Front Page Titles (by Subject) The Supremacy Clause - Liberty, Order, and Justice: An Introduction to the Constitutional Principles of American Government
Return to Title Page for Liberty, Order, and Justice: An Introduction to the Constitutional Principles of American Government
The Online Library of Liberty
A project of Liberty Fund, Inc.
Search this Title:
The Supremacy Clause - James McClellan, Liberty, Order, and Justice: An Introduction to the Constitutional Principles of American Government 
Liberty, Order, and Justice: An Introduction to the Constitutional Principles of American Government (3rd ed.) (Indianapolis: Liberty Fund, 2000).
About Liberty Fund:
Liberty Fund, Inc. is a private, educational foundation established to encourage the study of the ideal of a society of free and responsible individuals.
The copyright to this edition, in both print and electronic forms, is held by Liberty Fund, Inc.
Fair use statement:
This material is put online to further the educational goals of Liberty Fund, Inc. Unless otherwise stated in the Copyright Information section above, this material may be used freely for educational and academic purposes. It may not be used in any way for profit.
The Supremacy Clause
In reviewing the relationship between the Federal and State governments, we should also note the significance of the “Supremacy Clause” of the Constitution. Article VI provides that,
This Constitution, and the laws of the United States which shall be made in pursuance thereof; and all treaties made, or which shall be made, under the authority of the United States, shall be the supreme law of the land; and the judges in every State shall be bound thereby, any thing in the Constitution or laws of any State to the contrary notwithstanding.
This key provision, rarely found in other constitutions, establishes the supremacy of the Constitution over all Federal laws, State constitutions, and State laws. It also establishes the supremacy of Federal laws and treaties over State constitutions and State laws, so long as they are made in pursuance of (in conformity with) the Constitution and are therefore constitutional. If an act of Congress is constitutional, and conflicts with a State constitution or law, the Federal law prevails. Thus, a provision of a State constitution or law, even if it conforms to the United States Constitution, may nevertheless be set aside if it conflicts with an act of Congress or a treaty. Within the field of its powers, the powers of the national government are supreme, and the State courts are bound to uphold this supremacy.
Lodging so much power in the Federal government was viewed with suspicion by Samuel Adams of Massachusetts, by Patrick Henry of Virginia, and by many other American leaders. James Madison endeavored to assure such doubters that in truth the Constitution recognized and protected the sovereignty of the States in most matters. Writing in Federalist No. 45, while the States were debating ratification of the Constitution, Madison argued that the State governments would “enjoy an advantage” over the Federal government, commanding popular loyalty more than could Federal officials at the national capital. A State’s power, Madison pointed out, “extends to all objects which, in the ordinary course of affairs, concern the lives, liberties, and properties of the people, and the internal order, improvements, and prosperity of the State.” History has shown, however, that it is the Federal government, not the States, which dominates the American political system.