Constitution 101: Necessary and Proper Clause

Constitution 101: Necessary and Proper Clause

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A Colonial Pamphlet Helps Show Why the Constitution’s Necessary and Proper Clause Granted No Power

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As I have noted before (for example, here and here) pamphlets written in support of the colonial cause during the years 1763-1774 help us greatly in understanding the language of the Constitution. Unfortunately, most constitutional writers regularly overlook those pamphlets—one reason mistakes of constitutional interpretation are so common.

Most of the influential colonial pamphlets were written by distinguished lawyers. Among the authors were John Adams, Thomas Jefferson, Daniel Dulany, James Wilson, Alexander Hamilton, and John Dickinson. In these works, the authors explained the American vision of the rights of citizens and the prerogatives of the colonies within the British Empire.

The British ministry rejected that vision, which helped bring on the Revolutionary War. But after Independence Americans got the opportunity to write their own Constitution. They implanted much of the pamphleteers’ vision into our Basic Law—not surprisingly, since at least three of the Framers had been pamphleteers themselves (Wilson, Hamilton, Dickinson).

In addition to helping us understand the Founders’ view of government, the colonial pamphlets help us understand the meaning of particular words and phrases. They also illustrate the sources the Founders relied on for their ideas: the Bible, the Greco-Roman classics, English constitutional history, the history of the Netherlands, and so forth.

In an earlier post, I discussed the Town of Boston’s 1772-73 pamphlet. Another example is a brilliant 1774 production by a prodigy named Josiah Quincy, Jr. (also known as Josiah Quincy II). It was called Observations on the Act of Parliament Commonly Called the Boston Port-Bill; with Thoughts on Civil Society and Standing

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