ZeraLand, USA

On the Nature of "Nation"

United States Constitution – Article I sec 8

This section lists (enumerates) powers explicitly assigned to Congress. Some are also mentioned elsewhere in the Constitution. Some are more specific than others. This is not the complete list.

Section 8

(clause 1)

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;

Congress has the power to raise revenue by imposing and collecting:

  • Taxes,
  • Duties,
  • Imposts,
  • and Excises.

Note that Taxes were not included in the uniformity requirement. As the word “Excises” is followed by a comma instead of a semicolon, I take it to mean that this power to raise revenues is only for the purpose of:

  • Paying the Debts of the United States.
  • Funding the common Defense of the United States.
  • Funding the general Welfare of the United States.

The big question here is just what falls under the umbrella of “general welfare”?

(clause 2)

To borrow Money on the credit of the United States;

Congress must authorize the borrowing of money. Pretty straightforward stuff. Of course, it comes with the implied mandate to maintain the credit-worthiness of the United States, and to repay borrowed money. The Framers would have known, they had the debt accumulated from the Revolutionary War to repay. One of the reasons for a strong central government was the inability of a weak central government to repay that debt.

(clause 3 – the Commerce Clause)

To regulate Commerce with foreign Nations, and among the several States, and with the Indian Tribes;

While simple enough, this is arguably the most contentious clause in the Constitution. Simply put, it gives Congress the power to regulate any Commerce that crosses state or national borders. Part of the question is: what constitutes “commerce”? Is it limited to business activities that cross state lines or does it include businesses that have effects that cross state lines?

(clause 4)

To establish an uniform Rule of Naturalization, and uniform Laws on the subject of Bankruptcies throughout the United States;

  • Congress has the power to establish the rules of immigration,
  • Congress has the power to establish uniform laws concerning bankruptcies, even within the States.

Immigration laws relate directly to matters of sovereignty.
Obviously, they considered the process of bankruptcy very serious.

(clause 5)

To coin Money, regulate the Value thereof, and of foreign Coin, and fix the Standard of Weights and Measures;

Congress has the power to

  • make our own currency.
  • regulate the value of our currency,
  • regulate the exchange rate for foreign currency,
  • and set standards of weights and measures.

(clause 6)

To provide for the Punishment of counterfeiting the Securities and current Coin of the United States;

As Congress makes our physical currency, it is logical for them to protect it from forgery. I imagine that “securities” refers to what is issued in exchange for borrowed money. Interestingly, the counterfeiting of private securities and foreign money are not covered here.

(clause 7)

To establish Post Offices and post Roads;

Initially, postal service was critical to communication and commerce. Mail contracts also helped subsidize things from the Pony Express to the aviation industry. While the need for traditional postal services is waning, the need for reliable methods of transferring official communications (and the essence of Post Offices and post Roads) will continue to exist. Postal mail carries privacy and security protections by law that alternatives do not.

(clause 8)

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;

Copyrights and Patents. Note that the purpose is to promote progress, not protect profits.

(clause 9)

To constitute Tribunals inferior to the supreme Court;

Congress, not the Supreme Court, creates the lesser courts.

(clause 10)

To define and punish Piracies and Felonies committed on the high Seas, and Offences against the Law of Nations;

Congress has the power to make laws regarding crimes committed on our territorial waters.
Congress has the power to make laws regarding the behavior of other countries toward us, and our behavior toward them. Think “Act of War” and rules of diplomacy.

(clause 11)

To declare War, grant Letters of Marque and Reprisal, and make Rules concerning Captures on Land and Water;

Congress has the power to declare war.
Congress has the power to grant Letters of Marque and Reprisal.

A Letter of Marque and Reprisal in effect converted a private merchant vessel into a naval auxiliary. A commissioned privateer enjoyed the protection of the laws of war. If captured, the crew was entitled to honorable treatment as prisoners of war, while without the license they were deemed mere pirates “at war with all the world,” criminals who were properly hanged.

Congress has the power to make Rules concerning prisoners and captured material (like ships, tanks, and weapons).

(clause 12)

To raise and support Armies, but no Appropriation of Money to that Use shall be for a longer Term than two Years;

Congress has the power to raise and support military land forces, but this does not necessarily mean a standing army is required. The limitation on the duration of military appropriations implies that our armed forces were not intended to be a standing army. This restriction has been defeated by annual reiterations of the military appropriations.

The plans to rely on the state militias as the first line of defense ended with their poor showing in the War of 1812. It became clear that a standing army was required.

(clause 13)

To provide and maintain a Navy;

Congress has the power to raise and support military naval forces. This does not carry the same limitation of appropriations as the land forces. This could be a consequence of the importance of waterways in transportation and commerce, or a recognition that the ocean was (and still is) our first line of defense against invasion.

(clause 14)

To make Rules for the Government and Regulation of the land and naval Forces;

Congress has the power to make uniform rules regulating military forces in the United States.
The Constitution was signed on September 17, 1787. The first manned flight, a hot air balloon, happened in Paris only 4 years earlier – November 21, 1783. It is not surprising that the Framers did not anticipate the need for armed forces in the air.

(clause 15)

To provide for calling forth the Militia to execute the Laws of the Union, suppress Insurrections and repel Invasions;

To provide for. To make laws setting the procedure for activating the militias:

  • to execute the Laws of the Union
  • to suppress Insurrections
  • to repel Invasions

I interpret “Laws of the Union” to mean federal laws, but it could include state laws.

(clause 16)

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;

The federal government sets the rules for organization, conduct, and training. It also supplies the weapons for the militia (National Guard).
The federal government only governs the part of the militia that has been activated under clause 15.
The states appoint the officers of their own militias, and perform the training defined by Congress.

(clause 17)

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

Congress performs the function of a state legislature in the District of Columbia, and all military property purchased from (and existing within) the individual states.

(clause 18)

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.

Congress has the power to make the laws necessary to carry out:

  • the powers enumerated in this section
  • the powers vested in all parts of the government
  • the powers vested in any department or officer (office holder) in the government

<== Art I sec 7
Art I sec 9 ==>


October 23, 2011 - Posted by | Article I, Const. Review, Const. Second Reading | , , , , , , , ,


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