Tucker's Blackstone

Volume 1 — Appendix
Note D

[Section 9 — Powers of Congress (cont.)]

4. Congress have power to establish an uniform rule of naturalization, and uniform laws on the subject of bankruptcies, throughout the United States 188.

As to the former of these powers; by the first articles of confederation and perpetual union between the states, it was agreed, that the free inhabitants of each state, paupers, vagabonds, and fugitives from justice excepted, should be entitled to all privileges and immunities of free Citizens in the several states; and the people of each state shall, in every other, enjoy all the privileges of trade and commerce, &c. 189 The dissimilarity of the rules of naturalization in the several states, had long been remarked as a fault in the system, and, as combined with this article in the confederation, laid a foundation for intricate and delicate questions. It seems to be a construction scarcely avoidable, that those who come wider the denomination of free inhabitants of a state, (although not citizens of such state), were entitled in every other state to all the privileges of free citizens of the latter, that is, to greater privileges than they may be entitled to in their own state: our free negroes, for example, though not entitled to the right of suffrage in Virginia; might, by removing into another state, acquire that right there; and persons of the same description, removing from any other state, into this, might be supposed to acquire the same right here, in virtue of that article, though native-born negroes are undoubtedly incapable of it under our constitution: so that every state was laid under the necessity, not only to confer the rights of citizenship in other states, upon any whom it might admit to such rights within itself, but upon any whom it might allow to become inhabitants within its jurisdiction. But were an exposition of the term "inhabitants" to be admitted, which would confine the stipulated privileges to citizens alone, the difficulty would not be removed. The very improper power would still have been retained by each state, of naturalizing in every other state. In one state, residence for a short time conferred all the rights of citizenship; in another, qualifications of greater importance were required: an alien, therefore, legally incapacitated for certain rights in the latter, might, by previous residence only in the former, elude his incapacity; and thus the law of one state, be preposterously rendered paramount to the law of another, within the jurisdiction of such other. By the laws of several states, certain descriptions of aliens, who had rendered themselves obnoxious, and other persons whose conduct had rendered them liable to the highest penalties of the law, were laid under interdicts, inconsistent, not only with the rights of citizenship, but with the privileges of residence, beyond the short period allowed by the treaty of peace with Great Britain. We owe it to mere casualty, that very serious embarrassments on this subject have not occurred 190. The constitution, and the several acts of naturalization passed by congress, have therefore wisely provided against them by this article, and by an explicit declaration contained in the law, that no person heretofore proscribed by any state, shall be admitted a citizen, except by an act of the legislature of the state in which such person was proscribed 191.

The federal court, consisting of judges Wilson and Blair, of the supreme court, and judge Peters, district judge in Pennsylvania, at a circuit court held for the district of Pennsylvania, in April, 1792, decided, "that the states, individually, still enjoy a concurrent jurisdiction upon the subject of naturalization: but that their individual authority cannot be exercised so as to contravene the rule established by the authority of the union: the true reason for investing congress with the power of naturalization (said the court,) was to guard against too narrow, instead of too liberal a mode of conferring the right of citizenship. Thus the individual states cannot exclude those citizens; who have been adopted by the United States; but they can adopt citizens upon easier terms, than those which congress may deem it expedient to impose 192"

