Front Page Titles (by Subject) An Imperial Congress - 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:
An Imperial Congress - 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:
The copyright to this edition, in both print and electronic forms, is held by Liberty Fund, Inc.
Fair use statement:
An Imperial Congress
Among the powers delegated to Congress, those authorizing the national legislature to provide for the general welfare, levy taxes, regulate the States’ militia, regulate interstate commerce, and make all laws necessary and proper, gave the Anti-Federalists their deepest misgivings. “Brutus,” writing in the New York Journal, offered one of the most perceptive and far-reaching examinations of Congressional power from the Anti-Federalist perspective. The “most natural and grammatical” construction of the General Welfare Clause in Article I, he observed, is that it authorizes the Congress “to do anything which in their judgment will tend to provide for the general welfare, and this amounts to the same thing as general and unlimited powers of legislation in all cases. …” The tax power is fundamentally unsound because “there is no limitation on this power” and Congress could levy any amount that it pleases, for any purpose, leaving the States no source of revenue. “This power therefore is neither more nor less than a power to lay and collect taxes, imposts, and excises, at their pleasure.”
Likewise, the necessary and proper clause, wrote “Brutus,” “is a power very comprehensive and … [may] be exercised in such manner as entirely to abolish the State legislatures.” Taking the General Welfare, Tax, and Necessary and Proper clauses together, concluded “Brutus,” “It is therefore evident that the legislature under this Constitution may pass any law which they may think proper.”
There was also criticism of the Commerce Clause, mostly from the southern States. What is meant by the power to “regulate”? What, precisely, is “commerce”? The Constitution did not define these terms. Although vagueness and the possibility of an indefinite grant of power were considerations, the southern Anti-Federalists were especially concerned that northern States might use their superior numbers in the Congress to discriminate against southern commercial and economic interests.
It was Patrick Henry who opposed the Constitution because it impeded majority rule. On the question of commerce, however, the Anti-Federalists argued that majority rule was not enough: extraordinary or “super” majorities ought to be required for the enactment of commercial laws, in order to protect the agricultural interests of the South. Richard Henry Lee of Virginia thus complained that, “In this congressional legislature a bare majority of votes can enact commercial laws, so that the representatives of seven Northern States, as they will have a majority, can by law create the most oppressive monopoly upon the five Southern States.” Opposition to the Constitution, it may thus be seen, stemmed not only from republican considerations and a general distrust of centralized power, but from other causes as well, including sectional differences and jealousies among the States.