Article 1, Section 8, Clause 1
Joseph Story, Commentaries on the Constitution 2:§§ 904--25, 927--30, 946--52, 954--70, 972--76, 9881833
§ 904. Before proceeding to consider the nature and extent of the power conferred by this clause, and the reasons, on which it is founded, it seems necessary to settle the grammatical construction of the clause, and to ascertain its true reading. Do the words, "to lay and collect taxes, duties, imposts, and excises," constitute a distinct, substantial power; and the words, "to pay debts and provide for the common defence, and general welfare of the United States," constitute another distinct and substantial power? Or are the latter words connected with the former, so as to constitute a qualification upon them? This has been a topic of political controversy; and has furnished abundant materials for popular declamation and alarm. If the former be the true interpretation, then it is obvious, that under colour of the generality of the words to "provide for the common defence and general welfare," the government of the United States is, in reality, a government of general and unlimited powers, notwithstanding the subsequent enumeration of specific powers; if the latter be the true construction, then the power of taxation only is given by the clause, and it is limited to objects of a national character, "for the common defence and the general welfare."
§ 905. The former opinion has been maintained by some minds of great ingenuity, and liberality of views. The latter has been the generally received sense of the nation, and seems supported by reasoning at once solid and impregnable. The reading, therefore, which will be maintained in these commentaries, is that, which makes the latter words a qualification of the former; and this will be best illustrated by supplying the words, which are necessarily to be understood in this interpretation. They will then stand thus: "The congress shall have power to lay and collect taxes, duties, imposts, and excises, in order to pay the debts, and to provide for the common defence and general welfare of the United States;" that is, for the purpose of paying the public debts, and providing for the common defence and general welfare of the United States. In this sense, congress has not an unlimited power of taxation; but it is limited to specific objects,--the payment of the public debts, and providing for the common defence and general welfare. A tax, therefore, laid by congress for neither of these objects, would be unconstitutional, as an excess of its legislative authority. In what manner this is to be ascertained, or decided, will be considered hereafter. At present, the interpretation of the words only is before us; and the reasoning, by which that already suggested has been vindicated, will now be reviewed.
§ 906. The constitution was, from its very origin, contemplated to be the frame of a national government, of special and enumerated powers, and not of general and unlimited powers. This is apparent, as will be presently seen, from the history of the proceedings of the convention, which framed it; and it has formed the admitted basis of all legislative and judicial reasoning upon it, ever since it was put into operation, by all, who have been its open friends and advocates, as well as by all, who have been its enemies and opponents. If the clause, "to pay the debts and provide for the common defence and general welfare of the United States," is construed to be an independent and substantive grant of power, it not only renders wholly unimportant and unnecessary the subsequent enumeration of specific powers; but it plainly extends far beyond them, and creates a general authority in congress to pass all laws, which they may deem for the common defence or general welfare. Under such circumstances, the constitution would practically create an unlimited national government. The enumerated powers would tend to embarrassment and confusion; since they would only give rise to doubts, as to the true extent of the general power, or of the enumerated powers.
§ 907. One of the most common maxims of interpretation is, (as has been already stated,) that, as an exception strengthens the force of a law in cases not excepted, so enumeration weakens it in cases not enumerated. But, how could it be applied with success to the interpretation of the constitution of the United States, if the enumerated powers were neither exceptions from, nor additions to, the general power to provide for the common defence and general welfare? To give the enumeration of the specific powers any sensible place or operation in the constitution, it is indispensable to construe them, as not wholly and necessarily embraced in the general power. The common principles of interpretation would seem to instruct us, that the different parts of the same instrument ought to be so expounded, as to give meaning to every part, which will bear it. Shall one part of the same sentence be excluded altogether from a share in the meaning; and shall the more doubtful and indefinite terms be retained in their full extent, and the clear and precise expressions be denied any signification? For what purpose could the enumeration of particular powers be inserted, if these and all others were meant to be included in the preceding general power? Nothing is more natural or common, than first to use a general phrase, and then to qualify it by a recital of particulars. But the idea of an enumeration of particulars, which neither explain, nor qualify the general meaning, and can have no other effect, than to confound and mislead, is an absurdity, which no one ought to charge on the enlightened authors of the constitution. It would be to charge them either with premeditated folly, or premeditated fraud.
§ 908. On the other hand, construing this clause in connexion with, and as a part of the preceding clause, giving the power to lay taxes, it becomes sensible and operative. It becomes a qualification of that clause, and limits the taxing power to objects for the common defence or general welfare. It then contains no grant of any power whatsoever; but it is a mere expression of the ends and purposes to be effected by the preceding power of taxation.
§ 909. An attempt has been sometimes made to treat this clause, as distinct and independent, and yet as having no real significancy per se, but (if it may be so said) as a mere prelude to the succeeding enumerated powers. It is not improbable, that this mode of explanation has been suggested by the fact, that in the revised draft of the constitution in the convention the clause was separated from the preceding exactly in the same manner, as every succeeding clause was, viz. by a semicolon, and a break in the paragraph; and that it now stands, in some copies, and it is said, that it stands in the official copy, with a semicolon interposed. But this circumstance will be found of very little weight, when the origin of the clause, and its progress to its present state are traced in the proceedings of the convention. It will then appear, that it was first introduced as an appendage to the power to lay taxes. But there is a fundamental objection to the interpretation thus attempted to be maintained, which is, that it robs the clause of all efficacy and meaning. No person has a right to assume, that any part of the constitution is useless, or is without a meaning; and a fortiori no person has a right to rob any part of a meaning, natural and appropriate to the language in the connexion, in which it stands. Now, the words have such a natural and appropriate meaning, as a qualification of the preceding clause to lay taxes. Why, then, should such a meaning be rejected?
§ 910. It is no sufficient answer to say, that the clause ought to be regarded, merely as containing "general terms, explained and limited, by the subjoined specifications, and therefore requiring no critical attention, or studied precaution;" because it is assuming the very point in controversy, to assert, that the clause is connected with any subsequent specifications. It is not said, to "provide for the common defence, and general welfare, in manner following, viz.," which would be the natural expression, to indicate such an intention. But it stands entirely disconnected from every subsequent clause, both in sense and punctuation; and is no more a part of them, than they are of the power to lay taxes. Besides; what suitable application, in such a sense, would there be of the last clause in the enumeration, viz., the clause "to make all laws, necessary and proper for carrying into execution the foregoing powers, &c.?" Surely, this clause is as applicable to the power to lay taxes, as to any other; and no one would dream of its being a mere specification, under the power to provide for the common defence, and general welfare.
