress will never vote for a flat tax or term limits: too much restriction on their power. (The closest to the exact opposite I can recall in my lifetime was the new Republican-led congress voting on the first day in session to limit the terms of its committee chairmen.) Hamilton goes on to admit that “Candor will oblige us to admit that even such men may be actuated by upright intentions…blameless at least if not respectable.”
    As you point out, of course Hamilton was on the side of a more-powerful centralize government. That was the point of the Constitutional Convention: to fix the weaknesses in the governing Articles of Confederation and the resulting weak federal government. I do not believe that Hamilton was (or does in subsequent articles) see ‘good guys’ or ‘bad guys.’ It is true though that, as you put it: “Whether one would see it as a “specious mask” of the same is probably a matter of one’s political persuasion.” After all during the previous administration dissent was characterized as patriotic. Today the Tea Partiers are accused (by a former president no less) of fomenting violence.
    I believe that a main genesis of our current exercise of rereading the Constitution and the Federalist Papers is rooted in how far the federal government has strayed from the Constitution, especially from the Tenth Amendment. In that regard, the Anti-Federalists and other skeptics were correct to insist on the Bill of Rights. Although the fact of the Tenth Amendment’s inclusion seems to have had no obvious effect on limiting the federal government’s powers to those enumerated in the Constitution.
    Upon rereading Lillian’s blog, I have no doubt that she understands where Hamilton’s views lie. After she lauds the Anti-Federalists, she makes the basic point of Article I (and our current civic exercise) quite nicely: “Without that rich debate, would we have ever gained the deep appreciation for the liberty and prosperity that was possible as this country grew?” You do realize, do you not, that it takes arguments from both sides of an issue to have a rich debate? Is not the point of any debate or series of articles on an important public issue to “to bias the reader against the other side”?
    As to the question of how Mr. Hamilton would feel about the healthcare “power grab” Lillian mentioned, I disagree in your conclusion. First, we don’t know how Hamilton felt about the issue of establishing hospitals for soldiers and sailors. (Since he served General Washington admirably and loyally, I can hazard a guess.) Secondly, the only thing that the concept of caring for those who flight our wars and/or defend our liberties has in common with the current government’s takeover of the entire nation’s healthcare system is that both are/were federally run. Enlisting in the armed forces requires one to give up significant personal rights and freedoms. In turn, the country, with the government as our agent, provides for those individuals. Not many of us who will see our healthcare choices inevitably restricted under the new law ‘enlisted’ in anything, but we will see our freedoms and liberties limited nonetheless. I believe that Hamilton would be perplexed, if not appalled. In fact, Shannon may be right: his reaction may not be printable.
    OBTW, very nice post, Melanie.

  38. Daniel Smith says:

    Given the history of large governments in the past why do you think Hamilton had such faith in this new county?

  39. Andy Sparks says:

    @Shannon – Undoubtedly, you are right. But then again, Madison and Hamilton probably could not conceive that women and blacks would ever be elected as representatives of our government, or be able to even vote for that matter…

  40. Melanie says:

    Janine, the new series, “America, The Story of Us” is wonderful. The focus of the narration seems to be the deep faith, the independent spirit, and the determination of the Americans to live unfettered lives of limitless possibilities! I was thrilled to hear the commercial announcement that every school in America will receive the DVD series. Let’s hope it is put to good use. (And let’s hope its message remains unchanged.)

    The First Amendment “Congress shall make no law respecting the establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof…” when clearly understood, is so powerful! It makes me want to come to the defense of people of all faiths. If we don’t reclaim and assert our religious heritage, and stand up against the progressive secularization of our country, we will be lost as a nation, and the world will be lost. A little good news today… the Supreme Court upheld the right of the Mojave Desert WWI War Memorial to display the Cross.

    The more we study these writings, the more profound the gems we find.

  41. Robert Shanbaum says:

    Greg, thank you for responding to my comments.

    I did not write that I thought my observations were surprising, and I apologize for being critical of Mr. Cooper. However, I thought that remarks on Federalist #1 should probably include some comments on the content of Federalist #1, and not just reflections on its title, and that’s what I was trying to (happily) supply.

    I didn’t realize that the object here was to learn about “how far the federal government has strayed from the Constitution”, but to learn about the Constitution. An intellectual inquiry that begins with the former purpose may well find its object, but it will fail to understand its subject well, as only that which was sought will be revealed.

    I am not convinced that the oft-cited fourth paragraph has been well understood here. My use of the term “good guys” and “bad guys” was an attempt to use modern vernacular to describe that which is couched in the unfamiliar prose of another era. If you think that Hamilton was not trying to set up the debate as between what we would call “good guys” (his side) and “bad guys” (the other side) in that paragraph, what do you think he was saying?

    I do indeed realize that a debate requires two positions. A debate does not, however, require what Hamilton has done here; that is, attempting to demonize his opponents before the actual debate begins. I am not passing judgment on the use of this technique – I’m simply observing that that appears to be his main purpose here.

    By the way, the Marine Hospital Fund (and its related income tax) covered not just naval personnel, but merchant seamen as well. Also, I am curious about your comment that the healthcare plan will restrict your healthcare choices, and thereby limit your freedoms and liberties: if this or some other healthcare plan implemented by the government were to increase the number of choices available to you, would that expand your freedoms and liberties? Would that make it OK?

    I do agree that Hamilton’s reaction, and for that matter, the reactions of all of the founders and framers, to the modern federal government, and for that matter, the modern world in general, might well be perplexity and dismay (though I think sheer shock would be the most likely reaction); after all, those are reactions of many who have grown up in it.

    With regard to Mr. Cooper’s comment, wherein he disagreed with my conclusion as to what Hamilton’s possible reaction to healthcare reform might be, saying that Hamilton would have been attached to the enumerated powers in the Constitution, I refer both of you to Hamilton’s actual proposal for the new general government, which you can read here:

    Also, you may find his side of a debate with Jefferson regarding the chartering of a national bank informative:

  42. Dale Swartzel says:

    Wonderful article! I think I understand a lot more about what the founders were trying to say and why. Thanks so much.

  43. Ross Bigney says:

    To me the most important lesson from Federalist #1 is the importance of hearing again that even the greatest idea — for example the Constitution — isn’t valid unless the people consent. Our founding fathers were marvelous people — they had such foresight. And people like George Washington who were popular enough that he could have become king of our country but would not. They are truly marvelous people.

  44. Arizona lawmakers have approved changes to the state’s controversial law cracking down on illegal immigrants. The changes were designed to answer charges made by protesters that it will lead to racial profiling by police. The original law stated police can conduct an immigration status check during any quote “lawful contact,” if they have reasonable suspicion a person is an illegal immigrant. It replaces “lawful contact” with “lawful stop, detention or arrest,” clarifying police may not stop people without cause. The revised law also removes the word “solely” from the phrase “The attorney general or county attorney shall not investigate complaints that are based solely on race, color or national origin.” Read the new Arizona Immigration Law

  45. Kristine says:

    Please note, there is a great article enitled “Could the Constitution stop the new health-care law?” by Nathan W. Tucker in the Christian Science Montior Volume 102, Issue 23 (current issue..weekly publication.) In it he mentions that the enumerated powers of Article I, Section 8 do not mention the power to “legislate our health.” He goes on to discuss why the common claim by Congress that the Commerce Clause, and Tax and Spend Clause, and references to general welfare do not support the power grab of mandating the purchase of healthcare. He also mentions the “FEDERALIST PAPERS.”

  46. Rod Criscillis says:

    That is some inspirational stuff. Never knew that opinions could be this varied. Will all of the Federalist Papers be brought down to earth in such a compelling way? Thanks for all the enthusiasm to offer such helpful information here.

  47. Susan Craig says:

    I don’t know about the suffrage of other races but I see no reason that they couldn’t imagine the suffrage of women because women had suffrage in the late 1700 in the state of my birth New Jersey.

Guest Essayist: Marc S. Lampkin, partner at Quinn Gillespie and Associates LLC and graduate of Boston College Law School

Thursday, April 29th, 2010

Federalist Paper #2 was written by future Federalist party chieftain John Jay to address what many founders felt was a critical deficiency regarding the then existing government authorized by the Articles of Confederation.  The deficiency was the major vulnerability the young nation faced because it lacked sufficient national authority to defend itself or to enforce its laws.

Reflecting his view that the public “choose” the new central government contemplated in the Constitution rather than simply acquiesce in it, Jay presents his arguments in terms of the “self interest” of the readers.  “It is well worthy of consideration therefore, whether it would conduce more to the interest of the people of America that they should, to all general purposes, be one nation, under one federal government, or that they should divide themselves into separate confederacies, and give to the head of each the same kind of powers which they are advised to place in one national government.”

John Jay was the oldest contributor to the Federalist Papers at age 41.  Jay, a staunch abolitionist who would go on to become governor of New York and successfully ban slavery statewide, also had served as President of the Continental Congress and was a principal negotiator of the Treaty of Paris.  After the U.S. Constitution was ratified, he would become the first Chief Justice of the United States Supreme Court.

At the time of the writing of Federalist #2, it had only been a few years since the Revolutionary War had ended.  Although the Americans had just successfully defeated one of the most powerful military forces on the planet when it successfully won its independence against England, barely five years later the capacity to carry off a similar feat was dramatically undermined by the operation of the Articles of Confederation.  In addition, compounding matters there was increasing sentiment among the political class that instead of presenting a “united” front as part of a United States of America, the states should actively consider whether even the loose association authorized by the Articles was either useful or worthwhile.

John Jay vigorously argues that not only should the states remain united; they should adopt the proposed Constitution’s federal style of government.  It was Jay’s view that the crisis of the Revolutionary War had led to the hasty creation of the Articles of Confederation and even as its defects became apparent, those deficiencies were not great enough to prevent America from prevailing in the war.

Now that the war was over, the problems of the Articles had been so severe that the Philadelphia Convention had been convened to attempt to ameliorate its difficulties.  Of course the result of the convention was an entirely new compact being drafted.  The central theme of this compact is that it contains a Federal Government with specific authority and power to carry out its limited but important duties in a way that the Federal Government authorized under the Articles of Confederation could not.

John Jay presents two basic premises that are basis for his argument:  it is a fundamental responsibility of government that it has the necessary power to regulate conflict and administer the laws it has lawfully enacted.  Secondly, in order for any grant of authority to be legitimate it must be consensual — that is the people must grant the government the powers.

While Jay recognized that any of the government powers exercised ultimately came from the people, the issue was which of these powers should be reserved for citizens and which were usefully granted to the government.  The test for Jay was whether a particular grant of authority best protected the safety and interests of the American populace.   However, this problem was made more difficult when the question of whether the Americans should unite under one national government or instead become separate states.

To Jay the answer was a strong union. He believed that for all intents and purposes, the confederation of states were already a union.  He argued that the geographical make up of the nation including its topography and “navigable waters” created natural boundaries that encouraged commonality.  Additionally the faith, language, principles and customs of the people who dwelled in this land which were overwhelmingly similar also argued for a strong union.

“This country and this people seem to have been made for each other, and it appears as if it was the design of Providence, that an inheritance so proper and convenient for a band of brethren, united to each other by the strongest ties, should never be split into a number of unsocial, jealous, and alien sovereignties.”

Since the land, people and language made it naturally more efficient to remain together then Jay believed that it was essential that the government they were subject to had the authority and power to carry out its duties in a way that the Articles of Confederation had never allowed.  “It has until lately been a received and uncontradicted opinion that the prosperity of the people of America depended on their continuing firmly united, and the wishes, prayers, and efforts of our best and wisest citizens have been constantly directed to that object.” It was John Jay’s considered view that the adoption of the Constitution in the long term would prove beneficial to all Americans both in a time of military conflict and in times of peace.

Marc S. Lampkin, partner at Quinn Gillespie and Associates LLC is a graduate of Boston College Law School


Guest Blogger: Marc S. Lampkin, partner at Quinn Gillespie and Associates LLC and graduate of Boston College Law School

Wednesday, May 19th, 2010

Federalist #16

In Federalist #16, Alexander Hamilton continues to outline the deficiencies of the present system of government authorized under the Articles of Confederation.  It is Hamilton’s view that the loose confederation will lead to lawlessness and ultimately anarchy once the inability to enforce its own laws becomes apparent.

This exceptionable principle may, as truly as emphatically, be styled the parent of anarchy: It has been seen that delinquencies in the members of the Union are its natural and necessary offspring; and that whenever they happen, the only constitutional remedy is force, and the immediate effect of the use of it, civil war.

The system that was in place had two important facets:  it was a voluntary association of the states and secondly it was in most respects a government whose actions were non-binding. The fact that the Articles of Confederation were voluntary meant that the Congress ruled with the consent of the governed and therefore exercised their authority lawfully.  However, the fact the government could not enforce its dictates meant that ultimately festering conflicts could result in armed conflict among the several states as the enforcement mechanism of last resort.  Furthermore, due to the differences between the size and influence of some of the states, the confederation was particularly ill suited for America.  With no enforcement power, the confederation created asymmetric power centers encouraging large and powerful states to see national policies for their benefit while disregarding the needs of the smaller and less powerful states.  In the unlikely circumstance wherein the Congress adopted a policy that might benefit small states, larger states might ignore them with impunity.  Such a circumstance potentially leads to civil war.

In fact, Hamilton observes that this asymmetric distribution of authority had other problems unrelated to the tendency towards internal armed conflict.  Even when faced with exogenous threats, because the states view themselves as sovereigns — motivated primarily by their own self preservation — the national government would either not have access to the resources necessary to prevent an attack from a foreign enemy or perhaps simply not respond to an attack if the attack was perceived as being against one of the states rather than the nation as a whole.

If there should not be a large army constantly at the disposal of the national government it would either not be able to employ force at all, or, when this could be done, it would amount to a war between parts of the Confederacy concerning the infractions of a league, in which the strongest combination would be most likely to prevail, whether it consisted of those who supported or of those who resisted the general authority. It would rarely happen that the delinquency to be redressed would be confined to a single member, and if there were more than one who had neglected their duty, similarity of situation would induce them to unite for common defense.

On the other hand, since the Articles of Confederation do not give Congress the power to lay and assess the taxes without consent or to compel the armies necessary to stave off attacks, the weakness that the American government presents to other nations would appear quite provocative.  Hamilton complains that by their nature, the states as sovereigns are not transparent entities and therefore even assessing duties or raising armies is unduly difficult.  Does a state refuse to pay up its share because of actual shortages it is experiencing or because its support for the cause identified is lackluster?

If there were a national government like the one described in the Constitution, it would already have the authority to defend itself — recognizing that an attack on one part was an attack on all.

Even if the conflict from foreigners is not the result of a coordinated assault i.e. a war, foreign governments would still be tempted to sow dissension among the states, Hamilton argues.  As long as the states themselves are complete sovereigns, they have every incentive to evaluate foreign relations, trade, and even aid solely in terms of its impact on them as sovereigns and not on the nation as a whole.  Hamilton calls this “Its more natural death is what we now seem to be on the point of experiencing, if the federal system be not speedily renovated in a more substantial form.”

Nevertheless, even if the states were to voluntarily provide the resources for an army, would the force be used to intimidate would be attackers or instead to enforce through intimidation its policies among the states themselves?

It remains to inquire how far so odious an engine of government, in its application to us, would even be capable of answering its end. If there should not be a large army constantly at the disposal of the national government it would either not be able to employ force at all, or, when this could be done, it would amount to a war between parts of the Confederacy concerning the infractions of a league, in which the strongest combination would be most likely to prevail, whether it consisted of those who supported or of those who resisted the general authority.

Then this would present concerns that are even more troublesome.  Wouldn’t it be the case that what Hamilton calls the “delinquency” (meaning the failure of compliance) would occur not just among one state but also likely among several?  In addition, wouldn’t powerful states attempt to align themselves in ways to avoid suffering the consequences of their delinquencies?  If so using the military to enforce compliance begins to look a lot like civil conflict or civil war now that the states joined together in alliances are using enforcement of national policies as a tool of enforcing their perceived advantages.

Hamilton writes, “It would rarely happen that the delinquency to be redressed would be confined to a single member, and if there were more than one who had neglected their duty, similarity of situation would induce them to unite for common defense. Independent of this motive of sympathy, if a large and influential State should happen to be the aggressing member, it would commonly have weight enough with its neighbors to win over some of them as associates to its cause.”

A final critique that Hamilton makes of the Articles of Confederation stems from the notion that it would be beneficial that states would affirmatively approve most of the policies adopted by the national government.  While on its face, it might appear that requiring a second step in order to assure that a given statute must go into effect would be good for liberty, Hamilton argues that it was more likely to lead to anarchy or civil conflict.

Under the U.S. Constitution many checks and balances were already put in place, which acted in many ways as hurdles to excessive, or passion based legislation.  The new Constitution by its design sought to encourage greater deliberation leading to legislation that is more necessary and weeded out that which was frivolous.  Forcing the additional step of state approval would be needlessly limiting the flexibility of the national government while sowing seeds for conflict.

Hamilton asserts, If it be possible at any rate to construct a federal government capable of regulating the common concerns and preserving the general tranquillity, it must be founded, as to the objects committed to its care, upon the reverse of the principle contended for by the opponents of the proposed Constitution. It must carry its agency to the persons of the citizens. It must stand in need of no intermediate legislations; but must itself be empowered to employ the arm of the ordinary magistrate to execute its own resolutions. The majesty of the national authority must be manifested through the medium of the courts of justice. The government of the Union, like that of each State, must be able to address itself immediately to the hopes and fears of individuals; and to attract to its support those passions which have the strongest influence upon the human heart. It must, in short, possess all the means, and have aright to resort to all the methods, of executing the powers with which it is intrusted, that are possessed and exercised by the government of the particular States. To this reasoning it may perhaps be objected, that if any State should be disaffected to the authority of the Union, it could at any time obstruct the execution of its laws, and bring the matter to the same issue of force, with the necessity of which the opposite scheme is reproached.

Hamilton reveals himself to be quite alarmed by the potential threats posed by the Articles of Confederation.  While he may not see the U.S. Constitution as a panacea to all problems that the young nation might  face, he believes that by its design, it is far better able to prevent conflict, or in the event that conflict occurs, it would be able to see that the nation was ultimately able to survive it.

Marc S. Lampkin, partner at Quinn Gillespie and Associates LLC is a graduate of Boston College Law School

18 Responses to “May 19 – Federalist No. 16 – The Same Subject Continued: The Insufficiency of the Present Confederation to Preserve the Union, From the New York Packet (Hamilton) – Guest Blogger: Marc S. Lampkin, partner at Quinn Gillespie and Associates LLC and graduate of Boston College Law School”

Susan Craig says:
May 19, 2010 at 9:03 am
The more I read and study what transpired between the Declaration of Independence and the end of George Washington’s second term the more I find myself squarely between the two factions. I see the deficiencies of the Articles of Confederation but seeing how some of the programs that were darlings of the Federalists have developed I think I would have fought to caveat the Federal Government a little more strictly and defined the relationship of State to Federal a little more clearly.

