This week’s PLU class resumes our leisurely stroll through The Federalist starting with Federalists #33 and #37, and the “partly federal, partly national” character of the Union under the proposed Constitution—a subject that remains as confusing and contentious today as it was then. Lucretia walks us through how the issue began to settle out starting with the landmark 1819 case of McCulloch v. Maryland. We also have a lively discussion of the “necessary and proper” clause that is often thought the source of much mischief from the federal government today, along with the “general welfare clause.” Who knew that you could invoke King Edward VIII’s abdication crisis as an illustration of the issue!
From here I take a deep dive into the mis-applications of the “general welfare clause” by looking at the passage in Federalist #45 where Madison says the powers of the federal government are “few and defined,” laying it next to our current federal government whose powers are nearly unlimited and undefined. This is in service of the question: Was Madison wrong about how our government would work? Maybe not; it turns out, as I explain, that the complete disregard for constitutional limits we see today is of relative recent origin, and that in fact Madison’s views on the proper limits of government held up longer than we might think.
So dust off your copy of The Federalist, and read along here, or wander into the quieter reading room at Ricochet.
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