Tucker's Blackstone

Volume 1 — Appendix
Note D

[Section 11 - Powers of Congress (cont.)]

15. Congress may admit new states into the union; but no new state shall be formed, or erected within the jurisdiction of any other state, nor any state be formed by the junction of two or more states, or parts of states, without the consent of the legislatures of the states concerned, as well as of congress. C. U. S. Art. 3, Sec. 3.

In the articles of confederation it was agreed, that Canada, acceding thereto, and joining in the measures of the United States, should be admitted into the union; but no other colony should be admitted, unless such admission be agreed to by nine states. The eventual establishment of new states, within the limits of the territory of the United States, seems to have been overlooked by the compilers of that instrument. The inconvenience of this omission had been felt, and congress were, perhaps, led into an assumption of power not strictly warranted by the confederation; in the establishment of a government north-west of the Ohio. With great propriety, therefore, has the constitution supplied the defect. The general precaution that no new states should be formed without the concurrence of the federal authority, and that of the states concerned, is consonant to the principles which ought to govern such transactions. The particular precaution against the erection of new states by the partition of a state without it's consent, quiets the jealousy of the larger states; as that of the smaller is quieted by a like precaution against a junction of states without their consent. Under the authority of this article, the states of Vermont, Kentucky, and Tennessee, have been admitted into the union. And the boundaries of a new state have been lately established within the territory northwest of the Ohio, which, as soon as formed, is to be admitted as a member of the union, upon the same footing with the original states 222.

Congress, under the former confederation, passed an ordinance, July 13, 1787, for the government of the territory of the United States, north-west of the Ohio, which contained, among other things, six articles, which were to be considered as articles of compact between the original states, and the people and states of the said territory, and to remain unalterable, unless by common consent. These articles appear to have been confirmed by the sixth article of the constitution, which declares, that, all debts contracted, and engagements entered into before the adoption of the constitution, shall be as valid against the United States under the constitution, as under the confederation. The first of these articles secures the absolute freedom of religion: The second secures the benefit of the writ of habeas corpus; the trial by jury; judicial proceedings according to the course of the common law; the right of bail; the moderation of fines and of punishments; the right of personal security, and the right of private property; the sacredness of private contracts; and a proportionate representation of the people in the legislature. The third engages for the encouragement of schools, and the means of education; and for good faith with the Indians, and the security of their persons and property from injury. The fourth stipulates, that the states formed in that territory shall forever remain part of the American confederacy, &c. that they shall pay it part of the federal debt, and a proportional part of the expences of government; that the legislatures of the new states shall never interfere with the primary disposal of the soil, by the United States in congress assembled; that no tax shall be imposed on lands the property of the United States; and that non-resident proprietors shall in no case be taxed higher than residents. That the navigable waters and carrying places shall be common highways, and forever free to all the citizens of the American confederacy, without any tax, impost, or duty therefor. The sixth article declares, that there shall be formed in the said territory, not less than three, nor more than five states; that whenever any of the said states shall have sixty thousand free inhabitants, it shall be admitted into the confederacy on an equal footing with the original states in all respects whatever, and be at liberty to form a permanent constitution and state government; provided the same be republican, and in conformity to the principles contained in those articles: and so far as can be consistent with the general interest of the confederacy; such admission shall be sooner allowed. The last article stipulates that there shall be neither slavery, nor involuntary servitude, otherwise than in punishment of crimes: with a proviso, that persons escaping into the same from any state, where they may have been lawfully held to service, may be lawfully reclaimed and delivered up.

