Thomas Jefferson

Rights, Powers and Duties

On every question of construction [of the Constitution] let us carry ourselves back to the time when the Constitution was adopted, recollect the spirit manifested in the debates, and instead of trying what meaning may be squeezed out of the text, or intended against it, conform to the probable one in which it was passed.
— Thomas Jefferson (1743-1826), letter to Judge William Johnson, (from Monticello, June 12, 1823)
If, in the opinion of the people, the distribution or modification of the constitutional powers be in any particular wrong, let it be corrected by an amendment in the way which the Constitution designates. But let there be no change by usurpation; for though this, in one instance, may be the instrument of good, it is the customary weapon by which free governments are destroyed.
— George Washington, Farewell Address, 1796
Do not separate text from historical background. If you do, you will have perverted and subverted the Constitution, which can only end in a distorted, bastardized form of illegitimate government.
— James Madison (unverified)

Potestas stricte interpretatur. A power is strictly interpreted.

In dubiis, non praesumitur pro potentia. In cases of doubt, the presumption is not in favor of a power.

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General Constitutional Issues

  1. Landmark Court Decisions — Local archive, with commentaries on the rulings and the opinions.
  2. Remote Link - HTML Varieties of jurisdiction, Jon Roland, December 11, 2010.
  3. HTML Version Text Version Zipped WordPerfect Version Constitutional Rights, Powers and Duties, Jon Roland
  4. Blogger article List of Constitutional Rights, Jon Roland
  5. HTML Version Text Version Zipped WordPerfect Version Declaration of Constitutional Principles, Jon Roland
  6. HTML Version Text Version Principles of Constitutional Construction, Jon Roland
  7. HTML Version Text Version Zipped WordPerfect Version Legal Theory of the Right to Keep and Bear Arms, Jon Roland
  8. HTML Version Veto Message to Congress, James Madison, March 3, 1817, of public works bill.
  9. HTML Version Text Version Crockett on the Power to Make Charitable Donations
  10. HTML Version Veto Message to Congress, Franklin Pierce, May 3, 1854, of welfare bill.
  11. HTML Version Text Version RTF Limits on Powers of Congress, Larry Becraft
  12. HTML Version Text Version RTF Interstate Commerce, Larry Becraft
  13. HTML Version The Demise of the Right-Privilege Distinction in Constitutional Law, William W. Van Alstyne, Harvard Law Review, Vol. 81:1439.
  14. Remote Link - HTML The Original Meaning of the Commerce Clause, Randy E. Barnett, 68 U. Chicago Law Review 101.
  15. Remote Link - HTML Works of Lysander Spooner. Site created by Randy E. Barnett.
  16. HTML Version Text Version Locating the Boundaries: The Scope of Congress's Power to Regulate Commerce, Robert H. Bork and Daniel E. Troy — Current doctrine in conflict with original understanding. Paper delivered at symposium sponsored by U.S. Chamber of Commerce.
  17. Submenu Text Version On Misreading John Bingham and the Fourteenth Amendment, Richard L. Aynes, Yale Law Journal, October, 1993, Page 57 — Argues that the Fourteenth Amendment was understood by its authors and ratifiers as extending the jurisdiction of U.S. Courts over cases between a citizen and his state over rights protected in the U.S. Constitution.
  18. Remote Link - HTML The Evolving Police Power: Some Observations for a New Century, Glenn H. Reynolds, David B. Kopel, Hastings Constitutional Law Quarterly, Spring 2000.
  19. Remote Link - HTML The Scholarship of the Original Understanding of the Constitution, Robert G. Natelson, Independence Institute.
  20. HTML Version Text Version The Kentucky and Virginia Resolutions: Guideposts of Limited Government, William J. Watkins, Jr. — These 1798 documents are comparable in importance, for our understanding the Constitution, to the Federalist or Madison's Notes on the Debates in the Federal Convention.
  21. Remote Link - HTML The Forgotten, Newest Amendment: Is It Already A Dead Letter?, by John C. Eastman. Commentary on violations of the 27th Amendment.
Today, when a concerted effort is made to obliterate this point, it cannot be repeated too often that the Constitution is a limitation on the government, not on private individuals — that it does not prescribe the conduct of private individuals, only the conduct of the government — that it is not a charter for government power, but a charter of the citizen's protection against the government.
— Ayn Rand

