In the Founder’s Corner
Scott N. Bradley
Part Three of a Seven Part Series
The first two parts of this seven part series touched upon the fact that the Founding Fathers of this nation recognized that our rights come from God, that it is the purpose of government to preserve those rights, and that the founders considered the United States Constitution to be a written, binding contract so sacred that all who hold office are required to take an oath to uphold.
The fourth broad-brush point has to do with Enumerated Powers—meaning the powers granted to the national government in the United States Constitution are spelled out and listed: The national government has no power to do what is not specifically listed and granted in the Constitution.
Perhaps the briefest summary of this principle may be found in quoting the 9th and 10th Amendments:
Amendment IX states:
“The enumeration in the Constitution, of certain rights, shall not be construed to deny or disparage others retained by the people.” AND—
Amendment X states:
“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.”
In 1803, St George Tucker, perhaps the preeminent constitutional scholar of the American founding era restated the position, saying:
“. . . 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. And, still further, to guard the people against constructive usurpations and encroachments on their rights, another article declares; that the enumeration of certain rights in the constitution, shall not be construed to deny, or disparage, others retained by the people. The sum of all which appears to be, that the powers delegated to the federal government, are, in all cases, to receive the most strict construction that the instrument will bear, where the rights of a state or of the people, either collectively, or individually, may be drawn in question.” (Tucker, View Pg. 104-105)
James Madison, who is known as the “Father of the Constitution,” also captured the essence of the limits of the national government succinctly, saying:
“The powers delegated by the proposed Constitution to the federal government are few and defined. Those which are to remain in the State governments are numerous and indefinite. The former will be exercised principally on external objects, as war, peace, negotiation, and foreign commerce; with which last the power of taxation will, for the most part, be connected. The powers reserved to the several States will extend to all the objects which, in the ordinary course of affairs, concern the lives, liberties, and properties of the people, and the internal order, improvement, and prosperity of the State.” (Federalist No. 45)
So the view of the founders was that the scope of the national government was limited to the specific powers enumerated in the United States Constitution, and no more. The citizens of this nation have a duty to carefully study the plain English words of the United States Constitution. Most Americans today would be shocked as they consider how far the national government has encroached beyond the bounds which were established to control its power!