The supreme law of the United States of America
  • Bill of Rights, United States - First 10 amendments to the U.S. Constitution
  • Commerce Clause - Clause of article I, section 8 of the U.S. Constitution that gives Congress power "to regulate commerce"
  • Powers, Enumerated - Constitutional doctrine of limiting the Federal Government to explicitly granted powers


Constitution of the United States, 17 Sep 1787
U.S. National Archives, includes transcript and downloadable high-resolution image


A Collapsing Presidency, by Paul Craig Roberts, 20 Mar 2006
Related Topic: George W. Bush
A Libertarian Visits South America, by Jacob Hornberger, Future of Freedom, Mar 1999
Relates Hornberger's trip to visit the Instituto de Estudos Empresariais in Brazil and the Fundación Atlas para una Sociedad Libre in Argentina
"I explained that the U.S. Constitution called the federal government into existence but that its powers were limited to those enumerated in the document. ... The essence of these two lectures was that people implement government to protect them from the violent acts of others but that the big concern is: How do we protect ourselves from the protectors? The purpose of a constitution is to ensure that the protectors do not become worse than the people they are supposed to protect us from."
A Very Inconvenient Document, by Vin Suprynowicz, 18 Sep 2006
"Delineating and thereby limiting the powers of the central government is, in fact, the main function of the founding document. ... It would be wonderful to see the U.S. Constitution taught in the public schools. I will believe such a course of education is underway when someone can show me a list of study questions being presented to today's students, including ..."
Beware Income-Tax Casuistry, Part 3, by Sheldon Richman, Future of Freedom, Oct 2006
Reviews the U.S. Supreme Court decision in Brushaber v. Union Pacific Railroad
"Reading one's libertarian values into the Constitution in defiance of the text and court holdings is futile. Moreover, the Constitution's words are often vague, purposely so; it is a political document. For better or worse the Constitution means what the occupants of the relevant constitutional offices say it means."
Related Topic: Taxation
Book Review: A Sacred Union of Citizens—George Washington's Farewell Address and the American Character, by George Leef, The Freeman, Nov 1997
Review of the 1996 book by Matthew Spalding and Patrick Garrity, deeming it "indispensable" for those "interested in learning more about the workings of George Washington's mind"
"Washington also warned in the Farewell Address against allowing even the slightest weakening of the Constitution’s restraints upon governmental power ... Alas, many members of the Supreme Court have been willing to ignore Washington's counsel, if they know of it at all. The Constitution's limits on government power have been shredded, thanks to the arrogance of justices who thought that achieving what they regarded as socially good results was more important than preserving the Constitutional plan of limited government based on a few enumerated powers and many unyielding restrictions."
Could Katrina vanden Heuvel Please Just Shut Up?, by Kevin Carson, 22 May 2013
Commentary on The Nation's publisher tweet on "government for common good"
"It's probably no coincidence that the nonsensical phrase 'general Welfare' appears in the US Constitution's Preamble right after the equally nonsensical 'common Defence.' The idea that American military policy serves some common 'national interest,' as opposed to the corporate entities in whose interests wars are actually fought, is pure buncombe. And so is the idea that the American state's economic policies are aimed at some sort of general welfare."
Do Elections Guarantee Freedom?, by James Bovard, Future of Freedom, Nov 2007
Discusses whether democratic elections achieve the purported objective of "will of the people" controlling the government
"The average American voter had no recourse on November 2, 2004, to make the federal government obey the Constitution or keep the peace. But this was the same situation the voters faced on November 7, 2000, November 5, 1996, and November 3, 1992. Instead, each voter was merely asked to personally consecrate the continued violations of the highest law of the land by whoever won."
Does John Ashcroft Understand the Constitution?, by Jacob Hornberger, 22 Oct 2004
"By according suspected terrorists the rights of habeas corpus, right to counsel, and due process of law, the [Supreme] Court ... was ... enforcing centuries-old procedural guarantees in the administration of justice that our ancestors had the wisdom and foresight to enumerate in the Constitution."
