Happy Friday and welcome to the repost of my series on the Constitution of the United States of America. The point of this series is to read and comment on the apparent meaning of the foundational document of law in the United States. I (to my great shame) had not read the entire Constitution before, and figuring that others might be in the same boat has embarked (no pun intended!) on this series. As always I may or may not be correct in my interpretation of the Constitution, so if you think I’m wrong, comment and teach us all a thing or two! If you have missed any of the previous posts on in this series you can find them here:
We are still in Article One and will start today with Section Seven.
All Bills for raising Revenue shall originate in the House of Representatives; but the Senate may propose or concur with Amendments as on other Bills.
I knew (and bet that most of you did too) that all taxation bills must start in the House. It is this clause in the Constitution that makes it so, while preserving the Senates right to tinker with bills. There is bound to be some history to justify this, but it is not clear from the text why it should be the House and not the Senate.
Every Bill which shall have passed the House of Representatives and the Senate, shall, before it become a Law, be presented to the President of the United States; If he approve he shall sign it, but if not he shall return it, with his Objections to that House in which it shall have originated, who shall enter the Objections at large on their Journal, and proceed to reconsider it. If after such Reconsideration two thirds of that House shall agree to pass the Bill, it shall be sent, together with the Objections, to the other House, by which it shall likewise be reconsidered, and if approved by two thirds of that House, it shall become a Law. But in all such Cases the Votes of both Houses shall be determined by yeas and Nays, and the Names of the Persons voting for and against the Bill shall be entered on the Journal of each House respectively. If any Bill shall not be returned by the President within ten Days (Sundays excepted) after it shall have been presented to him, the Same shall be a Law, in like Manner as if he had signed it, unless the Congress by their Adjournment prevent its Return, in which Case it shall not be a Law.
This clause lays out the path that all laws of our country must take. A law is started in one House, passed there, and then sent to the other for passage, amendment and or defeat. Once it has passed both Houses it is sent to the President for his approval or veto. Pretty much everyone knows and understands that, but there is more to it. The Constitution calls for the President to send his objections to the law and have it entered into the Congressional Record. Then they are required by the Constitution to reconsider the law. This means that every law that is vetoed gets at least one more vote in the House which originated it. This likely happens, but it seems that we do not hear about it much, when a vetoed law does not have the 2/3rd votes needed to override a veto. It also seems to require further debate, though it would defer the rules that each House is allowed to establish under earlier Sections.
With a 2/3rd majority in each House the Congress can override the objections of president and make a bill a law. It seems from reading this clause that if they change the bill, in any way, it is no longer the same bill and does not require a 2/3rd majority to be passed out, and may be represented to the President to sign.
Another point that I did not know was that if a president does not sign or veto a law within 10 days, it becomes law anyway. Does anyone know of a time when this happened? It would also seem that if you, as president, are sent a piece of legislation you do not like and the Congress adjourns within those 10 days you would not have to veto it to keep it from being law. This was not the Framers intent, obviously. They meant this to be a check on the Congress to keep it from having to reconsider a law that the President has said he would veto, by adjoining the Congress.
Also note that while Section 5, Clause 3 states that a record of votes will be kept only in the case of 1/5 of the Members present requesting it, in the case of a veto override the vote must be recorded. It seems the Framers did not want to take any chances when overriding a Presidents veto. Better to have a record of the vote than have there be any doubt seems to be their thinking.
Every Order, Resolution, or Vote to which the Concurrence of the Senate and House of Representatives may be necessary (except on a question of Adjournment) shall be presented to the President of the United States; and before the Same shall take Effect, shall be approved by him, or being disapproved by him, shall be repassed by two thirds of the Senate and House of Representatives, according to the Rules and Limitations prescribed in the Case of a Bill.
This clause would seem to be a duplicate of clause two, until you read to the end. What this clause says is that anything, other than adjournment, that the House and Senate both vote on is required to be signed by the president. If he does not sign it, then it is just like a vote of a bill. This is to make sure that there is not an imbalance of power between the Congress and the President. So, for example, the Congress could not declare war without the concurrence of the President, unless they had two thirds of both Houses ready to vote for it.
The Congress shall have Power 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;
This clause is where the Congress gets its powers to levy taxes and other fees. What these fees are is up to the Congress, but they must be the uniform across all the States of this country. It seems that there was concern that one group of States might try to impose its economic will on others, and make trade less fair in some parts of the country.
It also provides for the Congress to be the source of our common defense, and general welfare. Again we see the Framers pointing out the reason for a government, namely the common welfare. They did not see us as an every-man-for-himself society, but one that came together to support each other as citizens. Be sure to point this out to any Repug that wants to tell you different!
To borrow Money on the credit of the United States;
It seems that our Framers knew there would be times when the taxes of this country would not allow us to do all that was required for the Common Welfare and Defense. They provided, in the Constitution the ability to barrow in the name of the entire nation.
