On to Philadelphia
After Madison was stymied on his commerce proposal in the Virginia legislature, he and Washington turned their attention to a convention that was technically supposed to propose changes to the Articles of Confederation but, in secrecy, chose to dump them entirely.
When the convention convened in Philadelphia in spring 1787, it was significant that on the first day of substantive debate, there was Madison's idea of the federal government regulating commerce.
As the Constitution took shape -- and the Convention spelled out the sweeping "enumerated powers" to be granted to Congress -- Madison's Commerce Clause was near the top, right after the power to tax, to pay debts, to "provide for the common Defence and general Welfare," and to borrow money -- and even above the power to declare war. Yes, the Right's despised Commerce Clause, which was the legal basis for many reforms of the 20th Century, was among the "enumerated powers" in Article 1, Section 8.
And gone was language from the Articles of Confederation that had declared the states "sovereign" and "independent." Under the Constitution, federal law was supreme and the laws of the states could be stricken down by the federal courts.
Immediately, the supporters of the old system recognized what had happened. 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."
A movement of Anti-Federalists arose, led by the likes of Patrick Henry, to defeat the Constitution. They organized strong opposition in the states' ratifying conventions of 1788 but ultimately lost, after winning the concession from Madison to enact of Bill of Rights during the first Congress.
The inclusion of the Tenth Amendment, which reserves for the states and the people powers that the Constitution does not give to the federal government, is the primary hook upon which the modern Right hangs its tri-corner hat of anti-federal ideology.
But the amendment was essentially a sop to the Anti-Federalists with little real meaning because the Constitution had already granted broad powers to the federal government and stripped the states of their earlier dominance.
The Right's "scholars" also make much of a few quotes from Madison's Federalist Paper No. 45, in which he sought to play down how radical a transformation, from state to federal power, he had engineered in the Constitution. Rather than view this essay in context, the Right seizes on Madison's rhetorical attempts to deflect the alarmist Anti-Federalist attacks by claiming that some of the Constitution's federal powers were already in the Articles of Confederation, albeit in a far weaker form.
In Federalist Paper No. 45, entitled "The Alleged Danger From the Powers of the Union to the State Governments Considered," 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." Today's Right also trumpets Madison's summation, that "the powers delegated by the proposed Constitution to the federal government are few and defined. Those which are to remain in the State governments are numerous and indefinite."
But it should be obvious that Madison is finessing his opposition. Whether or not some shadow of these federal powers existed in the Articles of Confederation, they were dramatically enhanced by the Constitution. In No. 45, Madison even plays down his prized Commerce Clause, acknowledging that "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."
However, in Federalist Paper No. 14, Madison made clear how useful the Commerce Clause could be as he envisioned national construction projects.
"[T]he union will be daily facilitated by new improvements," Madison wrote. ...
"Roads will everywhere be shortened, and kept in better order; accommodations for travelers will be multiplied and meliorated; an interior navigation on our eastern side will be opened throughout, or nearly throughout the whole extent of the Thirteen States.
"The communication between the western and Atlantic districts, and between different parts of each, will be rendered more and more easy by those numerous canals with which the beneficence of nature has intersected our country, and which art finds it so little difficult to connect and complete."