Madison, Obama and the Commerce Clause

Patrick Jakeway
President Obama's arguments in favor of ObamaCare are constitutionally false, contrary to the logic of the document.  No less an authority than James Madison in the Federalist Papers refutes the president's logic.

Concerning the national nature of the U.S. government, James Madison wrote in the Federalist 40:

"In this relation, then, the proposed government cannot be deemed a national one; since its jurisdiction extends to certain enumerated objects only, and leaves to the several states a residuary and inviolable sovereignty over all other objects."

The power "to regulate Commerce with foreign Nations, and among the several states, and with the Indian tribes" was included within the scope of actions which did fall within the jurisdiction of the U.S. government's national scope.  Today, the Obama administration asserts that this "Commerce Clause" gives the government the authority to command citizens to live their lives as the government sees fit.  In the Federalist 42, Madison very clearly wrote about the purpose of the power to regulate commerce among the several:

"The defect of the power in the existing confederacy, to regulate the commerce between its several members, is in the number of these which have been clearly pointed out by experience. To the proofs and remarks which former papers have brought into view on this subject, it may be added, that without this supplemental provision, the great and essential power of regulating foreign commerce, would have been incomplete and ineffectual. A very material object of this power [regulating commerce among the states] was the relief of the states which import and export through other states, from the improper contributions levied on them by the latter. Were these at liberty to regulate the trade between state and state, as much be foreseen,  that ways would be found out to load the articles of import and export, during passage through their jurisdiction, with duties which would fall on the makers of the latter, and the consumers of the former. We may be assured, by past experience, that such a practice would be introduced by future contrivance: and both by that and a common knowledge of human affairs, that it would nourish unceasing animosities, and not improbably in serious interruptions of the public tranquility."

The power to regulate commerce among the several states was clearly a corollary of the prime function of the federal government to regulate commerce with foreign nations and never was intended to authorize the U.S. government to regulate and command minute details of the daily lives of the citizens (somehow not in line with "secure the blessings of liberty").

Despite these limitations, the American people in 1788 were concerned that the proposed Congress' designated power to tax could lead to tyrannical developments.  Today, the Obama administration makes the argument against 26 Attorneys General that the taxing authority of Congress authorizes it to impose a financial penalty on a citizen who declines to purchase health insurance. Presciently anticipating the current controversy, Madison wrote the following in Federalist 41 in response to his contemporary critics:

"Some, who have not denied the necessity of the power of taxation, have grounded a very fierce attack against the constitution on the language in which it is defined. It has been urged and echoed, that the power 'to lay and collect taxes, duties, imposts, and excises, to pay debts, and provide for the common defence and general welfare of the United States,' amounts to an unlimited commission to exercise every power, which may be alleged to be necessary for the common defense or general welfare. No stronger proof could be given of the distress under which these writers labour for objections, than their stooping to such a misconstruction."

The concept that any administration could resort to such actions was so absurd that very mention of this fear caused offense to Madison.  Thus, the notion that the U.S. government can regulate the daily lives of American citizens without limit is not only absurd on its face but also according to the logic of "the Father of the Constitution" himself.  The Commerce Clause and the taxing authority do not confer unlimited power with undefined scope to the U.S. government to solve whichever problems it chooses. We, the People, retain our unalienable rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. 

President Obama's arguments in favor of ObamaCare are constitutionally false, contrary to the logic of the document.  No less an authority than James Madison in the Federalist Papers refutes the president's logic.

Concerning the national nature of the U.S. government, James Madison wrote in the Federalist 40:

"In this relation, then, the proposed government cannot be deemed a national one; since its jurisdiction extends to certain enumerated objects only, and leaves to the several states a residuary and inviolable sovereignty over all other objects."

The power "to regulate Commerce with foreign Nations, and among the several states, and with the Indian tribes" was included within the scope of actions which did fall within the jurisdiction of the U.S. government's national scope.  Today, the Obama administration asserts that this "Commerce Clause" gives the government the authority to command citizens to live their lives as the government sees fit.  In the Federalist 42, Madison very clearly wrote about the purpose of the power to regulate commerce among the several:

"The defect of the power in the existing confederacy, to regulate the commerce between its several members, is in the number of these which have been clearly pointed out by experience. To the proofs and remarks which former papers have brought into view on this subject, it may be added, that without this supplemental provision, the great and essential power of regulating foreign commerce, would have been incomplete and ineffectual. A very material object of this power [regulating commerce among the states] was the relief of the states which import and export through other states, from the improper contributions levied on them by the latter. Were these at liberty to regulate the trade between state and state, as much be foreseen,  that ways would be found out to load the articles of import and export, during passage through their jurisdiction, with duties which would fall on the makers of the latter, and the consumers of the former. We may be assured, by past experience, that such a practice would be introduced by future contrivance: and both by that and a common knowledge of human affairs, that it would nourish unceasing animosities, and not improbably in serious interruptions of the public tranquility."

The power to regulate commerce among the several states was clearly a corollary of the prime function of the federal government to regulate commerce with foreign nations and never was intended to authorize the U.S. government to regulate and command minute details of the daily lives of the citizens (somehow not in line with "secure the blessings of liberty").

Despite these limitations, the American people in 1788 were concerned that the proposed Congress' designated power to tax could lead to tyrannical developments.  Today, the Obama administration makes the argument against 26 Attorneys General that the taxing authority of Congress authorizes it to impose a financial penalty on a citizen who declines to purchase health insurance. Presciently anticipating the current controversy, Madison wrote the following in Federalist 41 in response to his contemporary critics:

"Some, who have not denied the necessity of the power of taxation, have grounded a very fierce attack against the constitution on the language in which it is defined. It has been urged and echoed, that the power 'to lay and collect taxes, duties, imposts, and excises, to pay debts, and provide for the common defence and general welfare of the United States,' amounts to an unlimited commission to exercise every power, which may be alleged to be necessary for the common defense or general welfare. No stronger proof could be given of the distress under which these writers labour for objections, than their stooping to such a misconstruction."

The concept that any administration could resort to such actions was so absurd that very mention of this fear caused offense to Madison.  Thus, the notion that the U.S. government can regulate the daily lives of American citizens without limit is not only absurd on its face but also according to the logic of "the Father of the Constitution" himself.  The Commerce Clause and the taxing authority do not confer unlimited power with undefined scope to the U.S. government to solve whichever problems it chooses. We, the People, retain our unalienable rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.