The US Constitution is an enumerated powers document, powers not enumerated are not granted. The Constitution defines the maximum extent to which:
- Citizens surrendered liberty in exchange for national civil rights.
- States surrendered sovereignty for national defense.
The Constitution specifically limits the Federal government to tax and spend for no more than "post Roads" in Article 1, Section 8. This is a strict limit to fund no more than is required to deliver the mail in support free speech aspect of the Federal mission to "provide" for the defense of liberty. Roads and canals to carry freight and other commercial interestes are beyond Federal authority.
This limitation is well documented in:
- the debates in framing the Constitution.
- Federalist Papers explanation of the Constitution's Divided Sovereignty.
- Understanding of State Ratifying Conventions.
- President Madison's veto of transportation tax and spending.
Notes of Debates in the Federal Convention of 1787, by James Madison.
Docr. FRANKLIN moved15 to add after the words "post roads" Art I. Sect. 8. "a power to provide for cutting canals where deemed necessary"
Mr. WILSON 2ded. the motion
Mr. SHERMAN objected. The expence in such cases will fall on the U. States, and the benefit accrue to the places where the canals may be cut.
Mr. WILSON. Instead of being an expence to the U.S. they may be made a source of revenue.
Mr. MADISON suggested an enlargement of the motion into a power "to grant charters of incorporation where the interest of the U.S. might require & the legislative provisions of individual States may be incompetent." His primary object was however to secure an easy communication between the States which the free intercourse now to be opened, seemed to call for. The political obstacles being removed, a removal of the natural ones as far as possible ought to follow.
Mr. RANDOLPH 2ded. the proposition
Mr. KING thought the power unnecessary.
Mr. WILSON. It is necessary to prevent a State from obstructing the general welfare.
Mr. KING. The States will be prejudiced and divided into parties by it. In Philada. & New York, It will be referred to the establishment of a Bank, which has been a subject of contention in those Cities. In other places it will be referred to mercantile monopolies.
Mr. WILSON mentioned the importance of facilitating by canals, the communication with the Western Settlements. As to Banks he did not think with Mr. King that the power in that point of view would excite the prejudices & parties apprehended. As to mercantile monopolies they are already included in the power to regulate trade.
Col: MASON was for limiting the power to the single case of Canals. He was afraid of monopolies of every sort, which he did not think were by any means already implied by the Constitution as supposed by Mr. Wilson.
The motion being so modified as to admit a distinct question specifying & limited to the case of canals,
N. H. no. Mas. no. Ct. no. N. J. no. Pa. ay. Del. no. Md. no. Va. ay. N. C. no. S. C no. Geo. ay.16
Defects experienced under the crown transportation monopoly remained vivid to the Constitution's framers.
Federalist Papers explained the Constitution to the American people so they understood what they were ratifying. There are 85 papers in the Federalist Papers. The first is an introduction. Federalist #2 through #29 emphasize the mission of the Federal government to "provide" defense within the nature of Divided Sovereignty as explained in Federalist #9 and #10.
Madison explains Divided Sovereignty in Federalist #45:
The powers delegated by the proposed Constitution to the federal government are few and defined. Those which are to remain in the State governments are numerous and indefinite. The former will be exercised principally on external objects, as war, peace, negotiation, and foreign commerce; with which last the power of taxation will, for the most part, be connected. The powers reserved to the several States will extend to all the objects which, in the ordinary course of affairs, concern the lives, liberties, and properties of the people, and the internal order, improvement, and prosperity of the State.
State Ratifying Conventions underscore the acceptance of Federalist explanations of the Constitution by ratifying without any recommended amendments, or recommended amendments to clearly state concerns. Massachusetts' Ratifying document is used to illustrate those who wanted more clarity:
First, That it be explicitly declared that all Powers not expressly delegated by the aforesaid Constitution are reserved to the several States to be by them exercised.
Fifthly, That Congress erect no Company of Merchants with exclusive advantages of commerce.
President Madison, Mar 3, 1817, affirmed the Constitution's prohibition against Federal taxing and spending to create infrastructure monopolies:
Having considered the bill this day presented to me entitled 'An act to set apart and pledge certain funds for internal improvements,' and which sets apart and pledges funds 'for constructing roads and canals, and improving the navigation of water courses' . . . I am constrained by the insuperable difficulty I feel in reconciling the bill with the Constitution of the United States to return it with that objection to the House of Representatives. The legislative powers vested in Congress are specified and enumerated in the eighth section of the first article of the Constitution, and it does not appear that the power proposed to be exercised by the bill is among the enumerated powers.