03/16/1751 - 06/28/18/36
Veto Of Federal Public Works Bill
Quotations of James Madison
A pure democracy is a society consisting of a small number of citizens,
who assemble and administer the government in person.
A well regulated militia, composed of the body of the people, trained in arms,
is the best most natural defense of a free country.
If men were angels, no government would be necessary.
It will be of little avail to the people that the laws are made by men of their own choice if the laws be so voluminous that they cannot be read, or so incoherent that they cannot be understood.
The essence of Government is power; and power, lodged as it must be in human hands,
will ever be liable to abuse.
The purpose of separation of church and state is to keep forever from these shores the ceaseless strife
that has soaked the soil of Europe with blood for centuries.
The truth is that all men having power ought to be mistrusted.
What prudent merchant will hazard his fortunes in any new branch of commerce when he knows not
that his plans may be rendered unlawful before they can be executed?
James Madison, (March 16,1751 - June 28, 1836) served as the fourth president of the United States of America from March 4, 1809 to March 3, 1817 and is generally considered to be the "Father of the United States Constitution." In his last act before leaving office, Madison vetoed a bill for "internal improvements," including roads, bridges, and canals. Madison rejected the view of congress that the General Welfare Clause in the Constitution justified the bill. He felt that the states in which the construction was to be performed, and who would benefit greatly from the improvements, should bear the burden of the costs and it would not be appropriate for the states, who would not benefit from the improvements, to pay for those costs.
Below is the letter President Madison wrote to the House of Representatives vetoing the congressional spending request. Don't you wish today's presidents felt the same way as President James Madison?
The bold emphasisis mine and not part of the Madison letter.
|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 with 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.
President of the United States
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