§ 911. It has been said [in James Madison's 1800 Report on the Virginia Resolutions] in support of this construction, that in the articles of confederation (art. 8) it is provided, that "all charges of war, and all other expenses, that shall be incurred for the common defence, or general welfare, and allowed by the United States in congress assembled, shall be defrayed out of a common treasury, &c.;" and that "the similarity in the use of these same phrases in these two great federal charters may well be considered, as rendering their meaning less liable to misconstruction; because it will scarcely be said, that in the former they were ever understood to be either a general grant or power, or to authorize the requisition or application of money by the old congress to the common defence and [or] general welfare, except in the cases afterwards enumerated, which explained and limited their meaning; and if such was the limited meaning attached to these phrases in the very instrument revised and remodelled by the present constitution, it can never be supposed, that when copied into this constitution, a different meaning ought to be attached to them." Without stopping to consider, whether the constitution can in any just and critical sense be deemed a revision and remodelling of the confederation, if the argument here stated be of any value, it plainly establishes, that the words ought to be construed, as a qualification or limitation of the power to lay taxes. By the confederation, all expenses incurred for the common defence, or general welfare, are to be defrayed out of a common treasury, to be supplied by requisitions upon the states. Instead of requisitions, the constitution gives the right to the national government directly to lay taxes. So, that the only difference in this view between the two clauses is, as to the mode of obtaining the money, not as to the objects or purposes, to which it is to be applied. If then the constitution were to be construed according to the true bearing of this argument, it would read thus: congress shall have power to lay taxes for "all charges of war, and all other expenses, that shall be incurred for the common defence or general welfare." This plainly makes it a qualification of the taxing power; and not an independent provision, or a general index to the succeeding specifications of power. There is not, however, any solid ground, upon which it can be for a moment maintained, that the language of the constitution is to be enlarged, or restricted by the language of the confederation. That would be to make it speak, what its words do not import, and its objects do not justify. It would be to append it, as a codicil, to an instrument, which it was designed wholly to supercede and vacate.
§ 912. But the argument in its other branch rests on an assumed basis, which is not admitted. It supposes, that in the confederation no expenses, not strictly incurred under some of the subsequent specified powers given to the continental congress, could be properly payable out of the common treasury. Now, that is a proposition to be proved; and is not to be taken for granted. The confederation was not finally ratified, so as to become a binding instrument on any of the states, until March, 1781. Until that period there could be no practice or construction under it; and it is not shown, that subsequently there was any exposition to the effect now insisted on. Indeed, after the peace of 1783, if there had been any such exposition, and it had been unfavourable to the broad exercise of the power, it would have been entitled to less weight, than usually belongs to the proceedings of public bodies in the administration of their powers; since the decline and fall of the confederation was so obvious, that it was of little use to exert them. The states notoriously disregarded the rights and prerogatives admitted to belong to the confederacy; and even the requisitions of congress, for objects most unquestionably within their constitutional authority, were openly denied, or silently evaded. Under such circumstances, congress would have little inclination to look closely to their powers; since, whether great or small, large or narrow, they were of little practical value, and of no practical cogency.
§ 913. But it does so happen, that in point of fact, no such unfavourable or restrictive interpretation or practice was ever adopted by the continental congress. On the contrary, they construed their power on the subject of requisitions and taxation, exactly as it is now contended for, as a power to make requisitions on the states for all expenses, which they might deem proper to incur for the common defence and general welfare; and to appropriate all monies in the treasury to the like purposes. This is admitted to be of such notoriety, as to require no proof. Surely, the practice of that body in questions of this nature must be of far higher value, than the mere private interpretation of any persons in the present times, however respectable. But the practice was conformable to the constitutional authority of congress under the confederation. The ninth article expressly delegates to congress the power "to ascertain the necessary sums to be raised for the service of the United States, and to appropriate and apply the same for defraying the public expenses;" and then provides, that congress shall not "ascertain the sums and expenses necessary for the defence and welfare of the United States, or any of them, &c. unless nine states assent to the same." So that here we have, in the eighth article, a declaration, that "all charges of war and all other expenses, that shall be incurred for the common defence or general welfare, &c. shall be defrayed out of a common treasury;" and in the ninth article, an express power to ascertain the necessary sums of money to be raised for the public service; and then, that the necessary sums for the defence and welfare of the United States, (and not of the United States alone, for the words are added,) or of any of them, shall be ascertained by the assent of nine states. Clearly therefore, upon the plain language of the articles, the words "common defence and general welfare," in one, and "defence and welfare," in another, and "public service," in another, were not idle words, but were descriptive of the very intent and objects of the power; and not confined even to the defence and welfare of all the states, but extending to the welfare and defence of any of them. The power then is, in this view, even larger, than that conferred by the constitution.
§ 914. But there is no ground whatsoever, which authorizes any resort to the confederation, to interpret the power of taxation, which is conferred on congress by the constitution. The clause has no reference whatsoever to the confederation; nor indeed to any other clause of the constitution. It is, on its face, a distinct, substantive, and independent power. Who, then, is at liberty to say, that it is to be limited by other clauses, rather than they to be enlarged by it; since there is no avowed connexion, or reference from the one to the others? Interpretation would here desert its proper office, that, which requires, that "every part of the expression ought, if possible, to be allowed some meaning, and be made to conspire to some common end."
§ 915. It has been farther said [in Madison's 1800 Report], in support of the construction now under consideration, that "whether the phrases in question are construed to authorize every measure relating to the common defence and general welfare, as contended by some; or every measure only, in which there might be an application of money, as suggested by the caution of others; the effect must substantially be the same, in destroying the import and force of the particular enumeration of powers, which follow these general phrases in the constitution. For it is evident, that there is not a single power whatsoever, which may not have some reference to the common defence, or the general welfare; nor a power of any magnitude, which, in its exercise, does not involve, or admit an application of money. The government, therefore, which possesses power in either one, or the other of these extents, is a government without limitations, formed by a particular enumeration of powers; and consequently the meaning and effect of this particular enumeration is destroyed by the exposition given to these general phrases." The conclusion deduced from these premises is, that under the confederation, and the constitution, "congress is authorized to provide money for the common defence and general welfare. In both is subjoined to this authority an enumeration of the cases, to which their powers shall extend. Money cannot be applied to the general welfare otherwise, than by an application of it to some particular measure, conducive to the general welfare. Whenever, therefore, money has been raised by the general authority, and is to be applied to a particular measure, a question arises, whether the particular measure be within the enumerated authorities vested in the congress. If it be, the money requisite for it may be applied to it; if it be not, no such application can be made. This fair and obvious interpretation coincides with, and is enforced by the clause in the constitution, which declares, that no money shall be drawn from the treasury but in consequence of appropriations by law. An appropriation of money to the general welfare would be deemed rather a mockery, than an observance of this constitutional injunction."
