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The Federalist Papers Explains Federal Powers

…Why should we have a government?  Because the passions of men won’t conform to the dictates of reason and justice without constraint…Federalist Paper 15 [paragraph 12]

Government is, after all, the greatest of all reflections on human nature.  If men were angels, no government would be necessary.  If angels governed men, no controls on government would be necessary.  But men govern men.  So, security measures are necessary to control the abuses of government.   51 [4]

   …republican liberty seems to demand that all power comes from the people.  37[6]

… The Old World doctrine said that people were made to serve kings, not kings to serve the people… No form of government has any intrinsic value. A government’s value is judged by how it fulfills the public good and meets the needs of the people…45 [2] 


   …In republics, strength is always on the side of the people… We should study the nature and extent of the powers as they are delineated in the Constitution.  Everything beyond this must be left to the prudence and firmness of the people.  They hold the scales and, it is hoped, they will always take care to preserve the constitutional equilibrium between the federal and the State governments…  31[12]

   If the federal government overreaches its authority and uses its power tyrannically, the people, who created it, must go to the Constitution.  They must correct the injury done to the Constitution.  To determine if a law is constitutional, we must look at whether the law is based on Constitutional powers.  33[6]



Having just revolted against a powerful central government, the first worry of the newly liberated citizens was creating the same situation in North America.  The United States Constitution defines the precise powers that the federal government needs to fulfill its responsibilities.  MEW


 The most important reasons for a union and federal government are:

  • Defense

  • To keep the peace against both internal turmoil and external attacks

  • To regulate commerce with other nations and between the States

  • To supervise our political and commercial interests with foreign countries 23 [3]

Six Classes of Federal Power

  1. Security against foreign danger

  2. Regulation of interactions with foreign nations

  3. Maintain harmony and interactions among the States

  4. Miscellaneous objects of general utility

  5. Restraint of the States from certain injurious acts

  6. Provisions giving effectiveness to these powers 41 [5]


1. Security against foreign danger

Security against foreign danger is a pri­mary objective of civil society.  It is an essential objective of the American Union.  Therefore, the federal government must have the powers to keep the nation safe.  41 [7] XE "41 [7]"

The powers within the first class are:

  • de­claring war

  • granting letters of marquee

  • pro­viding armies and fleets

  • regulating and using the militia

  • levying and bor­rowing money 41 [6]


2. Regulation of interactions with foreign nations

The federal government’s second class of powers regulates how the country deals with foreign nations.  The federal government will:


  • make treaties

  • send and receive ambassadors, ministers, and consuls

  • define and punish piracies, felonies on the high seas and against the law of nations

  • regulate foreign commerce


It is essential that the federal government have this class of powers.  If we are to be one nation, other nations must see us as one nation.  42[1-2] XE "42[1-2]"

3. Maintain harmony and interactions among the States

This classification could include the re­straints on State authority and some judicial power.  But the limits on State authority are a separate class and judicial powers will be examined under the sixth class…the remaining powers under this third class are:


  • regulate commerce among the States and the Indian tribes

  • coin and regulate the value of money

  • punish counterfeiting coins and securities of the United States

  • fix the standard of weights and measures

  • make a uniform rule of naturalization and uniform laws of bank­ruptcy

  • prescribe the way that public acts, records, and judicial proceedings of each State will be proved and the effect they will have in other States

  • establish post offices and post roads 42 [9]


4. Miscellaneous objects of general utility.

The fourth class of powers includes: 


  • copyrights, patents

  • federal capital

  • other federal property

  • treason: definition, punishment

  • creation of new states

  • United States territories

  • guaranteed republican government in each State

  • States protected against invasion

  • States protected against internal violence

  • amending Constitution (43)


5.  Restraint of the States from certain injurious acts

The fifth class of provisions restricts State authority:


No State shall:

  • enter into any treaty, alliance, or confederation

  • grant letters of marque and reprisal

  • coin money

  • emit bills of credit

  • make anything 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

  • grant any title of nobility. [Article 1, section 10]


6.  Provisions giving effectiveness to these powers.

The sixth and last class consists of the powers and provisions that give efficacy to all the rest.  These fall into four categories:

     A.  Make necessary and proper laws

     B.  Federal laws supreme

     C.  Oath to support Constitution

     D.  Executive, judicial federal powers  44[9] XE "44[9]"

A.  Make necessary and proper laws

 What will happen if Congress misconstrues the “necessary and proper” clause and exercises powers not warranted by its true meaning?  I answer, the same thing will happen as will occur if they misconstrue or enlarge any power vested in them. The same thing as if the State legislatures violated their respective constitutional authorities.