But this decision seems to have been afterwards doubted by judge Iredel, 2 Dallas, 373. And the act of 5 cong. c. 71. declares, that "no alien shall be admitted to become a citizen of the United States, or of any state, unless in the manner prescribed by that act." And by a subsequent act, passed 7 cong. chapter 28, it is also declared, that any alien, being a free white person, may become a citizen of the United States, or any of them, on the conditions therein mentioned, "and not otherwise." These legislative expositions of the constitution do not accord with the judicial opinion above-mentioned. A very respectable political writer makes the following pertinent remarks upon this subject 193. "Prior to the adoption of the constitution, the people inhabiting the different states might be divided into two classes: natural born citizens, or those born within the state, and aliens, or such as were born out of it. The first, by their birth-right, became entitled to all the privileges of citizens; the second, were entitled to none, but such as were held out and given by the laws of the respective states prior to their emigration. In the states of Kentucky and Virginia, the privileges of alien friends depended upon the constitution of each state, the acts of their respective legislatures, and the common law; by these they were considered, according to the time of their residence, and their having complied with certain requisitions pointed out by these laws, either as denizens, or naturalized citizens. As denizens, they were placed in a kind of middle state between aliens and natural born citizens; by naturalization, they were put exactly in the same condition that they would have been, if they had been born within the state, except so far as was specially excepted by the laws of each state. The common law has affixed such distinct and appropriate ideas to the terms denization, and naturalization, that they can not be confounded together, or mistaken for each other in any legal transaction whatever. They are so absolutely distinct in their natures, that in England the rights they convey, can not both be given by the same power; the king can make denizens, by his grant, or letters patent, but nothing but an act of parliament can make a naturalized subject. This was the legal state of this subject in Virginia, when the federal constitution was adopted; it declares that congress shalt have power to establish an uniform rule of naturalization; throughout the United States; but it also further declares, that the powers not delegated by the constitution to the U. States, nor prohibited by it to the states, are reserved to the states, respectively, or to the people. The power of naturalization, and not that of denization, being delegated to congress, and the power of denization not being prohibited to the states by the constitution, that power ought not to be considered as given to congress, but, on the contrary, as being reserved to the states. And as the right of denization did not make a citizen of an alien, but only placed him in a middle state, between the two, giving him local privileges only, which he was so far from being entitled to carry with him into another state, that he lost them by removing from the state giving them, the inconveniencies which might result from the indirect communication of the rights of naturalized citizens, by different modes of naturalization prevailing in the several states, could not be apprehended. It might therefore have been extremely impolitic in the states to have surrendered the right of denization, as well as that of naturalization to the federal government, inasmuch as it might have operated to discourage migration to those states, which have lands to dispose of, and settle; since, it might be a disagreeable alternative to the states, either to permit aliens to hold lands within their territory, or to exclude all who have not yet completed their probationary residence within the U. States, so as to become naturalized citizens, from purchasing, or holding lands, until they should have acquired all other rights appertaining to that character."

Here, another question presents itself: if the states, individually, possess the right of making denizens of aliens, can a person so made a denizen of a particular state, hold an office under the authority of such state? And I think it unquestionable that each state hath an absolute, and uncontrolable power over this subject, if disposed to exercise it. For every state must be presumed to be the exclusive judge of the qualifications of it's own officers and servants: for this is a part of their sovereignty which they can not be supposed to have intended ever to give up. And if there be nothing in their constitutions, respectively, to the contrary, the legislature may unquestionably, by a general law, limit, or extend such qualifications, so far as they may think proper. The law of Virginia declares, "that all persons other than alien enemies, who shall migrate into this state, and give satisfactory proof by oath or affirmation that they intend to reside therein, and take the legal oath of fidelity to the commonwealth shall be entitled to all the rights, privileges and advantages of citizens, except that they shall not he capable of election or appointment to any office, legislative, executive or judiciary, until an actual residence in the state for five years thereafter; nor until they shall have evinced a permanent attachment to the state, by intermarrying with a citizen thereof, or of some one of the United States, or purchased lands of the value of three hundred dollars therein." Now although the act of congress may operate to repeal this act, so far as relates to the rights of naturalization, or, a state of perfect citizenship, under the constitution and laws of the union; yet, as it respects the rights which the state hath power to grant, such as holding lands, or an office under the sole, and distinct authority of the state, I see no reason to doubt that the law is as valid at this day, as it was before the adoption of the constitution of the United States.

The periods of residence, required by the several acts of congress before an alien can be admitted a citizen, have been various. The act of 1 congress, 2 session, c. 3, required two years only: this period was increased to five years, by the act of 3 congress, c. 85, which was still further extended to fourteen years, by the act of 5 congress, c. 71, but the act of 7 cong. c. 28. has reduced it to five years, again. Any alien who shall have borne any hereditary title; or been of any order of nobility, in any other state, must renounce the same, on oath, at the time of his admission to take the oath of a citizen. A wise provision, the benefit of which it is to be hoped, may reach to the latest posterity.

