Article 1, Section 8, Clause 17

Document 9

Samuel Adams to Elbridge Gerry

22 Aug. 1789Writings 4:330--32

I wrote to you hastily two days ago, & as hastily venturd an Opinion concerning the Right of Congress to controul a Light-house erected on Land belonging to this sovereign & independent State for its own Use & at its own Expence. I say sovereign & independent, because I think the State retains all the Rights of Sovereignty which it has not expressly parted with to the Congress of the United States--a federal Power instituted solely for the Support of the federal Union.

The Sovereignty of the State extends over every part of its Territory. The federal Constitution expresses the same Idea in Sec. 8, Art. 1. A Power is therein given to Congress "to exercise like Authority," that is to exercise exclusive Legislation in all Cases whatsoever, "over all places purchased by the Consent of the Legislature in which the same shall be, for the Erection of Forts, Magazines, and other needful Buildings," among which Light-houses may be included. Is it not the plain Conclusion from this Clause in the Compact, that Congress have not the Right to exercise exclusive Legislation in all Cases whatsoever, nor even to purchase or controul any part of the Territory within a State for the Erection of needful Buildings unless it has the Consent of its Legislature. If there are any such Buildings already erected, which operate to the General Welfare of the U S, and Congress by Virtue of the Power vested in them have taken from a State for the general Use, the necessary Means of supporting such Buildings it appears to be reasonable & just that the U S should maintain them; but I think that it follows not from hence, that Congress have a right to exercise any Authority over those buildings even to make Appointments of officers for the immediate Care of them or furnishing them with necessary Supplies. I wish to have your Opinion if you can find Leisure.

The Founders' Constitution
Volume 3, Article 1, Section 8, Clause 17, Document 9
The University of Chicago Press

The Writings of Samuel Adams. Edited by Harry Alonzo Cushing. 4 vols. New York: G. P. Putnam's Sons, 1904--8.

Easy to print version.