Constitutional Interpretative Commentaries by Jon Roland

  • HTML Version Text Version Original Understanding of the Commerce Clause, Jon Roland: July 29, 2002
  • HTML Version Text Version Intent of the Fourteenth Amendment was to Protect All Rights, Jon Roland
  • HTML Version Text Version Zipped WordPerfect MS Word Version Public Safety or Bills of Attainder? — Law Review Article: written Jun. 14, 2000, published UWLA LR Vol. 34, 2002
  • HTML Version Text Version The meaning of "Offenses against the Law of Nations"
The general rule is that an unconstitutional statute, though having the form and name of law, is in reality no law, but is wholly void, and ineffective for any purpose; since unconstitutionality dates from the time of it's enactment, and not merely from the date of the decision so branding it... No one is bound to obey an unconstitutional law, and no courts are bound to enforce it.
— 16 Am Jur 2d, Sec 177 late 2d, Sec 256

Specific Constitutional Issues

  1. HTML Version Text Version Veto of federal public works bill — March 3, 1817. Provides important guide to the interpretation of the "general welfare" and "necessary and proper" clauses of the Constitution.
  2. Submenu Impeachment
  3. Submenu Letters of Marque and Reprisal — Collection of historical examples with analysis.
So long as the people do not care to exercise their freedom, those who wish to tyrannize will do so; for tyrants are active and ardent, and will devote themselves in the name of any number of gods, religious and otherwise, to put shackles upon sleeping men.
— Voltairine de Cleyre (1886-1912)
I slept, and dreamed that life was Beauty;
I woke, and found that life was Duty.
— Ellen Sturgis Hooper (1816-1841)

Nondelegation and the Administrative State — Questions of the legitimacy of delegations of legislative powers to executive branch agencies.

The people are masters of both Congress and courts, not to overthrow the constitution, but to overthrow the men who pervert it!
— Abraham Lincoln

Property and Privacy Rights — We have a separate subsite for this large topic.

[E]very act of a delegated authority, contrary to the tenor of the commission under which it is exercised, is void. No legislative act, therefore, contrary to the Constitution, can be valid. To deny this, would be to affirm, that the deputy is greater than his principal; that the servant is above his master; that the representatives of the people are superior to the people themselves; that men acting by virtue of powers, may do not only what their powers do not authorize, but what they forbid.
— Alexander Hamilton, Federalist #78

Constitutionalism — Sometimes equated with the "Rule of Law", holds that government can and should be legally limited in its powers, and that its authority depends on enforcing those limitations.

Liberty cannot be preserved without a general knowledge among the people, who have a right, from the frame of their nature, to knowledge, as their great Creator, who does nothing in vain, has given them understandings, and a desire to know; but besides this, they have a right, an indisputable, unalienable, indefeasible, divine right to that most dreaded and envied kind of knowledge; I mean, of the characters and conduct of their rulers.
— John Adams, Dissertation on Canon and Feudal Law, 1765, From: Our Sacred Honor, Bennett, 253.

It is maintained by the advocates of the bank that its constitutionality in all its features ought to be considered as settled by precedent and by the decision of the Supreme Court. To this conclusion I cannot assent. Mere precedent is a dangerous source of authority...[and] the opinion of the Supreme Court...ought not to control the coordinate authorities of this Government. The Congress, the Executive, and the Court must each for itself be guided by its own opinion of the Constitution. Each public officer who takes an oath to support the Constitution swears that he will support it as he understands it, and not as it is understood by others. It is as much the duty of the House of Representatives, of the Senate, and of the President to decide upon the constitutionality of any bill...presented to them for passage...as it is of the supreme judges when it may be brought before them for judicial decision.
— President Andrew Jackson observed, in his 1832 veto message rejecting a bill extending the charter of the Bank of the United States

Home
Original URL: http://www.constitution.org/cs_power.htm
Maintained:
Jon Roland of the Constitution Society
Original date: 1995/09/25 — 


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