§ 916. Stripped of the ingenious texture, by which this argument is disguised, it is neither more nor less, than an attempt to obliterate from the constitution the whole clause, "to pay the debts, and provide for the common defence and general welfare of the United States," as entirely senseless, or inexpressive of any intention whatsoever. Strike them out, and the constitution is exactly what the argument contends for. It is, therefore, an argument, that the words ought not to be in the constitution; because if they are, and have any meaning, they enlarge it beyond the scope of certain other enumerated powers, and this is both mischievous and dangerous. Being in the constitution, they are to be deemed, vox et preterea nihil, an empty sound and vain phraseology, a finger-board pointing to other powers, but having no use whatsoever, since these powers are sufficiently apparent without. Now, it is not too much to say, that in a constitution of government, framed and adopted by the people, it is a most unjustifiable latitude of interpretation to deny effect to any clause, if it is sensible in the language, in which it is expressed, and in the place, in which it stands. If words are inserted, we are bound to presume, that they have some definite object, and intent; and to reason them out of the constitution upon arguments ab inconvenienti, (which to one mind may appear wholly unfounded, and to another wholly satisfactory,) is to make a new constitution, not to construe the old one. It is to do the very thing, which is so often complained of, to make a constitution to suit our own notions and wishes, and not to administer, or construe that, which the people have given to the country.
§ 917. But what is the argument, when it is thoroughly sifted? It reasons upon a supposed dilemma, upon which it suspends the advocates of the two contrasted opinions. If the power to provide for the common defence and general welfare is an independent power, then it is said, that the government is unlimited, and the subsequent enumeration of powers is unnecessary and useless. If it is a mere appendage or qualification of the power to lay taxes, still it involves a power of general appropriation of the monies so raised, which indirectly produces the same result. Now, the former position may be safely admitted to be true by those, who do not deem it an independent power; but the latter position is not a just conclusion from the premises, which it states, that it is a qualified power. It is not a logical, or a practical sequence from the premises; it is a non sequitur.
§ 918. A dilemma, of a very different sort, might be fairly put to those, who contend for the doctrine, that the words are not a qualification of the power to lay taxes, and, indeed, have no meaning, or use per se. The words are found in the clause respecting taxation, and as a part of that clause. If the power to tax extends simply to the payment of the debts of the United States, then congress has no power to lay any taxes for any other purpose. If so, then congress could not appropriate the money raised to any other purposes; since the restriction is to taxes for payment of the debts of the United States, that is, of the debts then existing. This would be almost absurd. If, on the other hand, congress have a right to lay taxes, and appropriate the money to any other objects, it must be, because the words, "to provide for the common defence and general welfare," authorize it, by enlarging the power to those objects; for there are no other words, which belong to the clause. All the other powers are in distinct clauses, and do not touch taxation. No advocate for the doctrine of a restrictive power will contend, that the power to lay taxes to pay debts, authorizes the payment of all debts, which the United States may choose to incur, whether for national or constitutional objects, or not. The words, "to pay debts," are therefore, either antecedent debts, or debts to be incurred "for the common defence and general welfare," which will justify congress in incurring any debts for such purposes. But the language is not confined to the payment of debts for the common defence and general welfare. It is not "to pay the debts" merely; but "to provide for the common defence and general welfare." That is, congress may lay taxes to provide means for the common defence and general welfare. So that there is a difficulty in rejecting one part of the qualifying clause, without rejecting the whole, or enlarging the words for some purposes, and restricting them for others.
§ 919. A power to lay taxes for any purposes whatsoever is a general power; a power to lay taxes for certain specified purposes is a limited power. A power to lay taxes for the common defence and general welfare of the United States is not in common sense a general power. It is limited to those objects. It cannot constitutionally transcend them. If the defence proposed by a tax be not the common defence of the United States, if the welfare be not general, but special, or local, as contradistinguished from national, it is not within the scope of the constitution. If the tax be not proposed for the common defence, or general welfare, but for other objects, wholly extraneous, (as for instance, for propagating Mahometanism among the Turks, or giving aids and subsidies to a foreign nation, to build palaces for its kings, or erect monuments to its heroes,) it would be wholly indefensible upon constitutional principles. The power, then, is, under such circumstances, necessarily a qualified power. If it is so, how then does it affect, or in the slightest degree trench upon the other enumerated powers? No one will pretend, that the power to lay taxes would, in general, have superseded, or rendered unnecessary all the other enumerated powers. It would neither enlarge, nor qualify them. A power to tax does not include them. Nor would they, (as unhappily the confederation too clearly demonstrated,) necessarily include a power to tax. Each has its appropriate office and objects; each may exist without necessarily interfering with, or annihilating the other. No one will pretend, that the power to lay a tax necessarily includes the power to declare war, to pass naturalization and bankrupt laws, to coin money, to establish post-offices, or to define piracies and felonies on the high seas. Nor would either of these be deemed necessarily to include the power to tax. It might be convenient; but it would not be absolutely indispensable.
§ 920. The whole of the elaborate reasoning upon the propriety of granting the power of taxation, pressed with so much ability and earnestness, both in and out of the convention, as vital to the operations of the national government, would have been useless, and almost absurd, if the power was included in the subsequently enumerated powers. If the power of taxing was to be granted, why should it not be qualified according to the intention of the framers of the constitution? But then, it is said, if congress may lay taxes for the common defence and general welfare, the money may be appropriated for those purposes, although not within the scope of the other enumerated powers. Certainly it may be so appropriated; for if congress is authorized to lay taxes for such purposes, it would be strange, if, when raised, the money could not be applied to them. That would be to give a power for a certain end, and then deny the end intended by the power. It is added, "that there is not a single power whatsoever, which may not have some reference to the common defence or general welfare; nor a power of any magnitude, which, in its exercise, does not involve, or admit an application of money." If by the former language is meant, that there is not any power belonging, or incident to any government, which has not some reference to the common defence or general welfare, the proposition may be peremptorily denied. Many governments possess powers, which have no application to either of these objects in a just sense; and some possess powers repugnant to both. If it is meant, that there is no power belonging, or incident to a good government, and especially to a republican government, which may not have some reference to those objects, that proposition may, or may not be true; but it has nothing to do with the present inquiry. The only question is, whether a mere power to lay taxes, and appropriate money for the common defence and general welfare, does include all the other powers of government; or even does include the other enumerated powers (limited as they are) of the national government. No person can answer in the affirmative to either part of the inquiry, who has fully considered the subject. The power of taxation is but one of a multitude of powers belonging to governments; to the state governments, as well as the national government. Would a power to tax authorize a state government to regulate the descent and distribution of estates; to prescribe the form of conveyances; to establish courts of justice for general purposes; to legislate respecting personal rights, or the general dominion of property; or to punish all offences against society? Would it confide to congress the power to grant patent rights for intervention; to provide for counterfeiting the public securities and coin; to constitute judicial tribunals with the powers confided by the third article of the constitution; to declare war, and raise armies and navies, and make regulations for their government; to exercise exclusive legislation in the territories of the United States, or in other ceded places; or to make all laws necessary and proper to carry into effect all the powers given by the constitution? The constitution itself upon its face refutes any such notion. It gives the power to tax, as a substantive power; and gives others, as equally substantive and independent.
