Article I, Section 8 of the Constitution is widely cited as being an exhaustive list of Congressional power. But, in reality, there are a total of thirty (up to 35, depending on how they’re counted) Congressional powers that are listed throughout the document. Find them here:

  • To lay and collect Taxes, Duties, Imposts and Excises, to pay the Debts and provide for the common Defence and general Welfare of the United States; but all Duties, Imposts and Excises shall be uniform throughout the United States;
  • To borrow Money on the credit of the United States;
  • To regulate Commerce with foreign Nations, and among the several States, and with the Indian Tribes;
  • To establish an uniform Rule of Naturalization, and uniform Laws on the subject of Bankruptcies throughout the United States;
  • To coin Money, regulate the Value thereof, and of foreign Coin, and fix the Standard of Weights and Measures;
  • To provide for the Punishment of counterfeiting the Securities and current Coin of the United States;
  • To establish Post Offices and post Roads;
  • To promote the Progress of Science and useful Arts, by securing for limited Times to Authors and Inventors the exclusive Right to their respective Writings and Discoveries;
  • To constitute Tribunals inferior to the supreme Court;
  • To define and punish Piracies and Felonies committed on the high Seas, and Offences against the Law of Nations;
  • To declare War, grant Letters of Marque and Reprisal, and make Rules concerning Captures on Land and Water;
  • To raise and support Armies, but no Appropriation of Money to that Use shall be for a longer Term than two Years;
  • To provide and maintain a Navy;
  • To make Rules for the Government and Regulation of the land and naval Forces;
  • To provide for calling forth the Militia to execute the Laws of the Union, suppress Insurrections and repel Invasions;
  • To provide for organizing, arming, and disciplining, the Militia, and for governing such Part of them as may be employed in the Service of the United States, reserving to the States respectively, the Appointment of the Officers, and the Authority of training the Militia according to the discipline prescribed by Congress;
  • To exercise exclusive Legislation in all Cases whatsoever, over such District (not exceeding ten Miles square) as may, by Cession of particular States, and the Acceptance of Congress, become the Seat of the Government of the United States, and to exercise like Authority over all Places purchased by the Consent of the Legislature of the State in which the Same shall be, for the Erection of Forts, Magazines, Arsenals, dock-Yards, and other needful Buildings; And
  • To make all Laws which shall be necessary and proper for carrying into Execution the foregoing Powers, and all other Powers vested by this Constitution in the Government of the United States, or in any Department or Officer thereof.
  • No State shall, without the Consent of the Congress, lay any Imposts or Duties on Imports or Exports, except what may be absolutely necessary for executing it’s inspection Laws:and the net Produce of all Duties and Imposts, laid by any State on Imports or Exports, shall be for the Use of the Treasury of the United States; and all such Laws shall be subject to the Revision and Controul of the Congress.
  • The Congress may determine the Time of chusing the Electors, and the Day on which they shall give their Votes; which Day shall be the same throughout the United States.
  • In Case of the Removal of the President from Office, or of his Death, Resignation, or Inability to discharge the Powers and Duties of the said Office, the Same shall devolve on the Vice President, and the Congress may by Law provide for the Case of Removal, Death, Resignation or Inability, both of the President and Vice President, declaring what Officer shall then act as President, and such Officer shall act accordingly, until the Disability be removed, or a President shall be elected.
  • The judicial Power of the United States, shall be vested in one supreme Court, and in such inferior Courts as the Congress may from time to time ordain and establish.
  • The Trial of all Crimes, except in Cases of Impeachment, shall be by Jury; and such Trial shall be held in the State where the said Crimes shall have been committed; but when not committed within any State, the Trial shall be at such Place or Places as the Congress may by Law have directed.
  • The Congress shall have Power to declare the Punishment of Treason, but no Attainder of Treason shall work Corruption of Blood, or Forfeiture except during the Life of the Person attainted.
  • Full Faith and Credit shall be given in each State to the public Acts, Records, and judicial Proceedings of every other State. And the Congress may by general Laws prescribe the Manner in which such Acts, Records, and Proceedings shall be proved, and the Effect thereof.
  • New States may be admitted by the Congress into this Union;
  • The Congress shall have Power to dispose of and make all needful Rules and Regulations respecting the Territory or other Property belonging to the United States; and nothing in this Constitution shall be so construed as to Prejudice any Claims of the United States, or of any particular State.
  • The Congress, whenever two thirds of both Houses shall deem it necessary, shall propose Amendments to this Constitution, or, on the Application of the Legislatures of two thirds of the several States, shall call a Convention for proposing Amendments, which, in either Case, shall be valid to all Intents and Purposes, as Part of this Constitution, when ratified by the Legislatures of three fourths of the several States, or by Conventions in three fourths thereof, as the one or the other Mode of Ratification may be proposed by the Congress
  • The House of Representatives shall chuse their Speaker and other Officers; and shall have the sole Power of Impeachment…
    The Senate shall have the sole Power to try all Impeachments. When sitting for that Purpose, they shall be on Oath or Affirmation. When the President of the United States is tried, the Chief Justice shall preside: And no Person shall be convicted without the Concurrence of two thirds of the Members present.
  • The Times, Places and Manner of holding Elections for Senators and Representatives, shall be prescribed in each State by the Legislature thereof; but the Congress may at any time by Law make or alter such Regulations, except as to the Places of chusing Senators.

