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Madison: Father of the Commerce Clause

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Headlined to H3 2/24/12

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In other words, the Founders -- at their most "originalist" moment -- understood the value of the federal government taking action to negate the commercial advantages of other countries and to take steps for "pushing of [American] commerce." The "ad libitum -- &c &c" notation suggests that Randolph provided other examples off the top of his head.

Historian Bill Chapman has summarized Randolph's point in teaching materials as saying "we needed a government that could co-ordinate commerce in order to compete effectively with other nations."

So, from the very start of the debate on a new Constitution, Madison and other key framers recognized that a legitimate role of the U.S. Congress was to ensure that the nation could match up against other countries economically and could address problems impeding the nation's economic strength and welfare.

Contention and Compromise

Through the hot summer of 1787, the Convention delegates debated Madison's plan, amid the give-and-take of compromise, generally reining in some of Madison's most radical ideas. Contrary to the Right's current propaganda, Madison actually favored even a more powerful central government than the Convention eventually adopted.

Madison wanted Congress to have veto power over state laws, a provision that was dropped though federal statutes and treaties were made "the supreme law of the land" and thus federal courts could strike down state laws that were deemed in violation.

"Madison wanted the federal assembly to have a veto over the state assemblies," wrote David Wootton, author of The Essential Federalist and Anti-Federalist Papers. "Vetoes, however, are bad politics, and again and again they had to be abandoned in the course of turning drafts into agreed texts."

Despite such concessions, the Constitution emerged from the secret meetings in Philadelphia as a stunning assertion of federal power -- a reality not lost on some influential politicians who favored a continuation of the states' "independence" and "sovereignty" that were explicitly recognized by the Articles of Confederation, but which disappeared in the Constitution.

Anti-Federalists correctly recognized what had happened and soon rallied strong opposition to the new governing framework. As dissidents from the Pennsylvania delegation wrote:

"We dissent ... because the powers vested in Congress by this constitution, must necessarily annihilate and absorb the legislative, executive, and judicial powers of the several states, and produce from their ruins one consolidated government." [For details, see Consortiumnews.com's "The Right's Inside-Out Constitution."]

Tamping Down the Fire

As resistance to Madison's federal power-grab spread -- and as states elected delegates to ratifying conventions -- Madison feared that his constitutional masterwork would go down to defeat or be subjected to a second convention that might remove important federal powers like the Commerce Clause.

So, Madison -- along with Alexander Hamilton and John Jay -- began a series of essays, called the Federalist Papers, designed to counter the fierce (though generally accurate) attacks by the Anti-Federalists against the broad assertion of federal power in the Constitution.

Madison's strategy was essentially to insist that the drastic changes contained in the Constitution were not all that drastic, an approach he took both as a delegate to the Virginia ratifying convention and in the Federalist Papers.

To make the case that Madison was an opponent of a strong central government, today's Right is fond of citing Federalist Paper No. 45, entitled "The Alleged Danger From the Powers of the Union to the State Governments Considered," in which Madison used the pseudonym Publius.

Madison wrote:

"If the new Constitution be examined with accuracy, it will be found that the change which it proposes consists much less in the addition of NEW POWERS to the Union, than in the invigoration of its ORIGINAL POWERS.

"The regulation of commerce, it is true, is a new power; but that seems to be an addition which few oppose, and from which no apprehensions are entertained. The powers relating to war and peace, armies and fleets, treaties and finance, with the other more considerable powers, are all vested in the existing Congress by the Articles of Confederation. The proposed change does not enlarge these powers; it only substitutes a more effectual mode of administering them."

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http://www.consortiumnews.com

Robert Parry broke many of the Iran-Contra stories in the 1980s for the Associated Press and Newsweek. His latest book, Secrecy & Privilege: Rise of the Bush Dynasty from Watergate to Iraq, can be ordered at secrecyandprivilege.com. It's also available at more...)
 
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You left out the best quote from framer Randolph i... by James Allen on Friday, Feb 24, 2012 at 7:07:05 PM
According to your interpretation of the Commerce C... by Mark Adams JD/MBA on Saturday, Feb 25, 2012 at 11:01:02 AM