§ 921. That the same means may sometimes, or often, be resorted to, to carry into effect the different powers, furnishes no objection; for that is common to all governments. That an appropriation of money may be the usual, or best mode of carrying into effect some of these powers, furnishes no objection; for it is one of the purposes, for which, the argument itself admits, that the power of taxation is given. That it is indispensable for the due exercise of all the powers, may admit of some doubt. The only real question is, whether even admitting the power to lay taxes is appropriate for some of the purposes of other enumerated powers, (for no one will contend, that it will, of itself, reach, or provide for them all,) it is limited to such appropriations, as grow out of the exercise of those powers. In other words, whether it is an incident to those powers, or a substantive power in other cases, which may concern the common defence and the general welfare. If there are no other cases, which concern the common defence and general welfare, except those within the scope of the other enumerated powers, the discussion is merely nominal and frivolous. If there are such cases, who is at liberty to say, that, being for the common defence and general welfare, the constitution did not intend to embrace them? The preamble of the constitution declares one of the objects to be, to provide for the common defence, and to promote the general welfare; and if the power to lay taxes is in express terms given to provide for the common defence and general welfare, what ground can there be to construe the power, short of the object? To say, that it shall be merely auxiliary to other enumerated powers, and not coextensive with its own terms, and its avowed objects? One of the best established rules of interpretation, one, which common sense and reason forbid us to overlook, is, that when the object of a power is clearly defined by its terms, or avowed in the context, it ought to be construed, so as to obtain the object, and not to defeat it. The circumstance, that so construed the power may be abused, is no answer. All powers may be abused; but are they then to be abridged by those, who are to administer them, or denied to have any operation? If the people frame a constitution, the rulers are to obey it. Neither rulers, nor any other functionaries, much less any private persons, have a right to cripple it, because it is according to their own views inconvenient, or dangerous, unwise or impolitic, of narrow limits, or of wide influence.
§ 922. Besides; the argument itself admits, that "congress is authorized to provide money for the common defence and general welfare." It is not pretended, that, when the tax is laid, the specific objects, for which it is laid, are to be specified, or that it is to be solely applied to those objects. That would be to insert a limitation, no where stated in the text. But it is said, that it must be applied to the general welfare; and that can only be by an application of it to some particular measure, conducive to the general welfare. This is admitted. But then, it is added, that this particular measure must be within the enumerated authorities vested in congress, (that is, within some of the powers not embraced in the first clause,) otherwise the application is not authorized. Why not, since it is for the general welfare? No reason is assigned, except, that not being within the scope of those enumerated powers, it is not given by the constitution. Now, the premises may be true; but the conclusion does not follow, unless the words common defence and general welfare are limited to the specifications included in those powers. So, that after all, we are led back to the same reasoning, which construes the words, as having no meaning per se, but as dependent upon, and an exponent of, the enumerated powers. Now, this conclusion is not justified by the natural connexion or collocation of the words; and it strips them of all reasonable force and efficacy. And yet we are told, that "this fair and obvious interpretation coincides with, and is enforced by, the clause of the constitution, which provides, that no money shall be drawn from the treasury, but in consequence of appropriations by law;" as if the clause did not equally apply, as a restraint upon drawing money, whichever construction is adopted. Suppose congress to possess the most unlimited power to appropriate money for the general welfare; would it not be still true, that it could not be drawn from the treasury, until an appropriation was made by some law passed by congress? This last clause is a limitation, not upon the powers of congress, but upon the acts of the executive, and other public officers, in regard to the public monies in the treasury.
§ 923. The argument in favour of the construction, which treats the clause, as a qualification of the power to lay taxes, has, perhaps, never been presented in a more concise or forcible shape, than in an official opinion, deliberately given by one of our most distinguished statesmen [Jefferson]. "To lay taxes to provide for the general welfare of the United States, is," says he, "to lay taxes for the purpose, of providing for the general welfare. For the laying of taxes is the power, and the general welfare the purpose, for which the power is to be exercised. Congress are not to lay taxes ad libitum, for any purpose they please; but only to pay the debts, or provide for the welfare of the Union. In like manner they are not to do any thing they please, to provide for the general welfare; but only to lay taxes for that purpose. To consider the latter phrase, not as describing the purpose of the first, but as giving a distinct and independent power to do any act they please, which might be for the good of the Union, would render all the preceding and subsequent enumerations of power completely useless. It would reduce the whole instrument to a single phrase, that of instituting a congress with power to do whatever would be for the good of the United States; and, as they would be the sole judges of the good or evil, it would also be a power to do whatever evil they pleased. It is an established rule of construction, where a phrase will bear either of two meanings, to give that, which will allow some meaning to the other parts of the instrument, and not that, which will render all the others useless. Certainly, no such universal power was meant to be given them. It was intended to lace them up strictly within the enumerated powers, and those, without which, as means, those powers could not be carried into effect."
§ 924. The same opinion has been maintained at different and distant times by many eminent statesmen. It was avowed, and apparently acquiesed in, in the state conventions, called to ratify the constitution: and it has been, on various occasions, adopted by congress, and may fairly be deemed, that which the deliberate sense of a majority of the nation has at all times supported. This, too, seems to be the construction maintained by the Supreme Court of the United States. In the case of Gibbons v. Ogden, Mr. Chief Justice Marshall, in delivering the opinion of the court, said, "Congress is authorized to lay and collect taxes, &c. to pay the debts, and provide for the common defence and general welfare of the United States. This does not interefere with the power of the states to tax for the support of their own governments; nor is the exercise of that power by the states an exercise of any portion of the power, that is granted to the United States. In imposing taxes for state purposes, they are not doing, what congress is empowered to do. Congress is not empowered to tax for those purposes, which are within the exclusive province of the states. When, then, each government is exercising the power of taxation, neither is exercising the power of the other." Under such circumstances, it is not, perhaps, too much to contend, that it is the truest, the safest, and the most authoritative construction of the constitution.
§ 925. The view thus taken of this clause of the constitution will receive some confirmation, (if it should be thought by any person necessary,) by an historical examination of the proceedings of the convention.
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§ 927. Besides; it is impracticable in grammatical propriety to separate the different parts of the latter clause. The words are, "to pay the debts, and provide for the common defence," &c. "To pay the debts" cannot be construed, as an independent power; for it is connected with the other by the copulative "and." The payment of the antecedent debts of the United States was already provided for by a distinct article; and the power to pay future debts must necessarily be implied to the extent, to which they could constitutionally be contracted; and would fall within the purview of the enumerated power to pass all laws necessary and proper to carry the powers given by the constitution into effect. If, then, these words were and ought to be read, as a part of the preceding power to lay taxes, and in connexion with it, (as this historical review establishes beyond any reasonable controversy,) they draw the other words, "and provide for the common defence," &c. with them into the same connexion. On the other hand, if the connexion be once admitted, it would be almost absurd to contend, that "to pay the debts" of the United States was a general phrase, which pointed to the subsequent enumerated powers, and was qualified by them; and yet, as a part of the very clause, we are not at liberty to disregard it. The truth is, (as the historical review also proves,) that after it had been decided, that a positive power to pay the public debts should be inserted in the constitution, and a desire had been evinced to introduce some restriction upon the power to lay taxes, in order to allay jealousies and suppress alarms, it was (keeping both objects in view) deemed best to append the power to pay the public debts to the power to lay taxes; and then to add other terms, broad enough to embrace all the other purposes contemplated by the constitution. Among these none were more appropriate, than the words, "common defence and general welfare," found in the articles of confederation, and subsequently with marked emphasis introduced into the preamble of the constitution. To this course no opposition was made, because it satisfied those, who wished to provide positively for the public debts, and those, who wished to have the power of taxation co-extensive with all constitutional objects and powers. In other words, it conformed to the spirit of that resolution of the convention, which authorized congress "to legislate, in all cases, for the general interests of the Union."