The ordinance further provides, that the estates both of resident and non-resident proprietors, shall descend to their children, or other next of kin, of a person dying intestate, in equal degree; and that there shall be no distinction between kindred of the whole and half blood; that the widow shall be endowed of one third part of the real and personal estate of her intestate husband, for life; and that this law, relative to descents and dower, shall remain in full force until altered by the legislature. That estates may be devised by will, and conveyed by lease and release, or by bargain and sale, by persons of full age, until the governor and judges should adopt other laws, as therein authorised. That the governor and judges, or a majority of them, shall adopt and publish, in the district, such laws of the original states, criminal and civil, as may be necessary, and best suited to the circumstances of the district, and report them to congress from time to time; which laws shall be in force until the organization of the general assembly therein, unless disapproved of by congress; but afterwards, the legislature might alter them as they should think fit. That the general assembly shall consist of the governor, a legislative council, and a house of representatives; that the governor shall be appointed by congress, every three years; that he shall have a negative upon all legislative acts; that he shall have power to convene, prorogue, and dissolve the general assembly; that the legislative council shall consist of five members, to continue five years in office, and to be appointed by congress, out of ten persons, residents and freeholders in the district, to be nominated by the house of representatives; that the governor and members of the council be removable by congress; that a house of representatives shall be chosen as soon as there shall be five thousand free male inhabitants of full age in the district, and consist of one member for every five hundred free male inhabitants, until the number shall amount to twenty-five, after which the number shall be regulated by the legislature; that the representatives thus elected, shall serve for two years. That a court of common law jurisdiction shall be appointed, to consist of three judges, who shall hold their offices during good behaviour. Such are the principal outlines of the temporary provisions made upon this subject, which, I presume, still remain in force in those parts of the territory, not included within the bounds of the new state, lately admitted as a member of the federal union. By the act of 1 Cong. c. 8, the president of the United States is authorised to nominate, and by and with the advice and consent of the senate, to appoint all officers, which, by that ordinance were to have been appointed by congress, under the confederation. And by the act of 6 Cong. c. 41, the territory was divided into two separate governments, one of which was called the Indiana Territory, and a government established therein, in all respects similar to that provided by the above mentioned ordinance, except that the legislature thereof might be organized, notwithstanding there may not be five thousand free male inhabitants of full age therein. The act further declares, that nothing therein contained, shall be construed in any manner, to affect the government already in force, on the northwest of the Ohio river, further than to prohibit the exercise thereof within the Indiana territory.

By the act of 5 Cong. c. 45, authorising the establishment of a government in the Mississippi territory, the president of the United States is authorised to establish therein a government, in all respects similar to that in the northwest territory, excepting and excluding that article of the ordinance of July 13, 1787, which declares, that there shall be neither slavery; nor involuntary servitude therein. The importation of slaves from foreign parts, is, nevertheless, prohibited, under the penalty of three hundred dollars upon the importer, and the slave is moreover entitled to freedom. Considering that the southern climate is in general favourable to negroes, and the difficulties which the number of them may in time create in some of the states; their dispersion is an object rather to be favoured, perhaps, than discountenanced. Yet it is difficult to suppress a sigh, whenever we discover any measure which seems to favour the continuance of slavery among us.

16. Congress, have power to dispose of; and make all needful rules and regulations respecting the territory, or other property belonging to the United States; and nothing in the constitution shall be so construed as to prejudice any claims of the United States, or of any state. C. U. S. Art. 3, Sec. 3.

