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  • Writer's pictureMary Webster

Federalist Papers Explain Federal Responsibilities and Powers


What are the responsibilities and powers of the United States federal government? The quickest way to define them is to quote directly from The Federalist Papers. The rest of this post includes quotes from Federalist Papers #23, 41, 42, 43, and 44.


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. Federalist Paper #23 [paragraph 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] 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]


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, or • grant any title of nobility. [Article 1, section 10] #44 [1-2]

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]


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