There are few subjects upon which there is less practical information to be obtained in Virginia, than that of bankruptcies. The English statutes of Bankruptcy have never been regarded as in force, here; and the manner in which the commerce of the colony was conducted, before the revolution, by no means seemed to favour their adoption. In a commercial country, such as England, the necessity of good faith in contracts, and the support of commerce, oblige the legislature to secure for the creditors the persons of bankrupts. It is, however, necessary to distinguish between the fraudulent and the honest bankrupt: the one should be treated with rigor; but the bankrupt, who, after a strict examination, has proved before proper judges, that either the fraud, or losses of others, or misfortunes unavoidable by human prudence, have stripped him of his substance, ought to receive a very different treatment. Let his whole property be taken from him, for the benefit of his creditors; let his debt, if you will, not be considered as cancelled, till the payment of the whole; let him be refused the liberty of leaving his country without leave of his creditors, or of carrying into another nation that industry, which, under a penalty, he should be obliged to employ for their benefit; but what pretence can justify the depriving an innocent, though unfortunate man, of his liberty, as is said to be the practice in some parts of Europe, in order to extort from him the discovery of his fraudulent transactions, after having failed of such a discovery, upon the most rigorous examination of his conduct and affairs 194!

But, how necessary soever, bankrupt laws may be in great commercial countries, the introduction of them into such as are supported chiefly by agriculture, seems to be an experiment which should be made with great caution. Among merchants and other traders, with whom credit is often a substitute for a capital, and whose only actual property is the gain, which they make by their credit, out of the property of others, a want of punctuality in their contracts, may well be admitted as a ground to suspect fraud, or insolvency. But the farmer has generally a visible capital 195, the whole of which he can never employ, at the same time, in a productive manner. His want of punctuality may arise from bad crops, unfavourable seasons, low markets, and other causes, which however they may embarrass, endanger not his solvency; his property is incapable of removal, or of that concealment, which fraudulent traders may practise with success; his transactions within the proper line of his occupation are few, and not liable to intricacy; whilst the merchant is perhaps engaged in a dozen different copartnerships, in which his name does not appear, and in speculations which it might require a life to unravel. To expose both to the same rigorous, and summary mode of procedure, would be utterly inconsistent with those maxims of policy, which limit laws to their proper objects, only. And accordingly, we find, that even in England, where the interests of commerce are consulted on all occasions, and where they are never sacrificed, (unless, perhaps, to ambition,) the bankrupt laws cannot affect a farmer, who confines himself to the proper sphere of his occupation; and the bankrupt law of the United States, 6 congress, 1 session, c. 19, is confined to merchants, or other persons, actually using the trade of merchandise, by buying and selling in gross, or by retail, or dealing in exchange as a banker, broker, factor, underwriter, or marine insurer. Whilst the bankrupt laws are confined to such characters, and are resorted to, merely as a necessary regulation of commerce, their effect, in preventing frauds, especially where the parties or their property may be, or be removed into different states, will probably be so salutary, that the expediency of this branch of the powers of congress, will cease to be drawn in question.

5. Congress have power to coin money, regulate the value thereof, and of foreign coin, and fix the standard of weights and measures 196.

By the former articles of confederation it was agreed that the United States in congress assembled, should have the sole and exclusive right and power of regulating the alloy and value of coin struck by their own authority, or by that of the respective states; and fixing the standard of weights and measures throughout the United States 197. By the present constitution the respective states are interdicted from coining money 198. All the powers mentioned in this clause are branches of the royal prerogative in England, but are with much greater propriety vested in the legislative department by the federal constitution. The history of England affords numberless instances 199, where this prerogative has been exercised to the great oppression of the subject. The power of debasing the value of the coin, at pleasure, has in fact been frequently used as an expedient for raising a revenue, and is accordingly reckoned as one of the indirect modes of taxation, by the author of the treaties on political economy: for if the government gives coin of an inferior standard, for purer coin of the same weight, as is generally done in these cases; or if it receives more for the coin, than the value of the bullion, and the expence of the coinage, as is likewise frequently practised, the difference is an acquisition of revenue, paid by him who brings his bullion to the mint. According to the principles of our constitution, therefore, such a tax can not be imposed but by the representatives of the people 200.

Mr. Barrington, in his readings upon the English statutes, doubts whether the regulation of weights and measures be practicable, by law. He remarks, that in England it has been attempted by at least six different statutes, all of which have been ineffectual. He quotes an observation of Montesquieu's that it is the mark of a little mind in a legislature to attempt regulations of this kind. In England, perhaps, the attempt has not succeeded from some defect in the system. That proposed by Mr. Jefferson, when secretary of state, appears to be perfectly simple, and, I should apprehend, easily practicable: and the standard of measure, especially, may be obtained with a mathematical exactness sufficient for all the purposes of commerce, and even of arts and sciences.

