“Public Works” Projects Are NOT Constitutional
Mandeville, LA – (Editor’s Note: This piece was originally Published on: Apr 11, 2013) With “Conservatives” and their corrupt “think tanks” now fully backing the wasteful and unconstitutional spending on “interstate highway projects” who is left to defend the molecules of the Constitution that remain in effect? Well, we can summon the pen of Constitutional author, ratifier and President under, James Madison and his -SHOULD BE FAMOUS-veto of Henry Clay’s “bonus Bill” in 1817. As Kevin Gutzman, author of “James Madison and the Making of America” has said of this epic in history on the Mike Church Show.
“Actually, it’s a very interesting occurrence. It’s the kind of thing we would never expect a president to do now, whichever party he came from. What happened there was that Madison’s friends in Congress, speaker Henry Clay and chairman John C. Calhoun pushed this policy of having the federal government’s share of the profits from the Bank of the United States to be spent on what today we call public works, that is our infrastructure, what in those days they called internal improvements, in other words, construction of roads, canals and bridges through the country. Madison vetoed it. Calhoun, hearing about that, went to visit Madison in the White House and told him he regretted that he had given Madison the unpleasant duty on his last day in office of vetoing a bill that had been sent to him by his friend. When Speaker Clay heard that Madison was going to veto the bill, he said: What? I thought it was his bill.
Madison’s explanation was that although he wanted the federal congress to be in the business of funding roads, canals and bridges throughout the country, he also thought it was unconstitutional. There was nothing in Article I, Section 8 that said Congress can spend money on this purpose, so he had veto it. He explained this in a very careful veto message, what’s called the Bonus Bill Veto Message.
There, Madison laid out his understanding of the Constitution: that the federal government was created by the states, that it was given limited powers which were numerated in the Constitution, chiefly in Article I, Section 8. Since that list did not include anything about building roads, he told Congress that if they wanted to this, they should first amend the Constitution, but they hadn’t done that, so they still didn’t have power to spend money for this purpose and he had to veto the bill.”
Veto of federal public works bill
March 3, 1817
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 apart and pledges funds “for constructing roads and canals, and improving the navigation of water courses, 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 defense,” 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.
The legislative powers vested in Congress are specified and enumerated in the eighth section of the first 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 with 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” can not include a power to construct roads and canals, and to improve the navigation of water courses in order to facilitate, promote, and secure such 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 common defense 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 of legislation instead of the defined and limited one hitherto understood to belong to them, the terms “common defense and general welfare” embracing every object and act within the purview of a 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, anything 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 defense 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, and to improve the navigation of water courses, with the train of powers incident thereto, be not possessed by Congress, the assent of the States in the mode provided in the bill can not 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 water courses, 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 by the Constitution, and believing that it can not be deduced from any part of it without an inadmissible latitude of construction and reliance on insufficient precedents; believing also that the permanent success of the Constitution depends on a definite partition of powers between the General and the State Governments, and that no adequate landmarks 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, and to cherishing the hope that its beneficial objects may be attained by a resort for the necessary powers to the same wisdom and virtue in the nation 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.