XXIII. Powers Prohibited To The States

Catechism of the Constitution Book CoverThe Federalist Papers has posted a PDF copy of an Elementary Catechism on the Constitution from 1828 written by Arthur J. Stansbury. I’m publishing it on Mondays in a series of posts. Because the date of publication was 1828, some content has been changed by later Constitutional amendments. There are no sections in the book, so I’m dividing it into any natural breaks of topics and the posts will vary in length. Any emphases within the text are Stansbury’s.

Because this section delineates powers relinquished by the states when they ratified the Constitution, I thought it was important to reiterate the Tenth Amendment in the Bill of Rights.

Amendment X

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.

XXIII. Powers Prohibited To The States

Q. You said that when the states entered into that agreement by which they set up a General Government over them all, they had each a perfect right to govern themselves as free, sovereign and independent States: and that they gave up a part of their power to the General Government, and kept the rest of it in their own lands. What are the powers which they gave up?

A. The power of making treaties, (that is bargains or agreements with other nations) alliances, (that is agreements with some other country, that the two shall help each other, in something they wish to accomplish, or in avoiding some common danger;) and confederations. (that is agreements among several different countries, that they shall all join together in some object for their common benefit.) None of these acts can now be performed by any one of the states, separately, but must be done only for the whole by the General Government.

Q. What other powers did they give up?

A. The right to grant letters of marque and reprisal; the right to coin money;—(both these have been explained;) — the right to emit bills of credit; (that is, to
issue printed promises to pay certain sums of money on the credit of the state, the same as a Bank issues Bank notes,)—to make any thing but gold and silver a lawful tender in the payment of debts.

Q. What does that mean?

A. When one man owes another, and goes to him and offers him money to the full amount of his debt, that is called a tender; (or offer) ; and if the money is such as the law says shall pass, it is a lawful tender; and if the man refuses it, he can never sue the other for that debt, nor is the debtor obliged to pay it. Now, though money is commonly made of gold and silver, yet sometimes a Government may make a law by which certain printed notes are to pass the same as gold and silve ; and after such a law, that kind of printed notes are a lawful tender to pay debts with. (This kind of paper was issued by Congress in our revolution.) The states, by the Constitution, gave up the power to do this, and now it can be done by the General Government only.

Q. Did the states give up any other power?

A. They are forbidden by the Constitution, in the same manner that Congress is, to pass any bill of attainder, or ex-post-facto law, or grant any title of nobility, nor can they make any law which shall “impair the obligation of contracts.”

Q. What does that mean?

A. It means that when a bargain has been made between any two parties, by which one agrees and binds himself to do some particular thing not then forbidden by law, the state in which this agreement, or contract, was made shall not afterwards make any law by which the person who thus bound himself shall be set free from any part of that bargain without the consent of the other party, with whom he made the contract.

Q. What else are the states forbidden to do?

A. They cannot lay any duty on exports or imports.

Q. May they not lay enough duty to pay for the expenses of collecting the duties laid by Congress?

A. Yes, but no more; and if more is received than is wanted for this use, it must be paid into the Treasury of the United States.

Q. May any of the States lay a tonnage duty ; that is, require a sum of money to be paid by every vessel entering any of the harbors in that State?

A. No.

Q. May they keep soldiers whom they pay, in time of peace?

A. No.

Q. May they keep ships of war, in time of peace?

A. No.

Q. May one State enter into an agreement with another State?

A. No.

Q. May they make a treaty or agreement with any other nation?

A. No.

Q. May they make war?

A. No; not unless an enemy has entered their bounds, or is in such danger of entering, that there is no time to wait for the aid of the General Government.

Q. Why did the States give up all these powers?

A. Because they could be better protected by one powerful Government ruling over them all united than they could have been, if they had remained separate; and, if they would have such a Government, they must consent each to give up a part of their own power, in order to make it; if the General Government had no power, it would be of no use.

In the heading under Charters of Freedom, you will find a copy of the Constitution as well as links to other pertinent primary documents and commentary on the Constitution, including essays at The Heritage Guide to The Constitution:

Elementary Catechism on the Constitution posts:

Elementary Catechism on the Constitution (Preface)
I. The Necessity of Government and Its Forms
II. The American Revolution
III. The Occasion and Purpose of the Constitution
IV. State and National Laws
V. The House of Representatives
VI. The Senate
VII. Impeachment
VIII. Impeachment of the President & The Rule of Law
IX. Meetings of Congress
X. Members of Congress
XI. The Making of Federal Laws
XII. Taxes, Duties, Imposts, and Excises
XIII. Finance and Commerce
XIV. Courts & International Offences
XV. Declaration of War
XVI. State Militia
XVII. Congressional Governance of Washington, D.C. & Military Facilities
XVIII. Congressional Authority On Enactment Of Laws
XIX. Slaves
XX. Habeas Corpus, Bill of Attainder & Ex Post Facto Law
XXI. Direct Tax & the Census, Seaports & Duties, Treasury & Appropriation
XXII. Titles of Nobility
Book image from The Federalist Papers. Other reading formats of the Elementary Catechism on the Constitution can be found here.


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