Charles Babb says:
May 19, 2010 at 11:55 am
How would we ever make any sense of these writings, were it not for the wise interpretation and guidance of our special guest bloggers? Thank you.
I would like to explore Mr. Lampkin’s thoughts in the following observation;
“Under the U.S. Constitution many checks and balances were already put in place, which acted in many ways as hurdles to excessive, or passion based legislation. The new Constitution by its design sought to encourage greater deliberation leading to legislation that is more necessary and weeded out that which was frivolous. Forcing the additional step of state approval would be needlessly limiting the flexibility of the national government while sowing seeds for conflict.”
Do we not see a design fault here, resulting in excessive legislation, happening today? Is this one of the areas where you, Susan, would like to have seen greater clarification?
I shudder to think what the volume of legislation is that has been passed over the years. And yet in November we will elect, or re-elect, representatives who will go to Washington and pass more confusing and conflicting legislation, largely because (1) they try to hide the intent of their proposed legislation through volume and “legalize” and (2) our representatives are too lazy to read it.
How can you “deliberate” that which you do not comprehend?
And once it becomes the law of the land, if they do not enforce it, are they not in violation of their “Oaths of Office”?
What recourse then do “we the people” have?
We have November.

Nickie Summers says:
May 19, 2010 at 12:47 pm
Two thoughts come to mind reading the founding papers:
First, it is crystal clear to me how far our country has moved away from the Constitution (defining principles and the relationship between the federal government and the states/citizens.) The Federalist/founding papers are redundant making the case to caution people of an ‘over reaching’ government. Hamilton says in No.15, and I’m paraphrasing, the idea of the Constitution is incompatible with the idea of government and therefore a Republic is the only safeguard against an unruly government. No. 16 expands on that and much more. Federal government has to remain small and ‘in check’ to their boundaries/responsibilities….that brings me to my second thought…’The People’….
Second, the founding papers completely empower each citizen – they own the begining and the end of the political process. Our political leaders are turned around in that thinking today. Americans are engaged and ‘owning’ their role to govern…we can/will change the political mindset and landscape in DC and around this great country.
Go Team USA!!

Susan Craig says:
May 19, 2010 at 1:57 pm
That is a symptom, Charles. What I would have liked defined was that rather vague commerce clause that has allowed the Fed to homogenize what was potpourri. Before if you did not like the way Massachusetts regulated its business, you could choose from any of the established States or explore into the territories. Now its Massachusetts or Massachusetts lite.
I would have liked a more elaborated upon clause. My suggestion, States may order commerce within their borders as they see fit. Should disagreements arise between States in the conduct business the Federal will act as Good Faith arbiter to facilitate and promote the smooth conduct throughout the country. Not exactly a legal beagle but I think something like this would have kept the SCOTUS from declaring wheat grown on private property for private consumption under the jurisdiction of the Federal Government by virtue of the Commerce Clause in the Constitution.

Ron Meier says:
May 19, 2010 at 3:59 pm
Too bad the creators of the EU didn’t read the first 20 or so FP before creating the EU. Had they done so, they wouldn’t have let some members in and they would have instituted some kind of enforcement mechanism. More likely, the EU would not have been created, since the prospective initial members would not have approved the sanctions for misbehavior.
re Charles’ comment about the sheer volume of legislation, to say nothing of the thickness of each individual piece, when our legislators run for reelection, they have to demonstrate that they were in attendance for xx% of all votes, the higher the better. If someone has a lower than acceptable percentage, then the opponent runs negative campaign ads demonstrating that the legislator is not doing his or her job. I submit that it might be better if our legislators would spend more time deliberating on the really important legislation and skip showing up to vote for legislation that they know nothing about and that is not critical to survival of our nation. As our Attorney General and Director of Homeland Security have just demonstrated, they don’t even have time to read a simple 10 page piece of legislation (Arizona’s law), yet they feel qualified to speak authoratatively on the law they haven’t read. Our legislators are in similar constraints and likely have staff read certain portions and give them briefings; I doubt they even read legislation they propose.

Carolyn Attaway says:
May 19, 2010 at 4:04 pm
Nickie, I too picked up on the citizen empowerment theme toward the end of this paper. There were several parts that begged to be read out loud, but two statements caught my eye, and I had to read them several times to absorb the impact of their words: “An experiment of this nature would always be hazardous in the face of a constitution in any degree competent to its own defense, and of a people enlightened enough to distinguish between a legal exercise and an illegal usurpation of authority . . . . If the people were not tainted with the spirit of their State representatives, they, as the natural guardians of the Constitution, would throw their weight into the national scale and give it a decided preponderancy in the contest.”
The first statement contained the sentence a people enlightened enough to distinguish between a legal exercise and an illegal usurpation of authority. I find this choice of words interesting given that enlightened means to have intellectual or spiritual light; and usurpation of authority means illegal seizure and occupation of a throne. How true do these words ring today that the people must remain vigilant of their government and the laws that are passed unto the citizens themselves less they become subjects to the throne of government through unconstitutional laws and practices? Are we not experiencing a degree of this usurpation of authority today? Is one of the main reasons we gather daily on this web-site is to renew our vigilance and become enlightened with our founding documents?
The second statement reiterates this theme with the words as the natural guardians of the Constitution would throw their weight into the national scale and give it a decided preponderancy in the contest. In Paper 15 Hamilton tells us that the only proper objects of government are the persons of the citizens, so it stands to reason that they would be the natural guardians of the Constitution. And being guardians they would have the decided preponderancy; superiority in weight; power, to defend the Constitution against illegal practices on either State or Federal levels to ensure its authority. We, as citizens of the United States, are charged with this duty.
I find these words amazing.

yguy says:
May 19, 2010 at 4:55 pm
“What I would have liked defined was that rather vague commerce clause that has allowed the Fed to homogenize what was potpourri.”
However vague it may be, there is no way it can be reconciled with Wickard v. Filburn (1942), wherein SCOTUS held that a person not engaging in commerce could be penalized under color of the commerce clause.

Jimmy Green says:
May 19, 2010 at 5:34 pm
Interesting that Hamilton’s belief of state delinquencies in a confederacy would result in civil war.
Yet less than a century latter a civil war between the states would arise under a constitution that Hamilton felt would prevent it.
I believe Hamilton’s desire for a constitution that must be able to legislate over the state and citizens is an implicit understanding of the nature of any true Federal System. The problem is the balancing act between a sovereign state jealously protecting its states rights and an federal government with certain enumerated powers over the sovereign states. Hamilton’s view of the powers of the federal government often seem like a dark cloud on the horizon. Granted the federal government in order to maintain the union has to exercise a degree of control over the states and citizenry.
However this is done via our elected officials in the congress. The States and peoples views are expressed through them such that hopefully any federal legislation is not unseemly harsh on the state or citizens as if they were blindsided. Hamilton’s writings seem somewhat of a dark nature and come across to me as someone who places state sovereignty a distant second to federal prerogatives. However reading the founding documents will show that states vigorously enforcing state rights its necessary to prevent that which Hamilton believes will occur under a confederacy.
Its good that Hamilton recognizes that the states should definitely intervene if the feds legislation becomes a “tyrannical exercise of the federal authority”.
However that’s an extreme viewpoint with most government tyrannies today being a rather long affair that slowly change the country with most of the citizens unaware of the slo-mo tyrannical creep. Interesting read.

Andy Sparks says:
May 19, 2010 at 7:29 pm
Jimmy, I think you hit the nail on the head with Hamilton. Remember he was born and grew up in the British West Indies. He didn’t come to America until he was 17, so he had no loyalty to any particular state. While he was educated and settled in New York, he joined the Continental Army only a few years later. What better place to gain an interstate perspective than in the army. Under Washington’s tutelage, he quickly learned about the deficiencies of the Congress under the AOC during the war in regards to raising troops, supplies, and other necessaries to keep the army going. I think any reference he makes to state power is so to appear not too enthusiastic for a national government. After all, he is trying to convince those moderate anti-federalists to vote for ratification. If it were up to him, he would have preferred a British style government; in fact his detractors referred to him as a monarchist while he headed the Federalist party.

Barb Zakszewski says:
May 19, 2010 at 8:59 pm
Both Hamilton and Madison seemed to have crystal balls at times, with their keen ability to look 100-200 years into the future. Hamilton argued that the Articles of Confederation could eventually set of a “civil war”..Yet 75-80 years after Ratification of the Constitution, the United states was involved in a “Civil War”…the War for Southern Independence. Although this war was considered to be chiefly over slavery, it was a war also for States Rights, for the 10th Amendment..Many of the things Hamilton predicted in Federalist 16 actually came to pass, by then, and that is what got things started.
As for comments made towards the end of the paper, Hamilton is saying that citizens will tolerate a lot from their government, unless government evolves into a tyranny, similar to what is happening today with the Socialist President and Congress we seem to find ourselves with. I believe there is a tie in to what Hamilton says here and the part in the Declaration of Independence that warns when government sinks to absolute despotism, it is our right and duty to throw off such government and provide new guards for our future security.
The more involved I become in this project, the more I can see where the Nation is going now; we must educate ourselves our families and our friends so that we can fight this and reclaim our Great Country!! The Founding Fathers, rather than being irrelevant as many Liberals think, are becoming more relevant with each passing day. We MUST listen to what they have to say.
God Bless this Great Nation!!

William Matthews says:
May 19, 2010 at 8:59 pm
No one has mentioned this, but under the Constitution Senators were selected by their states not like they are elected today. Before a bill could become a law, each of the states two senators had a chance to weigh in on it. In essence the states had actual representatives in the national government and states could actually control much more how their Senators voted. So perhaps when Hamilton is referring to the Constitution being superior he’s also meaning that states get to exercise their influence without needing to individually approve each law?

Jimmy Green says:
May 19, 2010 at 9:00 pm
Thanks for the input Andy. I plan on reading Hamilton’s autobiography in the near future to gain a better insight on him. Sadly as I’m living in the peoples republic of California, the founding fathers and the founding documents are not rated very highly. But there is hope that one day it will.

Susan Craig says:
May 19, 2010 at 9:14 pm
I think we have a lot to thank or accuse Rhode Island for. If they had not refused to consider ratifying any and I do mean any amendment to the Articles of Confederation how different a picture this would be.

Constituting America says:
May 19, 2010 at 11:45 pm
I want to let you know that I have begun a short film with my daughter for my “Daily Behind the Scenes Videos.” Tonight is Part 1. Check it out. The link is on the website on the home page or the link to the YouTube version is on the Constituting America Facebook Page. It’s going to be fun! I direct these and edit them on my computer nightly – with the help of my daughter, of course. The goal of these videos is to enlighten American citizens about our great United States Constitution, our “90 in 90” and our “We the People 9.17 Contest” so, spread the word!
Here we are at Federalist Paper No. 16! I want to thank Marc S. Lampkin for joining us again today. We are so lucky to have your scholarly insights, Mr. Lampkin!
Alexander Hamilton’s quote, “When the sword is once drawn, the passions of men observe no bounds of moderation,” speaks volumes. First of all, it is how Alexander Hamilton died, in a dual of passionate discord with Aaron Burr. Secondly, I can’t help but find relevance in these words regarding the situation in Arizona. The more I read, absorb and learn about our United States Constitution, the more I start seeing all aspects of our current political environment through Publius’ eyes –
their reasoning, their framework – which, of course, is the whole point of our “90 in 90.”
“When the sword is once drawn, the passions of men observe no bounds of moderation,” starts to make more and more sense to me when I witness, with the rest of America, the friction between our “United States”, Arizona and California. It was experienced over two hundred years ago, has happened throughout our history and it is happening today – “faction.” What we are experiencing as a country is a sample of what would have happened if we had not ratified our Constitution. There would have been no way to keep the peace and find a unity in vision and mutuality of purpose.
Thus, my current assessment is that the cohesiveness of a Federal government served and should continue to serve its purpose in certain areas – one of those areas is the defense and protection of her states.
Thus, the question begs the answer. Why hasn’t the Federal government protected her border states? Yes, states have rights, and yes, the Federal government has grown way beyond our founding father’s intentions but in this instance regarding defense, the federal government should have stepped up to the plate. Arizona has been left to fend for herself and is getting abuse from all angles.
Consequentially, we are witnessing state against state – accusations, misinterpretations – faction. Will California boycott her ally? Will Arizona turn her brother’s lights?
“When the sword is once drawn, the passions of men observe no bounds of moderation.”
Let us experience the freedom, uniqueness and independence as individual states yet, the unity of brotherhood as a country. Once the sword is drawn where will the passions end? Discourse is an enticement. United we stand. Divided we fall. Has this not been the theme of these Federalist Papers?
God bless,
Janine Turner
May 19, 2010

Roger Jett says:
May 19, 2010 at 11:45 pm
As I have been reading day-to-day the many comments posted to this wonderful forum, I’ve come to appreciate how well read many of you are. It challenges me to study, learn and evaluate how our nation’s Founders strove to provide us with the best government possible. It was not easy for them to establish it, nor will it be easy for us to do our part to restore what has been largely lost. I too find myself at that point that Susan Craig described earlier today, after having read a lot of the writings from the time of the “Declaration of Independence” through the second term of George Washington’s Presidency, she finds herself squarely between the two factions on the issues of the day. As I have read a number of the arguments presented by Jefferson, Mason and Henry, I find myself influenced by points that they made. I don’t find that troublesome …. I do find it most helpful in obtaining a more balanced understanding and more informed opinion. I don’t always find myself agreeing with all that gets said on this forum, but I believe that the process has challenged me to evaluate what I think is right, true and has caused me to grow a little more strong and firm. Thank you Janine, Cathy and all the rest of you who participate. May God bless you all !

Constituting America says:
May 20, 2010 at 1:35 am
May 19, 2010 – Federalist No. 16 – Cathy Gillespie
A big thank you to our guest blogger Marc Lampkin! Marc, thank you for guiding us today!
I so appreciate all of you who take the time to comment. You often see nuggets of wisdom in these papers that I have glossed over on my first reading, and your posts send me scrambling back to find the phrases you elaborate on.
Two phrases jumped out at me upon my first reading of Federalist 16, though, and they are the same mentioned by Nickie and Carolyn:
An experiment of this nature would always be hazardous in the face of a constitution in any degree competent to its own defense, and of a people enlightened enough to distinguish between a legal exercise and an illegal usurpation of authority. The success of it would require not merely a factious majority in the legislature, but the concurrence of the courts of justice and of the body of the people. If the judges were not embarked in a conspiracy with the legislature, they would pronounce the resolutions of such a majority to be contrary to the supreme law of the land, unconstitutional, and void. If the people were not tainted with the spirit of their State representatives, they, as the natural guardians of the Constitution, would throw their weight into the national scale and give it a decided preponderancy in the contest. Attempts of this kind would not often be made with levity or rashness, because they could seldom be made without danger to the authors, unless in cases of a tyrannical exercise of the federal authority.
“A people enlightened,” ”natural guardians of the Constitution”
“We the people,” are the natural guardians of the Constitution, because as our country drifts from the Constitution, it is “We the people,” who have the most to lose. If we are not “enlightened,” to understand what we had, and have, we will certainly not know what we have lost, and are losing. And our children will understand even less than us. We must not only enlighten ourselves, but enlighten our children, so the torch of freedom may be passed to the next generation of Americans. Watch Janine’s Behind The Scenes Videos starting today, as she teaches her daughter about the Constitution in a several part series!
I am both amazed, and a bit embarrassed to admit how much I am learning through this exercise. I graduated from Texas A&M University with a B.A. in political science, yet I don’t recall ever picking up the Federalist in college. This reading is my first time through these prescient papers. Tonight, I feel empowered that I am becoming “enlightened,” and that the founding fathers considered us – ‘we the people” – to be the guardians of the Constitution. The more I learn, the better I can guard it! And the more I can teach my children! On to Federalist No. 17!
Good night and God Bless,
Your fellow guaridan of the Constitution,
Cathy Gillespie

Dave says:
May 20, 2010 at 1:41 am
Here’s how I see No. 15 and No. 16. Hamilton is laying the foundation of his argument for ratification and basing it on man’s actual experience through history of forming civil governments, human nature, and most importantly for his argument, the actual experience the Americans had with the government under the Articles of Confederation. I need not repeat his parade of horribles here. He had to convince the New Yorkers that the current system was making their lives miserable whether they knew it or not, and that a strong, energetic, centralized, national government was the answer to all their prayers. If they would just stop being so biased towards their narrow, local interests. He assures them that the states will retain their due sovereignty, but the national government will be the supreme sovereign concerning the national objects under its authority.
The new plan would be different in significant ways from the failed confederations of the past. Those alliances always broke down in predictable ways because they were not consonant with human nature. If I may jump ahead an essay, in No. 17 Hamilton tells us:
“It is a known fact in human nature, that its affections are commonly weak in proportion to the distance or diffusiveness of the object. Upon the same principle that a man is more attached to his family than to his neighborhood, to his neighborhood than to the community at large, the people of each State would be apt to feel a stronger bias towards their local governments than towards the government of the Union; unless the force of that principle should be destroyed by a much better administration of the latter.”
We care more about that which is close to us, and we should. Hamilton wants us to give up some of that local care and concern and cede it to the national government in our own enlightened self-interest. And up to a point I think he’s right.
I would caution vigilance for the corrupting influence of power, for the tendency to be profligate with other people’s money, and mission creep. If the national government had stuck to the plan of being a limited government of enumerated powers, and if it had not spent decades and decades trying, and failing, to be all things to all people, we might not be in the sorry state we are in now.
The Founders saw the states within the new plan as laboratories of democracy. Some states’ experiments would be successful and emulated; other states’ experiments would be colossal failures and be rejected, or at least should be rejected (think CA, MI, and NJ.) In this way, mistakes would stay local and not doom the entire republic. The fiscal black hole some states, cities, and corporations are in has been caused almost exclusively by bad legislative, economic, and business decisions. Bailouts using taxpayer dollars to reward imprudent local decisions creates what economists call a moral hazard and offers exactly the wrong kind of incentives with other people’s money, our money.

Dave says:
May 20, 2010 at 3:15 am
Andy, good points about Hamilton the man. I tend to bask in the glow of his brilliance and genius (he was only 30 or so in the summer of 1787,) but then I force myself to consider what aspects of his psychology and life experiences could be influencing his thoughts on government. Madison’s notes of the Federal Convention have Hamilton laying out his plan on June 18. An executive elected for life with supreme veto power? How could he think that was a good idea?
Jimmy, you had written yesterday, “I would be more interested in Hamilton’s views on what should occur if the Federal government fails to uphold its enumerated powers.” That’s exactly what I’ve been wondering. The three branches of our federal government seem to have come to the conclusion that it’s just too much trouble to get the people to act in their constituent role as the “natural guardians of the Constitution” and amend the Constitution; they, our “agents and trustees” (No. 46) just ignore the Constitution and work their way around it, but they do make sure to pay it lip service at the appropriate times.
With the benefit of hindsight, I am amazed at how often in the papers, Publius warns us of what, to him, was the major threat to liberty. He thought the abuse of power would come from the states. After all, the federal government is a creature of the states or a servant of the states. It could never be the case that the creature would supplant the creator or the master would become the servant. Oh really? And something else that still troubles me in the federal system that they were proposing, with its dual sovereignty in different spheres and even with its guarantee of republican government in the states—What is to be done when a state exhibits tyrannical tendencies and is technically not in violation of the Constitution, but is in violation of the founding principles located in the Declaration of Independence? How was the slavery issue to be resolved? Abortion?
Last thought: For the new federal plan to work, the Framers had to have some presuppositions in mind about man and about the world. Were any of the presuppositions necessary for the perpetual success of the union under the constitution to be ratified? And would it be the case that any state of affairs not including those requirements would spell doom for the union.

Guest Blogger: William C. Duncan, director of the Marriage Law Foundation

Tuesday, May 25th, 2010

Federalist 20 is one of a series of essays that discuss the governmental precedents of other nations as illustrations of some of the weaknesses of the Articles of Confederation. In it, James Madison discusses the Netherlands, painting a picture of a weak government held together by a strong magistrate and the pressures created by hostile surrounding nations. Madison underscores the fact that the government has overstepped its constitutional bounds on occasion because those bounds do not allow it to meet emergencies.

