Do the Constitution and the Powers of the Federal Government Pertain to You?
Ratification Of The Constitution (Part 2 of 3)
By Robert Greenslade & Claude Ellsworth
If the Constitution was an agreement between the American people, as comprising one nation, then the Constitution would have been submitted to that same people for ratification. In Federalist essay No. 39, Madison discussed the nature of the general government that would be formed by the Constitution and the mode of ratification:
That it will be a federal and not a national act...is obvious from this single consideration, that it is to result neither from the decision of a majority of the people of the union, nor from that of a majority of the states. It must result from the unanimous assent of the several states that are parties to it...were the people regarded in this transaction as forming one nation, the will of the majority of the whole people of the United States would bind the minority, in the same manner as the majority in each state must bind the minority... Neither of these rules has been adopted. Each state, in ratifying the constitution, is considered as a sovereign body, independent of all others, and only to be bound by its own voluntary act. In this relation, then, the new Constitution will, if established, be a federal, not a national constitution. (Emphasis not added)
The general government, as stated by Madison, would be a federal, not a national government. Madison also stated that the parties to the Constitution, if adopted, would be the several States. This fact is confirmed in Article VII of the Constitution:
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.
Done in Convention by the Unanimous Consent of the States present...In Witness whereof We have hereunto subscribed our Names, (emphasis added)
The words "between the States" were added by a special motion in the Convention "to confine the operation of the government to those States ratifying it." The delegates signed the Constitution not as representatives of the American people, as comprising one nation, but as representatives of their individual State.
If the Constitution was an agreement between the American people, as many claim, then why was the Constitution established between the States, and by the consent of the States, as opposed to the people?
The Constitution, at Article I, Section 8, Clauses 1-18, enumerates the specific legislative powers granted to Congress. If the Constitution granted Congress general legislative power throughout the United States, then an enumeration of special powers would be absurd because the powers of the federal government would be unlimited. In Federalist essay No. 83, Alexander Hamilton addressed this principle as follows:
The plan of the convention declares that the power of Congress...shall extend to certain enumerated cases. This specification of particulars evidently excludes all pretension to a general legislative authority, because an affirmative grant of special powers would be absurd, as well as useless, if a general authority was intended.
Hamilton's statement raises the all-important question. If the Constitution did not grant the federal government general legislative authority throughout the United States, then who is the object of these limited enumerated powers?
The States' Government
If the Constitution established a national government, as opposed to a federal government of States, then that government would have general legislative authority over all persons and things throughout the several States. In Federalist essay No. 39, Madison discussed this principle and related it to the nature of the general government that would be established under the proposed constitution:
The idea of a national government involves in it, not only an authority over the individual citizens, but an indefinite supremacy over all persons and things, so far as they are objects of lawful government. Among a people consolidated into one nation, this supremacy is completely vested in the national legislature...the proposed government cannot be deemed a national one; since its jurisdiction extends to certain enumerated objects only, and leaves to the several States a residuary and inviolable sovereignty over all other objects. (Emphasis not added)
Madison stated that since the people were not being consolidated into one nation under the proposed constitution, the general government could not be construed as a national government since its jurisdiction would extend to "certain enumerated objects only."
In essay No. 14, Madison stated that the limited enumerated powers being delegated to the general government would pertain to the "members of the republic":
[I]t is to be remembered that the general government is not to be charged with the whole power of making and administering laws. Its jurisdiction is limited to certain enumerated objects, which concern all the members of the republic, but which are not to be attained by the separate provisions of any.
The members of the republic are the several States. As stated by Madison, the powers of the federal government relate to matters that concern the collective interests of the States.
In Federalist essay No. 38, Alexander Hamilton addressed this principle in no uncertain terms:
The United States, in their united or collective capacity, are the object to which all general provisions in the Constitution must necessarily be construed to refer. (Emphasis not added)
Hamilton, who had advocated a consolidation of the States in the Federal Convention, made two salient points concerning the general government. First, the term United States, when used in a constitutional context, refers to the States in their united capacity, not the people within the geographical area known as the United States. Second, all of the general provisions in the Constitution, including the legislative powers granted to Congress, pertain to the States in "their united or collective capacity." Therefore, the federal government is the government of the States, not the government of the whole people of the United States, as comprising one nation.
John C. Calhoun, Vice President of the United States from 1825 to 1832, provided a concise overview of the character of the federal government:
It is federal, because it is the government of States united in a political union, in contradistinction to a government of individuals, that is, by what is usually called, a social compact. To express it more concisely, it is federal and not national because it is the government of a community of States, and not the government of a single State or Nation.
As such, it has no general constitutional authority to legislate directly on the people of the several States.
Since the federal government is the States' government, its powers relate to matters that concern the collective interests of the States; such as external or foreign affairs. Madison, in Federalist essay No. 45, distinguished the external powers delegated to the federal government from the domestic powers reserved to the States:
The powers delegated by the proposed Constitution to the federal government are few and defined. Those which are to remain in the State governments are numerous and indefinite. The former will be exercised principally on external objects, as war, peace, negotiation, and foreign commerce; with which last the power of taxation will, for the most part, be connected. The powers reserved to the several States will extend to all the objects which, in the ordinary course of affairs, concern the lives, liberties, and properties of the people; and the internal order, improvement, and prosperity of the State.
The operations of the federal government will be most extensive and important in times of war and danger; those of the State government in times of peace and security.
According to Madison, none of the legislative powers being granted to the federal government would directly affect the life, liberty or property of the people of the several States. Those powers would be reserved exclusively to the States. In fact, other than the preamble to the Constitution, the word "people" appears only once in the body of the Constitution concerning the election of members to the House of Representatives. Yet, the words State or States, referring to the several States, appears approximately seventy times.
Robert Greenslade focuses his writing on issues surrounding the federal government and the Constitution. He believes politicians at the federal level, through ignorance or design, are systematically dismantling the Constitution in an effort to expand their power and consolidate control over the American people. He has dedicated himself to resurrecting the true intent of the Constitution in the hope that the information will contribute, in some small way, to restoring the system of limited government established by the Constitution.
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