Debates in the Several State Conventions on the Adoption of the Federal Constitution, Vol. 4

Contents:

Internal Improvements:
Senate, February 27, 1817

A Bill to set apart and pledge, as a permanent Fund for Internal Improvements, the Bonus of the National Bank, and the United States’ Share of its Dividends.

Be it enacted, &c., That the bonus secured to the United States by the "act to incorporate the subscribers to the Bank of the United States, and the dividends which shall arise from their shares in its capital stock, during the present term of twenty years, for which the proprietors thereof have been incorporated, be, and the same is hereby, set apart and pledged, as a fund for constructing roads and canals, and improving the navigation of watercourses, in order to facilitate, promote, and give security to internal commerce among the several states, and to render more easy and less expensive the means and provisions necessary for their common defence.
Sect. 2. And be it further enacted, That the moneys constituting the said fund shall, from time to time, be applied in constructing such roads or canals, or in improving the navigation of such watercourses, or both, in each state, as Congress, with the assent of such state, shall by law direct, and in the manner most conducive to the general welfare; and the proportion of the said money to be expended on the objects aforesaid, in each state, shall be in the ratio of its representation, at the time of such expenditure, in the most numerous branch of the national legislature.
Sect. 3. And be it further enacted, That the said fund be put under the care of the secretary of the treasury for the time being; and that it shall be his duty, unless otherwise directed, to vest the said dividend, if not specifically appropriated by Congress in the stock of the United States, which stock shall accrue to, and is heresy constituted a part of, the said fund.
Sect. 4. And be it further enacted, That it shall also be the duty of the said secretary, unless otherwise directed, to vest the bonus for the charter of said bank, as it may fall due, in the stock of the United States, and also to lay before Congress, at their usual session, the condition of the said fund.

Objections to the Bank Bonus Bill

Message of the President, transmitting to the House of
Representatives his Objections to the
[above] Bank Bonus Bill.

To the House of Representatives of the United States:

Having considered the bill this day presented to me, entitled "An Act to set apart and pledge certain funds for internal improvements;" and which sets and pledges funds" for constructing roads and canals, and improving the navigation of watercourses, in order to facilitate, promote, and give security to, internal commerce among the several states, and to render more easy and less expensive the means and provisions for the common defence," I am constrained, by the insuperable difficulty I feel in reconciling the bill with the Constitution of the United States, to return it, with that objection, to the House of Representatives, in which it originated. [p.469]

The legislative powers vested in Congress are specified and enumerated in the 8th section of the 1st article of the Constitution; and it does not appear that the power, proposed to be exercised by the bill, is among the enumerated powers; or that it falls, by any just interpretation, within the power to make laws necessary and proper for carrying into execution those or other powers vested by the Constitution in the government of the United States.

The power to regulate commerce among the several states cannot include a power to construct roads and canals, and to improve the navigation of watercourses, in order to facilitate, promote, and secure, such a commerce, without a latitude of construction departing from the ordinary import of the terms, strengthened by the known inconveniences which doubtless led to the grant of this remedial power to Congress. To refer the power in question to the clause "to provide for the common defence and general welfare," would be contrary to the established and consistent rules of interpretation, as rendering the special and careful enumeration of powers which follow the clause nugatory and improper. Such a view of the Constitution would have the effect of giving to Congress a general power or legislation, instead of the defined and limited one hitherto understood to belong to them—the terms, "the common defence and general welfare," embracing every object and act within the purview of the legislative trust. It would have the effect of subjecting both the Constitution and laws of the several states, in all cases not specifically exempted, to be superseded by laws of Congress; it being expressly declared, "that the Constitution of the United States, and laws made in pursuance thereof, shall be the supreme law of the land; and the judges of every state shall be bound thereby, any thing in the Constitution or laws of any state to the contrary notwithstanding." Such a view of the Constitution, finally, would have the effect of excluding the judicial authority of the United States from its participation in guarding the boundary between the legislative powers of the general and the state governments; inasmuch as questions relating to the general welfare, being questions of policy and expediency, are unsusceptible of judicial cognizance and decision.

A restriction of the power "to provide for the common defence and general welfare" to cases Which are to be provided for by the expenditure of money, would still leave within the legislative power of Congress all the great and most important measures of government; money being the ordinary and necessary means of carrying them into execution.

If a general power to construct roads and canals, to improve the navigation of watercourses, with the train of powers incident thereto, be not possessed by Congress, the assent of the states, in the mode provided in the bill, cannot confer the power. The only cases in which the consent and cession of particular states can extend the power of Congress, are those specified and provided for in the Constitution.

I am not unaware of the great importance of roads and canals, and the improved navigation of watercourses, and that a power in the national legislature to provide for them might be exercised with signal advantage to the general prosperity; but, seeing that such a power is not expressly given to the Constitution, and believing that it cannot be deduced from any part of it without an inadmissible latitude of construction, and a reliance on insufficient precedents; believing, also, that the permanent success of the Constitution depends on a definitive partition of powers [p.470] between the general and state governments, and that no adequate land-masks would be left by the constructive extension of the powers of Congress, as proposed in the bill,—I have no option but to withhold my signature from it; cherishing the hope that its beneficial objects may be obtained by a resort, for the necessary powers, to the same wisdom and virtue in the nations which established the Constitution in its actual form, and providently marked out, in the instrument itself, a safe and practicable mode of improving it, as experience might suggest.

JAMES MADISON.

March 3, 1817

[It is understood that Mr. Calhoun, who reported the Bonus bill, did not touch the constitutional question involved in it, as he did not propose to make an appropriation, but simply to set aside the bonus as a fund for internal improvement, leaving it to a future Congress to determine the extent of its powers; or, if it should be determined that it did not possess power over the subject, to obtain an amendment of the Constitution, as recommended by Mr. Madison m his message at the opening of the session. Under these impressions, Mr. C. declined arguing the constitutional question in his speech on the bill, and limited his objections to the question of expediency.]
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Chicago: Elliot, Jonathan, ed., "Internal Improvements: Senate, February 27, 1817," Debates in the Several State Conventions on the Adoption of the Federal Constitution, Vol. 4 in The Debates in the Several State Conventions, on the Adoption of the Federal Constitution, as Recommended by the General Convention at Philadelphia, in 1787 (Philadelphia: J. B. Lipincott Company, 1901), Original Sources, accessed August 15, 2022, http://www.originalsources.com/Document.aspx?DocID=3VK71NEM1XJ7SIJ.

MLA: . "Internal Improvements: Senate, February 27, 1817." Debates in the Several State Conventions on the Adoption of the Federal Constitution, Vol. 4, edited by Elliot, Jonathan, in The Debates in the Several State Conventions, on the Adoption of the Federal Constitution, as Recommended by the General Convention at Philadelphia, in 1787, Vol. 4, Philadelphia, J. B. Lipincott Company, 1901, Original Sources. 15 Aug. 2022. http://www.originalsources.com/Document.aspx?DocID=3VK71NEM1XJ7SIJ.

Harvard: (ed.), 'Internal Improvements: Senate, February 27, 1817' in Debates in the Several State Conventions on the Adoption of the Federal Constitution, Vol. 4. cited in 1901, The Debates in the Several State Conventions, on the Adoption of the Federal Constitution, as Recommended by the General Convention at Philadelphia, in 1787, J. B. Lipincott Company, Philadelphia. Original Sources, retrieved 15 August 2022, from http://www.originalsources.com/Document.aspx?DocID=3VK71NEM1XJ7SIJ.