A lesson here is that a weak and ineffectual government is a threat to liberty just as an overly strong and active government would be. He explains that the experience of the Netherlands demonstrates: “A weak constitution must necessarily terminate in dissolution for want of proper powers, or the usurpation of powers requisite for the public safety.” The implication for the United States Constitution is that it must create a government capable of meeting true emergencies and dealing forcefully with threats from other nations. The failure to do so not only could result in dissolution, but ironically, could lead to too strong a government: “Tyranny has perhaps oftener grown out of the assumptions of power, called for, on pressing exigencies, by a defective constitution, than out of the full exercise of the largest constitutional authorities.”

Madison attributes the weakness of the constitution of the Netherlands to “the calamities brought on mankind by their adverse opinions and selfish passions” and recommends that Americans “let our gratitude mingle an ejaculation to Heaven, for the propitious concord which has distinguished the consultations for our political happiness.”

In addition to evoking gratitude, there is another important lesson in Federalist 20 for current political debates.

In the Pennsylvania Convention, John Dickinson had taught: “Experience must be our only guide. Reason may mislead us.” At the end of Federalist 20, Madison explains why he has spent time describing the precedent of other nations in words that echo Dickinson’s: “Experience is the oracle of truth; and where its responses are unequivocal, they ought to be conclusive and sacred.”

An obvious application of this point is to the ongoing debate over whether our government should continue to press for greater and greater social controls. It would seem obvious that the unequivocal disaster of socialist and communist governments ought to warn us away from that precipice.

More generally we can heed the Framers’ example of willingness to learn from experience rather than to trust only in their unaided ability to reason out new solutions. Subtle thinking and cleverness have their place but must be disciplined by a willingness to learn lessons from human experience. One of the greatest strengths of the U.S. Constitution is its dual application of (1) the principles of self-government learned in the colonial experience and (2) the lessons of history derived from careful study and reflection.

Returning to a theme from the discussion of Federalist 17, there is a temptation to apply not experience, but ideology, to problems we face as a nation. Doing so appeals to a hubristic temperament. Some will always be dissatisfied if political reality is not made to conform to prefabricated theories even when doing so requires compulsion and control. In fact, the ability to control society may be the attraction of such theories; at least to some of their adherents.

The Framers eschewed easy answers and paid the price in experience, deliberation and study to create a secure foundation for our national government. That foundation incorporates the lessons of experience. Our response to current challenges must do the same.

Mr. Duncan is director of the Marriage Law Foundation ( He formerly served as acting director of the Marriage Law Project at the Catholic University of America’s Columbus School of Law and as executive director of the Marriage and Family Law Research Grant at J. Reuben Clark Law School, Brigham Young University, where he was also a visiting professor

16 Responses to “May 25, 2010 – Federalist No. 20 – The Same Subject Continued: The Insufficiency of the Present Confederation to Preserve the Union, from the New York Packet (Hamilton & Madison) – Guest Blogger: William C. Duncan, director of the Marriage Law Foundation”

  1. Charles Babb says:

    This morning I sent the following message to my children.

    “Those who are not informed of what they possess will not recognize when it is taken from them. Nor, can they preserve it for their prodigy.

    William Duncan has blogged an informative op ed in response to our reading of FEDERALIST No. 20 this morning and I invite you to take a few minutes and read it.


    Understanding what is needed won’t help much if I don’t take some positive step toward implementation. Eventually we can all begin to demand that those seeking elective office exhibit an of understanding of and a desire to support the truths we believe in.

  2. Maggie says:

    Madison and Hamilton state that “a weak constitution must necessarily terminate in dissolution for want of proper powers, or the usurpation of powers requisite for the public safety.”…..It is in the name of “safety” that the government has continued their unrelenting power grab. I’m sure we have all seen what an overbearing parent does to the will of a child. When does a parent let the child grow up and fend for himself? This goes for both “safety” concerns as well as being financially responsible. How brilliant these two men were when they said, “let our gratitude mingle an ejaculation to Heaven, for the propitious concord which has distinguished the consultations for our political happiness.” Our “new” system works. Why are we not rejoicing to God that it has brought us thus far and doing all we can to protect it rather than looking back with fondness upon the many systems that have failed time after time?

  3. Susan Craig says:

    What crystal ball did they have? Or was it just a true understanding of history and its lessons?
    This paragraph brought me up short!

    This unhappy people seem to be now suffering from popular convulsions, from dissensions among the states, and from the actual invasion of foreign arms, the crisis of their distiny. All nations have their eyes fixed on the awful spectacle. The first wish prompted by humanity is, that this severe trial may issue in such a revolution of their government as will establish their union, and render it the parent of tranquillity, freedom and happiness: The next, that the asylum under which, we trust, the enjoyment of these blessings will speedily be secured in this country, may receive and console them for the catastrophe of their own.

    We have Michigan, California, Louisianna and Arizona. We have Islamic radicals, several countries that don’t like us very much (Venezuela, North Korea and Iran) not to mention those that wouldn’t mind seeing us taken down a peg.

  4. Ron Meier says:

    Thanks for the Dickinson quotes, Mr. Duncan, especially “Experience is the oracle of truth; and where its responses are unequivocal, they ought to be conclusive and sacred.”

    For the longest time, I had tried to show several otherwise very logical and rational friends, all with advanced degrees, including PhD, the folly of their thinking, by comparing reality to their ideology. For example, an atheist friend believes Radical Islam is not a problem and we should not be fighting a war in the Middle East. I pointed out that an atheist has the most to fear from Radical Islam because they would be forced to convert to Islam or be killed. Since an atheist does not believe in life after death, they would be most disappointed to be killed before their otherwise natural death; yet, if they are true to their atheism, they should not convert. Therefore, I would submit that Atheists should be the ones whom we might expect to be most adamant in pursuing the war on Radical Islam, to insure that they are never faced with that impossible choice.

    After awhile it finally hit me that logical and rational reasoning, supported by experience and facts, was 100% ineffective in arguing with those whose ideology trumps all facts and experience. Now, generally, I ignore their comments and don’t waste time. It seems that my time is better spent discussing with those who are fence sitters and open to ideas rather than those who are confined to their ideological straitjackets.

    I wonder what Mr. Duncan might think about the utility of arguing with these kind of ideologues and what advice he might have for us so we can be more effective? Certainly marriage counseling has many similar circumstances and I would assume similar roadblocks are encountered there.

  5. Dave says:

    Mr. Duncan, well said. Thank you.

    Charles for Father of the Year!

    Maggie, I concur. With increasing frequency we are told of a crisis and the impending doom if we don’t grant Washington more power, control and more of our money.

    And we haven’t been rejoicing to God for our good fortune for over one hundred years, because some pointy-headed, hubristic “intellectuals” thought man could do better. Man can create that utopia that God has so cruelly and stingily withheld. After two world wars one would think our days of longing for a man-made utopia contrary to “the laws of nature and of nature’s God” would be over.

  6. Karen Sherer says:

    This study of the Federalist papers has really brought home to me the plain fact that a thorough knowledge of history is not “a useless course of study. I’ll never use it in my life. Why take it?” It is so very true that our current administration (and many others before it) DO rely on their pure ideological goals and either ignore or never learned the lessons of history.

  7. Bache says:

    The wisdom obtained and applied by the Founders required diligence, dedication and knowledge. The personal principles each contributing writer and scholar to our Constitution and foundation of our country came with sacrifice. I believed that they recognized their own inadequacies and were willing to listen to experience and to the history. B. Franklin once said, ” The doors of wisdom are never shut.”

  8. Susan Craig says:

    There is a book titled ‘The World Turned Upside Down’, that demonstrates that reason comes out of religion and that eventually all genres of thought that say religion is inimitable to reason and logic eventually hit a point which is unreasonable and illogical. The author is Melanie Phillips.

  9. Carol Frenier says:

    I, too, continue to be interested in the impact of ideology on both 1) failing to see the importance of experience and 2) the desire of some to expand the power of central government. Can you recommend a good history of ideological development in American politics?

  10. Laurie says:

    I was concerned that no one responded to Carol Frenier’s writing yesterday about what this ideology from Europe is that we keep referring to as the one that is a threat to the America that our founders gave us. I immediately think of a mandatory course in 11th grade, “Americanism vs Communism.” Bet that’s not mandatory anymore. Whether you want to call it Socialism or Communism, it is an ideology that gives the wealth to the political or ruling class and makes the rest of us basically equal. (See Russia, China, Cuba, Venezuela) A European book that was recently translated into English is “The Coming Insurrection” by the Invisible Committee, how to bring down governments, even the family. ( has it) Also, study Saul Alinsky’s Rules for radicals and the Cloward and Piven strategy, you can Google those. They also preach how to overwhelm the welfare system in order to bring American capitalism to an end. The Drudge Report has a story today how “government provided benefits are at record high” and “paychecks from private businesses at record low.” (About 42%) Who is going to pay all these benefits? Unions want a 165 Billion Dollar bailout for their pensions. State worker unions want 100 Billion Dollar bailout. This is what the radicals want. Who is rioting in Greece? Labor Unions and Radicals. I’m afraid we are being set up by Overspenders in Washington, who want to collapse free enterprise and all our liberties. That is why this Federalist study, learning what Americanism is again is so terribly important.

  11. Carolyn Attaway says:

    As Susan pointed out, the paragraph that begins ‘This unhappy people . . .’ could very well be written to some extent of America today. Reading headlines such as “Redistribution Victory: Private Pay Plummets, Govt Handouts Soar”, “ObamaCare Lawsuit Reveals National Grab to Regulate Individual Decisions”, and “Nonpartisan Proof: Cap-and-Trade Is an Economy-Killer”, brings home the point addressed in Paper 20 that ideology over experience always leads to failure. I believe that many nations have their eyes fixed on us, some praying for our strength, and others for our demise.

    Which leads me to the most important statement that I have read so far in the Federalist Papers; with added words “Experience is the oracle, the divine revelation of truth; and where its responses are unequivocal, absolute, they ought to be conclusive, decisive and regarded with reverence, sacred.

    As Mr. Duncan points out, “Subtle thinking and cleverness have their place but must be disciplined by a willingness to learn lessons from human experience. One of the greatest strengths of the U.S. Constitution is its dual application of (1) the principles of self-government learned in the colonial experience and (2) the lessons of history derived from careful study and reflection.”

    Of this great strength in our Constitution, can we make the argument that our Congress is not paying much heed to the second application, and that many of America’s citizens themselves have forgotten the valuable lessons of history? I am always taken aback when I mention a relatively known country such as Wales, and the large number of people who do not even know that Wales is a country, much less where it is located.

    So how can one study the history of a country, if they do not even know that that country exists? One of my favorite videos on AFV is when the father of a little 2 year old girl asks her to point to various states and cities on the map, and when she is correct in her answer, she does the “Smarty Pants Dance” (It still makes me giggle) Anyway, maybe we should take this lesson and apply it to students of all ages, reinforcing the idea that knowledge of history makes one very wise.

  12. Kay says:

    The premises and arguments of The Federalist Papers are seeping into my being. Two weeks ago I wrote a two page letter to my congressman (remember the NY 23rd district race) with concerns, and ended it with: “Our founders were wiser than the whole Congress put together today, having foresight because they had hindsight on what works and does not work for a nation to prosper. They did not live in the moment because they desired that the Constitution be a lasting document, not like the legislation Congress is passing that will destroy us as a people.” Because of the essayists and commentators on this project, my thinking is being refined and focused on the whys behind our wonderful Constitution. May we all have opportunities to pass onto others what we are learning.

  13. The Ransom of Reason

    Reason be and reason we
    Away our distant shores
    Wander not and wanton trot
    Afraid of written mores

    Did we not through seasons see
    The meaning, yet for many
    We forgot the how,
    We riddled out the penny

    “I know this and I know that
    Believe me for I’ve the vision
    Follow me and listen now
    For I rewrite the mission

    We is the forgotten us
    It matter not for you
    I seek your best and vest my truths
    It is I who reap the view.”

    Freedom this and Freedom that
    Ring in empty vestibules
    History renders ghosts forgotten
    Lost the written tools

    “I seize the rapture
    Seek doleful and the bane
    Meeker making spirit spree
    I linger not in vain

    Feed the weakness, starve the heart
    Watch the soul regress
    Rhyme and reason take their toll
    Happy opportune the guess.”

    By Janine Turner
    May 25, 2010

  14. Laurie says:

    The God that the founders turned to in 1776, is the same One today. Without Him, we will not succeed in our desire to re-found our nation on the principals of the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution. Make no mistake. Without Him, we will be overwhelmed by the agenda from others. Our founders didn’t just have incredible knowledge of history, they believed in God, and His special purpose for America. That was their strength. We must have the same strength today. Those who believe in America, must believe in the God of our Founders, Who gave the incredible power and foresight and knowledge to help them to create our exceptional-ism, never before in the history of the world, a country of freedom and liberty and justice for all. Truly, a miracle.

  15. Maggie says:

    Janine……that’s absolutely beautiful!

  16. Roger Jett says:

    Laurie, I agree. Even the “Deist” of our day can see that we live in “a time that try men’s souls”, but it will require that “we the people” once again awaken to the faith of our fathers. A faith that not only acknowledged Him the “Creator” as He was ….., but that He is and that He will always be the “Sustainer” and “Giver” of all good things. You said in your post that “they believed in God, and His special purpose for America.” There are those who dispute that and have long been laboring in the margins of our society to knit a fabricated false rewrite of history. Unfortunately, they are no longer operating in the margins. They are positioned in high places and with each day they seek to entrench. As you say, “Without Him, we will be overcome by the agenda of others”. We can reason and trust that He that is the “First Cause” is more than able and can effect the restoration and sustainment of all that we desire, “a country free and liberty and justice for all”.

Guest Blogger: Allison R. Hayward, Vice President for Policy at the Center for Competitive Politics

Monday, May 31st, 2010

Federalist 24

Allison R. Hayward

Federalist 24 continues Hamilton’s argument in favor of strong national government for national security purposes.  Here, he addresses the explicit complaint that the Constitution would permit standing armies in peacetime.

Critics of the Constitution feared that standing armies would become either a tool for those in power to seize power in perpetuity, or a means to usurp elected government with a military one.  Colonists in America were not far removed from the days of Oliver Cromwell, who after prevailing in the English Civil War became Lord Protector of England, Ireland, Scotland and Wales.  Quite possibly the families of many of the colonists reading the Federalist Papers migrated to the New World to escape Cromwell’s Britain (or the Restoration aftermath, plague, fire, and general 17th century misery).  Certainly many were familiar with the fall of the Roman Republic at the hands of the Roman General, Julius Caesar.   In any case, popular opinion would have feared standing armies as a destabilizing force and a threat to democracy.  This is thus a powerful argument that the Federalists need to answer.

Hamilton responds to these critics in several ways.  First he implies that these critics misinterpret the constitutional separation of powers.  He reminds them that the Constitution places the responsibility for raising an army with Congress, not the President.  Moreover, any appropriation may be for no longer than two years.  Under this division of authority, the election branch – Congress – which is most responsive to the public, must consent to military mobilization.  Unlike the Roman and English examples, sole military authority is denied the American Executive.  Moreover, the existing regime under the Articles of Confederation contains no standing army limit.  This fact allows Hamilton to imply that the anti-Federalist criticisms are disingenuous.

Moreover, notes Hamilton, the world poses security dangers to America apart from “formal” war.  The nation is bordered by territories of Britain, Spain and France, and much of the frontier is inhabited by native Americans.  Any of these could threaten Americans (and America) if the nation relaxed its guard.  Frontier garrisons in particular require support even during “peace.”  Finally, for American to meet its potential as a commercial power, it needs to build a navy, which requires outlays for dockyards –even in peacetime.  Hamilton argues that the Constitution properly leaves these decisions to Congress, the people’s elected representatives.

Today, the Pentagon’s proposed budget for the coming fiscal year is $708 billion, including a $56 billion “black budget” for classified programs.  About 1.5 million individuals are in the active service, about 560,000  in the Army alone.  Notwithstanding concerns voiced through time about the size, expense, and “military industrial complex” the United States has, since World War II, maintained a large professional armed force.  Moreover, it has done so under the supervision of the Executive – not, as Hamilton contended, under Congress.

Further, military spending is seen by many Congressmen as an important part of their representative role – not simply to keep the country safe, but to keep constituent military contractors profitable.  One wonders what Hamilton might have made of the current political “war” over the military’s budget, in which the Defense Secretary has demanded the end to certain programs.  Yet Congress insists on keeping them.

Allison R. Hayward is the Vice President for Policy at the Center for Competitive Politics.

7 Responses to “May 31, 2010Federalist No. 24 – The Powers Necessary to the Common Defense Further Considered, For the Independent Journal (Hamilton) – Guest Blogger: Allison R. Hayward, Vice President for Policy at the Center for Competitive Politics.”

  1. gianna cerullo says:

    Great Job Janine! I am impressed with your determination tho I am not at all surprised!

    I share your views : )

    Juliette is gorgeous !

  2. Susan Craig says:

    I have long felt that America has had a schizophrenic relationship with its military. Stemming from two factors: desire to be a most Christian nation living in peace, and a recognition of human nature. On one hand experience and faith (the insult of the British quartering of troops, desire to live in peace and threaten no man, and a belief that a military in the hands of a tyrant would threaten our liberty) inclined us to wish to do away with standing armies. On the other hand the recognition that the proven, visible ability to fend off invaders and threats allows for security and freedom (freedom requires vigilance). Out of these factors come our constant debate on things military. The Articles of Confederation left it in the hands of the States. In effect in today’s world it would be as if there were no regular army, navy or air force just the various guard units in each state. The opposing view was a standing force sole under Federal jurisdiction a permanent military such as was in existence at the time, uneducated and owing allegiance to the leader a separate ‘career’ path or class. What has developed is an amalgam of these two views a small voluntary standing military which depends in time of strife on a ready militia (national guard). The oath our military takes its oath from top to bottom “protect, preserve and defend the Constitution”. It, also, chooses from educated or those who wish to be educated not from those lacking knowledge or understanding. All of those in the military are instructed as to what is or is not a lawful order and are encouraged to resist any unlawful instruction. Yet to this day we still have the debate how much is sufficient and necessary. We continue to think that a “Peace Dividend” is to be had by the reduction and/or elimination of a standing military.

  3. Fred Mars says:

    I am a Philadelphia-born Constitutional Libertarian, which is to say that I am not talking about a political party, I am referring specific ideology and not a party platform.

    Above all, I feel that the Constitution as it was written, including the Bill of Rights, which is part of the Constitution, And the articled of Confederation from which this nation was born, are the only things that stand between freedom and tyranny. That being said, it is also as relevant today as it was in 18th Century America, that we still require the vigilance of citizens to protect the liberties granted to the people at this nation’s founding.

    Sometimes it seems that we are being attacked from many sides, and I do not doubt that it is accurate. We have always been loved and hated by other nations, but mostly we are resented for the very freedoms we enjoy.

    All Americans must stand together as one voice in demanding that our Congress repeal the damage caused by the 16th and 17th Amendments, charge Congress with it’s obligations to coin (and print) currency and set the value thereof (and use gold/silver to give it real value) and end the extortion of the Federal Reserve System and it’s collection agency the Internal Revenue Service.

    Return the selection of Senators to the State legislatures, who we have elected to represent us in our sovereign States, and remove the two party system from its monopoly on the electoral process.

    Instead of election day, each State may have an election week, and hand-written ballots used instead of electronic machines and mail-in ballots. Because of the importance of votes, it must be done in such a way as to insure the integrity of the system for all citizens.

