Article 1, Section 8, Clause 10
James Madison, Federalist, no. 42, 280--8122 Jan. 1788
The power to define and punish piracies and felonies committed on the high seas, and offences against the law of nations, belongs with equal propriety to the general government; and is a still greater improvement on the articles of confederation. These articles contain no provision for the case of offences against the law of nations; and consequently leave it in the power of any indiscreet member to embroil the confederacy with foreign nations. The provision of the foederal articles on the subject of piracies and felonies, extends no farther than to the establishment of courts for the trial of these offences. The definition of piracies might perhaps without inconveniency, be left to the law of nations; though a legislative definition of them, is found in most municipal codes. A definition of felonies on the high seas is evidently requisite. Felony is a term of loose signification even in the common law of England; and of various import in the statute law of that kingdom. But neither the common, nor the statute law of that or of any other nation ought to be a standard for the proceedings of this, unless previously made its own by legislative adoption. The meaning of the term as defined in the codes of the several States, would be as impracticable as the former would be a dishonorable and illegitimate guide. It is not precisely the same in any two of the States; and varies in each with every revision of its criminal laws. For the sake of certainty and uniformity therefore, the power of defining felonies in this case, was in every respect necessary and proper.
The Founders' Constitution
Volume 3, Article 1, Section 8, Clause 10, Document 4
The University of Chicago Press
Hamilton, Alexander; Madison, James; and Jay, John. The Federalist. Edited by Jacob E. Cooke. Middletown,
Easy to print version.