Quotes from the Founding Fathers
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RenewAmerica staff
March 13, 2009

All three branches of the federal government may interpret the Constitution, and check usurpations of power by the other branches

  • "[The Judicial Branch] may truly be said to have neither FORCE nor WILL, but merely judgment; and must ultimately depend upon the aid of the executive arm even for the efficacy of its judgments." — Alexander Hamilton, Federalist No. 78 (emphasis in the original)

  • I acknowledge, in the ordinary course of government, that the exposition of the laws and Constitution devolves upon the judicial. But I beg to know upon what principle it can be contended that any one department draws from the Constitution greater powers than another in marking out the limits of the powers of the several departments. — James Madison

  • Nothing has yet been offered to invalidate the doctrine that the meaning of the Constitution may as well be ascertained by the Legislative as by the Judicial authority. — James Madison

  • As the courts are generally the last in making the decision, it results to them, by refusing or not refusing to execute a law, to stamp it with its final character. This makes the Judiciary department paramount in fact to the Legislature, which was never intended, and can never be proper. — James Madison

  • [T]he opinion which gives to the judges the right to decide what laws are constitutional and what not, not only for themselves, in their own sphere of action, but for the Legislature and Executive also in their spheres, would make the Judiciary a despotic branch. — Thomas Jefferson

  • Each department is truly independent of the others, and has an equal right to decide for itself what is the meaning of the constitution in the cases submitted to its action.... — Thomas Jefferson

  • An elective despotism was not the government we fought for, but one which should not only be founded on true free principles, but in which the powers of government should be so divided and balanced among general bodies of magistracy, as that no one could transcend their legal limits without being effectually checked and restrained by the others. — Thomas Jefferson

The states have authority to interpret the Constitution, enforce it, and protect the people from violations of it by the federal government

  • In the first place, there is not a syllable in the plan under consideration which directly empowers the national courts to construe the laws according to the spirit of the Constitution, or which gives them any greater latitude in this respect than may be claimed by the courts of every State. — Alexander Hamilton, Federalist No. 81

  • The State governments possess inherent advantages, which will ever give them an influence and ascendancy over the National Government, and will for ever preclude the possibility of federal encroachments. That their liberties, indeed, can be subverted by the federal head, is repugnant to every rule of political calculation. — Alexander Hamilton

  • This balance between the National and State governments ought to be dwelt on with peculiar attention, as it is of the utmost importance. It forms a double security to the people. If one encroaches on their rights they will find a powerful protection in the other. Indeed, they will both be prevented from overpassing their constitutional limits by a certain rivalship, which will ever subsist between them. — Alexander Hamilton

  • Each State, in ratifying the Constitution, is considered as a sovereign body, independent of all others, and only to be bound by its own voluntary act. In this relation, then, the new Constitution will, if established, be a FEDERAL, and not a NATIONAL constitution. — James Madison, Federalist No. 39 (emphasis in the original)

  • This Assembly doth explicitly and peremptorily declare, that it views the powers of the federal government, as resulting from the compact, to which the states are parties; as limited by the plain sense and intention of the instrument constituting the compact; as no further valid than they are authorized by the grants enumerated in that compact; and that in case of deliberate, palpable, and dangerous exercise of other powers, not granted by the said compact, the states who are parties thereto, have the right, and are in duty bound, to interpose for arresting the progress of the evil, and for maintaining within their respective limits, the authorities, rights and liberties appertaining to them. — James Madison

  • Every State has a natural right in cases not within the compact (casus non faederis) to nullify of their own authority all assumptions of power by others within their limits. Without this right, they would be under the dominion, absolute and unlimited, of whosoever might exercise this right of judgment for them. — Thomas Jefferson

  • RESOLVED: That the principle and construction contended for by sundry of the state legislatures, that the general government is the exclusive judge of the extent of the powers delegated to it, stop nothing short of despotism; since the discretion of those who administer the government, and not the constitution, would be the measure of their powers:

    That the several states who formed that instrument, being sovereign and independent, have the unquestionable right to judge of its infraction; and that a nullification, by those sovereignties, of all unauthorized acts done under colour of that instrument, is the rightful remedy. — Thomas Jefferson

  • [W]hen all government, domestic and foreign, in little as in great things, shall be drawn to Washington as the center of all power, it will render powerless the checks provided of one government on another. — Thomas Jefferson

  • I see,... and with the deepest affliction, the rapid strides with which the federal branch of our government is advancing towards the usurpation of all the rights reserved to the States, and the consolidation in itself of all powers, foreign and domestic; and that, too, by constructions which, if legitimate, leave no limits to their power.... It is but too evident that the three ruling branches of [the Federal government] are in combination to strip their colleagues, the State authorities, of the powers reserved by them, and to exercise themselves all functions foreign and domestic. — Thomas Jefferson

The people, as sovereign, retain ultimate rights to interpret, enforce, amend, and abolish the Constitution. We are not bound by unconstitutional edicts from state or federal governments.

  • The basis of our political system is the right of the people to make and to alter their constitutions of government. — George Washington

  • If the federal government should overpass the just bounds of its authority and make a tyrannical use of its powers, the people, whose creature it is, must appeal to the standard they have formed, and take such measures to redress the injury done to the Constitution as the exigency may suggest and prudence justify. — Alexander Hamilton, Federalist No. 33

  • I consider the foundation of the Constitution as laid on this ground that 'all powers not delegated to the United States, by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the states, are reserved to the states or to the people.' To take a single step beyond the boundaries thus specially drawn around the powers of Congress, is to take possession of a boundless field of power, not longer susceptible of any definition." — Thomas Jefferson

  • [The purpose of a written constitution is] to bind up the several branches of government by certain laws, which, when they transgress, their acts shall become nullities; to render unnecessary an appeal to the people, or in other words a rebellion, on every infraction of their rights, on the peril that their acquiescence shall be construed into an intention to surrender those rights. — Thomas Jefferson

  • Whensoever the General Government assumes undelegated powers, its acts are unauthoritative, void, and of no force. — Thomas Jefferson

 


They that wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength. —Isaiah 40:31