Douglass, Frederick (1818-1895), by Timothy Sandefur, The Encyclopedia of Libertarianism, 15 Aug 2008
Biographical essay
"Moreover, Douglass was persuaded by such writers as Lysander Spooner and Gerrit Smith that the Constitution was actually an antislavery document. In one of his best-known speeches, 'What to the Slave Is the Fourth of July?' Douglass declared that 'interpreted as it ought to be interpreted, the Constitution is a GLORIOUS LIBERTY DOCUMENT,' and he insisted that slavery was already unconstitutional even before the ratification of the 13th Amendment. Douglass's constitutional philosophy would today be described as 'liberal originalism.'"
Do You Consider Yourself a Libertarian?, by Lew Rockwell, Kenny Johnsson, 25 May 2007
Interview by Kenny Johnsson for "The Liberal Post" blog
"The Constitution would be a major improvement over what we have today. But we need to realize that the Constitution itself represented a major increase in government power over the Articles of Confederation, which would have served us quite well had it not been overthrown. I'm not impressed by the bunch that foisted the Constitution on us. ... We've all but forgotten that most everyone opposed it at the time."
Finding the Flaws, by Joseph Sobran, 25 Mar 1997
Discusses how governments naturally attempt to influence each other, the democratic flaw of voting for benefits at others' expense, in particular children, and how the U.S. Constitution has failed to avoid this outcome
"Wasn't the Constitution supposed to forbid such overweening power of one part of the community over another? ... According to the U.S. Supreme Court, the Constitution has 'evolved' to mean just about the opposite of what everyone used to understand it to mean. In fact, modern jurisprudence has rendered most of the Constitution's text superfluous, nugatory, or hopelessly confusing. Why should it list two dozen powers of Congress, when Congress exercises thousands of unlisted powers?"
Related Topics: Children, Democracy, Government
Forgotten Lessons: Selected Essays of John T. Flynn, by Paul Gottfried, The Freeman, Nov 1995
Review of Forgotten Lessons: Selected Essays of John T. Flynn, edited by Gregory P. Pavlik and published by FEE
"The young John Flynn and the young Greg Pavlik both speak for the foundational beliefs of the American constitutional order: dual federalism, accountable administration, and the sanctity of property. Those are principles which would not have divided even the two polar figures in the American founding, Hamilton and Jefferson. It tells volumes about our own age that the editor of Flynn's essays has such deep and justified doubts about the prospects for liberty in contemporary America. Perhaps, as Flynn feared, we have moved too far into that totalitarian future produced by public administrators to entertain any reasonable hope that the present mockery of the old order can or will reverse itself."
George Mason and the Bills of Rights, by Gary Williams, The Freeman, May 1992
Relates the life of George Mason, his primary role in writing the Virginia Declaration of Rights and his opposition to ratifying the U.S. Constitution
"Instead, Mason was one of the leaders in the fight against ratification of the new Constitution. He composed a three-page list of objections, and, after dutifully forwarding a copy to George Washington, published them in the Pennsylvania Packet on October 4. This publication served as a counter to the Federalist Papers that were written during the ratification fight. ... it was the lack of a bill of rights that was seized as a rallying point for the Anti-Federalists. Nine of the 13 states were needed for ratification, and the fight was a heated one in many states."
History Lesson Lost, by Sheldon Richman, 6 Oct 2006
Comments on Merrill Jensen's 1940 book about the American Revolution, the Articles of Confederation and the Constitutional Convention
"The Articles of Confederation, Jensen writes, were the radicals' triumph over the conservatives in the Continental Congress ... But the conservatives did not give up their nationalist aspirations. After years of denigrating the confederation and attempting to amend the Articles, they finally got their way in 1787 and used the Constitutional Convention to scrap them in favor of a strong central government."
James Madison: Father of the Implied-Powers Doctrine, by Sheldon Richman, 26 Jul 2013
Examines whether James Madison intended the U.S. federal government to have "expressly delegated" powers vs. "powers by implication"
"Nothing like [Article II of the Articles of Confederation] appeared in the Constitution drafted in Philadelphia. On the other hand, the document did extend to Congress the power to 'make all laws which shall be necessary and proper for carrying into execution the foregoing powers, and all other powers vested by this constitution in the government of the United States, or in any department or officer thereof.' This is the 'necessary and proper' clause so feared by the Antifederalist critics of the proposed Constitution."