During the revolutionary war, congress recommended to the several states in the union, having claims to waste and unappropriated lands in the western country, a liberal cession to the United States of a portion of their respective claims, for the common benefit of the union. In consequence of which, the state of Virginia ceded to the United States, for the common benefit of the whole confederacy, all the right, title, and claim which the commonwealth had to the territory northwest of the river Ohio, subject to the terms and conditions contained in her several acts of cession, viz. January 2, 1781... Acts of October session, 1783. c. 18, and of December 30, 1788 223. One of the conditions of the latter act, being, that the said territory should be divided into not more than five, nor less than three states, whose boundaries are therein prescribed, of which we have already had occasion to make. mention. It appears by a late document 224, that the tract of country thus ceded, probably contains about 10,894,447, acres, within the line of the Indian boundary, of which 1,059,120, acres have been either located or set apart for military claims, 575,268, have been sold, or otherwise granted, and about 9,260,089, remained unsold on the first of November, 1801. The acts of 4 Cong, c. 29, and 6 Cong, c. 55, providing for the sale of these lands, contain many wise, and wholesome regulations, the principal of which, are, that they shall be laid out into townships six miles square, by north and south lines, according to the true meridian, and by others crossing them at right angles; that one half of those townships, taking them alternately, shall be subdivided into sections of six hundred and forty acres, which shall be numbered in order; that fair plats of these townships shall be made; that four sections at the center of every township, and every other section upon which a salt spring may be discovered shall be reserved for the use of the United States; that all navigable rivers shall be deemed, and remain public highways; and all lesser streams, and their beds shall become common to the proprietors of the lands on the opposite banks; and that no part of the lands shall be sold for less than two dollars per acre. A former secretary of the treasury estimated the value of these lands at twenty cents per acre, only 225. Those which have been already sold pursuant to the act of congress, have averaged two dollars and nine cents; or, more than ten times that valuation. The celebrated Doctor Price, in his observations on the importance of the American revolution, recommends the reserving the whole, or a considerable part of these lands, and appropriating a certain sum annually to the clearing unlocated lands, and other improvements thereon; and computes that 100,000. thus expended, with fidelity, would produce a capital of one hundred millions sterling, in about eighty years. This hint is probably worthy of attention to a certain extent: but it might well be questioned, whether, if the measure were adopted as jar as he seems to have thought advisable, it might not lay the foundation of so large a revenue, independent of the people, as to he formidable in the hands of any government. To amass immense riches to defray the expences of ambition when occasion may prompt, without seeming to oppress the people, has uniformly been the policy of tyrants. Should such a policy creep into our government, and the sales of land, instead of being appropriated to the discharge of former debts, be converted to a treasure in a bank, those who can at any time command it, may be tempted to apply it to the most nefarious purposes. The improvident alienation of the crown lands in England, has been considered as a circumstance extremely favourable to the liberty of the nation, by rendering the government less independent of the people 226. The same reason will apply to other governments, whether monarchical or republican: whenever any government becomes independent of the nation all ideas of responsibility are immediately lost: and when responsibility ceases, slavery begins. It is the due restraint, and not the moderation of rulers that constitutes a state of liberty; as the power to oppress, though never exercised, does a state of slavery.

The disposal of the whole of the western lands, at so low a rate as even that now established by congress, as a minimum, is a measure of the policy of which, doubts may be entertained .... The western territory ought to be regarded as a national stock of wealth. It may be compared to bullion, or coin deposited in the vaults of a bank, which although it produces no present profit, secures the credit of the institution, and is ready to answer any emergency. This supposes the lands, like bullion, to remain always of the same value; but the lands must increase in value at the rate of compound interest, whenever population becomes considerable in those parts of the union. This we see is daily encreasing with great rapidity; and the value of the lands can not fail to keep pace with it. The most fertile spots upon the globe are of no more value than those which are covered by the ocean, so long as they continue remote from population; as the most barren spots are rendered valuable by its progress, and approach. A reserve of one half, or some other considerable proportion of the lands remaining unsold, therefore, seems to be recommended by many prudential considerations.

Other considerable cessions have been made to the United States by other states in the union. The state of Connecticut, made a cession which appears to have been accepted by congress, September 14, 1786. The act of 6 Cong. c. 38, authorises the president of the United States to release the soil of a tract lying west of the west line of Pennsylvania, and extending one hundred and twenty statute miles, westward, and from the completion of the forty-first, to the latitude of the forty-second degree and two minutes, north, which was excepted by the state of Connecticut out of their cession, provided that state shall cede to the United States certain other lands, and relinquish her right of jurisdiction over the territory, the soil of which shall be thus released to that state. South-Carolina likewise appears to have made a cession of lands to the United States 227. The territory ceded by North-Carolina now constitutes the state of Tennessee 228. The acts of 5 Cong. c. 45, and 6 Cong. c. 50, authorise the acceptance of a cession of lands, or of the jurisdiction thereof, from the state of Georgia, on such terms as may seem reasonable to the commissioners appointed on the part of that state, and of the United States respectively. In the mean time the establishment of the Mississippi government is not in any respect to impair the right of the state of Georgia to the jurisdiction, or of the said state, or any person, to the soil of the territory thereof 229.

17. To give efficacy to these powers, congress is authorised to make all laws which shall be necessary and proper for carrying into execution the foregoing powers, and all other powers vested by the constitution in the government of the United States, or in any department, or officer thereof. C. U. S. Art. 1. . 8.