    We must save our nation by restoring Constitutional integrity to the federal government, and control of the armed forces returned to Congress. The President only assumes status of Commander in Chief when a war is declared by Congress, and then power is voided after the war is over or two years unless Congress acts too extend the war and hence Presidential powers beyond two years. But not in perpetuity.

  4. It is interesting that in the early days of the republic, people feared a standing army. The Pennsylvania and North Carolina Constitutions went so far as to say, “As standing armies in time of peace are dangerous to liberty, THEY OUGHT NOT to be kept up.” This was a legitimate fear, based on history, as Allison Hayward points out in her essay today. (Thank you, Allison, by the way, for your second Guest Blogger essay!! We appreciate your insights!!)

    Our founders addressed this possible threat to the peoples’ liberty by placing the power of Commander in Chief with the executive branch (Article II, Section II of the Constitution), but the power to raise armies with the legislative branch (Article I, Section VIII of the Constitution). And they even included a clause which forbade the appropriation of money for the support of an army for any longer period than two years, as a precaution to keeping troops without necessity.

    Today, on Memorial Day 2010, most Americans look at our military not with the suspicious eye of our forefathers, but with heartfelt pride and gratitude. Two days ago Rasmussen announced a poll showing that 74% of Americans have a favorable view of the U.S. Military. Only 12% had an unfavorable opinion and 13% weren’t sure.

    I believe part of this strong support for our troops is due to the founding fathers’ wise use of checks and balances in structuring their control. The abuses that the anti-federalists feared have not come to pass.

    An equally important factor responsible for American support of our troops is the quality of the men and women who, since the elimination of the draft, have chosen to serve. These are brave, selfless men and women – fathers and mothers – who leave their families for years at a time to go to foreign lands and defend freedom. These members of the armed services make sacrifices in their personal life, their financial life, their physical and mental health, and sometimes make the ultimate sacrifice, all to defend our liberty. I am honored and blessed to count many active duty members of the military as friends, and I cannot think of any people with higher character, sense of patriotism and duty to country than these service members.

    God bless those who have sacrificed their lives in defense of our freedom, may God be with their families, and may God be with and bless our active duty military and veterans. Our country owes you all a huge debt of gratitude. Thank you, from the bottom of our hearts.

    Cathy Gillespie

  5. Susan Craig says:

    @Fred, welcome. I consider myself a fiscal and social conservative with libertarian leanings. As I continue to read the Federalist debate and early American History while watching the shenanigans of today, I must say I could inveigh against all factionalism along with the most vehement of our Founding Fathers. I see it in the stasis in Washington and it is part and parcel of the intellectually incurious who have voted the line since Methuselah was in diapers.

  6. Gary Tillery says:

    As a veteran, I stand with other Veterans who have served this nation with dignity, courage, and honor. In our time, which young people today see as antiquated, we saw the Constitution as a document representing the very heart of America. Even though we were divided by different beliefs in life the Constitution was the very umbrella that kept us united as one people. Different states (republics) but one nation. It was to be honored,cherished, and respected. Due to that belief, when we as veterans went to battle to serve our nation we did so with committment, dedication, pride. Unfortuinatley, people today do not talk this way anymore for they have so taken the Constitution and freedom for granted that they, as we speak, are in danger of losing their freedom.
    The Constitution is like the Ten Commandments – When we look at them both is reveals to us the goals we strive to reach. Yet, at the same time it shows us our weaknesses and vulnerablities. When we vote, we should look and ask each candidate their interpretations of the Constitution and how their campaign is based on the Constitution. Yes, They need to prove themselves from here on out. We can no longer take their word for anything. I would be interested in how many of our politicians today truly can tell you about the FEDERAL PAPERS and the CONSTITUTION. Because by the actions of our some current government officials they do not mind violating it.
    It is our obligation, as young and old Americans, to protect the Constutution and remove any politician that violates it. That is why we all, old and young, need to know the Constitution and keep it in the forefront of our minds when it comes to politics. For those of us who served, risked, and watched friends die, it is heart wrenching to see the real threat of Socialism creeping in the back door knowing that all the sacrifice could be for nothing if our children/grandchildren live under any other form of government than a Constitutional Democracy. For God and Country. God give the youth of today the courage to stand for Democracy.

  7. Maggie says:

    @ Gary….I agree with everything you said, with the exception of our children living under a Democracy. We are NOT a democracy…we are a Republic. This is one of the big problems we have today. People don’t even realize what form of government we are supposed to have. How, then, can they protect and keep it?

Guest Blogger: Attorney Janice R. Brenman

Tuesday, June 8th, 2010

Alexander Hamilton is widely known as the first Secretary of the Treasury, and one of the strongest advocates of our Constitution.  Born illegitimately in the Caribbean to a Scottish merchant father and a mother of French Huguenot descent, he was already managing the affairs of an accounting office by age 15.  After penning an essay in French detailing the devastation from a local hurricane, Hamilton was offered educational opportunities in the new, promising American colonies.  He volunteered with a local militia, and became an aide to General Washington during the Revolutionary War.  Afterward, Hamilton began an expansive career as a lawyer and political activist.  One of his most enduring achievements was authoring many of The Federalist Papers (originally known as, The Federalist), a series of manifestos advocating the ratification of the United States Constitution.

To maintain anonymity, Hamilton, along with co-authors James Madison and John Jay, used the pseudonym “Publius” (after famed Roman Empire consul) to publish articles in three prominent New York newspapers, and later in bound volumes.  These articles reflect Hamilton’s enthusiasm for the new American country and his sharp mental abilities.  His death, via a duel with political rival Aaron Burr, was the final touch on a life filled with vigorous advocacy in the public policy arena with a special focus on promoting a strong national government for the United States.

Federalist Paper #30, “Concerning the General Power of Taxation.” is perhaps Hamilton at his finest.  Hamilton begins by explaining that the National Treasury exists to subsidize a wide range of legitimate pursuits of the federal government.  The Articles of Confederation gave Congress responsibility for managing needs of the confederacy, yet did not provide the means to do so.

Herein lies the function of taxation – a system by which all citizens have a stake in balancing benefits and costs afforded by a federal government positioned to furnish a functioning army, paying government employees, repaying current and future national debts, and other appropriate expenses.  He posited that a government cannot function absent some taxes, and its power to collect taxes among the populace is necessary.  Without taxes, the people would be plundered as a substitute for legitimate taxation, or, the government would eventually perish.

Hamilton delves into what many of his contemporaries saw as a substantive controversy:  internal and external taxation by the new federal government.  Hamilton explains the difference between an external tax and an internal tax, and then describes how the federal government should be responsible for both.  An external tax is a custom duty levied against any item coming into a colony to raise revenue – for example, a piece of machinery made in England. The duty is paid by the shipper and passed on to the consumer, in the form of a higher price for that machinery.  An internal tax is unrelated to imports or exports.  The Stamp Tax in England set an example – an excise tax imposed on stamped paper for legal documents (including licenses and permits), bills of lading, pamphlets and newspapers.  Therefore, the price of a newspaper included the cost of the stamp placed on the paper as the tax.

Critics of the new Constitution charged that internal taxation should be used exclusively by the State governments and external taxation reserved for the federal government.  Hamilton noted this ideal to be “romantic poetry” and that external taxes alone, on items such as commercial imports, cannot provide enough revenue for a government as extensive as the one proposed, especially in times of war.  Disallowing the federal government from internal taxation violates the maxim of good sense and sound policy he argues.  Essentially, critics claim internal taxation should be the sole authority of local government, and trade revenues should go to the federal government. This policy, however, not only subordinates the federal government, but also forces it to rely on states for security and prosperity of the nation as a whole.  Eventually, the Union would weaken and create conflict between the federal and state government, and perhaps even between the states themselves.

This conflict becomes even more evident during wartime.  The United States was in its infancy, thus capital reserves minimal.  The federal government could not depend on State requisitions alone – a loan would be needed for even the wealthiest of nations since no government would extend credit to the United States absent a reliable method of debt repayment.  Dependence on the states, which might not prove reliable, would force the federal government to seek loans in the private markets essentially subsidizing loan sharks that would charge the new government high interest rates.  For any other national emergency, some might fear funds allocated via taxation would be diverted, even if the national government has the unrestrained power of taxation.

However, two considerations will quiet these fears: (1) during a crisis the full resources of the community will be used for the benefit of the Union; and, (2) deficiencies can be supplied by loans.  Thus, Hamilton argues for a federal internal tax as well as an external federal tax.

Special thanks should be given to a myriad of sources (including Mary E. Webster) with regard to translating the complex lexicon of Chancery Standard used in the Papers into modern English.

Ms. Janice R. Brenman is a former prosecutor now in private practice in Los Angeles. She has commented in major legal publications on the subject of legal reform and celebrity influence on the legal system. She has also appeared in medical malpractice, products liability and complex civil litigation, and is well versed in all forms of discovery.  From 1999 to 2000 Ms. Brenman was a City Prosecutor and Community Preservationist. She clerked for the Honorable Rupert J. Groh, Jr., of the United States District Court for the Central District of California. Ms. Brenman also worked researching, writing and editing under a Nobel Prize winning laureate.

22 Responses to “June 8, 2010Federalist No. 30Concerning the General Power of Taxation, From the New York PacketGuest Blogger: Attorney Janice R. Brenman

  1. Dave says:

    “Revenue . . . must be had at all events.”—Hamilton No.12

    “Money is, with propriety, considered as the vital principle of the body politic; as that which sustains its life and motion, and enables it to perform its most essential functions. A complete power, therefore, to procure a regular and adequate supply of it, as far as the resources of the community will permit, may be regarded as an indispensable ingredient in every constitution.”—Hamilton No. 30

    Okay, okay, I get it—the general government needs a dependable and sufficient supply of money. The questions remain: For what purpose and from whom? And most importantly, how is the federal government going to be restrained from taking too much from the citizens?

    According to Hamilton, the proper check on government taxing is the limit of the “resources of the community.” That’s great if you get to spend other people’s money by becoming the first Treasury Secretary under the new Constitution. It’s not so great in the early years of the 21st century given that, in the last 80 years or so, the federal government has increased its share of the GDP by about 25 times.

    I wish I could go back in time and knock some sense into the good Colonel. With the benefit of hindsight and that oracle of wisdom, experience, we all know that the federal government has an insatiable appetite for citizens’ hard-earned dollars—it never has stopped, and it never will stop, at simply taking money for only those necessary, enumerated objects. One need only review a random sampling of the earmarks (bribes) in any recent legislative monstrosity to discover the government will redistribute our money for just about any project here at home or even abroad.

    What’s happening to various countries in the EU should be a cautionary tale for Americans. The problem countries got in their current situation by the same big-government formula our current administration seems to be adopting: Tax and spend, tax and spend, borrow and spend, borrow and spend . . . . The end is not good—worthless dollars in Americans’ pockets and shared misery for all but the various elite groups. And every aspect of the everyday life of Americans (and now with ObamaCare, the manner and time of our deaths also) will be under government control.


    George Will has a good piece on the Limitless Welfare State:

  2. Susan Craig says:

    Granted that taxes are a necessary evil where it went off the rails is that we allowed the situation where people were able to vote themselves other peoples money.

  3. So much to wrap the brain around!! Again, as I read each paper the clarity of how far this country has moved from the outlining principles over the years is amazing…and I thought most of our politicians were contitutional lawyers/professors! The intended use of taxation has been mutated, leaders manipulate the English language to justify their encroachment into the private sector and individuals.

    BUT…I read ahead Federalist 31 this morning and without spilling the beans, there is a fabulous point made. One that we’ve all heard before and one that is in full action mode across the country!!

  4. Kurt says:


    I think your argument just underscores how we as citizens need to stay involved and monitor our government. When they get out of hand, kick them out of office. I think many of the founding fathers views where predicated on the idea that the citizenry would cherish their freedoms/rights and would jealously protect them. My reading of their writings show quite a distrust of government. We were expected to constantly question and limit what it does, we are the ones to decide the limit of the resources of the community not government. Do you allow the employee to decide his own pay or do you set it?

    I imagine they would be shocked, dumbfounded and maybe even disgusted at the state of the citizenry’s protection of its rights today – just give us some government cheese and we’ll go back to sleep.

  5. W. B. Neate says:

    Ms. Brenman in the first sentence of paragraph #4, “Herein lies the function of taxation – a system by which all citizens have a stake in balancing benefits and costs afforded by a federal government …..,” highlights what has been lost in our system of taxation. No longer do “all citizens have a stake.” Not only do nearly 1/2 of our citizens pay no federal income tax, but a large and growing portion of this group are recipients of government/taxpayer subsidies. Most sadly these subsidies, along with much of our government spending, come from borrowed funds. I am fearful that this may become a voting block too large to overcome.

    Our system of taxation has morphed from a means of “balancing benefits and costs of government” to a means of social/economic engineering. In large measure the left uses the system to pander to the masses and the right uses it to curry favor with big business. Regrettably I can’t remember who said it but early in the last century it was said that Democracy will fail when the elected realize they can bribe the electorate with their own money. Well, I think they long ago figured it out.

    Survival of life in America as we have known it requires our returning to our founding roots of truly limited government and a method of taxation less susceptible to misuse. Surely the time has come for a Flat or Fair tax. If only we could elect statesmen, rather than politicians, to step up to the plate, make the tough, unpopular decisions and lead with boldness.

  6. Ron Meier says:

    “How can it undertake or execute any liberal or enlarged plans of public good?” This is the essence of the problem today – a definitional problem. The left argues that the “public good” is far more expansive than the right believes it to be. Until we come to grips with and fully understand just how wide and deep the “public good” should be allowed to be, we will not get off the track we’ve been on since FDR’s time. We are arguing this today, but we have not yet reached the crisis stage. History demonstrates that problems are not really addressed until the crisis bubble is pricked by some outside third party (e.g., China refusing to buy more of our bonds). Our legislators are like real estate bankers who will continue to loan money as long as it’s available long after their rational brain tells them that the ending will be ugly. We now know the ending will be ugly, but it’s business as usual in Washington, DC.

  7. Michael says:

    There is wide space to debate what is important to national security. To the extreme, we’ve seen national interest used to justify globalism, i.e., all nations must be intricately woven economically to prevent wars, save the environment, distribute resources most efficiently, etc. The debate has gradually pushed us to where we now finance the defense of other nations, fund wars to defend/install democratic societies, bailout state governments and private enterprises, and so on. There is now a huge federal bureaucracy engaged in nothing more than enforcing and collecting the federal income tax. As many early Americans feared, the power of taxation has helped to create the monster that now paradoxically dictates how we live and pursue happiness (and if we should live) under the guise of protecting us. The monster is now attacking wealth-makers and producers and will see its money supply drastically diminished as a result. This seems to be purposeful and intended to destroy our great nation.

  8. Carolyn Attaway says:

    The words Hamilton wrote to promote the need for a general power of taxation were meant to reassure the citizens of his time of a responsible government. However, when read today, during a time of high national debt and undisciplined spending, these words tend to leave a sour taste in my mouth.

    Two statements in particular sent an aversion through me as we tackle present day events, and rereading Hamilton’s words, I wonder if the Founders even envisioned such abuse to our tax system.

    Hamilton writes “Thus far the ends of public happiness will be promoted by supplying the wants of government, and all beyond this is unworthy of our care or anxiety. How is it possible that a government half supplied and always necessitous, can fulfill the purposes of its institution, can provide for the security, advance the prosperity, or support the reputation of the commonwealth? How can it ever possess either energy or stability, dignity or credit, confidence at home or respectability abroad? How can its administration be any thing else than a succession of expedients temporizing, impotent, disgraceful? How will it be able to avoid a frequent sacrifice of its engagements to immediate necessity? How can it undertake or execute any liberal or enlarged plans of public good?”

    This first statement tends to have been twisted over time to such a degree that today a large number of citizens feel that it is the government’s job to ensure their needs are met and their pursuits are guaranteed. Many people today do not even make the connection between their taxes and what the government can spend. I believe it was a mistake to begin the practice of taking owed taxes out of paychecks. Americans should all have to pay their taxes at the end of the year by writing a check to the government. I think that would be a major wake up call.

    The second statement is “The power of creating new funds upon new objects of taxation, by its own authority, would enable the national government to borrow as far as its necessities might require.”

    Again, I find this logic to have grown out of hand and explode our national debt to a point where recent polls show the same number of citizens that worry about our national debt equals that of those who worry about our national security. Whereas Hamilton was concerned about our national security, and the need to have funds to supply a defense against invasion; today Congress has taxed companies and citizens to such a high degree that is has become a national security problem.

    @ W.B. Neate – It was alarming to read the statistics earlier this year that the number of those receiving government entitlements was larger than those paying taxes. And to top it off, over the past 1 ½ years the number in government jobs grew at a larger pace than private sector jobs.

    There is a great article in the National Review today by Senator DeMint entitled “Constitution of No”. It is a great read! I highly recommend it.

  9. Mary says:

    I understand what Hamilton is saying, and totally agree that the federal government has need of the right for taxation in order to fund the defense and other things that are for “the benefit of the Union.” However, it is everything in that latter category that muddies the waters. “For the benefit of the Union” is totally subjective and takes us into the chaos that we are experiencing now. According to one side, the benefit of the Union is served if the government levies taxes and then spends tax money to feed and house people with low-paying jobs. The other side argues that the good of the Union is served by using that tax money to give credits to companies who can then create jobs for those same people. The elephant in the room is that neither option is the job of the government and has nothing to do with the benefit of the Union as a whole. It only directly benefits certain members of the Union with the hope that it will somehow benefit all. In other words, the tax money is neither needed nor used correctly.

    I had to laugh at Hamilton’s rhetorical question: “But who would lend to a government that prefaced its overtures for borrowing, by an act which demonstrated that no reliance could be placed on the steadiness of its measures for paying?” Can we say, “CHINA!!?” We have demonstrated all of the above and still the money comes flowing in as we spend, spend, spend.

    Finally, Hamilton states: “But two considerations will serve to quiet all apprehension on this head; one is that we are sure the resources of the community in their full extent, will be brought into activity for the benefit of the Union (addressed above); the other is, that whatever deficiencies there may be, can without difficulty be supplied by loans.” The ease of borrowing ALWAYS gets individuals, corporations and countries in trouble. If borrowing is difficult, spending is kept down. To me, Hamilton’s argument lacks the establishment of any kind of boundaries on either taxation or procurement of loans. If there is no boundary on the latter, then there can be no boundary on the former.

    It is rather ironic that this man, so supportive of a strong federal government that could borrow money whenever deemed necessary, had to resign from his position as Secretary of the Treasury because of financial problems of his own. According to World Book, it is because of his views that totally clashed with those of Jefferson and Madison, that the definition of two separate political parties formed and Hamilton led the Federalist Party that favored big government. He was the original liberal progressive!!

  10. Barb Zakszewski says:

    It is very obvious from this next section of the Federalist, dealing with taxation, how much Hamilton supported a very strong Federal government and how much he distrusts the States. He seems to dismiss the arguments from the “anti-federalists” that the Federal government, with almost unrestrained powers of taxation, could become abusive of its citizens…Fast forward 230 years, huh? Still, I do believe he had the best interests of the country at heart, and could not possibly foresee what would happen today…with the confiscatory nature of taxes both at the Federal, state and local levels. I’m not sure if he just did not want to believe that something like that could happen, of if he was just too naive in this particular matter. There was a post from earlier today where the person asked, how is the Federal government going to be restrained from taking too much from its citizens…I did not see an answer in the Federalist up to this point, and I believe we have already crossed that point, witness the TEA parties of today.

