This is food for tho…
This is food for thought, given the current issue with NSA wiretaps. Alexander Hamilton wrote these paragraphs in Federalist #23 regarding the power of a federal government in “the preservation of the Union”. It’s a long-ish quote so that context is maintained. Italics and capitalization have been preserved, so emphasis by me is shown in red.

The authorities essential to the care of the common defence are these–to raise armies–to build and equip fleets–to prescribe rules for the government of both–to direct their operations–to provide for their support. These powers ought to exist without limitation: Because it is impossible to foresee or define the extent and variety of national exigencies, or the correspondent extent & variety of the means which may be necessary to satisfy them. The circumstances that endanger the safety of nations are infinite; and for this reason no constitutional shackles can wisely be imposed on the power to which the care of it is committed. This power ought to be co-extensive with all the possible combinations of such circumstances; and ought to be under the direction of the same councils, which are appointed to preside over the common defence.

This is one of those truths, which to a correct and unprejudiced mind, carries its own evidence along with it; and may be obscured, but cannot be made plainer by argument or reasoning. It rests upon axioms as simple as they are universal. The means ought to be proportioned to the end; the persons, from whose agency the attainment of any end is expected, ought to possess the means by which it is to be attained.

Whether there ought to be a Foederal Government intrusted with the care of the common defence, is a question in the first instance open to discussion; but the moment it is decided in the affirmative, it will follow, that that government ought to be cloathed with all the powers requisite to the complete execution of its trust. And unless it can be shewn, that the circumstances which may affect the public safety are reducible within certain determinate limits; unless the contrary of this position can be fairly and rationally disputed, it must be admitted, as a necessary consequence, that there can be no limitation of that authority, which is to provide for the defence and protection of the community, in any matter essential to its efficacy; that is, in any matter essential to the formation, direction or support of the NATIONAL FORCES.

The Federalist Papers were explanations to the people regarding a new federal government under the proposed Constitution, and why it was a good idea. What’s interesting is that Hamilton is essentially saying that this new Constitution will not, in fact, be a “suicide pact”. When the Constitution talks about providing for the common defense, then, it means it, and Hamilton says that it should not be used as shackles to keep what needs to be done from being done.

This passage talks about, I believe, the federal government in its totality. Thus, Congress is as much a part of this as the President. They still hold the purse strings, and if they want to cut funding to the NSA to keep something from happening they don’t agree with, it’s their prerogative. That, among other things, is a check on Executive Branch power, but according to Hamilton, it’s not necessarily a constitutional issue.

Hamilton’s words do not have the weight of those in the Constitution, to be sure. However, he does provide a framework for understanding the Constitution as written and intended. It expresses ideas you wouldn’t hear much about today. He’d probably be considered a right-wing extremist. Considering these ideas for our omnipresent and over-extended federal government does, I admit, make me wonder whether this concept is such a good idea for the Washington, DC of today. But he was expressing the concerns and intents of those who wrote one of our most important founding documents, and those thoughts should not be lightly ignored or hand-waved away.

(Cross-posted at Stones Cry Out, Blogger News Network and Comments welcome.)

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