75 thoughts on “Thirty Enumerated Powers

  1. Rich Grise

    The New Declaration:

    Given that Modern Technology, Advancement in Human Wisdom, a Registry of Deeds, a Bureau of Standards, and a Repository of Maps have been shown to be sufficient to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defense, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, the Central, or Federal, Government of the United States has been determined to be unnecessary, and is therefore hereby declared Null and Void.

  2. Richard Burnett

    Thomas Jefferson to John Colvin, late 1810
    ….The question you propose, whether circumstances do not sometimes occur, which make it a duty in officers of high trust, to assume authorities beyond the law, is easy of solution in principle, but sometimes embarrassing in practice. A strict observance of the written laws is doubtless one of the high duties of a good citizen, but it is not the highest. The laws of necessity, of self-preservation, of saving our country when in danger, are of higher obligation. To lose our country by a scrupulous adherence to written law, would be to lose the law itself, with life, liberty, property and all those who are enjoying them with us; thus absurdly sacrificing the end to the means

  3. johnbor

    The list of enumerated power begins “To lay and collect Taxes, Duties, Imposts and Excises, to pay the Debts and provide for the common Defence and general Welfare of the United States; but all Duties, Imposts and Excises shall be uniform throughout the United States;”

    Should this have an “*” after it and a foot note indicating that many believe “provide for the common Defence and general Welfare of the United States;” is a constraint on the taxing and spending on enumerated powers, and NOT A NEW STANDALONE POWER. I have seen progressives justify lots of “United States” budget activity outside the enumerated power based on “and provide for the … general Welfare” in the preamble and body being its own stand alone power, rather than a constraint.

    A foot note might reference Madison’s explanation in Federal 41 here: http://www.constitution.org/fed/federa41.htm
    I strongly recommend reading the entire last third of Federast 41

    Some quotes from follow Federalist 41 follow.
    “Some, who have not denied the necessity of the power of taxation, have grounded a very fierce attack against the Constitution, on the language in which it is defined. It has been urged and echoed, that the power “to lay and collect taxes, duties, imposts, and excises, to pay the debts, and PROVIDE FOR THE common defense and GENERAL WELFARE of the United States,” amounts to an unlimited commission to exercise every power which may be alleged to be necessary for the common defense or GENERAL WELFARE. No stronger proof could be given of the distress under which these writers labor for objections, than their stooping to such a misconstruction.”
    “ … But what color can the objection have, when a specification of the objects alluded to by these general terms immediately follows, and is not even separated by a longer pause than a semicolon? … 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? … 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, …”

    Another reference is Wikipedia at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/General_welfare_clause#Historical_Debate_and_Pre-1936_Rulings

    “There, the Court agreed with Associate Justice Joseph Story’s construction in Story’s 1833 Commentaries on the Constitution of the United States. Story had concluded that the General Welfare Clause was not a general grant of legislative power, but also dismissed Madison’s narrow construction requiring its use be dependent upon the other enumerated powers. Consequently, the Supreme Court held the power to tax and spend is an independent power and that the General Welfare Clause gives Congress power it might not derive anywhere else. However, the Court did limit the power to spending for matters affecting only the national welfare.”

    To me the question to ask is would the states have ratified the constitution, if they understood the General Welfare clause would give enormous United States (Federal) influence on areas light Health and Eduction?

    John

  4. Cal

    I believe that James Madison made what is meant by “To lay and collect Taxes, Duties, Imposts and Excises, to pay the Debts and provide for the common Defence and general Welfare of the United States; but all Duties, Imposts and Excises shall be uniform throughout the United States;” when in a letter written to a Virginia senator, Joseph Cabell he said: “I always foresaw difficulties might be started in relation to the interstate commerce power. Being in the same terms with the power over foreign commerce, the same extent, if taken literally, would belong to it. Yet it is very certain it grew out of the abuse of the power of the importing states in taxing the non-importing, and was intended as a negative and preventative provision against injustice amongst the states themselves, rather than as a power to be used for the positive purposes of the General Government, in which alone, however, the remedial power could be lodged. And it will be safer to leave the power with this key to it, than to extend it all the qualities and incidental means belonging to the power over foreign commerce.”

    (Off topic) Anyone notice that no where is there the power for the federal government to decide who is allowed to enter the USA? They are given the power to “To establish an uniform Rule of Naturalization…” and that is it regarding immigration. The states decide who may enter and who may not. “Section. 9. The Migration or Importation of such Persons as any of the States now existing shall think proper to admit…” Yet the feds are “allowing” unlimited (illegal) immigration and actually went into some states armed to allow illegals to come into the USA when they are denied that power.

    Madison specified in Federalist 45: “The powers delegated by the proposed Constitution to the federal government, are few and defined. Those which are to remain in the State governments are numerous and indefinite. The former (fed gov) will be exercised principally on external objects, as war, peace, negotiation, and foreign commerce; with which last the power of taxation will, for the most part, be connected. The powers reserved to the several States will extend to all the objects which, in the ordinary course of affairs, concern the lives, liberties, and properties of the people, and the internal order, improvement, and prosperity of the State.”

    On every question of construction (of the Constitution) let us carry ourselves back to the time when the Constitution was adopted, recollect the spirit manifested in the debates, and instead of trying what meaning may be squeezed out of the text, or invented against it, conform to the probable one in which it was passed.” Thomas Jefferson, letter to William Johnson, “The Complete Jefferson”.

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