First, the power usurpation will only succeed if the executive and judiciary departments, which execute and interpret legislative acts, support it.


And in the last resort, the people will remedy the problem; they can elect more faithful representatives, who can annul the acts of the usurpers.  This remedy may work better against the unconstitutional acts of the federal than the State legislatures, simply because every federal usurpation will invade the rights of a State.  The States will notice deviations, sound the alarm, and use their influence to change federal representatives.  There is no such intermediate body between the State legislatures and the people.  Violations of the State constitutions are more likely to remain unnoticed and unredressed.  44[17] XE "44[17]"

B.  Federal laws supreme

Adversaries of the Constitution attack this provision.  But without it, the Constitution would have been very defective.  What would happen if the federal Constitution confirmed the supremacy of the State constitutions by a saving clause in their favor?…the world would have seen a system of government founded on an inversion of the fundamental principles of all government.  The authority of the whole Union would have been subordinate to the States, like a monster whose individual parts with different goals directing its head.  44[19, 23] XE "44[19, 23]"

C.  Oath to support Constitution

Why must State officials support the federal Constitution?  Officers of the United States don’t take a similar oath in favor of the State constitutions.

There are several reasons.  I'll give one.  Federal officials will not be agents of State constitutions. However, State officials will be essential agents of the federal Constitution.   The election of the President and Senate will depend on the State legislatures.  State officers will probably conduct the election of the House of Representatives, according to the laws of the States.   44[25-26] XE "44[25-26]"

D.  Executive powers

One person will hold most of the Executive authority, the President…

The President can be impeached, tried, and if convicted of treason, bribery, or other high crimes or misdemeanors, removed from office. Afterwards he can be prosecuted and punished in the ordinary course of law…

The President will have the power to return a bill that has passed the two houses of Congress for reconsideration.  If the bill is later passed by two-thirds in both the Senate and House, it will become law…

The President is to be the "commander-in-chief of the army and navy of the United States, and of the militia of the several States, when called into the actual service of the United States;

"He is to have power to grant reprieves and pardons for offenses against the United States, except in cases of impeachment;

"to recommend to the consideration of Congress such measures as he shall judge necessary and expedient;

"he may, on extraordinary occasions, convene both houses of the legislature, or either of them, and, in case of disagreement between them with respect to the time of adjournment, to adjourn them to such time as he shall think proper;

"to take care that the laws be faithfully executed;

"and to commission all officers of the United States."

The President will, with the advice and consent of the Senate, make treaties, provided two-thirds of the senators present concur…

The President will also receive ambassadors and other public ministers…

The President is to nominate and, with the advice and consent of the Senate, appoint ambassadors and other public ministers, Supreme Court judges, and all officers of the United States established by law and whose appointments are not otherwise provided for by the Constitution…  69[2, 4-9]                                                                                              

D.  Judicial powers

"The judicial power of the United States is to be vested in one Supreme Court, and in such inferior courts as the Congress may, from time to time, ordain and establish." [Article 3, Section 1]

The structure of the federal judiciary includes:

  • the method of appointing judges,

  • their tenure in office, and

  • the judicial authority of the different courts and their relationship to each other.


Judges will be appointed using the same method as other officers of the Union.

All federal judges will hold their offices during good behavior.   78[3,4,6]

The judicial authority of the Union should extend to several types of cases:

  1. Cases that concern the execution of the provisions in the Constitution.

  2. Cases that come from the laws of the United States passed through the constitutional power of legislation.

  3. Cases in which the United States is a party.

  4. Cases involving the PEACE of the CONFEDERACY, whether they relate to the relationship between the United States and foreign nations or between the States themselves.

  5. Cases that originate on the high seas and are of admiralty or maritime jurisdiction;

  6. Cases in which the State courts cannot be expected to be impartial and unbiased.  80 [2]

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