Tucker's Blackstone

Volume 1 — Appendix
Note D

[Section 18 - Miscellaneous Provisions (cont.)]

7. All debts contracted, and engagements entered into, before the adoption of the constitution, are declared to be as valid against the United States under the same, as under the confederation. This declaration was probably inserted for the satisfaction, as well as the security of the public creditors, both foreign and domestic. The articles of confederation contained a similar stipulation in respect to the bills of credit emitted, monies borrowed, and debts contracted, by or under the authority of congress, before the ratification of the confederation. These declarations are merely acknowledgments of that which moral obligation imposed upon the United States as a duty. It might seem as if this act prohibited the making of any act of limitation in bar of such debts; but a different interpretation has been given to it by congress. L. U. S. 2 Cong. 2 Sess. c. 6.

8. The ratification of the conventions of nine states was declared to be sufficient for establishing the constitution between the states ratifying the same.

This article may now be regarded of little importance, the constitution having been ratified by all the members of the former confederacy.... Had it been otherwise, after nine states had ratified the constitution, it might have been a question of some delicacy, in what relation those which failed to ratify, stood to the others which had. The adoption of the constitution the establishing a new form of government by nine states only, would have been an undoubted breach of the articles of confederation, on their parts 331: the remaining states might, at their election, have considered the confederacy as dissolved, or not. If they considered it as dissolved, they would have stood in the relation of other foreign states. If as still existing, they would have had a right to insist upon the performance of all mutual stipulations on the part of the other states, so long as they continued to perform their own, with good faith. The Federalist advances a different opinion 332: Happily for the United States it is now unnecessary to discuss the question any further.

9. The constitution, and the laws of the United States, made in pursuance of it; and all treaties made, and to be made, under the authority of the United States, shall be the supreme law of the land; and the judges in every state shall be bound thereby, any thing in the constitution or laws of any state to the contrary notwithstanding 333.

It may seem very extraordinary, that a people jealous of their liberty, and not insensible of the allurements of power, should have entrusted the federal government with such extensive authority as this article conveys: controlling not only the acts of their ordinary legislatures, but their very constitutions, also.

The most satisfactory answer seems to be, that the powers entrusted to the federal government being all positive, enumerated, defined, and limited to particular objects; and those objects such as relate more immediately to the intercourse with foreign nations, or the relation in respect to war or peace, in which we may stand with them; there can, in these respects, be little room for collision, or interference between the states, whose jurisdiction may be regarded as confided to their own domestic concerns, and the United States, who have no right to interfere, or exercise a power in any case not delegated to them; or absolutely necessary to the execution of some delegated power. That, as this control cannot possibly extend beyond those objects to which the federal government is competent, under the constitution, and under the declaration contained in the twelfth article, so neither ought the laws, or even the constitution of any state to impede the operation of the federal government in any case within the limits of it's constitutional powers. That a law limited to such objects as may be authorised by the constitution, would, under the true construction of this clause, be the supreme law of the land; but a law not limited to those objects, or not made pursuant to the constitution, would not be the supreme law of the land, but an act of usurpation, and consequently void. A further answer seems also to be, that without this provision the constitution could not have taken effect in those states where the articles of confederation were sanctioned by the constitution; nor could it be supposed that the constitution of the United States would possess any stability so long as it was liable to be affected by any future change in the constitution of any of the states. Other reasons are assigned by the Federalist, for which I shall refer the student to that work 334.

10. The senators and representatives in congress, and the members of the several state legislatures, and all executive and judicial officers of the United states, and of the several states, shall be bound by oath or affirmation to support the constitution 335.

That all those who are entrusted with the execution of the powers vested in the federal government, should, under the most solemn sanction, be bound to the due execution of the trusts reposed in them, could not be doubted. But the propriety of requiring a similar engagement from the members of the state legislatures, and the other public functionaries in the several states, was doubted. But it should be remembered, that the members and officers of the state governments will have an essential agency in giving effect to the federal government. The election of the senate depends upon the immediate agency of the state legislatures. In some of the states the electors for president and vice-president are chosen in the same manner. In all, the legislature must direct the mode in which they shall be appointed. The election of representatives must probably depend upon them also for aid; at least until congress, shall pass a general law upon the subject. The judges of the state courts will not unfrequently have to decide according to the constitution and laws of the United States. Decisions ought to be uniform, whether had in the federal courts, or the state courts. This uniformity can only be obtained by uniformity of obligation. The executive authority of the states will also have an immediate agency in the appointment of senators, in case of vacancy during the recess of the legislature: in issuing writs of election to fill up vacancies in the house of representatives; in giving effect to the laws for calling the militia into the service of the United States; in officering the militia, and a variety of other occasions, all of which require that no adverse spirit, nor doubts of authority, or obligation, should be permitted to counteract, or retard the necessary operations of the federal government.