Lysander & Limited Government, by Fred Miller, Reason, May 1976
Argues that Spooner, although critical of the government instituted by the U.S. Constitution, was in favor of a legitimate, limited government, i.e., one that is voluntarily financed
"Spooner presents a devastating refutation of the Social Contract Defense. The Constitution can represent a morally binding agreement only if it meets the conditions that must be met by any morally binding agreement: (1) there must be another identifiable individual or individuals with whom the moral agent enters into the agreement; (2) the agent must enter into the agreement voluntarily; and (3) the agent must sign the agreement in written form. And, says Spooner, none of these conditions are satisfied by the Constitution."
Lysander Spooner (1808-1887) and Foreign Policy: Spooner's Real Views About Everything, by Joseph R. Stromberg, 8 May 2000
Begins wih biographical summary and then delves into Spooner's views on slavery, the U.S. Constitution and the War Between the States
"Having done his damnedest to reconcile English law and the US Constitution with natural law, Spooner threw over the whole undertaking in No Treason: The Constitution of No Authority (1870). ... Applying with unwavering consistency the principle of 'methodological individualism' to the realm of the law, Spooner held that only real individuals or their properly appointed agents could act, make contracts, and take on binding legal obligations and duties. None of these conditions held with the US Constitution."
Marry and Let Marry, by Sheldon Richman, 3 Mar 2004
Comments on President George W. Bush's proposed amendment to forbid same-sex marriage licenses
"President George W. Bush has ... meddled in education, about which the Constitution has not one word. He aspires to give taxpayers' money to religious groups doing social work, despite the First Amendment's barrier to state entanglement with religion. He invaded Iraq to oust its president, without asking Congress for a formal declaration of war, as the Constitution requires. And his respect for civil liberties protected by the Constitution is less than exemplary."
Related Topic: Marriage
No More Great Presidents, by Robert Higgs, The Free Market, Mar 1997
Discusses the results of a 1996 poll of historians asking them to rank U.S. presidents, focusing on those ranked Great, Near Great and Failure, and offers his own ranking
"The people who ratified the original Constitution never intended the presidency to be a powerful office spawning 'great men.' Article II, Sections 2-4, which enumerate the powers of the president, comprise but four paragraphs, most of which deal with appointments and minor duties. ... The presidency was intended to be a largely ceremonial position whose occupant would confine himself to enforcing federal laws."
None Dare Call It Hypothetical, by Joseph Sobran, The Reactionary Utopian, 20 Dec 2005
"In a word, the Constitution is anti-monarchical. ... it provides for things like elections ... and impeachments, which, though essential protections, are all too rare. Elections without the real threat of impeachment invite the abuse of power. Monarchism ... is a perennial temptation, even under the forms of a republic ..."
No U-Turns, by Jack Dennon, 29 May 2006
Critiques the U.S. Constitution and the government it allowed to be set up, with quotes from Albert Jay Nock and Lysander Spooner
"The fundamental nature of America's government has indeed remained unaltered in its ability to offer sagacious actors access to the 'political means' for harnessing government coercion in the service of private economic advantage. Today the Constitution is worse than a dead letter, for it provides the facade of legitimacy behind which government actors are enabled to do as they please."
Paper Money and the Constitution, by Rick Lynch, Future of Freedom, Jan 2009
Examines the historical period of the Articles of Confederation and how it led to controls on the issuance of paper money in the U.S. Constitution
"Where is the constitutional salvation from the evil of paper money? Relief lies in Article I, Section X. ... the most significant checks on state authority ... were those that would no longer allow the states to 'emit Bills of Credit; make any Thing but gold and silver Coin a Tender in Payment of Debts; pass any Bill of Attainder, ex post facto Law, or Law impairing the Obligation of Contracts....'"
Related Topic: Money
Penumbras, Emanations, and Stuff, by Joseph Sobran, The Reactionary Utopian, 6 Feb 2006
"... Congress's power 'to regulate commerce with foreign nations, and among the several states, and with the Indian tribes' ... is now interpreted to mean that the Federal Government can 'regulate' just about everything we do, from sea to shining sea. This makes the rest of the Constitution pretty much superfluous."
Related Topic: Reserved Powers
Protesting the Tax Protesters, by James Ostrowski, 1 Jan 2007
Presents several arguments against tax protesting, concluding with a suggested approach to fighting against confiscatory taxation
"Constitutions don't limit government power because the government has claimed the exclusive right to say what they mean. More importantly, the Constitution is a legal document. Law is a reflection of pre-legal values. The values that gave rise to the Constitution are in large part dead. The vast majority of the public no longer holds them. You might as well be speaking Chinese to them."