§ 928. Having thus disposed of the question, what is the true interpretation of the clause, as it stands in the text of the constitution, and ascertained, that the power of taxation, though general, as to the subjects, to which it may be applied, is yet restrictive, as to the purposes, for which it may be exercised; it next becomes matter of inquiry, what were the reasons, for which this power was given, and what were the objections, to which it was deemed liable.
§ 929. That the power of taxation should be, to some extent, vested in the national government, was admitted by all persons, who sincerely desired to escape from the imbecilities, as well as the inequalities of the confederation. Without such a power, it would not be possible to provide for the support of the national forces by land or sea, or the national civil list, or the ordinary charges and expenses of government. For these purposes at least, there must be a constant and regular supply of revenue. If there should be a deficiency, one of two evils must inevitably ensue; either the people must be subjected to continual arbitrary plunder; or the government must sink into a fatal atrophy. The former is the fate of Turkey under its sovereigns: the latter was the fate of America under the confederation.
§ 930. If, then, there is to be a real, effective national government, there must be a power of taxation co-extensive with its powers, wants, and duties. The only inquiry properly remaining is, whether the resources of taxation should be specified and limited; or, whether the power in this respect should be general, leaving a full choice to the national legislature. The opponents of the constitution strenuously contended, that the power should be restricted; its friends, as strenuously contended, that it was indispensable for the public safety, that it should be general.
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§ 946. The language of the constitution is, "Congress shall have power to lay and collect taxes, duties, imposts, and excises," &c. "But all duties, imposts, and excises shall be uniform throughout the United States." A distinction is here taken between taxes, and duties, imposts, and excises; and, indeed, there are other parts of the constitution respecting the taxing power, (as will presently be more fully seen,) such as the regulations respecting direct taxes, the prohibition of taxes or duties on exports by the United States, and the prohibition of imposts or duties by the states on imports or exports, which require an attention to this distinction.
§ 947. In a general sense, all contributions imposed by the government upon individuals for the service of the state, are called taxes, by whatever name they may be known, whether by the name of tribute, tythe, talliage, impost, duty, gabel, custom, subsidy, aid, supply, excise, or other name. In this sense, they are usually divided into two great classes, those, which are direct, and those, which are indirect. Under the former denomination are included taxes on land, or real property, and under the latter, taxes on articles of consumption. The constitution, by giving the power to lay and collect taxes in general terms, doubtless meant to include all sorts of taxes, whether direct or indirect. But, it may be asked, if such was the intention, why were the subsequent words, duties, imposts and excises, added in the clause? Two reasons may be suggested; the first, that it was done to avoid all possibility of doubt in the construction of the clause, since, in common parlance, the word taxes is sometimes applied in contradistinction to duties, imposts, and excises, and, in the delegation of so vital a power, it was desirable to avoid all possible misconception of this sort; and, accordingly, we find, in the very first draft of the constitution, these explanatory words are added. Another reason was, that the constitution prescribed different rules of laying taxes in different cases, and, therefore, it was indispensable to make a discrimination between the classes, to which each rule was meant to apply.
§ 948. The second section of the first article, which has been already commented on for another purpose, declares, that "direct taxes shall be apportioned among the several states, which may be included within this Union, according to their respective numbers." The fourth clause of the ninth section of the same article (which would regularly be commented on in a future page) declares, that "no capitation, or other direct tax, shall be laid, unless in proportion to the census or enumeration herein before directed to be taken." And the clause now under consideration, that "all duties, imposts, and excises shall be uniform throughout the United States." Here, then, two rules are prescribed, the rule of apportionment (as it is called) for direct taxes, and the rule of uniformity for duties, imposts, and excises. If there are any other kinds of taxes, not embraced in one or the other of these two classes, (and it is certainly difficult to give full effect to the words of the constitution without supposing them to exist,) it would seem, that congress is left at full liberty to levy the same by either rule, or by a mixture of both rules, or perhaps by any other rule, not inconsistent with the general purposes of the constitution. It is evident, that "duties, imposts, and excises" are indirect taxes in the sense of the constitution. But the difficulty still remains, to ascertain what taxes are comprehended under this description; and what under the description of direct taxes. It has been remarked by Adam Smith, that the private revenue of individuals arises ultimately from three different sources, rent, profit, and wages; and, that every public tax must be finally paid from some one, or all of these different sorts of revenue. He treats all taxes upon land, or the produce of land, or upon houses, or parts, or appendages thereof, (such as hearth taxes and window taxes,) under the head of taxes upon rent; all taxes upon stock, and money at interest, upon other personal property yielding an income, and upon particular employments, or branches of trade and business, under the head of taxes on profits; and taxes upon salaries under the head of wages. He treats capitation taxes and taxes on consumable articles, as mixed taxes, falling upon all or any of the different species of revenue. A full consideration of these different classifications of taxes belongs more properly to a treatise upon political economy, than upon constitutional law.
§ 949. The word "duties" has not, perhaps, in all cases a very exact signification, or rather it is used sometimes in a larger, and sometimes in a narrower sense. In its large sense, it is very nearly an equivalent to taxes, embracing all impositions or charges levied on persons or things. In its more restrained sense, it is often used as equivalent to "customs," which appellation is usually applied to those taxes, which are payable upon goods and merchandise imported, or exported, and was probably given on account of the usual and constant demand of them for the use of kings, states, and governments. In this sense, it is nearly synonymous with "imposts," which is sometimes used in the large sense of taxes, or duties, or impositions, and sometimes in the more restrained sense of a duty on imported goods and merchandise. Perhaps it is not unreasonable to presume, that this narrower sense might be in the minds of the framers of the constitution, when this clause was adopted, since, in another clause, it is subsequently provided, that "No tax or duty shall be laid on articles exported from any state;" and, that "No state shall, without the consent of congress, lay any imposts or duties on imports or exports, except what may be absolutely necessary for executing its inspection laws." There is another provision, that "No state shall, without the consent of congress, lay any duty of tonnage," &c.; from which, perhaps, it may be gathered, that a tonnage duty, (by which is to be understood, not the ancient custom in England, so called, on wines imported, but a duty on the tonnage of ships and vessels,) was not deemed an impost, strictly, but a duty. However, it must be admitted, that little certainty can be arrived at from such slight changes of phraseology, where the words are susceptible of various interpretations, and of more or less expansion. The most, that can be done, is, to offer a probable conjecture from the apparent use of words in a connexion, where it is desirable not to deem any one superfluous, or synonymous with the others. A learned commentator has supposed, that the words, "duties and imposts," in the constitution, were probably intended to comprehend every species of tax or contribution, not included under the ordinary terms, "taxes and excises." Another learned judge has said, "what is the natural and common, or technical and appropriate, meaning of the words, duty and excise, it is not easy to ascertain. They present no clear or precise idea to the mind. Different persons will annex different significations to the terms." On the same occasion, another learned judge said, "The term, duty, is the most comprehensive, next to the generical term, tax; and practically in Great Britain, (whence we take our general ideas of taxes, duties, imposts, excises, customs, &c.) embraces taxes on stamps, tolls for passage, &c. and is not confined to taxes on importations only."
