Friday, April 5, 2013

Enumerated Powers

Article One, section eight of the constitution of the United States, lists the powers given to the Federal Legislature. The only powers beyond the following with which they are endowed pertain to the passing of bills, internal policing, etc.

The Congress shall have Power To lay and collect Taxes, Duties, Imposts and Excises, to pay the Debts and provide for the common Defence and general Welfare of the United States; but all Duties, Imposts and Excises shall be uniform throughout the United States;
To borrow Money on the credit of the United States;
To regulate Commerce with foreign Nations, and among the several States, and with the Indian Tribes;
To establish an uniform Rule of Naturalization, and uniform Laws on the subject of Bankruptcies throughout the United States;
To coin Money, regulate the Value thereof, and of foreign Coin, and fix the Standard of Weights and Measures;
To provide for the Punishment of counterfeiting the Securities and current Coin of the United States;
To establish Post Offices and post Roads;
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;
To constitute Tribunals inferior to the supreme Court;
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;
To make Rules for the Government and Regulation of the land and naval Forces;
To provide for calling forth the Militia to execute the Laws of the Union, suppress Insurrections and repel Invasions;
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;
To exercise exclusive Legislation in all Cases whatsoever, over such District (not exceeding ten Miles square) as may, by Cession of particular States, and the Acceptance of Congress, become the Seat of the Government of the United States, and to exercise like Authority over all Places purchased by the Consent of the Legislature of the State in which the Same shall be, for the Erection of Forts, Magazines, Arsenals, dock-Yards, and other needful Buildings;--And

After reading the above, one may wonder how the constitution ever became a bottomless well in which to find new powers for the Federal Government. Nowhere here is the power granted to build schools, conduct studies of the brain, or go to space, except perhaps for national defense. The argument used for this is the following clause, which directly follows the forgoing:
To make all Laws which shall be necessary and proper for carrying into Execution the foregoing Powers, and all other Powers vested by this Constitution in the Government of the United States, or in any Department or Officer thereof.
The necessary and proper clause is one which has been used on many, many occasions, when the powers explicitly granted do not encompass something that constituents want. (The general welfare clause is also used.)
The constitution was set up as a live document, not to be reinterpreted, but to find new applications. If we are a people subject to the laws, then the law is always the same, it cannot be changed by our social atmosphere. The prevailing “public opinion” cannot change what the laws mean, or else the laws will become a weathervane of public opinion, turning any way the hot breath of demagogues can turn it.
 A great deal of the law breaking is because it is popular with the people, and thus political power must be gained by giving the people incentives to vote for you because you will be protective of their interests. Facts are stubborn things, theories are more so. Political theory says listen to your constituents, find out what they want, and become that, so you will get their votes. Give them the pork they want.
Everyone cries out against pork barrel spending, except when it is for their benefit. The national debt is there, on the whole, because of expenditures of money outside of the above powers. Almost every political reform is an argument on which clause to break. The more money needed the more taxes, the more taxes the less freedom. The fire that is burning down our tree of liberty has been approached by almost every single politician with a different shaped gas can. Many like the heat that the fire provides, and are not interested in putting it out. To call for a fire hose is to lose your career. I thing I agree with Jules Verne when he said “We need new men.”1 Men who fear God rather than man. The fire has burned long enough.

Through His Strength We Will Conquer,
Andrew C. Abbott

1: See Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea. The quote is taken from the author’s memory.

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