Article 3, Section 2, Clause 1

[Volume 4, Page 362]

Document 85

James Madison to M. L. Hurlbert

May 1830Writings 9:372

But whatever respect may be thought due to the intention of the Convention, which prepared & proposed the Constitution, as presumptive evidence of the general understanding at the time of the language used, it must be kept in mind that the only authoritative intentions were those of the people of the States, as expressed thro' the Conventions which ratified the Constitution.

That in a Constitution, so new, and so complicated, there should be occasional difficulties & differences in the practical expositions of it, can surprize no one; and this must continue to be the case, as happens to new laws on complex subjects, until a course of practice of sufficient uniformity and duration to carry with it the public sanction shall settle doubtful or contested meanings.

As there are legal rules for interpreting laws, there must be analogous rules for interpreting constns. and among the obvious and just guides applicable to the Constn. of the U. S. may be mentioned--

1. The evils & defects for curing which the Constitution was called for & introduced.

2. The comments prevailing at the time it was adopted.

3. The early, deliberate & continued practice under the Constitution, as preferable to constructions adapted on the spur of occasions, and subject to the vicissitudes of party or personal ascendencies.

The Founders' Constitution
Volume 4, Article 3, Section 2, Clause 1, Document 85
The University of Chicago Press

The Writings of James Madison. Edited by Gaillard Hunt. 9 vols. New York: G. P. Putnam's Sons, 1900--1910. See also: Federalist

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All rights reserved. Published 2000