Related Topics: Taxation, Henry David Thoreau
Shall Liberty or Empire be Sought?, by Patrick Henry, 5 Jun 1788
Speech to the Virginia Ratifying Convention; criticises several clauses of the proposed Constitution and warns about the possibility of a U.S. President becoming even worse than a king
"THIS, sir, is the language of democracy--that a majority of the community have a right to alter government when found to be oppressive. But how different is the genius of your new Constitution from this! How different from the sentiments of freemen that a contemptible minority can prevent the good of the majority! ... This Constitution is said to have beautiful features; but when I come to examine these features, sir, they appear to me horribly frightful."
Spooner, Lysander (1808-1881), by Randy Barnett, The Encyclopedia of Libertarianism, 15 Aug 2008
Biographical essay
"In this fascinating work [The Unconstitutionality of Slavery], Spooner argued that, because the Constitution did not receive the express consent of those on whom it was imposed, it can only be based on presumed or 'theoretical' consent. ... Whereas his earlier works on the unconstitutionality of the postal monopoly and of slavery implicitly assumed the legitimacy of the Constitution, or appeared to, after the [Civil] war Spooner explicitly rejected the Constitution in what is today probably regarded as his best and most libertarian essay, No Treason: The Constitution of No Authority (1870)."
Stop Them!, by Sheldon Richman, 26 Feb 2007
Commentary supporting a New York Times editorial advocating repeal of habeas corpus provisions in the Military Commissions Act and outlawing use of evidence obtained through torture
"Nothing indicts Bush-Cheney as profoundly as their displayed contempt for habeas corpus. I have no doubt that if they thought they could get away with it, they'd suspend it for citizens too. Note well: the Constitution does not distinguish citizens from noncitizens. If the gang-run-amok in the White House can suspend habeas corpus for aliens, it can do so for the rest of us."
Related Topic: Writ of Habeas Corpus
Take the Constitution Seriously in the Second Term, by Sheldon Richman, 8 Nov 2004
Suggests a plan of action for George W. Bush upon election for a second term as U.S. President
"According to the Constitution the presidency is a modest office. The powers are rather few. ... he executes the laws passed by Congress, which is also bound by a small number of powers. The president can spend money only as appropriated by Congress. ... He is not our commander in chief, as people seem to believe , and second, being commander does not include the power to declare war. That power was reserved, exclusively, to the Congress."
The Antifederalists Were Right, by Gary M. Galles, Mises Daily, 27 Sep 2006
"The Antifederalists warned us that the cost Americans would bear in both liberty and resources for the government that would evolve under the Constitution would rise sharply. That is why their objections led to the Bill of Rights, to limit that tendency (though with far too little success that has survived to the present)."
The Authority of a Foreign Talisman: A Study of U.S. Constitutional Practice as Authority in Nineteenth Century Argentina and the Argentine Elite's Leap of Faith, by Jonathan M. Miller, American University Law Review, Jun 1997
Examines the history of Argentine law prior to adoption of the 1853 Constitution, the arguments in Alberdi's Bases and the influence of the U.S. Constitution during the remainder of the 19th century and up to 1930
"The U.S. Constitution was an important model from the beginning of the process that established the Constitution of 1853 ... The tendency toward greater invocation of the U.S. Constitution as authority would suggest that the U.S. Constitution worked as a unifying force. Invocation of the U.S. Constitution and practice began to lessen only toward the turn of the century, by which time Argentina's political institutions were sufficiently well-entrenched so that the U.S. Constitution no longer was necessary as a talisman."
The Constitutional Crisis No One Seems To Understand, by Harvey Silverglate, The Boston Phoenix, 2 Jun 2006
"What the White House didn't count on was that a red-hot Congress would invoke an obscure constitutional provision called the 'speech or debate clause,' found in Article 1, Section 6, that protects the legislature from intrusion by other branches of government under certain circumstances. ... The provision is nothing less than a bulwark of the separation-of-powers doctrine ..."