11. Lastly the fifth article provides the mode by which future amendments to. the constitution may be proposed, discussed, and carried into effect, without hazarding a dissolution of the confederacy, or suspending the operations of the existing government. And this may be effected in two different modes: the first on recommendation from congress, whenever two thirds of both houses shall concur in the expediency of any amendment. The second, which secures to the states an influence in case congress should neglect to recommend such amendments, provides, that congress shall, on application from the legislatures of two thirds of the states, call a convention for proposing amendments; which in either case shall be valid to all intents and purposes as part of the constitution, when ratified by the legislatures of three fourths of the several states, or by conventions in three fourths thereof, as the one or the other mode, of the ratification may be proposed by the congress. Both of these provisions appear excellent. Of the utility and practicability of the former, we have already had most satisfactory experience. The latter will probably never be resorted to, unless the federal government should betray symptoms of corruption, which may render it expedient for the states to exert themselves in order to the application of some radical and effectual remedy. Nor can we too much applaud a constitution, which thus provides a safe, and peaceable remedy for its own defects, as they may from time to time be discovered. A change of government in other countries is almost always attended with convulsions which threaten its entire dissolution; and with scenes of horror, which deter mankind from any attempt to correct abuses, or remove oppressions until they have become altogether intolerable. In America we may reasonably hope, that neither of these evils need be apprehended; nor is there any reason to fear that this provision in the constitution will produce any degree of instability in the government; the mode both of originating and of ratifying amendments, in either mode which the constitution directs, must necessarily be attended with such obstacles, and delays, as must prove a sufficient bar against light, or frequent innovations. And as a further security against them, the same article further provides, that no amendment which may be made, prior to the year one thousand eight hundred and eight, shall, in any manner, affect those clauses of the ninth section of the first article, which relate to the migration or importation of such persons as the states may think proper to allow; and to the manner in which direct taxes shall be laid: and that no state, without its consent shall be deprived of its equal suffrage in the senate.

Among the amendments proposed by the several state conventions, some appear to have been proposed only for greater precaution, and security against misconstruction, or an undue extension of the powers vested in the federal government; whilst others seem to have been calculated to remedy some radical defects in the system 336. The most important of those which have not yet received the approbation of both houses of congress may not improperly be brought into view in this place, although we have occasionally offered some remarks upon several of them in other parts of this essay.

1. That some tribunal other than the senate be provided for trying impeachments of senators.... This amendment seems to be the more necessary in consequence of the decision in William Blount's case, that a senator is not a civil officer, and therefore not impeachable. On this subject we have already spoken somewhat at large.

2. That some reform be made, in the mode of choosing a president of the U. States in those cases where the election may now devolve upon the house of representatives.

The necessity of such a reform, and the danger to which the federal union, may be exposed if it be not effected, have been brought into full view by the struggle between two parties almost equally balanced, at the election of a president of the U. States in the year 1801. On this subject also, we have offered some remarks elsewhere. I shall only add, that sound policy dictate that no president should be capable of being re-elected, that had not a majority of the whole number of votes of the state electors, in his favour; and that no preponderance ought to be given to the vote of one member of the house of representatives over that of another.

3. That all commercial treaties, and such whereby any cession of territory or of jurisdiction, or the right of fishing upon the coasts of the United States, or of the adjacent continent and islands, be made subject to the final ratification of congress, before they shall be deemed conclusive, on the part of the United States.

4. That the judiciary power of the United States be not construed to extend to any civil suit, where the cause of action was not originally cognizable in the federal courts; nor to any crime or misdemeanor whatsoever, which is not defined, and the punishment thereof prescribed, either in the constitution of the United States, or in some act of congress, made pursuant thereto; except the same be committed out of the jurisdiction of any particular state, and within the exclusive jurisdiction of the federal government.

The reasons for some further limitation of the judicial power of the United States have been repeatedly touched upon, already; some further reasons will be offered hereafter in the tract, upon the authority and obligation of the common law of England, in the United States. At the conclusion of the latter the student will find the sentiments of the general assembly of Virginia, upon that important subject, as connected with the extent of the judicial power of the United States; expressed in the most nervous language, that a just apprehension of the fatal consequences to be expected from the doctrine, that the common law of England has been adopted as the law of the federal government, could dictate.

5. That the articles which relate to direct taxes, and excises, might if possible be so modified as to remove the objections which have been made to them, by the several states.

6. That the exclusive power of legislation over the seat of government, &c. be limited to such regulations as respect the police and good government thereof.

7. That congress shall not alter, modify, or interfere in, the time, place, or manner, of holding elections for senators or representatives, except when the legislature of any state may neglect, or refuse, or be disabled by invasion or rebellion, to prescribe the same.