  11. […] of Chancery Standard used in the Papers into modern English.  Click here to access the post Constituting America Bookmark […]

  12. Ray Decker says:

    Until we repeal the 16th and 17th amendments and the Federal Reserve Act (which isn’t Federal and has no reserves) and abolish the Internal Revenue Service we will never get control back from the Federal leviathon. The income tax is what gives the Federal Government its massive power.

  13. It would seem to me personally that the majority of the ordinary citizen is not at all worse off in comparison with the genuine American federal government though the fed government can get to execute by some other laws. The governing administration can potentially manage their debt by publishing moolah and their debt deal techniques are helped by simply the number one military on the planet.

  14. Susan Craig says:

    @Kimi, yes the ordinary citizen will be harmed by the indiscriminate publishing of moolah! This is what the Weimar Republic did to try and manage Germany’s debt from World War I. Part of what brought the National Socialists to power was that ordinary citizens needed a wheelbarrow of ‘published moolah’ to purchase a loaf of bread and milk.

  15. Maggie says:

    Kimi….when money is just indiscriminently published it makes the value of said money (and that already in existence) worthless. Monetary value needs to be based on something tangible…ie…gold. If the government floods the market with “new” currency, the money you already have becomes devalued.

  16. Darren Le Montree says:

    Nice piece. As expressed in the comments above, it seems well accepted that the federal government needs taxes in order to function. The rub lies in the questions of how much and from whom. The extreme liberals want to drove out innovation and turn the taxation system into a social engineering mechanism (basically the fine job done by Europe). Whereas, the conservatives would prefer to have all social programs disbanded, liquidate social security, eliminate medicare and all welfare and just let the poor people either grind away in angst or die. Neither way works which is why we have the modified system that we do—which swings from left and right of center like a pendulum with each election cycle. That being said, the current system is unsustainable fiscally because of internal and external forces—the aging of our population and the “flattening of the world” which means we are no longer a hegemic force able to continually grow our way out of the problem and the promises made decades ago are no longer feasible. In essence, the realities of the current state of affairs mean that we cannot have a “fair” taxation system under either model. When 1% of the people control 90% of the wealth, having the rich only pay what they would define as their “fair share” (flat tax) is folly. While expecting our slower growing economy to afford continually increasing debt or tax burdens to fund the ballooning social program obligations is equally impractical. With the system going broke as it is things can only get worse from the perspective of both the left and the right and will continue to get worse until there is some genuine problem solving versus the spin game that has overwhelmed politics in the modern era.

  17. Doris Jean says:

    Taxing should be extremely limited and should never exceed ten percent. People should get together locally and pay for local parks, schools, police, etc. The politicians pay themselves too much money and their salaries are too high.

  18. Debbie Bridges says:

    @Darren “When 1% of the people control 90% of the wealth, having the rich only pay what they would define as their “fair share” (flat tax) is folly.
    Federalist Paper 20 addresses this issue through what can only be called a Fair Tax in today’s language. “…by authorizing the national government to raise its own revenues in its own way. Imposts, excises, and in general, all duties upon articles of consumption may be compared to a fluid, which will in time find its level with the means of paying them. The amount to be contributed by each citizen will in a degree be at his own option, and can be regulated by an attention to his frugal: and private oppression may always be avoided by a judicious selection of objects proper for such impositions”.
    As to your other assertion; “Whereas, the conservatives would prefer to have all social programs disbanded, liquidate social security, eliminate medicare and all welfare and just let the poor people either grind away in angst or die. ”
    I know of no conservatives who want the poor to “grind away in angst or die”. What I am my fellow conservatives would like is for the poor (and I was formally of their ranks, although I am hardly rich now) to as said by Benjamin Franklin, learn to fish as opposed to being given the fish time and time again. That is the biggest issue we have is that our government has made our citizens dependent on the government through entitlements. If someone is in need of assistance it should come from family, friends, church, and their local community. Government should be the absolute last resort used and only in times of true emergency.

  19. Darren writes: “Whereas, the conservatives would prefer to have all social programs disbanded, liquidate social security, eliminate medicare and all welfare and just let the poor people either grind away in angst or die.”

    This is simply patent nonsense, and it’s a Progressive calumny without foundation. A conservative desire not to create or facilitate a welfare state cannot be seen to imply that conservatives, or Libertarians, want people to die in the streets from starvation and disease.

    What Conservatives and Libertarians alike value is self-reliance and methods of public support of those truly in need that does not debilitate them and keep them in economic slavery, which is what the welfare state does.

    Moreover, I have no objection to requiring people to save for their retirement, but the giant Ponzi scheme of Social Security today, where the current working generation is burdened with supporting all the retirees still living is simple insanity. Conservatives want Social Security REFORM, and my vision of it is to put one’s contribution into a PRIVATE savings account that the federal government has NO ACCESS to, rather than giving it to the government to skim and waste.

    As for “1% controlling 90%” this is also nonsense. It’s what I call the Socialist Zero Sum Fallacy. This fallacy is based on the logical and rational error that Socialists make in assuming that in order for one person to acquire wealth, another person, or persons, must be oppressed and must give up wealth. It’s based on a deliberate misunderstanding of economics holding that there is a fixed supply of “wealth” and pouring it from one bucket into another advantages one person while depriving others.

    But it’s a lie, and a deliberate one at that. It’s all part of the propaganda of Progressivism.

    Any competent economist can tell you that the wealthiest people in the U.S. don’t keep their money under their mattresses, it’s constantly circulating and creating even more wealth for everyone, and for the nation. Wealth generates more wealth in nearly unlimited supply.

    It must also be noted that the wealthiest 1/10 of 1 percent of taxpayers pay more than 40 percent of the government’s income tax revenues, so to say they don’t pay enough is preposterous.

  20. Susan Craig says:

    I’m with Seth on this. If it was an across the board 10% not only would everybody (to quote our President) “have skin in the game” but also the so-called “evil rich” would still be paying a lions share of the revenue to the government. Just for arguments purpose say I earn $100 dollars a week and Darren earns $100,000 a week. I pay $10 and Darren pays $10,000 so the take is $10,010 government we each have a 10% stake in the game but Darren has provided over 99% of the revenue.
    As to the Social Services currently provided by big nanny Fed, one of the biggest complaints is that it is a one-size fits all program. I believe that it is more properly handled at the State and preferably the local level where people are more inclined and conversant to local immediate conditions.

  21. I believe I recall a guest on Beck who was explaining the Laffer Curve, sorry I can’t recall his name, saying that a flat tax of about 14 percent on every transaction would replace all other necessary government revenues. Not positive about this however. Perhaps there’s an economic expert out there who can comment.

    And you are absolutely correct that all social services should be dealt with at the state level, and that there is absolutely no need for the federal government to be involved except in the rare case where a particular state cannot meet it’s social services needs.

    But to have every bit of tax revenue sent to Washington, have 20 percent or more skimmed off the top to do nothing more than pay for federal bureaucrats who turn around and send it BACK to the very states they took it from in the first place is pure economic idiocy.

    It sometimes seems as if no one recognizes the fact that the vast majority of our tax money sent to Washington is not sent there to fund the legitimate functions of the federal government, it’s sent there to fund the political redistribution of that very same wealth back to the states, who have become dependent upon that federal largess to pay for all the unfunded mandates that the federal government imposes upon them using the carrot-and-stick method.

    If the states would simply say “no thanks” to the federal handouts, as Colorado Springs did recently, not only would the federal government lose legitimacy for it’s bureaucratic burdens, but the states would be freed from federal intervention. Much of the interference we suffer under from the Feds is caused by our own state legislatures knuckling under to conditional grants from the Feds. The biggest carrot they have is the federal highway system, which they use to coerce states into, for example, setting DUI standards and mandating seat belts.

    It’s all about politics, of course, because even state politicians have to bring home the federal pork, or so they believe, to get elected. They think (and probably correctly) that if they don’t do what the feds want and take the federal grants (extracted from us in the first place), state voters will be mad because some other state got a grant and they didn’t.

    Which makes it our fault for not ourselves demanding austerity and flight from the federal teat by our state legislatures. Weaning ourselves away from federal largess is the beginning of restoring our liberty from oppressive federal taxation.

  22. Susan Craig says:

    Seth, right again.

Guest Blogger: Horace Cooper, Director of the Center for Law and Regulation at the Institute for Liberty

Federalist #31 continues on the topic of the taxing power of the new central government.  Contrasting his significant math and science knowledge with his considered skepticism about humankind generally, Hamilton suggests basic maxims ought to apply as a principle for government’s effective operation.  Just as the maxims in geometry, that “the whole is greater than its part; things equal to the same are equal to one another; two straight lines cannot enclose a space; and all right angles are equal to each other, Hamilton asserts that in ethics and politics, that there cannot be an effect without a cause; that the means ought to be proportioned to the end; that every power ought to be commensurate with its object; that there ought to be no limitation of a power destined to effect a purpose which is itself incapable of limitation.  In other words instead of putting the focus on the means of a particular government activity, greater attention should be paid to whether the purpose is a legitimate one or not.

Rather than merely scrutinizing the technique by which the central government carries out it task say, bailing out automobile manufacturers, Hamilton suggests greater consideration be given to whether it is a legitimate function of the federal government to concern itself with the success or failure of car manufacturers.  A government ought to contain in itself every power requisite to the full accomplishment of the objects committed to its care, and to the complete execution of the trusts for which it is responsible, free from every other control but a regard to the public good and to the sense of the people.

Unless one is particularly scrupulous as to what responsibilities are assigned to the federal government, Hamilton’s view of seemingly unlimited powers of the federal government particularly in the area of taxing authority comes across as audacious and perhaps even dangerous.  However, it is clear upon review that the real danger lies in not carefully assigning duties and responsibilities of the central government.

One key charge of the new government was and remains today, national defense.  In the context of taxation, Hamilton asks how national security can really be put in the hands of the central government if it does not have the ability to call upon the resources, as it needs to carry out its duties.  This is no spurious charge.  One serious problem with the Articles of Confederation is that ostensibly the National Congress had responsibility for national defense, in practice it could not pay for or mandate the carrying out of many of its foreign policy priorities.  Over time this reality could prove quite provocative to the enemies of the new country in America.

Hamilton sees that taxing authority is critical to carrying out national security responsibilities.  As revenue is the essential engine by which the means of answering the national exigencies must be procured, the power of procuring that article in its full extent must necessarily be comprehended in that of providing for those exigencies.

In the military context, this argument is perhaps most powerful.  Nevertheless, even outside of that arena one can contemplate areas of responsibility (such as the administration of justice) in which it is necessary to focus on the importance of the objective and therefore loosening the limits on methods.  If the area of responsibility is appropriate, Hamilton argued that the central government needed the taxing authority to carry out the responsibility.

Critics charged that a general taxing authority for the federal government would make it difficult for states to raise the resources they need for their responsibilities, as the taxes of the federal government would tend to crowd out the resources needed by the states.  It is true that excessive taxation would have that effect, but not necessarily taxation generally.  Hamilton recognizes that there will be legitimate responsibilities that government should carryout.  If those are excessively funded or there are duties undertaken greater than the legitimate responsibilities that government should have, the flaw is not with taxing authority but instead with the government’s makeup or its design.  I repeat here what I have observed in substance in another place, that all observations founded upon the danger of usurpation ought to be referred to the composition and structure of the government, not to the nature or extent of its powers.

Powers split among a bicameral legislature along with an executive and judicial branch each with unique and overlapping authorities providing a check and balance against each other resulting in a greater protection of liberty for all the citizens will do more than a limit on the type of taxation policy.

Hamilton closes essay #31 with an observation that reveals a great amount of prescience for such a young man.  He says that the same risks that could lead to a national government over-reaching in its power and authority over the people existed just as well with the state government.  While at the time it was nearly universally assumed that state governments — being close to the people — would never overstep their bounds, it appears today that composition and structure matter just as much as the state level as it does at the local level.  Modern state governments have taken on most if not more of the duties of the central government’s welfare state with far fewer organizational or structural restrictions on doing so than exist at the federal level.  Taking the opposite view of Hamilton, many states have balanced budget requirements but no formal limits on the types of duties that it may assume.  Often as a result the residents in these “ambitious” states are extremely overtaxed.  States like Texas and to a lesser degree Florida have far more limits on the accepted tasks of the state government and their residents are taxed less.  Nevertheless, regardless of one’s concerns about the lack of formal limits on taxation in the constitution, Hamilton concludes it is by far the safest course to lay them altogether aside, and to confine our attention wholly to the nature and extent of the powers as they are delineated in the Constitution. Every thing beyond this must be left to the prudence and firmness of the people; who, as they will hold the scales in their own hands, it is to be hoped, will always take care to preserve the constitutional equilibrium between the general and the State governments.

Horace Cooper is the Director of the Center for Law and Regulation at the Institute for Liberty

Wednesday, June 9th, 2010

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

Federalist 39 answers attacks that the proposed Constitution is not “republican” and not “federal.”  In his response, Publius effectively redefines both terms.

Claiming the proposed government is not “strictly republican” is a serious charge.  Publius recognizes this, saying “no other form would be reconcileable with the genius of the people of America; with the fundamental principles of the revolution; or the honorable determination which animates every votary of freedom, to rest all our political experiments on the capacity of mankind for self-government.”

The term “republican” ( Latin “res publica,” or “public thing”) had an uncertain meaning.  Common to its various understandings would have been an opposition to an hereditary monarchy and aristocracy. Republicanism referred to self-government, but proponents and opponents of the new Constitution had very different ideas about what that meant.

On the one hand, Publius acknowledged that “If the plan of the convention, therefore, be found to depart from the republican character, its advocates must abandon it as no longer defensible.” On the other hand, the vision of republicanism offered by The Federalist was quite different from that of the opponents.

Those opposing the Constitution, the Anti-federalists, generally believed that a republic could exist only within a small territory where citizens were able to know one another, live a communal life, and directly govern themselves. Their reading of the French political writer Montesquieu and the example of the ancient republics convinced them that liberty was possible only in such republics.  Thus, the Anti-federalists argued that the government to be created by the Constitution would deprive the people of their liberty.

Publius had already argued in Federalist 9 that “the petty republics of Greece and Italy” leave one “feeling sensations of horror and disgust” because “they were perpetually vibrating between the extremes of tyranny and anarchy.” He also observed that opponents to the Constitution apparently were unaware that the states were already larger than the republics discussed by Montesquieu and that he praised the benefits of a larger “confederate republic.”  Indeed, The Federalist contributes to political theory the idea that liberty is better protected in a large republic, as fully explained in Federalist 10.

Federalist 39 asks “What then are the distinctive characters of the republican form?”  Publius finds that political writers have wrongly applied the term to states that do not deserve to be called republics. Consulting principles of government, Publius says “we may define a republic to be, or at least may bestow that name on, a government which…”  (emphasis added). In other words, he is giving his own definition of the term republic, one which corresponds to principles embodied in the new Constitution.  Thus, Publius says a republic may be defined as “a government which derives all its powers directly or indirectly from the great body of the people; and is administered by persons holding their offices during pleasure [presidential appointees], for a limited period [members of Congress and the President], or during good behavior [federal judges].”

Finally, Federalist 39 contends that the language in the Constitution explicitly prohibiting titles of nobility and guaranteeing the states will have a republican form of government proves the republicanism of the proposed government.

This large republic was also to be a (con)federal republic. But the Anti-federalists also charged that the Constitution violated the federal form.  Publius did not actually deny this particular charge. Rather, he contended that “a just estimate of [the argument’s] force” requires first ascertaining “the real character of the government.”  Before explaining that the real character is only “partly federal,” he added that the argument’s force also depended on the authority and duty of the Convention.  In the following essay, Publius will argue that the authority of the Convention, as well as its duty to the people, justified creating the form of government proposed by the Constitution.

Given the common understanding of “federal” at the time, the Constitution did violate the federal form. Prior to adoption of the Constitution, the words “federal” and ‘confederal” meant the same thing, just as “flammable” and “inflammable” currently have the same meaning. The Federalist, itself at times, used these terms interchangeably.  Clearly, however, the Constitution proposed to create something different from the existing confederacy.

Federalist 15 had identified the great vice of a confederacy as the attempt by a league of states to legislate for state governments, rather than for individuals.  The Articles of Confederation did not directly govern individuals, but the Constitution would do so – within its limited list of powers. The new government’s ability to reach individuals and the “necessary and proper clause” prompted the Anti-federalist fear that the Constitution would completely consolidate power in a national government.

Publius had to explain that the Constitution would not create a consolidated national government. Federalist 39, therefore, explained the mixture of federal and national elements among five essential aspects of the Constitution: its ratification or foundation [national], the sources of its ordinary powers [partly federal –the Senate; partly national-the House], the operation of its powers on individuals [national], the extent of the powers, i.e., limited [federal], and the method of amendment [neither wholly federal nor national].   Based on this mixture of elements, Publius  concluded: “The proposed constitution, therefore, …is, in strictness, neither a national nor a federal constitution; but a composition of both.”

This “compound republic” created by the federal Constitution came to be known as “federalism.” As a result, the “federal” form became distinguished from the “confederal” form  existing under the Articles of Confederation. This new form of federalism involved a residual – rather than complete – sovereignty in the states.  Indeed, as a limited Constitution, neither the federal nor the state governments were “sovereign” in the true sense of the word as a supreme power answerable to no other power.  Rather, under the Constitution, “We the people of the United States” are the political sovereign and the Constitution is “the supreme Law of the Land.”

Some argue that the Anti-federalists correctly predicted the consolidation of power in the national government.  Such an argument, however, overlooks the critical shift of power caused by the Seventeenth Amendment.  That amendment took the election of US senators from state legislatures and gave it to the voters.  As a result, the key federal, i.e. state, protection against the concentration of power was lost.  That is to say, the Seventeenth Amendment deprived the states of their direct representation in the federal government.   As long as the state legislatures elected senators, the states had the ability to pressure enough senators, even if only a minority, to prevent incursions on state power.  State legislatures no longer have that ability.

John S. Baker, Jr., the Dale E. Bennett Professor of Law at Louisiana State University, regularly lectures for The Federalist Society and teaches courses on The Federalist for the Fund for American Studies.

Monday, June 21st, 2010

Guest Essayist: Horace Cooper, Legal Commentator and Director of the Institute for Liberty’s Center for Law and Regulation

In Federalist #42, James Madison attempts to clarify the importance of national powers found in the Constitution that are essential to the successful operation of the government particularly in national and international affairs.  Categorizing these powers as second and third class was a means of distinguishing them not to disparage them.  Among them are: relations with foreign nations including the ability to make treaties,  to send and receive ambassadors, other public ministers, and consuls; to define and punish piracies and felonies committed on the high seas, and offenses against the law of nations;  and to regulate foreign commerce as well as interstate commerce between the states among others.

It is noteworthy that among the “second class of powers” he refers to is specifically the power to regulate and ban the importation of slaves.  Rather than hide or downplay this provision, Madison like many of the founders understood that while the acceptance of the institution of slavery was part of the compromise that allowed them to go forward with the Constitution, they made sure the public understood their anti-slavery sentiment and their plans to exercise the powers at the federal level.  Madison reminds his readers that “while it is to be wished, that the power of prohibiting the importation of slaves had not been postponed until the year 1808, or rather that it had been suffered to have immediate operation” within the space of 20 years “It ought to be considered as a great point gained in favor of humanity …. within these States, a traffic which has so long and so loudly upbraided the barbarism of modern policy; … will receive a considerable discouragement from the federal government, and may be totally abolished..” As Madison predicted and although it is often unmentioned, Congress banned the importation of slaves in August of 1808 the same year that the Constitution gave them the authority to do so.