The Constitution and the Rule of Law, by Jacob Hornberger, Aug 1992
Related Topic: Rule of Law
The Constitution or Liberty, by Sheldon Richman, 21 Sep 2012
Contrasts Article II of the Articles of Confederation with the Tenth Amendment and Article I, Section 8 of the U.S. Constitution, and discusses the implied powers of the latter document (revised version of article published 7 Dec 2007)
"For example, the first clause of Article I, Section 8, states, 'The Congress shall have Power To lay and collect Taxes, Duties, Imposts and Excises, to pay the Debts and provide for the common Defence and general Welfare of the United States. ...' That's a hefty grant of power that does not appear to be further restricted by any subsequent language. ... The 16 specific powers that follow don't appear to be limits on the taxation clause but rather coequal provisions. ... in the eyes of the framers, the government would be limited, but not nearly as limited as today's constitutionalists believe."
The Courts and the New Deal, Part 1, by William L. Anderson, Future of Freedom, Jun 2005
First part of a four-part series examining how Franklin D. Roosevelt and his New Deal affected federal courts and other legal practices; contrasts the thoughts of Blackstone and Bentham
"The law as it stands today ... is not even a distant cousin of what was written on parchment in that hot summer of 1787. First, the Constitution clearly separated the powers not only of the three branches of the national (or what we today call the federal) government, but also distinguished between the legitimate powers of states and the central government. ... At the time the Constitution was written, the rights of private-property ownership and the sanctity of contracts were front and center, not only in the minds of the document's Framers, but also with the public at large."
The Failed Attempt to Leash the Dogs of War, by Bart Frazier, Future of Freedom, Dec 2006
Discusses provisions of the Constitution that were meant to prevent the United States from having a large, permanent military and becoming involved in warfare at the will of a single person
"The separation-of-powers doctrine is a running theme of the Constitution. The power to enact laws is given to Congress, the power to enforce them is given to the president, and the power to interpret them is given to the judiciary. ... And so it was that the Constitution had provisions against a standing army. It did not prevent a standing army outright, for in times of peril one would be necessary. But the funds for a standing army had to be renewed every two years."
The Ignorant Can't Be Free, by C. T. Rossi, 28 Mar 2007
"A handful of modern thinkers, such as Murray Rothbard, have sought to address how the study of freedom is essential to understanding what our Constitution is and is not. ... Certainly the essential purpose of any constitution is to create a government. But the American constitution endeavors to create a specific government, a form which was believed to help maximize the liberty of those who live under it – a federal government."
The Lawless State, by Joseph Sobran, The Reactionary Utopian, 11 Jul 2006
"The big decisions, under the U.S. Constitution, were supposed to be made by the Congress, and 'faithfully executed' by the president. Thus Congress declared war after Pearl Harbor and Franklin D. Roosevelt then (and only then) assumed the powers of commander in chief of the armed forces."
The Most Dreaded Enemy of Liberty, by James Madison, Letters and Other Writings of James Madison, 20 Apr 1795
From a longer essay titled "Political Observations", the selected passage reflects on the nature of war and the provisions in the U. S. Constitution about declaring war, conducting war and raising armies
"The Constitution expressly and exclusively vests in the Legislature the power of declaring a state of war ... the power of raising armies ... A delegation of such powers [to the President] would have struck, not only at the fabric of our Constitution, but at the foundation of all well organized and well checked governments. The separation of the power of declaring war from that of conducting it, is wisely contrived to exclude the danger of its being declared for the sake of its being conducted."
Related Topic: War
The People Say No to War, by Sheldon Richman, 13 Sep 2013
Commentary on how the American people stopped, at least momentarily, the Obama administration from attacking the Syrian people
"No paper constitution ever restrained a government. What ultimately restrains governments is a sufficiently large number of people with certain ideas — an ideology — about the limits to state power. If those ideas change, the power of government will expand or contract, depending on the case, even if no single word of the paper constitution changes. Constitutions don't interpret or enforce themselves."
Related Topic: War
The Progressive Era, Part 1: The Myth and the Reality, by William L. Anderson, Future of Freedom, Feb 2006
"... their greatest 'triumph' being passage of the Eighteenth Amendment, which ushered in the era of Prohibition. ... From the creation of the Federal Reserve System to the Sixteenth Amendment ..., Progressives were able to do away with the impediments created by the U.S. Constitution, which according to them stood in the way of progress."