To regulate Commerce with foreign Nations, and among the several States, and with the Indian Tribes;
This is where the Congress gained its powers to make trade packs with other nations. Note that while the Native American tribes were also included in the same clause, their separate mention makes it clear that they did not view them as nations, or even States.
To establish a uniform Rule of Naturalization, and uniform Laws on the subject of Bankruptcies throughout the United States;
This clause grants the Congress the power to set the rules by which one could become a citizen of the United States. It requires that these rules be the same in every state. It is also grants the power to set the rules uniformly for bankruptcy. While the framers did this in order to have rules they considered important be uniform, it also allowed the very powerful Credit Card lobby to put the heinous restrictions on bankruptcies we now labor under into effect. Sometimes the Constitution helps you, sometimes not, but at least it is a single set of rules that we all share.
To coin Money, regulate the Value thereof, and of foreign Coin, and fix the Standard of Weights and Measures;
While clause five might seem rather innocuous it is very important to the functioning of our economy. At the time it was written measures and weights were often determined by Kings, at their whim. This would make the smooth functioning of an economy very dicey if a King decided it was in his advantage to change a measure.
To provide for the Punishment of counterfeiting the Securities and current Coin of the United States;
One of the very greatest dangers to a new country is that some enterprising young men would decide to copy your currency. It could very quickly kill a country with debt if it was not controlled. So, rather than rely on the various (and often fractious) States, the Framers gave the power of setting the punishment to the Congress.
To establish Post Offices and post Roads;
This is interesting in that the first roads that the new government would build would be not for the propose of commerce, but for Postal Packages. It makes very good sense, in that if your new nation is not well connected, it can easily dissolve due to divergent interests. Having a universal post system helps to combat that.
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;
This is the clause that sets the stage for our copy right and patent laws. The Framers felt that if you could not protect your invention for a period of time, before others would copy it, that invention and progress would not happen. I am not so sure that I agree, but since I was not around to be asked, it is the way it was written.
To constitute Tribunals inferior to the supreme Court;
This clause provides for the establishment of the Federal Court system. It might be argued that it also provides for the establishment of State Courts, by the Federal Government, though it is not used that way.
To define and punish Piracies and Felonies committed on the high Seas, and Offences against the Law of Nations;
Piracy was still a problem (and still is today), so this clause makes a lot of sense for the Framers to add. Note that even though they were establishing a new nation, they still felt it was important to respect the laws of other nations as well.
To declare War, grant Letters of Marque and Reprisal, and make Rules concerning Captures on Land and Water;
A letter of Marque is a grant that allows an agent of the Government to attack and size the vessels of other counties. It is kind of war-lite and primarily for ocean warfare.
To raise and support Armies, but no Appropriation of Money to that Use shall be for a longer Term than two Years;
This clause allows the Congress to raise armies but not fund them forever with a single vote. No funding for these armies can be longer than the term of Congress, but it is not tied directly to a particular Congress. So, the 15th Congress in its second year could vote funding that would run until the end of the first year of the 16th Congress.
To provide and maintain a Navy;
Note that while it seems the Framers did not envision the need for a standing army, they were very clear that we should always have a navy. It is interesting that they worried less about defending their homeland than they did the means of commerce between countries.
To make Rules for the Government and Regulation of the land and naval Forces;
Pretty self explanatory, really, the rules of the fighting forces of the US will come from the Congress.
To provide for calling forth the Militia to execute the Laws of the Union, suppress Insurrections and repel Invasions;
This is one of those clauses that cause a lot of trouble. Above the Framers speak of the Armies, but hear is the Militia. It would seem that the difference is the same as the difference between the Army and the National Guard. But also note that these troops can be called up to enforce the law. Later in the Constitution there will be an amendment that prevents using the Army to enforce law in the United States.
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;
This clause answers some of the issues I mentioned above. It gives the Congress the choice of how a Militia should be armed, organized and disciplined, in so far as it is being used by the United States. However it leaves the States the right to appoint officers and train the troops. As will most of this document it is a clear indication that the Framers were not willing to give any absolute power to anyone, but made a good faith effort to balance power at every turn.
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
This clause sets up the rational for the District of Columbia. It may seem anathema to us that there are so many citizens that have no federal representation but that was the very clear intent of the Framers. That their imaginations could not hold the idea of the density of the population of Washington D.C. is just a passing effect. It seems it would take a constitutional amendment for the people of the district to get these rights.
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.
This last clause basically says that it is required of the Congress to create the laws that might be needed to allow the previous clauses to be enacted. It is your basic, cover you ass clause.
Whew! There are Sections 7 and 8, long though they might be. So, what do you think of these powers? Too much? Too little? Too vague? It is your constitution, if it is wrong, it is up to us to change it.
The floor is yours!