In any event, Madison explains that while several of the international powers existed within the Articles of Confederation, others did not.  Treaty making and ambassadorial relations were among the powers of the first government.  However, the Constitution made treaty making easier by requiring two-thirds of the Senate to ratify them and caused ratified treaties to be treated as the equivalent of federal law in terms of conflicts with state laws.

On the other hand, the Articles failed to adequately address the issue of defining and punishing piracies and other felonies committed on the “high seas.”  Madison explains that the Constitution is far superior in this regard because although tribunals were authorized under the Articles, the actual definition of the violations as well as the scope of activity covered was not provided for in the Articles.  Madison feared that such a scenario could mean that one of the States could have a law defining an offense as piracy that the other states do not recognize.  When a breach of this law occurs, Madison laments that such a situation could result in the other states being obligated to submit manpower and related resources to defend claims that they do not even recognize or embrace.

Since the regulation of international or foreign commerce had been addressed in other contexts, Madison passes on it here.

Among the third class of powers that Madison references are those involving “the harmony and proper intercourse among the States and these include:  “to regulate commerce among the several States and the Indian tribes; to coin money, regulate the value thereof, and of foreign coin; to provide for the punishment of counterfeiting the current coin and securities of the United States; to fix the standard of weights and measures; to establish a uniform rule of naturalization, and uniform laws of bankruptcy, to prescribe the manner in which the public acts, records, and judicial proceedings of each State shall be proved, and the effect they shall have in other States; and to establish post offices and post roads.”

It is difficult to look at this list of authorities without seeing the merchant class sympathies of Madison and the founders.  While it may seem incredible today to consider, Madison and Hamilton were not neutral on the question of whether the new government should be pro-business or not.  Explicitly empowering the federal government to coin money, establish standards for weights, prevent counterfeiting, enact bankruptcy laws as well as create a federal mailing system and construct federal highways make much more sense if one understands the founders’ sympathies for America being a mecca for entrepreneurship and related economic opportunity.

Madison makes clear that the power of interstate commerce was tied to international commerce and without interstate commerce power state and local governments would continue to have the authority to frustrate trade.   “A very material object of this power was the relief of the States which import and export through other States, from the improper contributions levied on them by the latter. Were these at liberty to regulate the trade between State and State, it must be foreseen that ways would be found out to load the articles of import and export, during the passage through their jurisdiction, with duties which would fall on the makers of the latter and the consumers of the former. We may be assured by past experience, that such a practice would be introduced by future contrivances; and both by that and a common knowledge of human affairs, that it would nourish unceasing animosities, and not improbably terminate in serious interruptions of the public tranquility.”

Madison recognizes commerce and business activity as crucial to the success of the American system.  Madison makes clear that even in the context of Indian relations that commerce with the tribes was a key issue that warranted national government attention.  “What description of Indians are to be deemed members of a State, is not yet settled, and has been a question of frequent perplexity and contention in the federal councils. And how the trade with Indians, though not members of a State, yet residing within its legislative jurisdiction, can be regulated by an external authority, without so far intruding on the internal rights of legislation, is absolutely incomprehensible.” Madison argues that with this issue handed completely and explicitly to the federal government the nation would get the benefits without undue restraint interfering.

Next Madison turns to the question of rules of naturalization.  Instead of the uniform system that we take for granted, Madison complained about the fact that each of the former colonies had adopted its own views for immigration policy which prevented the new government from deciding in a sophisticated way who it desired to become citizens and who it didn‘t. “The dissimilarity in the rules of naturalization has long been remarked as a fault in our system, and as laying a foundation for intricate and delicate questions. In the fourth article of the Confederation, it is declared “that the free inhabitants of each of these States, paupers, vagabonds, and fugitives from justice, excepted, shall be entitled to all privileges and immunities of free citizens in the several States; and the people of each State shall, in every other, enjoy all the privileges of trade and commerce,” etc. …. The result is that some states essentially had the ability to confer upon individuals rights that they could exercise all across the nation based solely on the happenstance of which area they entered.

Just as Madison argued that it was in our nation’s interest to have a uniform immigration policy established by the Federal government one would imagine his displeasure at the failure of today’s federal government to maintain control over its on rules with regard to immigration policy.  Either because of complexity of compliance with immigration rules, a failure to construct adequate border barriers, limited personnel assigned to immigration enforcement etc, the federal government today is allowing a hodgepodge policy to form influenced more by where or how a person enters the United States instead of ascertaining in advance who should be allowed to enter.

Madison concludes the essay with a statement that reaffirms his view of the importance of business and commerce.  Nothing which tends to facilitate the intercourse between the States can be deemed unworthy of the public care.

Thursday, June 24th, 2010

Horace Cooper is a legal commentator and is the Director of the Institute for Liberty’s Center for Law and Regulation.


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

In Federalist 43, Madison continues his examination of Congress’s enumerated constitutional powers, presenting a miscellany of provisions. Tucked away at the end of this rather lengthy essay, as if Publius half hopes the reader will be too fatigued to notice, is a matter of signal importance, the provision that only nine states’ approval was necessary to establish the Constitution. Publius dismissed this matter as inconsequential in the extended discussion of the legitimacy of the Constitution in Federalist 40.

One problem for the Philadelphia Convention was that it ignored the requirement in the Articles that any amendment (and certainly a wholesale replacement) had to be by unanimous consent of the states. Madison could have justified the nine-state requirement by declaring that the Constitution was a new project entirely severed from the Articles, and that the old system was dissolved when the Framers met in convention. Dissolving the bonds and returning to a “state of nature” had been the basis for the revolutionary founding under the Declaration of Independence. If the states were once again in a state of nature towards each other, unbound from the prior rules, the approval of the nine states, binding them alone, was proper. Every state that wanted to join had to agree, thereby preserving the social contract fiction of individual and unanimous consent.

For solid reasons, Madison does not select that option. For one, to do so would implicitly endorse charges that the Convention was incompetent to act beyond its mandate because the Constitution would be “revolutionary.” For another, in Federalist 40, Publius emphasized the continuity between the Articles and the Constitution. Likewise, Madison in the current essay describes the change as one merely of political form of an existing civil society, not as the foundation of a new commonwealth. All require obeying the Articles’ unanimity provision for constitutional change.

He is left, then, with intellectually more meager rationalizations. One of these is such strained legalism mixed with a splash of late-18th century American constitutional theory about the deficiency of the legislative amendment process under the Articles that he introduces the concoction with a self-conscious “Perhaps.”

The other is one of unvarnished pragmatism, untethered to any constitutional support. He appeals to the “absolute necessity of the case” (Rhode Island, not having sent delegates, was unlikely to approve); the lesson of “our own experience” (Maryland’s four-year long failure to adopt the Articles during the crucial period of the Revolution); “the great principle of self-preservation”; and the “safety and happiness of society…at which all political institutions aim, and to which all such institutions must be sacrificed” (the ends justify the means, just as in Federalist 40). The lesson here is that necessity creates its own legitimacy, and matters of extreme national interest and safety cannot be burdened by constitutional technicalities. In political theory this is the doctrine of “reason of state,” something that executives long have understood.

A few brief points about some other provisions mentioned. Several involve the organic connection between the national and state governments. The sections regarding admission of new states and control over territory belonging to the United States were intended to give express authority to what the Confederation had done in regards to the western territories. They provide a constitutional basis for the acquisition and integration of the new lands that marked the westward expansion across the continent.

The guarantee to each state of a republican form of government assumes that each state will meet the minimum of avoiding monarchy or hereditary aristocracy. Beyond that, republics can take varied forms, and Publius pledges the federal government to avoid interfering with the states’ choices among them. There are many who have argued that the Supreme Court’s reapportionment decisions violate that pledge.

The protection against invasion commits the Union to a fundamental covenantal obligation. Though “invasion” usually suggests military force, it can mean any threat to the stability of the state from outside its borders, particularly an armed threat. Arizona, facing spill-over from the Mexican drug cartel violence, as well as a more general criminality from illegal entrants onto its territory, might plausibly argue that the federal government has breached that covenant and forced the state to act on “the great principle of self-preservation.”

There are provisions related to the capacity of the national government to exist as a practical sovereign, such as the creation of a federal district as the seat of government. It is noteworthy that this section draws a clear distinction between “district” and “states.” Recent statutory proposals to extend voting representation in Congress to the residents of the District of Columbia must founder on that distinction and on the Constitution’s textual requirement that voting and representation (beyond the “municipal” government of the district) rests on residing in a “state.” Perhaps a cession of most of D.C. (excepting the main government district) to Maryland would solve the problem.

Requiring approval of amendments by three-fourths of the states (and introduction by two-thirds of the states or of the members of each house of Congress) represents a confluence of experience and constitutional theory. Early state declarations of independence and constitutions, both of which altered the existing constitutional orders in those states, were commonly done by majority votes of the legislatures. Such practices reflected the constitutional theory inherited from Great Britain that the legislature virtually represented the general will of the commons expressed through the instruments of parliamentary sovereignty.

However, those practices conflicted with the developing American doctrine that constitutional changes were “explicit and authentic acts” of popular sovereignty superior to ordinary laws. Legislation was, after all, merely an act by the people’s agents in a body created under a constitution. In that view, constitutions were not only descriptions of how things were run, but commands of how they must be run. Constitutions were law, created by the ultimate earthly lawmakers, the people. Since direct participation of the entire people was unrealistic, constitutions were to be proposed by special assemblies and approved by popular vote or a supermajority of representatives. The Constitution relies almost entirely on the supermajority vote principle.

The requirements for amendment were also recommended by experience. Legislative majorities are transient and, therefore, likely to lead to considerable instability and flux in constitutional structure. The experience with continuous constitutional agitation in the states during the 1770s and 1780s alarmed the Framers. At least equally alarming, however, was the hurdle presented by the unanimity requirement of the Articles. While its conformance to emerging American constitutional theory was pristine, it was a practical disaster by frustrating needed reformation. The Framers, being nothing if not practical in their project, sought to craft a method for amendment that was neither prone to instability by too frequent amendment nor to paralysis through too-stringent requirements. Debate continues about whether their solution has worked well, given the relative infrequency of formal amendment, or is too constraining and has resulted in giving the unelected courts too great a role in altering constitutional norms.

Friday, June 25th, 2010

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


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

Although the essay’s authorship has been disputed, I am following the broad consensus that Madison wrote it along with the rest of the papers about the organization of the House.

James Madison was a Southern slaveholder. But one might never have surmised that from the curiously detached tone that Publius affects in Federalist 54 in talking about what “our southern brethren [might] observe” and “the reasoning which an advocate for the southern interests might employ,” which argument nevertheless “reconciles me to the scale of representation” adopted. Madison is recorded as having ambivalent feelings about slavery, but, then, most of the Southern elite did, judging by the moral handwringing that runs through many speeches and writings on the issue at the time. One need only look at Jefferson’s thoughts expressed in his Notes on the State of Virginia. The language used on such occasions was so similar that it has led the historian Forrest McDonald to opine that slaveowners developed a nearly rote disclaimer to cleanse the conscience before proceeding to whatever topic was truly at hand.

That said, Madison at least mentions the distasteful “s-word” in Federalist 54, an appellation that the Convention tied itself into euphemistic knots to avoid writing into the Constitution, as he delves into the connections among taxation, representation, and slavery. The first two, taxation and representation, have a long and pronounced relationship in Anglo-American political history and constitutional theory. The movement for independence from the British crown is tied to them through the motto “No taxation without representation” and the events that gave rise to it.

Taxation was seen by Englishmen, as well as Americans, as particularly threatening to individuals’ liberty. By having the potential to reduce people to penury and dependence, and because taking other people’s money for one’s own benefit is an especially strong temptation that mere mortals (even more so, political actors) find difficult to resist, taxation must be done only by consent of those taxed. English constitutional theory stylized this consent into representing a “gift from the commons,” as no one could be forced to share his wealth with others. Note that this applied to direct taxes on one’s person and wealth, not necessarily to indirect levies on voluntary transactions, such as duties on imports or excises on sales of goods. This class-based constitutional theory, made concrete against the King over three centuries, allowed the House of Commons (the only practical repository of popular consent) to bind the commons to pay taxes. The theory reflected the idea that the commoners were represented in the House as a class.

The Americans agreed with the English theory that consent was needed for a constitutional tax. They disagreed with the English theory of virtual representation, which held that the Americans were represented in Parliament as part of the body of commoners. Americans subscribed to a more concrete theory of direct constituent representation, that one was represented by another for whom one had a chance to vote, or at least in whose designated geographic domain one lived.

Recall that “representation” is a crucial aspect of American republicanism. In Federalist 10, Madison exalts representation as the republican principle that ties together the large geographic polity that is the United States without turning it into a tyranny. At the same time, representation, activated by the other republican principle, the vote, protects the political majority from falling victim to an entrenched oligarchy, while also protecting political minorities to some extent from the passing passions of an aroused majority.

But some aspects of republican theory are in tension with slavery—though clearly not in practice through the ages. Tying direct taxes, which reflect wealth and are assessed on the basis of the states’ populations, to representation is easy. Adding slavery to the mix threatens the symbiosis. Slaves are property, that is, wealth. But they are also manifestly human beings.

Direct taxes were imposed on the basis of population, not assessed land values, facts that are not definitively causally related. That could distort the burdens between different states, as Madison recognizes. States with less or poorer land but higher population densities (mostly in the North) would bear a burden proportionately greater than their opposites (mostly in the South). True, most Northern states permitted slavery at the time. The “peculiar institution” (under developing Anglo-American jurisprudence, slavery was not “natural” and could only exist under the peculiar positive enactments of a polity) was much more entrenched and extensive in the South, however.

The political conundrum, as Madison explains, was that the slave interests wanted to include slaves for purposes of representation. Northerners, already fearful that their region would lose relative power to the South due to the greater fecundity of Southerners and the expected greater immigration to the South because of the longer growing season and the claims to larger western territories, objected. At the same time, economic analysis of Southern wealth (of which land was both the most plentiful and the easiest to tax), would likely include the value of slaves (who were taxed as personal property, however).  To exclude slaves, which constituted a great part of the production of Southern wealth, from a wealth-tax census was particularly galling to Northerners. Southerners, on the other hand, argued that the truncated legal rights of slaves nevertheless did not deprive them of their status as “persons” for apportioning representation any more than the truncated rights of children and various others did.

The compromise was to assign to slaves a fractional value for both taxes and representation. That “3/5 clause” preserves the republican connection between representation and taxation, yet it also symbolizes the truncated pyramid of rights that composed the American system of slavery. That solution was not novel. It had been proposed as part of a failed amendment to the Articles of Confederation in 1783 and was part of the Pinckney and Paterson plans presented to the Convention. Nor was that the last time. The Convention was able to reach a compromise that eluded the 1829 Virginia state constitutional convention, at which the elderly Madison tried to push through a 3/5 compromise to settle a simmering conflict over apportionment between the non-slave holding western counties and the slave-holding eastern counties. The eastern planters wanted slaves fully counted, while the western yeomen wanted them excluded. The planters won. That was yet another grievance of powerlessness to be nursed by the residents of what would become West Virginia in 1862, after Virginia seceded from the Union.

Direct taxes have not been used by the federal government. They are difficult to process, as they are assessed against the states, which likely would have to collect them like requisitions under the Articles. Some, such as ancient head taxes, are deemed unfairly regressive. The recent health care law’s individual penalty has the whiff of such a tax and may, therefore, be apportioned unconstitutionally under that law. Federal land taxes are also politically impractical because they penalize population-rich, property-poor states. That said, the targets of wealth taxes are difficult to hide, which is why states and localities still use them.

Federal taxes are usually “indirect” (on conduct through excises and duties on sales or purchases of goods or services) or are income taxes. The last are difficult to assess accurately because income can be hidden. Sales cannot be hidden as easily, and such levies are easy to collect. That is also a feature of the much-discussed value-added tax. On the other hand, the final purchase price can mask the full amount of the VAT, making the tax’s opaqueness a troublesome consequence to the consumer.

The slave holders among the Founders have been accused rather too easily of hypocrisy and posturing for their public attachment to equality, as represented in the Declaration of Independence. The meaning of “equality” is much more complex. We, too, have different understandings of equality. Current conflicts between equality of opportunity versus equality of outcome versus equality of condition are an example. Hypocrisy requires a conscious rejection of principles of right behavior that one espouses. Falling short of one’s professed principles (when one still accepts their rightness) is not hypocrisy. Nor can we accuse the Founders of hypocrisy if their understanding of the principles differed from ours.

Only a few interpretations of equality, not generally so understood by the public at the time, might condemn slavery. Mostly, a general appeal to equality was not inconsistent with maintaining the institution of slavery. The Declaration is clearly rooted in modified Lockeanism. For Locke, basic political equality meant that all were created equal in the sense that none had the natural or divinely-created right of absolute rule over others. The Declaration, with its “consent of the governed” language in immediate proximity to the equality language, bears out this limited understanding of equality. Lack of a natural or divinely-ordained political right to rule does not necessarily foreclose an inequality imposed by peculiar laws (as Madison recognizes in his essay), or in non-political matters.

Equality in the religious society of the Founding meant theological equality before God and metaphysical equality in that all humans were moral actors (as Madison notes regarding slaves) who had to perform moral duties imposed by God and nature. God would judge personal failings in another life. This interpretation, as well, is not inconsistent with slavery on Earth.

Even a view of the term as meaning equality before the law was not incompatible with slavery. As Madison writes in Federalist 54, the slave codes provided a truncated set of legal protections for slaves. These codes became quite exhaustive over time. True, slaves lacked some of the rights of freemen (including, obviously, some crucial ones from our perspective). But so did women, children, indentured servants, criminals, the insane, and others. No one would have considered that this meant those groups were not “created equal” at a sufficiently high level of abstraction.

Americans as a group were not particularly outraged at that time about slavery because it was so common an institution in history and in their society. More immediately, the practice of the institution in the 1780s was comparatively mild, especially in contrast to the abject conditions from which many Americans had emigrated in the not-distant past. Some Americans professed concern. Thomas Jefferson wrote, musing about slavery, “I tremble for my country when I reflect that God is just.” Forrest McDonald responds, “But few of his countrymen trembled with him.”

Monday, July 12th, 2010

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

Guest Essayist: Professor Will Morrisey, William and Patricia LaMothe Chair in the United States Constitution at Hillsdale College

Federalist 63: Responsibility and the Rule of Reason

A small Senate whose members serve long terms answers the need for “order and stability” in the national government, thus fostering respect for the “political system” of America—the institutional architecture of popular self-government.  In Federalist #63 Publius turns to the importance of cultivating respect for this people and their regime among foreign nations.  He then discusses the Senate’s capacity to ensure the truly indispensable thing for any government: the rule of reason.

Under the Articles of Confederation foreign policy was the primary focus of the unicameral Congress, domestic policy having been for the most part the domain of the states.  Despite this, Publius argues, America has lacked “a due sense of national character” in the world.  He means “character” in both senses: moral soundness, but also a well-defined identity.  If the world’s a stage, then each player needs a recognizable role or persona. Without one, the other actors won’t quite know what how to `play off him,’ so to speak.  With a bad one, the other actors will treat him as Iago, or maybe as one of Shakespeare’s clowns.  Such notable American statesmen as George Washington and Benjamin Franklin deliberately cultivated their public faces.  In choosing good roles and playing them with energy and intelligence, they strengthened their own inner characters and established their reputations among their fellow citizens and throughout the world.

