|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 intended against it, conform
to the probable one in which it was passed.
— Thomas Jefferson (1743-1826), letter to Judge William Johnson, (from Monticello, June 12, 1823)
|If, in the opinion of the people, the distribution or
modification of the constitutional powers be in any
particular wrong, let it be corrected by an amendment in
the way which the Constitution designates. But let there
be no change by usurpation; for though this, in one
instance, may be the instrument of good, it is the
customary weapon by which free governments are destroyed.
— George Washington, Farewell Address, 1796
|Do not separate text from historical background. If you
do, you will have perverted and subverted the
Constitution, which can only end in a distorted,
bastardized form of illegitimate government.
— James Madison (unverified)
Potestas stricte interpretatur. A power is strictly interpreted.
In dubiis, non praesumitur pro potentia. In cases of doubt, the presumption is not in favor of a power.
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|Today, when a concerted effort is made to obliterate
this point, it cannot be repeated too often that the
Constitution is a limitation on the government, not on
private individuals — that it does not prescribe
the conduct of private individuals, only the conduct of
the government — that it is not a charter for
government power, but a charter of the citizen's
protection against the government.
— Ayn Rand
|An unconstitutional act is not a law; it confers no
rights; it imposes no duties; it affords no protection; it
creates no office; it is in legal contemplation as
inoperative as though it had never been passed.
— Norton v. Shelby County, 118 U.S. 425 (1886)
|The general rule is that an unconstitutional statute,
though having the form and name of law, is in reality no
law, but is wholly void, and ineffective for any purpose;
since unconstitutionality dates from the time of it's
enactment, and not merely from the date of the decision so
branding it... No one is bound to obey an unconstitutional
law, and no courts are bound to enforce it.
— 16 Am Jur 2d, Sec 177 late 2d, Sec 256
| So long as the people do not care to exercise their
freedom, those who wish to tyrannize will do so; for
tyrants are active and ardent, and will devote themselves
in the name of any number of gods, religious and
otherwise, to put shackles upon sleeping men.
— Voltairine de Cleyre (1886-1912)
|I slept, and dreamed that life was Beauty;
I woke, and found that life was Duty.
— Ellen Sturgis Hooper (1816-1841)
Nondelegation and the Administrative State — Questions of the legitimacy of delegations of legislative powers to executive branch agencies.
|The people are masters of both Congress and courts, not to
overthrow the constitution, but to overthrow the men who
— Abraham Lincoln
Property and Privacy Rights — We have a separate subsite for this large topic.
| [E]very 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
— Alexander Hamilton, Federalist #78
Constitutionalism — Sometimes equated with the "Rule of Law", holds that government can and should be legally limited in its powers, and that its authority depends on enforcing those limitations.
| Liberty cannot be preserved without a general knowledge
among the people, who have a right, from the frame of their
nature, to knowledge, as their great Creator, who does
nothing in vain, has given them understandings, and a desire
to know; but besides this, they have a right, an
indisputable, unalienable, indefeasible, divine right to
that most dreaded and envied kind of knowledge; I mean, of
the characters and conduct of their rulers.
— John Adams, Dissertation on Canon and Feudal Law, 1765, From: Our Sacred Honor, Bennett, 253.
It is maintained by the advocates of the bank that its
constitutionality in all its features ought to be
considered as settled by precedent and by the decision of
the Supreme Court. To this conclusion I cannot assent.
Mere precedent is a dangerous source of authority...[and]
the opinion of the Supreme Court...ought not to control
the coordinate authorities of this Government. The
Congress, the Executive, and the Court must each for
itself be guided by its own opinion of the Constitution.
Each public officer who takes an oath to support the
Constitution swears that he will support it as he
understands it, and not as it is understood by others. It
is as much the duty of the House of Representatives, of
the Senate, and of the President to decide upon the
constitutionality of any bill...presented to them for
passage...as it is of the supreme judges when it may be
brought before them for judicial decision.
|Original URL: http://constitution.org/1-Education/cs_power.htm
Maintained: Constitution Society
Original date: 1995/09/25 —