Federalist Papers Summary 33
The Federalist Essays Summary No 33: Alexander Hamilton January 2, 1788
Several clauses in the proposed constitution have created significant concern; one authorizes the national legislature “to make all laws which shall be necessary and proper for carrying into execution the powers by that constitution vested in the government of the United States or in any department or officer thereof” and “the constitution and the laws of the United States made in pursuance thereof and the treaties made by their authority shall be the supreme law of the land; any thing in the constitution or laws of any State to the contrary notwithstanding”. Some see these clauses “as the pernicious engines by which their local governments were to be destroyed and their liberties exterminated”.
But “they are only declarations of truth” and the constitution would have operated the same if they were not present.
In Hamilton’s words they are only truths because “What is a power but the ability of doing a thing? What is the ability to do a thing but the power of employing the means necessary to its execution? What is a LEGISLATIVE power but a power of making LAWS? What are the means to execute a LEGISLATIVE power but laws? What is the power of laying and collecting taxes but a legislative power, or a power of making laws, to lay and collect taxes? What are the proper means of executing such a power by necessary and proper laws?” “A power to lay and collect taxes must be a power to pass all laws necessary and proper for the execution of that power.” This same reasoning applies to the entire constitution. If it is only a truth and not necessary why was it introduced? It is a caution to guard against what the convention saw as the primary threat to the execution of the constitution which is that “the State Governments will finally sap the foundations of the Union”.
“Who is to judge of the necessity and propriety of the laws passed for executing the powers of the Union?” He repeats a message used previously that if the Federal Government should overstep the bounds of its authority, the people are to take the necessary means to correct the injury to the constitution.
What does the supreme law of the land mean? The answer is what would it mean if they were not supreme? Laws would then be like treaties that relied on the good faith of the parties rather than rules bound to be observed which could not be abrogated or prevented by laws of the States. However, laws passed by the Federal Government must be pursuant to the Constitution to be the supreme law of the land.
The final paragraph restates the issue that States and Federal Government have concurrent jurisdiction to lay taxes of any kind (unless upon exports and imports) and neither may pass laws opposing or controlling the others ability to do so. Such laws passed by the Federal Government would not be supreme laws of the land but would instead be a usurpation of power not pursuant to the Constitution. More about this in the next paper.
Federalist Papers Summary 33 Written by Donald Mellon