A Senator’s term in office and his status as one of only two representatives selected by his state legislature—itself likely to know the character of their chosen representative better than the voters at large could do—will incline him to identify his own ambitions with the welfare of his state, knowing that “the praise and blame of public measures” will attach to his own public character.  He will be seen; he will be heard; he cannot evade the scrutiny of his colleagues in the Senate or in his state capital.

The matter of character fits well with Publius’ final consideration: responsibility.

Although Publius did not invent this word, as some scholars have imagined (it appears in English legal writings as early as the mid-seventeenth century), he did put it squarely on the American political map.  If representation is the central feature of a republican regime, then responsibility—meaning both responsiveness to those one represents and accountability for one’s actions—is the soul of representative government.  By reasonable responsibility Publius means that no one expects his representative to accomplish things beyond his powers; fittingly, the powers of the Senate are the topic of the subsequent three papers.

Here is where the bicameral institutional structure of Congress comes into play. The bicameral Congress will derive its energy from the often-impassioned House, its prudence from the Senate, which balances “the cool and deliberate sense of the community” against that community’s urgent desires.  “What bitter anguish would not the people of Athens have often escaped if their government had contained so provident a safeguard against the tyranny of their own passions?”  Even with the greater extensiveness of the American republic, which will serve as a brake upon popular excesses even in the House, the Senate will serve as an “auxiliary precaution.”  It is one thing to slow passions down; it is another to map out the right direction for the country.

Above all, it is the republican institution of representation, as opposed to the democratic device of all-citizen assemblies, which will make American lawmaking more stable and reasonable than that of any ancient polis.  In both foreign and domestic policy, then, the Senate will provide some of the long-term, prudential thinking previously seen mostly in aristocracies.

To those who fear that the Senate will become an outright aristocracy, dominating the other branches, Publius replies that this would require the Senate to corrupt the state legislatures, the House, and the people—an unlikely `trifecta.’  Sure enough, the Progressives succeeded in deranging the Constitution in just that way, not only by changing the election rules for Senators but by providing the House with bigger revenues via the income tax.  Even so, it remains quite far removed from a genuine hereditary aristocracy.

Friday, July 23rd, 2010

Will Morrisey holds the William and Patricia LaMothe Chair in the United States Constitution at Hillsdale College.  His most recent books are Self-Government, The American Theme: Presidents of the Founding and Civil War, The Dilemma of Progressivism: How Roosevelt, Taft, and Wilson Reshaped the American Regime of Self-Government, and Regime Change: What It Is, Why It Matters.


Guest Essayist: Professor Will Morrisey, William and Patricia LaMothe Chair in the United States Constitution at Hillsdale College

Publius now begins his fifth and final topic respecting the Senate: its powers.  In Federalist 64 he considers the power to ratify treaties.

Publius argues that the state legislatures will likely choose outstanding men to represent them in Congress.  Senators will be known to their electors, who will “not be liable to be deceived by those brilliant appearances of genius and patriotism which, like transient meteors, sometimes mislead as well as dazzle” (think “Aaron Burr”).  State legislators will want representation by men they trust who have the intelligence and strength of character to defend and advance the interests of their state in the national government.  One might add that the removal of two such men from the local scene would not bereave the less gifted rivals they leave behind.

Did it work?  The record of the nineteenth century suggests that it did: Adams, Clay, Calhoun, Webster, Benton, Houston, Chase, Seward, Lodge: these men enjoyed more prominence than most of the presidents of their time.  Among the best (if long-forgotten) accounts of the old Senate remains Oliver Dyer’s Great Senators of the United States Forty Years Ago, published in 1889.  One of the first stenographers in America, Dyer worked in the Senate in 1848 and 1849, and his highly readable account of the lions of those days stands as a fine introduction to the nature of political life itself as well as a testament to the kinds of men who once found that life worth choosing.

Such prominence can serve the country in foreign policy. Given the need for secrecy and careful timing in any confidential matter, presidents and their ambassadors negotiate treaties.  The experiment in making Congress responsible for such negotiations had failed to satisfy the Framers.  The Senators will not negotiate treaties; they will ratify them, inasmuch as the results of secret negotiations obviously require public review.  The need for a two-thirds majority for ratification ensures that the treaty will have broad support among the states.

What is more, treaties are laws; still more than that, they are supreme laws of the land.  This had not been so under the Articles, under which the states reserved the power to implement treaties, with predictable results.

The supremacy of treaty law made (and still makes) Americans nervous.  Publius observes that if treaties were “repealable at pleasure,” no foreign country would “make any bargain with us.”  Treaties are contracts between nations not under one another’s sovereignty.  They are harder to enforce than ordinary laws.  Like contracts, they require the consent of both parties to enact but would be worthless if one party were legally entitled to unilaterally rescind them—unless, of course, the contract stipulates the right to do so under specified circumstances.  This does not mean that the United States cannot withdraw from a treaty—break the contract.  But it should do so in the knowledge that its partner in the contract may attempt to enforce the terms of the contract, up to and including the use of military force.  The conditions for the just termination of treaties and their just enforcement were familiar to the founders from the major works of international law then extant—most particularly The Law of Nations by the French Swiss writer Emer de Vattel, from whom Jefferson had drawn several of the phrases in the Declaration of Independence.

Domestically, the supremacy of treaty law meant that both states and individual citizens needed to abide by them. Treaties now overrode state laws.

But do they override existing constitutional law?  This worried the senators who voted against the League of Nations, fearing that membership in the League would impinge upon their power to declare war.  Although one never knows what a modern Supreme Court decision might say, from more or less the beginning the consensus thus far has been “no.”  Because treaties are made under the authority of the United States they cannot (as Alexander Hamilton observed in 1796) “rightfully transcend the constituting act”—change any constitutional law.  If treaty law could amend the Constitution, this would lead to the absurdity of senators amending the Constitution without recourse to ratifying conventions of the states.  The Constitution, federal statutes, and treaties are all supreme laws of the land, but the Constitution is (as it were) more supreme than statutes and treaties.

Publius touches on a remarkable feature of the treaty ratification power: it is held by the body that represents the states.  The most `locally’-centered branch of the national government will hold the most `international’ power.  Although the states may see their laws overridden by treaties, it will be the states’ representatives who consent to doing so.

Publius may imply that the habit of causing the ambassadors from the states to think in terms of treaties that will affect the whole country might serve to build national sentiments.  This it might have done, but the more powerful domestic issue of slavery overcame any such sentiments in the 1850s.  Be this as it may, lodging the treaty ratification power in the Senate solves the problem of the Articles.  It removes the possibility of individual states obstructing a treaty by refusing to implement it, but it allows the states to retain a proximate influence upon treaties by making their representatives responsible for voting treaties up or down.

Monday, July 26th, 2010

Will Morrisey holds the William and Patricia LaMothe Chair in the United States Constitution at Hillsdale College.  His most recent books are Self-Government, The American Theme: Presidents of the Founding and Civil War, The Dilemma of Progressivism: How Roosevelt, Taft, and Wilson Reshaped the American Regime of Self-Government, and Regime Change: What It Is, Why It Matters.


Guest Essayist: Kelly Shackelford, President/CEO of the Liberty Institute

Federalist 83, written by Alexander Hamilton and published in July of 1788, singles out opposition to the new Constitution due to the lack of a clause requiring jury trials in civil cases.  At the time, some opponents claimed that the Constitution’s notable silence on the issue meant that the use of a jury was abolished in civil cases, while extreme opponents argued that trial by jury in criminal cases was prohibited, which is quickly corrected in Federalist 83.  In this Paper, Hamilton shows the difficulty of inserting a phrase affirming juries in civil cases into the Constitution and that a jury is not beneficial in every situation.

From the beginning, the Constitution mandated jury trials in criminal cases (Article II, Section 2: “The trial of all Crimes… shall be by Jury…”), though it was silent on civil cases.  There was no significant opposition to this, as it was commonly agreed that juries in criminal cases provided, at the very least, an important “safeguard to liberty,” since they protect citizens against arbitrary rulings and “judicial despotism.”

However, opponents of the Constitution used old legal maxims in an attempt to prove that the Constitution’s silence implied prohibition of juries in civil cases.  One phrase that Hamilton mentions is: “’The expression of one thing is the exclusion of another.’”  Hamilton pointed out that the phrase was taken out of context and that applying it to this particular situation forgets the common sense our judicial system was built upon.  This common sense, as understood in the legal system, would say that giving a constitutional mandate for a jury trial in criminal proceedings does not deprive the people (or the legislative power) of the ability to call for a jury in civil cases.

Following Hamilton’s refutation of the assertion that the Constitution abolishes jury trials in civil cases, he shifts to his main arguments.  The most important point Hamilton makes about the non-necessity of a clause regarding trial by jury in civil cases is that the Constitution does not alter the way states use the institution of the jury.  Even today, each state has its own court system, and different courts to deal with certain kinds of issues (for example, the state of Texas has two Supreme Courts – one for civil cases and one for criminal, while other states just have one Supreme Court).  While some of the states’ court systems bore similarities, they were all distinctly different. Until the Constitution, each state had run independently and developed systems of state government.  This was important because prior to the ratification of the Constitution, the U.S. was governed by the Articles of Confederation which gave the federal government almost no authority except in issues of foreign relations and war. While the need for a stronger federal government was apparent, tensions arose over the tradeoff between decreased states rights’ and increased federal powers.

Even so, two states offered propositions affirming jury trials in civil cases for addition to the Constitution.  The first proposition, brought by Pennsylvania, reads: “’Trial by jury shall be as heretofore.’”  However, before the Constitution, the federal government had no judicial power, so to say that the institution of trial by jury should remain as it was previously meant precisely nothing.

The proposition from the Massachusetts convention says, “’In civil actions between citizens of different States, every issue of fact, arising in actions at common law, may be tried by a jury if the parties, or either of them request it.’”  According to Hamilton, this suggestion infers that among civil cases only those dealing with common law merit a jury trial.  Hamilton notes that if that was not Massachusetts’ intention and the convention believes there to be other cases which call for a jury but chose not to incorporate, then it proves his point on the difficulty of addressing the issue in the Constitution.

Propositions like these demonstrated the difficulty of inserting into the Constitution a clause providing for jury trials in civil proceedings that would have broad approval.  Since each state had its own legal system, states would be forced to change in order to comply with the Constitution or, put simply, confusion would erupt.  If a clause was added, it would probably codify the court system of one state, while many of the other states would have to change their systems extensively to be in compliance, which would surely inspire “jealousy and disgust.”

Hamilton, though, does not merely encourage opponents to support the Constitution as is because it is so difficult to insert a jury clause on civil cases; he argues that a jury isn’t always needed, and is sometimes even detrimental.  In some cases, intricate knowledge of the law is required to make a good decision, such as those that call into question foreign relations and equity, or fairness in the law.  Ultimately, juries cannot be expected to have an in-depth understanding of complex areas of the law and apply it correctly.  And since juries consist of citizens who lose time from their jobs, they also cannot be expected to sit on a jury for an extended period of time.  While juries are crucial in criminal cases, Hamilton finds that in civil cases their only benefit comes in “circumstances foreign to the preservation of liberty.”

All citizens now have the right to a jury trial, though they can waive the jury.  Some civil cases never have a jury trial, because juries are only needed in cases where the facts are in dispute.  The Seventh Amendment to the Constitution affirms citizens’ right to a jury trial in cases of common law, which modified and clarified the existing system.

Today, we can look back to our founding documents, such as the Constitution, and see how the Framers diligently strove to preserve the liberty that a jury trial system provides.  Only a handful of countries guarantee their citizens the right to a jury in all cases, including civil proceedings.  The rest prefer that only judges make decisions, which lends itself to elitism and, as Hamilton noted, to corruption.  The American system put forth in the Constitution truly seeks to protect everyday citizens and keeps the power in the hands of the people, which is yet another reason this country is so free.

Friday, August 20th, 2010

Kelly Shackelford, President/CEO of Liberty Institute, is a constitutional scholar who has argued before the U.S. Supreme Court and other courts across the country and has testified before both houses of the U.S. Congress.  Jennifer Grisham is director of media at Liberty Institute.  The Institute fights for First Amendment and Constitutional freedoms in the courts and legislature, has won significant landmark victories on religious liberty, and currently represents over 4 million veterans and all the major veterans’ groups in the famous Mojave Desert Memorial Cross case.  For more, visit


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

Articles IV through VII of the Constitution are, even for many educated Americans, terra incognita. People may know about the first three articles, important as they are in defining the separation of powers at the national level among the three branches and in drawing basic divisions between the national government and the states. Despite their brevity, these often-overlooked articles play significant roles.

When the Constitution was adopted, the framers hoped, as the Preamble declares, to form a “more perfect Union.”  They recognized (in part out of political calculation) that a union already existed under the Articles of Confederation. They wanted to tweak the system enough to place it on a sounder political and economic footing. Part of their plan was to give more independence to a revamped United States government, as the first three Articles demonstrate. But, given the size of the republic and the dispersion of its population, the national government was expected to remain a comparatively restrained political player. While the suspicion over “consolidation” was often in the open, the enumeration of formally limited powers and the practice of a part-time Congress were evidence of the expected state of affairs.

Quite naturally, then, much was left to the constitutional domain and the political discretion of the states. Inter-state collaboration and cooperation were practical necessities. Half of Article IV deals with that fact of political life. The “full faith and credit” clause of Section 1 and the “privileges and immunities,” “extradition,” and (now superseded) “fugitive slave” clauses of Section 2 are testaments to the Framers’ concerns about potential interstate frictions that might undermine union. All but the last were also in the Articles of Confederation, and the same continue to be significant today.

One area of potential constitutional conflict in the future is whether or not a state that does not recognize same-sex marriage is constitutionally obligated to give full faith and credit to a same-sex marriage granted in another state. Currently, the federal Defense of Marriage Act protects non-recognition of a same-sex marriage granted in another state. But that law itself may be unconstitutional under Article IV. It’s a close case, though there is some judicial precedent for the position that a state need not recognize an act of a sister state that is repugnant to its own public policy.

The other half of Article IV deals with obligations of the federal government to the states. In little more than 100 words, Section 3 sets forth Congress’s powers to create new states and to dispose of territory and property of the United States. That section was the source of critical federal policies during the great westward push under Manifest Destiny through which unorganized territory became organized and, eventually, advanced to statehood.

Section 4 obligates the United States to guarantee to each state a republican form of government, to protect each state against invasion, and to render assistance against domestic violence if asked. The state of Arizona may well ask whether the federal government has breached that second obligation in failing to protect the border against armed marauders, thereby necessitating the state to take stronger actions against illegal aliens. The last part of Section 4 is one explanation for why the federal military response to Hurricane Katrina was so “late.” The federal government was constitutionally obligated to wait for a request from the governor for assistance, a request slow in coming.

Article V may be the most important part of the Constitution, as it provides the formal means of amendment. This was an area of laborious compromise and reflects a combination of experience with the Articles of Confederation and the various state constitutions, and the development of American constitutional theories of popular sovereignty that broke with English constitutionalism.

There are two methods of proposing amendments and two methods for ratification. The method used for all amendments to the Constitution, though not for the drafting of the Constitution itself, is to have a vote by 2/3 of each house of Congress. Though the matter is constitutionally not free from doubt, by long-accepted practice, the president’s signature is not needed. Many framers feared, however, that the Congress would not advance amendments that might curtail federal power. Hence an alternative permits 2/3 of the states to petition Congress for a convention to propose amendments. Though this method has not been used, some proposals have come close. There are almost the needed number of states for a balanced-budget amendment, a matter that is taking on added urgency in view of trillion dollar deficits.

If an amendment is proposed, 3/4 of the states must approve, either by legislatures (a “republican” principle) or state conventions (a “quasi-democratic” principle), as Congress directs. All but the amendment to repeal prohibition have gone the legislative route. These supermajority requirements were a compromise between the English constitutional theory (also used in early state constitutions) that allowed constitutional change by simple majority vote of the legislature and the unanimity requirement for constitutional change under the Articles of Confederation. The Constitution, the Framers concluded, must be amendable, but not so freely as to promote instability. Note, though, that the Constitution does not have the “democratic” option of amendment by petition or vote of the people directly, as many states have.

Article VI contains a pillar of our federal structure, the “supremacy clause.” That clause makes the federal Constitution, treaties, and statutes superior to conflicting state laws. The clause is an enhanced version of a blander clause in the Articles of Confederation. It enshrines a principle central to the revised structure of the Constitution, that of a sovereign United States independent of, and—within its delegated functions—superior to, the states. From a political perspective, it is not an overstatement to say that, for better or worse, this is the most significant provision in the development of the current (im)balance that exists between the national government and the states.

Equally important, Article VI expressly binds the state courts to abide by the federal supreme law when there exists a conflict with state law. That provision recognizes that, since the Supreme Court is the only constitutionally required federal tribunal, state courts might operate as inferior federal courts. It also creates a judicial “branch” that straddles the divide between federal sovereignty and state sovereignty more than the political branches do.

Article VII provides for the process of ratification. There are many fascinating historical undercurrents at work in the Article. First, it encapsulates the revolutionary nature of the process that led to the Constitution. It must be recalled that the Articles of Confederation required that the Congress approve any amendment, which then also had to be approved by the legislature of each state. Also, the charge from the Confederation Congress to the Convention was “for the sole and express purpose” of reporting to Congress and the states proposed revisions that still had to be approved by Congress and the states, all in conformance with the existing structure.

The Framers, however, created a completely new structure to replace the Articles. In Article VII, they made it sufficient for initial ratification that only nine states approve. In the resolution to send a courtesy copy to the Confederation Congress, the Philadelphia Convention very pointedly required approval by the states but not the Congress. Moreover, the approval was to be by conventions in the states, not by the legislatures.

The non-unanimity requirement is significant because the Framers faced a practical problem. Rhode Island was so opposed to the project that they had not even sent delegates. They were, therefore, hardly likely to approve. Rhode Island’s non-attendance, by the way, is one reason why the Committee of Style changed the Preamble of the Constitution from “We, the people of [then listed the states]” to “We, the people of the United States.” Moreover, the Articles had taken four years to approve. The concern was that unanimous approval would encourage a similar delay. Delay works against constitutional change, as the supporters of the Equal Rights Amendment found out in the 1970s. The Framers gambled that adoption by nine states would create its own momentum for adoption by the other four. The gamble worked, but it turned out to be a close-run thing.

The requirement for conventions was both practical, in that the anti-Constitution forces were more likely entrenched among the political interests in the state legislatures than among more broadly selected conventions. Conventions also reflected better the emerging American political theory that, while legislatures made ordinary laws, constitutions were expressions of shared fundamental political values that went to the very purpose of government. Constitutions, then, were social contracts resting on more direct exercise of popular sovereignty. They were, in the words of George Washington, “explicit and authentic acts” of the people. Since the entire population of a state could not be brought together to deliberate and vote on the Constitution, a convention selected for that purpose from the people of the state was the next best alternative.

A final oddity in Article VII is that the signatories made a rather sterile declaration of witness. In the Articles of Confederation, the signatories declared that they fully ratify and confirm everything said therein and pledged their constituents’ support. In the Constitution, the signatories merely attest that the “States present” (i.e., no Rhode Island) unanimously approved the Convention’s actions. A number of delegates had left the convention because they personally disapproved of the result, as did some of those who remained to sign. In this manner of attesting, there was no personal commitment of support that could prove politically problematic back home. It is like being a witness to a will signing. The witnesses merely attest that the process, such as having the testator sign the document after declaring it to be his will, was completed properly. The witnesses are not declaring their support for the substance of the will. Therefore, if the testator disinherits his family and gives everything to his golf buddies, the witnesses are not morally implicated.