8. That no standing army, or regular forces, be kept up in time of peace, except for the necessary protection and defence of forts, dock yards, and arsenals, without consent of two thirds of both houses of congress.

9. That congress shall not have power to grant monopolies, or to erect any companies with exclusive advantages of commerce.

10. That the president shall not command an army in person, without the consent, or desire of congress.

11. That congress shall not declare war, without the consent of two thirds of both houses.

12. That no law for the regulation of commerce, or navigation act, shall be made, unless with the consent of two-thirds, of the members of both houses.

13. That the state legislatures may have power to recal, when they think it expedient, their senators, and to send others in their stead.

14. That the senators and representatives in congress shall be ineligible to any post or place under the United States during the term for which they were elected.... To which I will take the liberty of suggesting.... "or for one year thereafter."

The practical exercise of the federal government has evinced the indispensable necessity of an amendment upon this subject. It cannot be made too strict, or too rigorous.... The man who seeks a seat in congress, with the hopes by that means to retire upon a lucrative office, will be a venal sycophant towards those who have the power of fulfilling his wishes. We have seen that the most ready road to preferment in the federal government has been found to pass through the two houses of congress; offices have (almost invariably) been conferred on those, who have been the most distinguished supporters and promoters of the extension of the power and influence of the executive: that employments (lucrative in their nature) have been occasionally carved out for them, even during the time for which they have been elected 337. He that can doubt that political corruption unavoidably springs from such a source, may, if he pleases, doubt that animal putrefaction is produced by the combined action of air, heat, and moisture. But neither the real philosopher, nor the enlightened politician, will feel a doubt upon either of these questions.

I have now finished the survey of the constitution of the United States, which I proposed making in this essay. Attached, from principle, and confirmed in that attachment from past experience, to a federal union of the American States, and to the principles of a democratic government, I have probably regarded with a jealous eye those parts of the constitution which seem to savour of monarchy, or aristocracy, or tend to a consolidated, instead of a federal, union of the states. I have been equally zealous in my endeavours to point out the excellencies of the constitution, as to expose it's defects: a sincere attachment to the former will always lead an ingenuous mind to a candid investigation, and correction of the latter. Happily for us, and for our country, this correction has been found to be practicable without hazard, without tumult, and without the smallest interruption to the ordinary course of administering the government. To shut our eyes against this inestimable advantage which we possess, beyond any other nation in the universe, would be an unpardonable act of ingratitude to that divine being, under whose providence we have accomplished the great work of our independence, and the establishment of free government, in every state, and an union of the whole upon such a solid foundation, as nothing but our own folly, or wickedness, can undermine. The man who first espies any defect, or decay in the fabric, should, therefore, be the first to point it out; that it may be amended, before the injury which it may have occasioned is too great to be repaired. Those who, perceiving the defect, deny that it exists; or wilfully obstruct the amendment, are the real enemies of the constitution: it's real friends ought to pursue a different conduct. Governments of force may be preserved for a time by an obstinate perseverance in the same course, however pernicious: but a government of the people hath no foundation but the confidence of the people: if that be withdrawn, the government inevitably falls.

The very elaborate and masterly discussion of the constitution, in the Federalist, to which I have repeatedly referred the student in the course of this essay, would probably have saved me the labour of this attempt, if the defects of the constitution had been treated with equal candour, as the authors have manifested abilities in the developement of its eminent advantages. But, notwithstanding, those letters are not altogether free from objectionable parts, yet the far greater proportion of them contain so just a commentary upon the principles of republican government, and of a federal union of the states, that I cannot too warmly recommend the perusal of them to those who wish to make themselves perfectly acquainted with a subject so truly interesting to every American citizen, as the federal government of the United States.

331. The articles of this confederation shall be inviolably observed by every state, and the union shall be perpetual; nor shall any alteration at any time hereafter be made in any of them; unless such alteration be agreed to in a congress of the United States, and be afterwards confirmed by the legislatures of every state. Confederation, Art. 13.

332. See Federalist, vol. II. p. 66.

333. C. U. S. Art. 6.

334. Federalist, Vol. I. No. 33. Vol. II. No. 44.

335. C. U. S. Art. 6.

336. The following amendments were proposed by one or more of the following states; viz. Virginia, New-York, North-Carolina, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Rhode-Island, or South-Carolina, in convention; or may be found in an address to the people of Maryland, or in the proceedings at Harrisburg in Pennsylvania. The whole being collected in Carey's Museum, Vol 3, 4, 7, and 8, to which I must here refer the student.

337. The mission of a senator, during a recess of congress, to visit the western posts, with a salary of eight dollars a day, and his expences paid, may serve as an instance of this practice.

Previous Section | Contents | Constitution Society Home Page