After the, satisfactory exposition of this article given in the Federalist 230, that if the constitution had been silent on this head, there could be no doubt, that all the particular powers requisite, as the proper means of executing the general powers specified in the constitution, would have resulted to the federal government, by unavoidable implication; and that if there be any thing exceptionable in this particular clause, it must be sought for in the specific powers, upon which this general declaration is predicated: and after the explicit declaration contained in the twelfth article of the amendments to the constitution, that the powers not delegated to the United States by the constitution, nor prohibited by it to the states, are reserved to the states respectively, or to the people: we might have indulged a reasonable hope, that this clause would neither have continued to afford any ground of alarm, and apprehension, on the part of the people or the individual states, nor any pretext for an assumption of any power not specified in the constitution, on the part of the federal government. But, notwithstanding this remarkable security against misconstruction, a design has been indicated to expound these phrases in the constitution, so as to destroy the effect of the particular enumeration of powers, by which it explains and limits them, which must have fallen under the observation of those who have attended to the course of public transactions 231.

The plain import of this clause is, that congress shall have all the incidental or instrumental powers, necessary and proper for carrying into execution all the express powers; whether they be vested in the government of the United States, more collectively, or in the several departments, or officers thereof. It neither enlarges any power specifically granted, nor is it a grant of new powers to congress, but merely a declaration, for the removal of all uncertainty, that the means of carrying into execution those otherwise granted, are included in the grant. A single example may illustrate this matter. The executive has power to make treaties, and by the treaty with Algiers, a certain tribute is to be paid annually to that regency. But the executive have no power to levy a tax for the payment of this tribute; congress, therefore, are authorised by this clause, to pass a law for that purpose: without which the treaty, although it be a supreme law of the land, in it's nature, and therefore binding upon congress, could not be executed with good faith. For the Constitution expressly prohibits drawing any money from the treasury but in consequence of appropriations made by law.

Whenever, therefore, a question arises concerning the constitutionality of a particular power; the first question is, whether the power be expressed in the constitution? If it be, the question is decided. If it be not expressed, the next enquiry must be, whether it is properly an incident to an express power, and necessary to it's execution. If it be, it may be exercised by congress. If it be not, congress cannot exercise it .... And this construction of the words "necessary and proper," is not only consonant with that which prevailed during the discussions and ratifications of the constitution, but is absolutely necessary to maintain their consistency with the peculiar character of the government, as possessed of particular and defined powers, only; not of the general and indefinite powers vested in ordinary governments 232.

Under this construction of the clause in question, it is calculated to operate as a powerful and immediate check upon the proceedings of the federal legislature, itself, so long as the sanction of an oath, and the obligations of conscience, are regarded, among men. For, as every member is bound by oath to support the constitution, if he were to bring every measure that is proposed to the test here mentioned, and reject whatsoever could not stand the scrutiny, we should probably cease to hear any questions respecting the constitutionality of the acts of the federal government. To which we may add, that this interpretation of the clause is indispensably necessary to support that principle of the constitution, which regards the judicial exposition of that instrument, as the bulwark provided against undue extension of the legislative power. If it be understood that the powers implied in the specified powers, have an immediate and appropriate relation to them, as means, necessary and proper for carrying them into execution, questions on the constitutionality of laws passed for this purpose, will be of a nature sufficiently precise and determinate, for judicial cognizance and control. If on the one hand congress are not limited in the choice of the means, by any such appropriate relation of them to the specified powers, but may use all such as they may deem capable of answering the end, without regard to the necessity, or propriety of them, all questions relating to means of this sort must be questions of mere policy, and expediency, and from which the judicial interposition and control are completely excluded .... If, for example, congress were to pass a law prohibiting any person from bearing arms, as a means of preventing insurrections, the judicial courts, under the construction of the words necessary and proper, here contended for, would be able to pronounce decidedly upon the constitutionality of these means. But if congress may use any means, which they choose to adopt, the provision in the constitution which secures to the people the right of bearing arms, is a mere nullity; and any man imprisoned for bearing arms under such an act, might be without relief; because in that case, no court could have any power to pronounce on the necessity or propriety of the means adopted by congress to carry any specified power into complete effect.