In the end, it was somewhat of a political miracle that the Constitution was adopted at all. It is not a perfect document, and, had the people then been able to see the political reality in which it operates today, they might well have preferred something else. But it endures for many as a symbol of what should be, not only what is—the idea of the Constitution as much as its function.

Monday, April 26th, 2010

Professor Joerg W. Knipprath

Southwestern Law School

Los Angeles, California

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.

Posted in Articles IV – VII of the United States Constitution, Constitutional Scholar Essays | Edit | 47 Comments »

47 Responses to “April 262010 – Articles IV – VII of the U.SConstitution – Guest BloggerJoerg KnipprathProfessor ofLaw at Southwestern Law School

  1. Daniel Smith says:

    Could states like California and Texas, with the approval of Congress, be divided thereby avoiding the presidential problem of 2000.

  2. Shannon C. says:

    The supremacy clause allows Federal Law to supersede State’s law. But doesn’t that mean the state’s don’t have to adhere to federal law if that federal law is unconstitutional-such as mandated healthcare?

  3. Shannon C. says:

    Do states have the right to secede from the Union?

  4. Susan Craig says:

    The provision for states to propose amendments makes a Constitutional Convention a lot more likely in the present situation as I (and I think most) thought it would entail a redo of the entire document. As I read it, at the next Governors meeting they could convene a convention specificly to draft a balance budget amendment or a strengthening of the 10th amendment change to put before congress. This makes the objections to a ConCon less daunting.

    I, also, appreciated the reminder of the drafters humanity with the inclusion of the errata sheet in the last article.

  5. Reed W says:

    Thanks for clarifying and bringing it all into current events.

  6. Carolyn Attaway says:

    @Shannon – according to sources, Texas v. White, 74 U.S. 700 (1869) was argued before the United States Supreme Court in 1869. The Court held in a 5–3 decision that the Constitution did not permit states to secede from the United States, and that the ordinances of secession, and all the acts of the legislatures within seceding states intended to give effect to such ordinances, were “absolutely null”. However, the decision did allow some possibility of the divisibility “through revolution, or through consent of the States”.[29][30]

    I find the last line fascinating, given all the current legistlation that is being formed in many states since this current administration came to office. It seems the 2 major issues, healthacre and immigration have caused the most uproar given the current number of states suing the federal gov’t over the healthcare mandate and commerce laws, and the new immigration law that was just signed in Arizona.

    However, all states appear to be working on their State Legistlation to prepare for any possible future conflicts with Federal Law. For example on April 1, 2009, (as I understand it) the Georgia State Senate passed a resolution 43-1 affirming states’ rights based on Jeffersonian principles; and for other purposes. Acts which would cause a nullification of federal law include, but are not limited to:
    Further infringements on the right to keep and bear arms including prohibitions of type or quantity of arms or ammunition; Any act regarding religion; further limitations on freedom of political speech; or further limitations on freedom of the press, and Requiring involuntary servitude, or governmental service other than a draft during a declared war, or pursuant to, or as an alternative to, incarceration after due process of law.

    It will be interesting to follow the Supreme Court procedure regarding States Rights in the HealthCare Case. And as I understand it, the healthcare law cannot be challenged until it goes into effect and some one or entity is harmed by the law. Such as a shareholder of a company that goes out of business due to the costs/taxes imposed by the law, they can sue the gov’t for theft. Also, the commerce laws makes no provision to force someone to engage in interstate commerce.

    Also, I appreciated the point made about the Federal gov’t being constitutionally obligated to wait for a State Governor’s request for assistance before intervention can be enacted. The contrast between Katrina and Arizona is striking regarding the assistance from the Federal Gov’t.

  7. Susan says:

    This is so interesting. Yesterday, my husband and I were having a discussion about the new immigration law in Arizona. I see it as unconstitutional and he see’s it as the state having to do something since the Federal Government has not fulfilled its obligation. We had to agree to disagree on this one.

  8. Robert Shanbaum says:

    Shannon C. wrote, “Do states have the right to secede from the Union?”

    Apparently not. See, U.S. Civil War, 1861-1865; an example of a Constitutional dispute not settled by the judiciary.

  9. Robert Shanbaum says:

    Susan Craig, I don’t see where a “Governors meeting” could enter into any call for a Constitutional convention – a petition by “the Legislatures of two-thirds of the several states” is the requirement. The executives of the states are left out of the process.

    Note that there’s no language that suggests that there would be any limit to the amendments that could be proposed at such a convention.

    There’s a requirement in the Connecticut Constitution that requires, every 20 years, a referendum on whether to hold a constitutional convention to amend (or conceivably replace) the state constitution. This was most recently held in 2008, when 59% of voters answered “no.”

    The reason the question failed, I think, is that it was seen as likely to attract activists – persons having one axe or another to grind – to a disproportionate degree. In the pursuit of one’s objective by that means, one runs a substantial risk of getting something one doesn’t want .

  10. Robert Shanbaum says:

    By the way, Shannon C., you may be interested in Andrew Jackson’s response to your question, given 33 years before the issue was settled with finality:

    Jackson could run on; here’s the most apposite passage:

    But each State having expressly parted with so many powers as to constitute jointly with the other States a single nation, cannot from that period possess any right to secede, because such secession does not break a league, but destroys the unity of a nation, and any injury to that unity is not only a breach which would result from the contravention of a compact, but it is an offense against the whole Union.

  11. Susan Craig says:

    State Suffrage? Hasn’t that been abrogated by the XVII amendment? Article V: The Congress, whenever two thirds of both Houses shall deem it necessary, shall propose Amendments to this Constitution, or, on the Application of the Legislatures of two thirds of the several States, shall call a Convention for proposing Amendments, which, in either Case, shall be valid to all Intents and Purposes, as Part of this Constitution, when ratified by the Legislatures of three fourths of the several States, or by Conventions in three fourths thereof, as the one or the other Mode of Ratification may be proposed by the Congress; Provided that no Amendment which may be made prior to the Year One thousand eight hundred and eight shall in any Manner affect the first and fourth Clauses in the Ninth Section of the first Article; and that no State, without its Consent, shall be deprived of its equal Suffrage in the Senate.

    The only thing that has been changed is that the State has been deprived of its Suffrage by the XVIIth amendment which removed from the state the right to select its Senators.

  12. Article V is my favorite part of the entire Constitution, for it puts into the hands of the states a way to bring our runaway Congress back under our control. We need additional amendments to:
    1. Impose lifetime term limits of 12 years on Congress
    2. Impose a requirement for a Balanced Budget
    3. Repeal the 16th Amendment and force implementation of a consumption tax(i.e., the Fair Tax.
    4. Impose Congressional integrity that: (a) forces a statement of Constitutional authority to be attached to every bill, (b) forces an affidavit that they have read and understand every bill, (c) prevents them from exemting themselves from any law, and (d) prevents them from enacting any program for themselves that is not available to the general public.

  13. Ron Meier says:

    Thanks, your comments provide some interesting additional color and current relevance that I had not picked up on my initial reading and note taking.

  14. Susan Craig says:

    There is an annual meeting of Governors. If at this years convocation of governors, they got 34 of them to agree that an amendment was needed (say on clarification of the commerce clause, immigration or a balanced budget) would that be a call to convene a Convention for that limited purpose?

  15. Lillian Harvey says:

    I was thinking the same thing, Susan, after reading the Articles and Prof. Knipprath’s blog. Given the political climate today, we certainly can not count on Congress to act on behalf of the People as their will appears to serve the interest of their political party and ideology instead. That’s my opinion anyway. I also don’t feel we could count on all the state legislatures for the same reason. But, some guidance on setting up conventions within the States would be a start.
    A question for the participants: if you were part of a constitutional convention in your state, what issues would you want addressed? Where do you think our biggest problem is? The one condition I would suggest is that the 50 United States remain intact, as I believe our strength has always been in our unity.

  16. ERL says:

    Could the State Legislatures limit the agenda of a Constitutional Convention? For example, could 2/3 of the states approve a resolution calling for a convention, but only to consider specific amendments? Any other topics would be off-limits, and the state delegation would be given strict instrutions to withdraw if any other topic was discussed. The only amendments that could be discussed and acted upon would be those approved by at least 2/3 of the states.

    This would be a means to “control” a convention, and prevent it from spiraling out of control and overthrowing theConstitution itself.

    This method thus imposes three “filters” (or checks, if you will), on a Constitutional Convention.

    First, the agenda items would have to be approved by 2/3 of the states. No other topics would be permitted.

    Second, the Convention, made up of delegations from each state that chooses to participate (even if they did not approve a resolution calling for the convention in the first place), would debate each proposed amendment. The Convention would decide (by majority vote) whether to propose an amendment, and would also approve the final language of the amendment. The debate at the convention would thus be a second “filter” (or check).

    Third, any proposed amendments would be sent to the States for consideration (either by state legislatures, or by state conventions). This would provide the third “filter.”

    Finally, the Convention would be public, and would probably generate a great deal of media coverage and discussion. This openness would serve as a sort of “brake” on the convention, because the public would not accept a radical departure from the Constitution.

  17. Shannon C. says:

    Lillian Harvey , I live in Georgia. My desires would be the following Amendments:

    1. Balanced Budget
    2. Term Limits-one term each, as I am so anti Congress:)
    3. Repeal the 16th Amendment and say a human’s labor cannot be taxed (income tax). A consumption tax would be my choice.
    4. Reword the 10th Amendment to make it understandable to the Big Government Lovers: If it isn’t in theConstitution, stay out of it!

  18. Susan Craig says:

    I feel the relevant portion is as follows; on the Application of the Legislatures of two thirds of the several States, shall call a Convention for proposing Amendments, which, in either Case, shall be valid to all Intents and Purposes, as Part of this Constitution, when ratified by the Legislatures of three fourths of the several States, or by Conventions in three fourths thereof, as the one or the other Mode of Ratification may be proposed by the Congress; If called for by their governors the individual states legislatures concurring would constitute a call for such a convention and it also says nothing about needing to start from scratch the scope could be as confined as necessary.

  19. Thomas Soyars says:

    @Susan — can you point out a section of the Constitution that makes the Arizona law unconstitutional? What about Article IV Section 4. “and shall protect each of them against Invasion” Look sto me like the federal government has failed in their duty and the state is taking it upon itself to remedy the problem. Congress has also failed to “establish a uniform Rule of Naturalization” (Article I, Section 8).

    @Mike Lowry I agree with most of your recommendations but I have a problem with a balanced budget amendment that is too strict. There may be times (war, severe natural disaster, economic upheaval) that would require the government to run a temporarily unbalance budget. I would propose a measure that teh government be required to have a balanced budget over a rolling five year period. That way you could run a deficit in one or more years and be able to make it up in other years. It would give more flexibility but still provide for a balanced budget overall. I would also add an amendment that the federal government cannot pass unfunded mandates onto the states.

    @Joerg Knipprath — the best blog yet (in my humble opinion).

  20. Joe Rech says:

    -Term limits – three for House, two for senate, two for Pres. Retirement gained in thirds for House, halfs for Senate and Pres.
    -Balanced budget – except in times of national emergency (disaster or war)
    -Repeal taxes – any current taxes enacted for a specific purpose and that purpose no longer exists, immediate repeal.
    -VAT replace income tax, started at some level like 11% and NEVER to exceed 17%, not always levied on all levels of production and not always the same on all products (can be 11% on food, 17% on yachts?)
    -limits on other taxes – 25% inheritance tax on $1mil or more, cap gains tax limits 15%
    -reiterate oath – support and defend the constitution – not interpret the constitution.

  21. Donna Hardeman says:

    Lillian – I agree with Shannon’s List (which is almost identical to Mike’s list). The one thing I would point out, however, is my belief that Congress – either house – be allowed 2 terms. I believe you need some members in Congress who are not “lame ducks” i.e. who know they will have to vote with the will of the electorate if they expect to get elected again. However, by denying the long term benefits of continued “service” we would be denying the chance to get so firmly embedded that political favors, etc. become more important than the people.

    Susan – could you clarify your point about Suffrage being denied? I’m responding to what I think you said but am not totally sure I understood you. Suffrage (voting) rights in the U.S. Senate have not been denied to the States. All States still have 2 Senators representing them. What changed was the manner of selecting the Senators. Originally it was the state legislature and now it’s by popular vote.

  22. Shannon C. says:

    Suasn Craig, You tell ‘em! Good points. Man, I am so glad this site exists. The only thing I wish was a little different is if the guest bloggers could opine in on a few of these a few times a day to answer a few questions.

    Great site!!!

  23. Donna Hardeman says:

    Susan – you and your husband seem to be on 2 different issues in discussing the immigration law. He is certainly correct in saying Arizona took action because the federal government wouldn’t. You may also be correct in saying it’s unconstitutional. Problem is, I couldn’t find the actual text online so I can only comment on what news is out there. It has been suggested that immigration laws are federal rights and not states’ rights. However, if the Arizonalaw simply mirrors the federal law in making it a state crime to be in Arizona illegally, I don’t think this would pose an issue. Also, it’s been suggested that you can’t racially profile by stopping someone solely for the purpose of checking identification. Jan Brewer claims the law simply requires identification to be carried so proof of legality can be shown if someone is stopped for a crime. This also would pose no constitutional problem. If you figure out where the text is, let me know and I can blog a little more intelligently on the subject. Do you have a specific challenge to the constitutionality?

  24. Carolyn Attaway says:

    Hello Shannon C. from a fellow Georgian!

    Our State has to have a Balanced Budget, so I agree that those same rules should apply to the Federal Gov’t. The Pay As You Go is a complete disaster and Congress cannot even stick to their own rules.

    I think it should be a 2-term limit, just because I personally feel that 1 term is not enough time some really good congressmen need to get issues addressed and completed. However, I feel every congressman should pledge to uphold the Constitution, and that impeachment should be allowed if they abuse their time in Congress.

    Along with the 16th, I think the 17th Amendment should be repealed. Senators should represent their State’s interest, and quite going rogue.

    The 10th Amendment can be reworded to be more specific, but I think the problem lies with the States giving to much of their power away in exchange for funds. Over time, all those little crumbs they have been throwing away to the Fed. Gov’t, have now been gathered together, and the States are realizing half their bakery is gone, and managed by someone else.

  25. ERL says:

    Another amendment that should receive serious consideration is a “Single Topic Legislation” requirement. Several states have a provision that each bill considered by the legislature must have a single topic only. So-called “omnibus” bills are prohibited, as are “earmarks” and “riders” that are unpopular expenditures attached to an important bill. (The Stimulus Package passed last year was a hodgepodge of pet projects. It is unlikely that those projects would pass if they stood alone).

    In other words, every proposal considered by Congress would have to stand or fall on its own. This would help reduce deficit spending by forcing Congress to look at each proposal separately, and not as small earmarks on a gargantuan bill.

  26. Debbie Beardsley says:

    “Equally important, Article VI expressly binds the state courts to abide by the federal supreme law when there exists a conflict with state law. ” I am taking this to mean that the states must follow Federal law at a minimum. If so, how and why are the states allowed to “decide” to not follow federal law. Ie, California and the medical marijuana or the wonderful mayor of San Francisco declaring a sanctuary city????? Doesn’t this behavior and the lack of action on the part of the government a big slap in the face to the Constitution?

    I am loving reading and learning but at the same time it is very disheartening to see how far away from theConstitution we have strayed.

  27. Chuck Plano, Tx says:

    In regard to Texas being able to devide itself as was suggested by someone, reference California and Texas dividing in order to prevent a repeat of the 2000 Presidential election, Texas has that right as stated in the Joint Resolution for the annexiation of March 1, 1845 . This right was mantained and specifically quoted in other settlements of border disputes with Mexico in the Treaty of Gadulape Hidalgo and the Treaty of The Gadsden Purchase. This is only one question regarding Texas as Texas entered the United States as a free and Soviourn Nation and yet it’s annexiation was by joint resolution and not a treaty. The Senate rejected a treaty to annex Texas four times in 1844 so did Congress have the right under the Constution to Annex a Nation?? The Constution is silent on this as it refers to territories, article IV Section 3, and not nations.

  28. Andy Sparks says:

    @Robert: Does might make right? Historically there have been many occasions where states have threatened secession: some of the western states when it seemed the U.S. would support a Spanish decision to close off the Mississippi during the early days of the Republic, some radicals in the New England states during the War of 1812, Thomas Jefferson even initially had secessionist language in the Kentucky Resolutions he drafted in 1798 (he was convinced to remove the offending passage before it was submitted). Why would parties threaten to secede if they didn’t think it was a viable option. While the Texas vs. White case put a law on the books regarding the legality of secession in 1869 after the Civil War, it would be interesting to see if it could be held up if challenged. The fact is that the Constitution is fairly quiet regarding the constitutionality of the issue.

  29. Donna Hardeman says:

    Guest bloggers coming in at the end of the day to review some of the comments and questions is a supremely good idea. Shannon – I must admit, it had occurred to me also but I’m glad you put it in writing. Maybe this idea could be incorporated into our learning process. We all have great comments and questions but the experts here could help.

  30. Susan Craig says:

    States Suffrage has been taken away and another Representative has been put in the Senators place. As I read the original articles the House of Representatives was to have been the representative body of the ‘vox populi’ whereas the Senators were to be the corporate representation of the State as a corporate whole. Now there is no longer a corporate representation of the the State but another directly selected Representative of the people.

  31. WeThePeople says:

    Making it so that 2/3 was needed for ratification seems very strategic to me. It seems that the government enjoys that they don’t need everyone’s approval. (As in the 3/5 Compromise in 1787– WHY would being black ever make you less of a person?) I also appreciate that in Article 6 it is stated that “no religious Test shall ever be required as a Qualification to any Office or public Trust under the United States.” If religious discrimination isn’t acceptable in government, why is it still so prevalent?
    If one state has a controversial law, like legalizing same sex marriage, would holding a convention be the first step towards creating an amendment? After that it would run through both the houses and then to the people…

  32. Hi all, great stuff again.AZ,Govner is a brave soul, she has pushed the hand as no one has managed to.After reading J, Knippraths comments it seems to me that in Art.4 section 4,(protection fom invasion) might be the key in fighting for the Constitutionality of the States new law.However I have this nagging feeling that there is probably grounds to overturn it… in that perhaps it could be construded that the long, long history of NOT inforcing the laws that are on the book already my be percieved as consent.On top of that when an act that is against the law is ignored, people begin to think of it as “their right” to continue an set aside the law they know exists,but have rendered it without any reach.
    Is this the reason that the laws have been ignored so long, was this the grounds that were maturing as the years wore on( I know that sounds like conspiracy stuff)but I find no sense is the past lack of willingness to act by DC.

  33. hey! It’s Janine Turner. I agree! I would LOVE to get the Constitutional Scholars of the day to chime in at least once more during the day to answer questions. This was my original intent. I am working on it! I am so glad y’all have joined our blog. Isn’t it wonderful to have this opportunity to study our Constitution. I am learning so much – such as why the Preamble states, “We the People of the United States..” That’s a cook piece of trivia. Yes?

  34. Shannon C. says:

    Janine, GREAT thing you are doing. As a dad of two little girls, this is so important for their futures.

    Can someone tell me if I have this right? The Supremacy Clause, as I understand it, means that federal lawsupercedes state law. However, I take the last sentence to mean in today’s language , “UNLESS the federal law is unconstitutional or goes against an existing state law.”

    My point is, just because the federal government mandates somthing like healthcare purchasing, that does not mean it is constitutional.

    Any thoughts?

  35. J.D. Wiggins says:

    Please comment on Article VI “Supremacy Clause.” Couldn’t this be used as a back door for making the Second Amendment null and void?