§ 950. "Excises" are generally deemed to be of an opposite nature to "imposts," in the restrictive sense of the latter term, and are defined to be an inland imposition, paid sometimes upon the consumption of the commodity, or frequently upon the retail sale, which is the last stage before the consumption.
§ 951. But the more important inquiry is, what are direct taxes in the sense of the constitution, since they are required to be laid by the rule of apportionment, and all indirect taxes, whether they fall under the head of "duties, imposts, or excises," or under any other description, may be laid by the rule of uniformity. It is clear, that capitation taxes, or, as they are more commonly called, poll taxes, that is, taxes upon the polls, heads, or persons, of the contributors, are direct taxes, for the constitution has expressly enumerated them, as such. "No capitation, or other direct tax, shall be laid," &c. is the language of that instrument.
§ 952. Taxes on lands, houses, and other permanent real estate, or on parts or appurtenances thereof, have always been deemed of the same character, that is, direct taxes. It has been seriously doubted, if, in the sense of the constitution, any taxes are direct taxes, except those on polls or on lands.
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§ 954. Having endeavoured to point out the leading distinctions between direct and indirect taxes, and that duties, imposts, and excises, in the sense of the constitution, belong to the latter class, the order of the subject would naturally lead us to the inquiry, why direct taxes are required to be governed by the rule of apportionment; and why "duties, imposts, and excises" are required to be uniform throughout the United States. The answer to the former will be given, when we come to the farther examination of certain prohibitory and restrictive clauses of the constitution on the subject of taxation. The answer to the latter may be given in a few words. It was to cut off all undue preferences of one state over another in the regulation of subjects affecting their common interests. Unless duties, imposts, and excises were uniform, the grossest and most oppressive inequalities, vitally affecting the pursuits and employments of the people of different states, might exist. The agriculture, commerce, or manufactures of one state might be built up on the ruins of those of another; and a combination of a few states in congress might secure a monopoly of certain branches of trade and business to themselves, to the injury, if not to the destruction, of their less favoured neighbours. The constitution throughout all its provisions is an instrument of checks, and restraints, as well as of powers. It does not rely on confidence in the general government to preserve the interests of all the states. It is founded in a wholesome and strenuous jealousy, which, foreseeing the possibility of mischief, guards with solicitude against any exercise of power, which may endanger the states, as far as it is practicable. If this provision, as to uniformity of duties, had been omitted, although the power might never have been abused to the injury of the feebler states of the Union, (a presumption, which history does not justify us in deeming quite safe or certain;) yet it would, of itself, have been sufficient to demolish, in a practical sense, the value of most of the other restrictive clauses in the constitution. New York and Pennsylvania might, by an easy combination with the Southern states, have destroyed the whole navigation of New England. A combination of a different character, between the New England and the Western states, might have borne down the agriculture of the South; and a combination of a yet different character might have struck at the vital interests of manufactures. So that the general propriety of this clause is established by its intrinsic political wisdom, as well as by its tendency to quiet alarms, and suppress discontents.
§ 955. Two practical questions of great importance have arisen upon the construction of this clause, either standing alone, or in connexion with other clauses, and incidental powers, given by the constitution. One is, whether the government has a right to lay taxes for any other purpose, than to raise revenue, however much that purpose may be for the common defence, or general welfare. The other is, whether the money, when raised, can be appropriated to any other purposes, than such, as are pointed out in the other enumerated powers of congress. The former involves the question, whether congress can lay taxes to protect and encourage domestic manufactures; the latter, whether congress can appropriate money to internal improvements. Each of these questions has given rise to much animated controversy; each has been affirmed and denied, with great pertinacity, zeal, and eloquent reasoning; each has become prominent in the struggles of party; and defeat in each has not hitherto silenced opposition, or given absolute security to victory. The contest is often renewed; and the attack and defence maintained with equal ardour. In discussing this subject, we are treading upon the ashes of yet unextinguished fires,--incedimus per ignes suppositos cineri doloso;--and while the nature of these Commentaries requires, that the doctrine should be freely examined, as maintained on either side, the result will be left to the learned reader, without a desire to influence his judgment, or dogmatically to announce that belonging to the commentator.
§ 956. First, then, as to the question, whether congress can lay taxes, except for the purposes of revenue. This subject has been already touched, in considering what is the true reading, and interpretation of the clause, conferring the power to lay taxes. If the reading and interpretation, there insisted on, be correct, it furnishes additional means to resolve the question, now under consideration.
§ 957. The argument against the constitutional authority is understood to be maintained on the following grounds, which, though applied to the protection of manufactures, are equally applicable to all other cases, where revenue is not the object. The general government is one of specific powers, and it can rightfully exercise only the powers expressly granted, and those, which may be "necessary and proper" to carry them into effect; all others being reserved expressly to the states, or to the people. It results necessarily, that those, who claim to exercise a power under the constitution, are bound to show, that it is expressly granted, or that it is "necessary and proper," as a means to execute some of the granted powers. No such proof has been offered in regard to the protection of manufactures.
§ 958. It is true, that the eighth section of the first article of the constitution authorizes congress to lay and collect an impost duty; but it is granted, as a tax power, for the sole purpose of revenue; a power, in its nature, essentially different from that of imposing protective, or prohibitory duties. The two are incompatible; for the prohibitory system must end in destroying the revenue from imports. It has been said, that the system is a violation of the spirit, and not of the letter of the constitution. The distinction is not material. The constitution may be as grossly violated by acting against its meaning, as against its letter. The constitution grants to congress the power of imposing a duty on imports for revenue, which power is abused by being converted into an instrument for rearing up the industry of one section of the country on the ruins of another. The violation, then, consists in using a power, granted for one object, to advance another, and that by a sacrifice of the original object. It is in a word a violation of perversion, the most dangerous of all, because the most insidious and difficult to resist. Such is the reasoning emanating from high legislative authority. On another interesting occasion, the argument has been put in the following shape. It is admitted, that congress has power to lay and collect such duties, as they may deem necessary for the purposes of revenue, and within these limits so to arrange those duties, as incidentally, and to that extent to give protection to the manufacturer. But the right is denied to convert, what is here denominated the incidental, into the principal power, and transcending the limits of revenue, to impose an additional duty substantially and exclusively for the purpose of affording that protection. Congress may countervail the regulations of a foreign power, which may be hostile to our commerce; but their authority is denied permanently to prohibit all importation, for the purpose of securing the home market exclusively to the domestic manufacturer; thereby destroying the commerce they were entrusted to regulate, and fostering an interest, with which they have no constitutional power to interfere. To do so, therefore, is a palpable abuse of the taxing power, which was conferred for the purpose of revenue; and if it is referred to the authority to regulate commerce, it is as obvious a perversion of that power, since it may be extended to an utter annihilation of the objects, which it was intended to protect.