This finishes our view of the legislative powers granted to the federal government; great and extensive as they must appear, they are in general such as experience had evinced to be necessary, or as the principles of a federal government had recommended to experiment, at least. In many instances these powers have been guarded by wise provisions, and restraints; some which have been already noticed; the remainder will soon pass under review. Experience has already evinced the benefit of these restraints; and had they been more numerous, and more effectual, there is little reason to doubt that it would have contributed largely to the peace and harmony of the union, both heretofore, and hereafter. All governments have a natural tendency towards an increase, and assumption of power; and the administration of the federal government, has too frequently demonstrated, that the people of America are not exempt from this vice in their constitution. We have seen that parchment chains are not sufficient to correct this unhappy propensity; they are, nevertheless, capable of producing the most salutary effects; for, when broken, they warn the people to change those perfidious agents, who dare to violate them.


222. L. U. S. 7 Cong. c. 40 .... The act authorises the inhabitants of the eastern-division of the territory north-west of the river Ohio, to form for themselves a constitution and state government, and to assume such name as they shall deem proper, and declares, that, the said state when formed, shall be admitted into the union, upon the same footing with the original states, in all respects whatever.

The boundaries of the state, as established for the present, are as follows: On the east, by the Pennsylvania line; on the south, by the Ohio river, to the mouth of the Great Miami river; on the west, by a line drawn due north from the Great Miami river at the mouth; and on the north, by an east and west line drawn through the southerly extreme of like Michigan, running east after intersecting the line from the mouth of the Miami river, until it intersect lake Erie, or the territorial line; and thence with the same through lake Erie to the Pennsylvania line. But congress reserve to themselves the liberty at any time hereafter to attach all the territory lying east of the line to be drawn due north from the mouth of the Miami, to the territorial line, and north of an east and west line drawn through the southerly extreme of lake Michigan, running east to lake Erie, to such state, or dispose of it otherwise, in conformity to the fifth article of the compact between the original states, and the people and states to be formed in the territory north-west of the river Ohio.

The convention have accordingly established a constitution pursuant to the act of congress, and have adopted the name of the river Ohio, as the name their state.

223. Virginia laws, Edi. 1785, p. 214. Edi. 1794. p. 47.

224. Report of the Secretary of the Treasury, Dec. 18, 1801.

225. Report of Mr. Secretary Hamilton, to congress, January 19, 1795.

226. See Price's Observations on the American Revolution, p. 10, and 1 Blacks. Com. p. 306.

227. L. U. S. 5 Cong. c. 45.

228. See L. U. S. 1 Cong. 1 Sess. c. 6. and 4 Cong. c. 47.

229. An act passed in the 7 Cong. c. 40, to enable the people of the eastern division of the territory north-west of the river Ohio, to form a constitution and state government, and for the admission of such state into the union; by which it is declared, that all that part of the territory of the United States north-west of the river Ohio, heretofore included in the eastern division, of the said territory, and not included within the boundary by that act prescribed for the said state, shall be attached to, and made a part of the Indiana Territory, subject nevertheless to the future disposal of congress, according to the right reserved in the fifth article of the ordinance of congress, (July 13, 1787) for the government of the territory of the United States north-west of the river Ohio. This was necessarily noticed under the last head.

230. See the Federalist, No. 33, and 44.

231. Witness, the act for establishing a bank; the act authorising the president to appoint officers to volunteer corps of militia; the act declaring that a paper not stamped agreeably thereto, shall not be admitted as evidence in a state court; the alien and sedition laws, &c. "not to multiply proofs on this subject, it may be sufficient to refer to the debates of the federal legislature, for several years, in which arguments have, on different occasions, been drawn with apparent effect from these phrases, in their indefinite meaning." See report of the committee of the general assembly of Virginia, on the alien and sedition laws, January 20, 1800.

232. See the report of the committee of the general assembly of Virginia on the alien and sedition laws .... January 20, 1800.


Next Section | Previous Section | Contents | Constitution Society Home Page