There is a wealth of information and well-thought-out theory in the Federalist papers. I intend to dig into the Federalist papers even more and start writing on occasion, short and fast reads, highlighting and explaining important quotes from the Federalist papers. It will be helpful for those of us who are working to restore the supremacy of the Constitution over our government to gain a better understanding of where those who wrote the Constitution were coming from in the first place.
Hamilton and Delegated Power
One of the points I emphasize in this blog is that the Constitution confines government. It stipulates exactly what subjects the government can or cannot make laws about. We need this confinement to prevent the government’s laws from being arbitrary.
Now, theoretically, this conclusion is intuitive—known without any other person having to tell us. That being said, it never hurts to bolster this conclusion with the writings of the American founders. Specifically, the writings of those who orchestrated the U.S. Constitution.
Alexander Hamilton and James Madison were the authors of the U.S. Constitution and knew exactly what they hoped would come of it and why the words in the Constitution were penned as they were. So, today I’m going to give a brief overview of a key Hamilton quote from Federalist 78. This quote is about the government as a whole in relation to the people and the Constitution.
Take a look at this quote by Alexander Hamilton:
“There is no position which depends on clearer principles, than that every act of a delegated authority, contrary to the tenor of the commission under which it is exercised, is void. No legislative act, therefore, contrary to the Constitution, can be valid. To deny this, would be to affirm, that the deputy is greater than his principal; that the servant is above his master; that the representatives of the people are superior to the people themselves; that men acting by virtue of powers, may do not only what their powers do not authorize, but what they forbid.”
Think About It
I’ve emphasized the importance of delegated power in previous posts but it is perhaps most clearly utilized here, by Hamilton. He says that any act made by a group holding delegated powers is void if it violates or goes against the wishes of those who delegated the power (commissioned the power). Delegate means “to entrust or commit”. We “the people” have delegated the authority to make laws to govern ourselves and protect our private property to the U.S. government via the U.S. Constitution. This means that if the legislative branch ever passes a law that is contrary to the Constitution, it is invalid.
Hamilton’s own language here verifies the simple fact that if Congress passes a law, outside of the confines of the Constitution, it is invalid. It does not hold the weight of the law because it is not derived from or supported by the delegated authority of the Constitution.
Hamilton proceeds to say that “To deny this, would be to affirm, that the deputy is greater than his principal; that the servant is above his master; that the representatives of the people are superior to the people themselves;” meaning the Constitution, created by “we the people” and the states, is superior to the government. We elect them to work for us. As foolish as it is to suppose that a servant is greater than his master, it is equally foolish to believe that the government is greater than the people the government was created to protect and serve.
And the government cannot do with its powers whatever they want. They can only do what the powers given to them by the Constitution authorize them to do.
Pay attention here. It is not that “we the people” directly tell our representatives what to do. Notice that Hamilton does not say that “No legislative act, therefore, contrary to the will of the people, can be valid”.
No, he says, “No legislative act, therefore, contrary to the Constitution, can be valid”. We the people and our states created the Constitution to tell our government what we created our government to do for us. It is therefore our job as citizens to make sure that the government continues to follow and obey the document we created to dictate the government’s job.
Hamilton uses beautiful and relatable terms to make his point and he makes it well. The Constitution is a law that exists outside of the government’s arbitrary whim or will and it is absurd to think that we should be confined to follow any laws the legislature passes if the power to make those laws does not come from the Constitution. Such a law is considered invalid.
It’s important, as American citizens, to realize that it is our job to make sure the government is doing its job. The founders hoped for an informed and invested citizenry, one that would be quick to call out its government for violating the Constitution. The Constitution is our government’s job description and we are the ones who gave them their job. Just as any new hire must abide by the rules and guidelines laid out for him, our government must do the same. Imagine how America would change if we all internalized this simple truth by Hamilton.
The Liberty Belle