§ 959. In furtherance of this reasoning, it has been admitted, that under the power to regulate commerce, congress is not limited to the imposition of duties upon imports for the sole purpose of revenue. It may impose retaliatory duties on foreign powers; but these retaliatory duties must be imposed for the regulation of commerce, not for the encouragement of manufactures. The power to regulate manufactures, not having been confided to congress, they have no more right to act upon it, than they have to interfere with the systems of education, the poor laws, or the road laws, of the states. Congress is empowered to lay taxes for revenue, it is true; but there is no power to encourage, protect, or meddle with manufactures.
§ 960. It is necessary to consider the argument at present, so far as it bears upon the constitutional authority of congress to protect or encourage manufactures; because that subject will more properly come under review, in all its bearings, under another head, viz. the power to regulate commerce, to which it is nearly allied, and from which it is more usually derived. Stripping the argument, therefore, of this adventitious circumstance, it resolves itself into this statement. The power to lay taxes is a power exclusively given to raise revenue, and it can constitutionally be applied to no other purposes. The application for other purposes is an abuse of the power; and, in fact, however it may be in form disguised, it is a premeditated usurpation of authority. Whenever money or revenue is wanted for constitutional purposes, the power to lay taxes may be applied to obtain it. When money or revenue is not so wanted, it is not a proper means for any constitutional end.
§ 961. The argument in favour of the constitutional authority is grounded upon the terms and the intent of the constitution. It seeks for the true meaning and objects of the power according to the obvious sense of the language, and the nature of the government proposed to be established by that instrument. It relies upon no strained construction of words; but demands a fair and reasonable interpretation of the clause, without any restrictions not naturally implied in it, or in the context. It will not do to assume, that the clause was intended solely for the purposes of raising revenue; and then argue, that being so, the power cannot be constitutionally applied to any other purposes. The very point in controversy is, whether it is restricted to purposes of revenue. That must be proved; and cannot be assumed, as the basis of reasoning.
§ 962. The language of the constitution is, "Congress shall have power to lay and collect taxes, duties, imposts, and excises." If the clause had stopped here, and remained in this absolute form, (as it was in fact, when reported in the first draft in the convention,) there could not have been the slightest doubt on the subject. The absolute power to lay taxes includes the power in every form, in which it may be used, and for every purpose, to which the legislature may choose to apply it. This results from the very nature of such an unrestricted power. A fortiori it might be applied by congress to purposes, for which nations have been accustomed to apply to it. Now, nothing is more clear, from the history of commercial nations, than the fact, that the taxing power is often, very often, applied for other purposes, than revenue. It is often applied, as a regulation of commerce. It is often applied, as a virtual prohibition upon the importation of particular articles, for the encouragement and protection of domestic products, and industry; for the support of agriculture, commerce, and manufactures; for retaliation upon foreign monopolies and injurious restrictions; for mere purposes of state policy, and domestic economy; sometimes to banish a noxious article of consumption; sometimes, as a bounty upon an infant manufacture, or agricultural product; sometimes, as a temporary restraint of trade; sometimes, as a suppression of particular employments; sometimes, as a prerogative power to destroy competition, and secure a monopoly to the government!
§ 963. If, then, the power to lay taxes, being general, may embrace, and in the practice of nations does embrace, all these objects, either separately, or in combination, upon what foundation does the argument rest, which assumes one object only, to the exclusion of all the rest? which insists, in effect, that because revenue may be one object, therefore it is the sole object of the power? which assumes its own construction to be correct, because it suits its own theory, and denies the same right to others, entertaining a different theory? If the power is general in its terms, is it not an abuse of all fair reasoning to insist, that it is particular? to desert the import of the language, and to substitute other and different language? Is this allowable in an especial manner, as to constitutions of government, growing out of the rights, duties, and exigencies of nations, and looking to an infinite variety of circumstances, which may require very different applications of a given power?
§ 964. In the next place, then, is the power to lay taxes, given by the constitution, a general power; or is it a limited power? If a limited power, to what objects is it limited by the terms of the constitution?
§ 965. Upon this subject, (as has been already stated,) three different opinions appear to have been held by statesmen of no common sagacity and ability. The first is, that the power is unlimited; and that the subsequent clause, "to pay the debts, and provide for the common defence and general welfare," is a substantive, independent power. In the view of those, who maintain this opinion, the power, being general, cannot with any consistency be restrained to purposes of revenue.
§ 966. The next is, that the power is restrained by the subsequent clause, so that it is a power to lay taxes in order to pay debts, and to provide for the common defence and general welfare. Is raising revenue the only proper mode to provide for the common defence and general welfare? May not the general welfare, in the judgment of congress, be, in given circumstances, as well provided for, nay better provided for, by prohibitory duties, or by encouragements to domestic industry of all sorts? If a tax of one sort, as on tonnage, or foreign vessels, will aid commerce, and a tax on foreign raw materials will aid agriculture, and a tax on imported fabrics will aid domestic manufactures, and so promote the general welfare; may they not be all constitutionally united by congress in a law for this purpose? If congress can unite them all, may they not sustain them severally in separate laws? Is a tax to aid manufactures, or agriculture, or commerce, necessarily, or even naturally, against the general welfare, or the common defence? Who is to decide upon such a point? Congress, to whom the authority is given to exercise the power? Or any other body, state or national, which may choose to assume it?
§ 967. Besides; if a particular act of congress, not for revenue, should be deemed an excess of the powers; does it follow, that all other acts are so? If the common defence or general welfare can be promoted by laying taxes in any other manner, than for revenue, who is at liberty to say, that congress cannot constitutionally exercise the power for such a purpose? No one has a right to say, that the common defence and general welfare can never be promoted by laying taxes, except for revenue. No one has ever yet been bold enough to assert such a proposition. Different men have entertained opposite opinions on subjects of this nature. It is a matter of theory and speculation, of political economy, and national policy, and not a matter of power. It may be wise or unwise to lay taxes, except for revenue; but the wisdom or inexpediency of a measure is no test of its constitutionality. Those, therefore, who hold the opinion above stated, must unavoidably maintain, that the power to lay taxes is not confined to revenue; but extends to all cases, where it is proper to be used for the common defence and general welfare. One of the most effectual means of defence against the injurious regulations and policy of foreign nations, and which is most commonly resorted to, is to apply the power of taxation to the products and manufactures of foreign nations by way of retaliation; and, short of war, this is found to be practically that, which is felt most extensively, and produces the most immediate redress. How, then, can it be imagined for a moment, that this was not contemplated by the framers of the constitution, as a means to provide for the common defence and general welfare?