It appears by the journals of the senate of the United States, March the 1st, 1791. "That a proposition had been made to the national assembly of France for obtaining a standard of measure, which shall at all times be invariable, and communicable to all nations, and at all times. That a similar proposition had been submitted to the British parliament: as the avowed object of these is to introduce an uniformity in the weights and measures of commercial nations; and as a coincidence of regulation by the government of the United States on so interesting a subject would be desirable, the senate resolved, that it would not be eligible at that time to introduce any alterations in the weights and measures of the United States."

6. Congress have power to provide for the punishment of counterfeiting the securities, and current coin of the United States 201.

This power seems to be a natural incident to two others, of which we have before taken notice: the power of borrowing money on the credit of the United states, and that of coining money, and regulating the value thereof.

But congress appear to have extended the interpretation of this, article much further than it might have been supposed it would bear: and possibly much further than the framers of the constitution intended. I allude to the act of 5 cong. c. 7 8, to punish frauds committed on the bank of the United States, which inflicts the penalty of fine and imprisonment, for forging or counterfeiting any bill or note, issued by order of the president, directors and company of the bank of the United States.

The right of congress to establish this company or corporation, with exclusive, privileges, was warmly contested when the bill for establishing the bank was introduced into congress. 1 cong. 3 sess. c. 10. The same congress had at their first session agreed to an amendment of the constitution, declaring, that the powers not delegated to the United States, by the constitution, nor prohibited by it to the states, are reserved to the states respectively, or to the people. The advocates for the bill were challenged to produce the clause in the constitution which gave congress power to erect a bank. It nevertheless passed both houses. The president of the United States hesitated; it is said that he consulted his constitutional advisers upon the subject. That two of them were of opinion the bill was unconstitutional. It nevertheless, received his assent on the last day, that the constitution allowed him to deliberate upon it. Had he turned to the journals of the convention (as on another occasion,) it has been confidently said, he would there have seen, that the proposition to authorise congress to establish a bank, had been made in convention and rejected: of this, he can not be supposed to have been ignorant, as he presided in the convention, when it happened the journals of that body were then a secret, and in his keeping. If it was proper to resort to those journals to give a proper interpretation to the constitution in one instance, it surely was equally proper in the other; and if the rejection of one proposition in that body, was a sufficient reason for rejecting the same, when made by either house of congress, it seems difficult to assign a reason why the other should not have been treated in the same manner 202.

If it were, in fact, an unconstitutional exercise of power in congress to pass a law establishing the bank, nothing can manifest the impropriety of over-steping the limits of the constitution, more than the act which we have just noticed. It shews that the most unauthorised acts of government may be drawn into precedents to justify other unwarrantable usurpations.

7. Congress have power to establish post-offices, and post-roads. And this is one of those cases, in which I have supposed in that the states may possess a concurrent, but subordinate authority, to that of the federal government. Concurrent, inasmuch, as there seems to be nothing in the constitution, nor in the nature of the thing itself, which may not be exercised by both, at the same time, without prejudice, or interference; subordinate, because wherever any power is expressly granted to congress, it is to be taken, for granted, that it shall not be contravened by the authority of any particular state. If, therefore, any state should find it necessary to establish post-offices on any road, which is not an established post-road, under the laws of the United States, there seems to be no constitutional objection to its doing so, until congress should think proper to exert its constitutional right to establish a communication by post, between the same places .... I put this case merely to shew how far the exercise of these concurrent powers may be reconciled: it is much to be desired that a question of such delicacy may never occur between any state, and the federal government.

The post-office, under proper regulations, is one of the most beneficial establishments which can be introduced by any government; by providing the means of intercourse between the citizens of remote parts of the confederation, on such a regular footing, as must contribute greatly to the convenience of commerce, and to the free, and frequent communication of facts, and sentiments between individuals. Hence the revenue arising from this source will always be more easily collected, and more cheerfully paid, than any other whatever. It appears, that notwithstanding the many unprofitable branches, into which the post-roads have been divided for the convenience of the people of the United States, there still remains a considerable sum that is annually brought into the federal treasury.

It seems reasonable that the product of this branch of the revenue should be, exclusively, applied to the extention of its benefits, until they shall completely pervade every part of that union 203.

