Article 3, Section 2, Clause 1

[Volume 4, Page 342]

Document 78

Rufus King to C. Gore

1 Feb. 1824Life 6:549--50

The House of R. are now employed in a wide and questionable scheme, of what is called internal improvements; and it seems not unlikely, that the surveys and examinations wh. the bill authorizes, will be approved. The consequence will be the establishment of a construction of the Constitution, that will render the Treasury of the U.S. wholly insecure by exposing the same to the combinations, that will be formed, to apply the same, from time to time, to the local demands of all parts of the country, for the making of Roads, Canals & Bridges. The necessary consequence of the exercise of this power, without check or limitation, must in the end be, to corrupt the public councils, and to endanger those great interests the care of which are confided to the impartiality and integrity of Congress. To survey and explore the route of roads & canals throughout the whole of the U. S. is a useless & unnecessary business; while the ascertainment of the route of particular roads or canals, which it may be desirable & of common benefit to make would be expedient if any power for such purpose be given by the Constitution.

On this subject, I am disposed to doubt, whether a written Constitution, of which we have boasted, can alone define & limit the powers of Govn.; be in fact more precise than a Constitution deposited, & preserved, in rules & maxims like those of the common law, which tho' unwritten are transmitted from age to age, with almost the precision of mathematics or geometry: numbers and diagrams do not change, but such is the imperfection, & uncertainty of language, that words & propositions, which at one time, impart a definite or precise meaning, at another & subsequent time are understood to mean other and different interpretations. Upon this consideration, it may well admit of doubt, whether the written and modern Constitutions of our country are, upon not a few cardinal points, as precise, & incapable of erroneous construction, as the Constitution of England found in the ancient rules and maxims of the unwritten or common Law.

The Founders' Constitution
Volume 4, Article 3, Section 2, Clause 1, Document 78
The University of Chicago Press

The Life and Correspondence of Rufus King. Edited by Charles R. King. 6 vols. New York: G. P. Putnam's Sons, 1894--1900.

© 1987 by The University of Chicago
All rights reserved. Published 2000