§ 968. The third opinion is, (as has been already stated,) that the power is restricted to such specific objects, as are contained in the other enumerated powers. Now, if revenue be not the sole and exclusive means of carrying into effect all these enumerated powers, the advocates of this doctrine must maintain with those of the second opinion, that the power is not limited to purposes of revenue. No man will pretend to say, that all those enumerated powers have no other objects, or means to effectuate them, than revenue. Revenue may be one mode; but it is not the sole mode. Take the power "to regulate commerce." Is it not clear from the whole history of nations, that laying taxes is one of the most usual modes of regulating commerce? Is it not, in many cases, the best means of preventing foreign monopolies, and mischievous commercial restrictions? In such cases, then, the power to lay taxes is confessedly not for revenue. If so, is not the argument irresistible, that it is not limited to purposes of revenue? Take another power, the power to coin money and regulate its value, and that of foreign coin; might not a tax be laid on certain foreign coin for the purpose of carrying this into effect by suppressing the circulation of such coin, or regulating its value? Take the power to promote the progress of science and useful arts; might not a tax be laid on foreigners, and foreign inventions, in aid of this power, so as to suppress foreign competition, or encourage domestic science and arts? Take another power, vital in the estimation of many statesmen to the security of a republic,--the power to provide for organizing, arming, and disciplining the militia; may not a tax be laid on foreign arms, to encourage the domestic manufacture of arms, so as to enhance our security, and give uniformity to our organization and discipline? Take the power to declare war, and its auxiliary powers; may not congress, for the very object of providing for the effectual exercise of these powers, and securing a permanent domestic manufacture and supply of powder, equipments, and other warlike apparatus, impose a prohibitory duty upon foreign articles of the same nature? If congress may, in any, or all of these cases, lay taxes; then as revenue constitutes, upon the very basis of the reasoning, no object of the taxes, is it not clear, that the enumerated powers require the power to lay taxes to be more extensively construed, than for purposes of revenue? It would be no answer to say, that the power of taxation, though in its nature only a power to raise revenue, may be resorted to, as an implied power to carry into effect these enumerated powers in any effectual manner. That would be to contend, that an express power to lay taxes is not coextensive with an implied power to lay taxes; that when the express power is given, it means a power to raise revenue only; but when it is implied, it no longer has any regard to this object. How, then, is a case to be dealt with, of a mixed nature, where revenue is mixed up with other objects in the framing of the law?
§ 969. If, then, the power to lay taxes were admitted to be restricted to cases within the enumerated powers; still the advocates of that doctrine are compelled to admit, that the power must be construed, as not confined to revenue, but as extending to all other objects within the scope of those powers. Where the power is expressly given, we are not at liberty to say, that it is to be implied. Being given, it may certainly be resorted to, as a means to effectuate all the powers, to which it is appropriate; not, because it is to be implied in the grant of those powers; but because it is expressly granted, as a substantive power, and may be used, of course, as an auxiliary to them.
§ 970. So that, whichever construction of the power to lay taxes is adopted, the same conclusion is sustained, that the power to lay taxes is not by the constitution confined to purposes of revenue. In point of fact, it has never been limited to such purposes by congress; and all the great functionaries of the government have constantly maintained the doctrine, that it was not constitutionally so limited.
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§ 972. The other question is, whether congress has any power to appropriate money, raised by taxation or otherwise, for any other purposes, than those pointed out in the enumerated powers, which follow the clause respecting taxation. It is said, "raised by taxation or otherwise;" for there may be, and in fact are, other sources of revenue, by which money may, and does come into the treasury of the United States otherwise, than by taxation; as, for instance, by fines, penalties, and forfeitures; by sales of the public lands, and interests and dividends on bank stocks; by captures and prize in times of war; and by other incidental profits and emoluments growing out of governmental transactions and prerogatives. But, for all the common purposes of argument, the question may be treated, as one growing out of levies by taxation.
§ 973. The reasoning, upon which the opinion, adverse to the authority of congress to make appropriations not within the scope of the enumerated powers, is maintained, has been already, in a great measure, stated in the preceding examination of the grammatical construction of the clause, giving the power to lay taxes. The controversy is virtually at an end, if it is once admitted, that the words, "to provide for the common defence and general welfare," are a part and qualification of the power to lay taxes; for then, congress has certainly a right to appropriate money to any purposes, or in any manner, conducive to those ends. The whole stress of the argument is, therefore, to establish, that the words, "to provide for the common defence and general welfare," do not form an independent power, nor any qualification of the power to lay taxes. And the argument is, that they are "mere general terms, explained and limited by the subjoined specifications." It is attempted to be fortified (as has been already seen) by a recurrence to the history of the confederation; to the successive reports and alterations of the tax clause in the convention; to the inconveniencies of such a large construction; and to the supposed impossibility, that a power to make such appropriations for the common defence and general welfare, should not have been, at the adoption of the constitution, a subject of great alarm, and jealousy; and as such, resisted in and out of the state conventions.
§ 974. The argument in favour of the power is derived, in the first place, from the language of the clause, conferring the power, (which it is admitted in its literal terms covers it;) secondly, from the nature of the power, which renders it in the highest degree expedient, if not indispensable for the due operations of the national government; thirdly, from the early, constant and decided maintenance of it by the government and its functionaries, as well as by many of our ablest statesmen from the very commencement of the constitution. So, that it has the language and intent of the text, and the practice of the government to sustain it against an artificial doctrine, set up on the other side.
§ 975. The argument derived from the words and intent has been so fully considered already, that it cannot need repetition. It is summed up with great force in the report of the secretary of the treasury on manufactures, in 1791. . . .
§ 976. But the most thorough and elaborate view, which perhaps has ever been taken of the subject, will be found in the exposition of President Monroe, which accompanied his message respecting the bill for the repairs of the Cumberland Road, (4th of May, 1822.).
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§ 988. In regard to the practice of the government, it has been entirely in conformity to the principles here laid down. Appropriations have never been limited by congress to cases falling within the specific powers enumerated in the constitution, whether those powers be construed in their broad, or their narrow sense. And in an especial manner appropriations have been made to aid internal improvements of various sorts, in our roads, our navigation, our streams, and other objects of a national character and importance. In some cases, not silently, but upon discussion, congress has gone the length of making appropriations to aid destitute foreigners, and cities labouring under severe calamities; as in the relief of the St. Domingo refugees, in 1794, and the citizens of Venezuela, who suffered from an earthquake in 1812. An illustration equally forcible, of a domestic character, is in the bounty given in the cod-fisheries, which was strenuously resisted on constitutional grounds in 1792; but which still maintains its place in the statute book of the United States.
The Founders' Constitution
Volume 2, Article 1, Section 8, Clause 1, Document 28
The University of Chicago Press
Story, Joseph. Commentaries on the Constitution of the United States. 3 vols. Boston, 1833.
Easy to print version.