8. Congress have power 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. C. U. S. Art. 1, Sect. 8.

This is another branch of federal authority, in which I presume the states may possess some degree of concurrent right within their respective territories; but as the security which the state could afford, would necessarily fall short of that which an authority co-extensive with the union may give, it is scarcely probable that the protection of the laws of any particular state will hereafter be resorted to; more especially, as the act of 2 Cong. c. 53, declares, that "where any state before it's adoption of the present form of government shall have granted an exclusive right to any invention, the party claiming that right, shall not be capable of obtaining an exclusive right under that act, but on relinquishing his right under such particular state, and of such relinquishment his obtaining an exclusive right under that act, shall be sufficient evidence." But this act does not appear to extend to copy-rights: the exclusive right to which is secured by an act passed, 1 Cong. 2 Sess. c. 15, amended by the act of 1 Cong. c. 36, for fourteen years; and if at the expiration of that term, the author being living, the same exclusive right shall be continued to him and his heirs, for other fourteen years. But the exclusive rights of other persons to their inventions, is limited to fourteen years, only, by the act first mentioned. Aliens, who have resided two years in the United States, are moreover entitled to the benefit of a patent for any new invention, by virtue of the act of 6 Cong. c. 25.

Whether it was under this clause of the constitution, or not, that the first secretary of the treasury grounded his opinion of the right of congress to establish trading companies, for the purpose of encouraging arts and manufactures 204; or whether it was under this clause, that the establishment of a company for the discovery of mines, minerals, and metals, was contemplated by the authors of that scheme 205; or whether it was from a conviction of the unconstitutionality of the proposition, in both cases, that neither of them took effect, I cannot presume to determine: but, certainly, if this clause of the constitution was relied upon, as giving congress a power to establish such monopolies, nothing could be more fallacious than such a conclusion. For the constitution not only declares the object, but points out the express mode of giving the encouragement; viz. "by securing for a limited time to authors and inventors, the exclusive right to their respective writings, and discoveries." Nothing could be more superfluous, or incompatible, with the object contended for, than these words, if it was, indeed, the intention of the constitution to authorise congress, to adopt any other mode which they might think proper.

188. C. U. S. Art. 1. Sec. 8.

189. Confederation, Art. 4.

190. Federalist, No. 42.

191. L. U. S. 1 Cong. 2 Sess. c. 3. 7 Cong. c. 28.

192. 2 Dallas's Reports, 296.

193. See a letter of George Nicholas, Esq. on the Alien and Sedition laws.

194. See Beccaria, on Crimes and Punishments, c. 14

195. In Virginia, farmers generally cultivate their own lands. It may be otherwise in the northern states.

196. C. U. S. Art. 1. sect. 8.

197. Confederation, Art. 9.

198. C. U. S. Art. 1. sect. 9.

199. See Hale's Hist. p. C. v. 1. p.198.

200. Consequently every bill for this purpose, or for any other by which a revenue may be raised, should originate in the house of representatives. Yet I am very much mistaken if a recurrence to the early journals of the senate of the United States, would not prove, that the several acts for establishing the post-office; for regulating the value of foreign coins, and for establishing a mint, all originated in the senate. The reason of the acquiescence of the house of representatives on these occasions, probably was, that no revenue was in tended to be drawn to the government by these laws: whereas strictly speaking, a revenue is raised by the act establishing the mint; 2 cong. c. 16. §. 14, equal to one half per centum, as an indemnification to the mint for the coinage: and in the case of the bill for establishing the post-office, there can be no room to doubt that it operates as a revenue law, and that, to a very considerable amount.

201. C. U. S. Art. 1. sec. 8.

202. On the 24th of March, 1796, the house of representatives requested the president to lay before the house his instructions to Mr. Jay, together with the correspondence and other documents relative to the treaty with Great Britain, which he refused to do, upon the ground, that that house had no constitutional participation in the business of making treaties; to which he adds the following: ....

"If other proofs than these, and the plain letter of the Constitution itself be necessary to ascertain the point under consideration, they may be found in the journals of the general Convention, which I have deposited in the office of the department of state. In those Journals, it will appear, that a proposition was made, that no treaty should be binding on the United States which was not ratified by a law, and that the proposition was explicitly rejected." .... Message from the president to the house of representatives, March 30, 1796.

203. The annual proceeds of the duties on postage may not be estimated at less than 50,000 Dollars .... Report of the secretary of the treasury to the house of representatives. December 18, 1801.

204. See the report of Mr. Secretary Hamilton on this subject.

205. See the resolution of congress respecting the copper-mines on the south side of Lake Superior. April 16, 1800 .... A bill for establishing a mine, mineral, and metal company, was brought into congress the next session, (as I have understood) but miscarried.

Next Section | Previous Section | Contents | Constitution Research Home Page