By Allen C. Guelzo, Ph. D., Gettysburg College
Incidents like the Shays rebellion had been a revelation to the Confederation Congress. (Image: Shockabrah / CC BY-SA / 4.0 / Public domain)

It was in the state conventions that the proponents of the new federal system would have the most work to do. The preamble announced that the aim of the Constitution would be to “form a more perfect Union, to establish justice, to ensure internal tranquility, to provide for the common defense, to promote general welfare and to ensure the blessings of freedom ”.

So the implication was that the states had failed, after Shays’ rebellion and Rogues Island behavior, to ensure domestic tranquility. To correct this, the Constitution would give five new powers to the new Federal Congress and place five restrictions on state powers that may well have them gagged.

This is a transcript of the video series America’s Founding Fathers. Watch it now, on Wondrium.

The new fiscal power of Congress

Congress would now have the power to levy taxes for its own needs. Article 1, Section 8, stated that national tariffs on imports, excise or user charges, and direct assessments “to pay debts and to ensure the common defense and general welfare of the United States “. Of the three, tariffs would be the most important way to generate revenue, in part because they would generate a substantial volume of revenue – 95% of all federal needs – and in part the revenue would come from commercial sources rather than back. farmers. like Daniel Shays.

Of course, the happiness of these farmers would be in inverse proportion to the powers of the states, which would not be deprived of their authority to impose tariffs; but pleasing farmers would be a way of putting pressure on the state to ratify the conventions for their approval.

Learn more about Daniel Shays’ misconduct.

Tax Administration

It was the authority that Congress would have “to regulate commerce with foreign nations and between different states.” There would no longer be a need for awkward interstate trade conventions, like the one in Annapolis that originally called the Philadelphia assembly.

And since, at the insistence of the delegates of Maryland, the Constitution also stipulated that “no preference shall be given by any regulation of commerce or revenue to the ports of one state over those of another, and ships will not be linked to, or from one, state, be obliged to enter, clear customs or pay duties in another ”, a gigantic free trade zone would be created in place of the jumble of tariffs and state rights which prevailed under the Articles of Confederation. Congress would have “the power to prevent states from deceiving each other and their own citizens by means of paper money.”

The militia of the states under Congress

A portrait of Edmund Randolph.
Edmund Randolph had complained that the Articles of Confederation were silent on civil wars within states. (Image: By unidentified artist / Public domain)

Congress would not have to fear that states might challenge it as it could now anticipate state control over their own armed forces. In fact, Congress would even make the loyalties of state militias subordinate to the Constitution by “organizing, arming and disciplining the militia and governing that part of them which may be employed in the service of the United States.”

Congress was now allowed to use the state militia. This was clearly an insurance policy against further Shays-style rebellions, as well as a transfer of power to deal with future insurgencies. This had been one of Edmund Randolph’s main complaints when he presented Madison’s original plan for the Constitution that the Articles of Confederation contained “no provision against foreign powers and invasion” and “no provision. against internal insurgencies ”. Those loopholes had now been resolutely closed – and the money Congress would need to enforce this closure would come from its own tariff revenues so it could fund its own Standing Army.

Learn more about Randolph’s plan for improving the system of government.

The final authority of Congress

The provision at the end of Article 1, Section 8 authorized Congress “to make all such laws as shall be necessary and appropriate to implement the above powers, and all other powers conferred by this Constitution on the government. of the United States, or any department or agent thereof.

On the surface, the necessary and appropriate clause was intended only to ensure, according to James Wilson, that Congress “shall have the power to carry out the laws which it passes under the powers conferred on it by this Constitution”. It was not a concession of what Wilson called “general legislative power.” After all, John Rutledge’s Committee on Details had made it clear that the powers of the federal government should be enumerated – rather than the Constitution granting general powers, those powers were to be identified one by one in the Constitution, so that it was clear that the new government would exercise only these powers and no others.

Thus, Madison concluded: “Whatever the meaning of this clause, ‘necessary and appropriate’, none can be admitted that would give unlimited discretion to Congress.” Law must be necessary, not just convenient. But Edmund Randolph had made the “general clause concerning necessary and appropriate laws” one of his main objections to signing the Constitution, precisely because he feared that it would give Congress the power to enact no any law as it pleases.

However, the necessary and appropriate provision was not so much intended to maximize the scope of the new Congress’ powers as to arm the new Congress to intervene in actions of the state that it might consider to be a threat. for his.

Common questions about the new constitution

Q: What have states failed to do in newly independent America?

The American states had failed to ensure internal tranquility and this was one of the main objectives of the new Constitution.

Q: What was the tax provision in the new Constitution?

According to the new Constitution, Congress had the power to levy taxes for its own needs.

Q: Why was Congress allowed to use state militias?

Congress was allowed to use the state militia as a measure against further Shays-style rebellions, as well as transfer power to deal with future insurgencies. It also meant that Congress had better control over the states.

Keep reading
The Shays Rebellion: The Confrontation and the Aftermath
James Madison and the Failures of the Articles of Confederation
America after the American Revolution

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