The Revolution's Forgotten Hero, by David A. Merrick, Future of Freedom, Dec 2003
Highlights the work of George Mason as the person "most responsible for penning freedoms into written law" for his contributions to or influence on the Virginia Declaration of Rights, the U.S. Declaration of Independence and the U.S. Bill of Rights
"What follows are some of Mason's objections:
  • The Constitution was too loosely worded and he feared that it would be used to deny individual and states' rights, so he opposed the formation of a strong central government.
  • He insisted that a bill of rights be included ...
  • He stated that the Constitution contained a central contradiction, the sanctioning of slavery. ...
  • He objected to the taxation powers of the government ...
  • Mason also feared that an all-powerful federal judiciary would destroy state courts ...
  • He was fearful that the Senate had too much power.
The Supreme Court Repeals the Constitution, by Sheldon Richman, Future of Freedom, Sep 2005
Discusses the U.S. Supreme Court decision in the case of Kelo v. City of New London
"If the Court can liberate itself from any 'literal requirement' when reading the Takings Clause, it can liberate itself from any literal requirement when reading any other part of the Constitution. But that means we can never know how the Court will claim to understand the Framers' limits on government power. Which means: there are no limits on government power."
The War of 1812 Was the Health of the State, Part 2, by Sheldon Richman, 6 Mar 2015
Discusses how James Madison's conduct of the War of 1812 led to changes in American attitudes, including mercantilism, militarism, imperialism and centralization
"The Old Republicans' narrow interpretation of the Constitution, the new Republicans said, should not be treated as engraved in stone. 'A new world has come into being since the Constitution was adopted,' said Henry Clay ... 'Are the narrow, limited necessities of the old thirteen states ... as they existed at the formation of the present Constitution, forever to remain a rule of its interpretation? Are we to forget the wants of our country? ... I trust not, sir. I hope for better and nobler things.' Apparently the idea of a living constitution was born much earlier than the 1950s or 1930s."
U.S. Supreme Court, MARBURY v. MADISON, 5 U.S. 137 (1803), by John Marshall, Feb 1803
"The Constitution is either a superior paramount law, unchangeable by ordinary means, or it is on a level with ordinary legislative acts, and, like other acts, is alterable when the legislature shall please to alter it. ... the theory of every such government must be, that an act of the legislature, repugnant to the constitution, is void."
Was the Constitution Really Meant to Constrain the Government?, by Sheldon Richman, 8 Aug 2008
Explains how attempting to revert to the "original meaning" of the Constitution or appealing to the writings of the framers will not lead to a free society
"A shortcut favored by most advocates of limited government is 'restoration' of the Constitution. 'If only we could get back to the Constitution as it was written,' people say. It's a sincere wish, but as a path to a free society, it's riddled with potholes."
What Is the Constitution?, by Sheldon Richman, Future of Freedom, Jun 2002
Discusses constitutional interpretation, in particular the ninth and tenth amendments, in light of comments from Antonin Scalia about a national ID card
"Two major points of view have emerged. One side urges a strict construction. The only rights people have are those expressly stated. ... The other major side urges a looser interpretation ... this side finds a general right to privacy emanating from several amendments, particularly the Fourth and Fifth. ... The list of powers is a secondary consideration ... But that is not how the Constitution was supposed to work."
Where Is the Constitution?, by Sheldon Richman, 28 Jul 2006
Discusses the varying legal interpretations of the U.S. Constitution and what is meant by "obeying rules"
"I mean the real constitution — the set of attitudes that reflect what Americans people will accept as legitimate actions by the people in government. ... words faithfully recited, or inscribed on parchment and hung in the National Archives, will never be enough to assure liberty. ... If liberty and free markets are to be established, government power must be rolled back. And if government power is to be rolled back, the real constitution — people's hearts and minds — must be pro-liberty."

Cartoons and Comic Strips

Trusting Bush, by Mike Luckovich, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, 18 May 2006
Related Topic: George W. Bush
We Had to Destroy It ..., by Paul Szep, 11 Dec 2007


Good To Be King: The Foundations Of Freedom
    by Michael Badnarik, 2004
Restoring the Lost Constitution: The Presumption of Liberty
    by Randy Barnett, 2003


Speaking on Liberty: Sheldon Richman Live!, by Sheldon Richman, 16 Oct 2013 contributor Jason Lee Byas interviews Richman after a talk on Constitution Day at the University of Oklahoma