Enumerated Powers of the Federal Government

Enumerated Powers of the Federal Government

The Civil War in America resulted in the disarray of the country as the state of the nation became chaotic. In the wake of these circumstances, there was a dire need for a new constitution to take the country back on track to the path to development. Prior to the new current constitution, most of the administrative powers were vested in the state governments giving them semi autonomy. In this regard, the states were free to conduct business with foreign countries and even form alliance for the purposes of economic development. However, the conditions at that time did not bring for the economic development for the country as a whole. Rather, the nature of governance resulted in slowed economic developments as states blackmailed trade with other states. The framers of the constitution had the welfare of the United States at heart in coming up with provisions limiting the powers of the state governments. In their place, the powers were bestowed upon the central government but in limited quantities. Consequently, the constitution came up with a balanced structure of governance comprising of two levels of government.

The current structure of governance was occasioned by the need for smooth administration of the United States. In formulation of the Constitution, the framers expected to solve the many wrangles between the states and the central government that were witnessed in prior years. Initially, the central government was weaker in terms of powers with most of the power decentralized to the individual states in the country. To avert the impeding wrangles and conflicts, there was a need to empower the central government further while checking the powers of the state governments (United States, 2012). In addition, the powers of the central government had to be checked to reduce the chance of being abused for both personal and political interests. The people knew only too well of the dangers of having a very powerful central government. To reduce the centralization of power in the central government, the constitution established three branches of government to include the judiciary, legislature and the executive. Ultimately, the constitution resulted in a new form of governance called federalism.

In the new system of governance, the central government is tasked with controlling issues that affect the national concerns of the country. As thus, the central government has no jurisdiction in using its power to school the states on issues that affect only the people of the particular states. Some of the issues that affect the national population include security and laws concerning the administration of taxes. On the other hand, the states governments are conferred with powers to control issues that affect the people within their jurisdiction (Ginsberg, 2013, pp 35). Most of the issues they have control over are limited to the particular states and do not therefore require the intervention of the central government. This is not to say that there aren’t some powers that are shared between the two levels of government. In meeting the constitution requirements, each of the states has a unique constitution that governs its citizens. However, these state constitutions must comply with the national constitution which is the supreme law of the land. As such, any discrepancies in the rules in the two documents render the national constitution to be the right one and the other one becomes null and void.

The first, second and third articles of the constitution collectively dictate the powers that are reserved for the federal government. Collectively, these powers are referred to as enumerated powers and they bind the federal government in their conduct. The three arms of the federal government have specific powers that must not encroach on the powers of the other two branches (United States, 2012). Moreover, the federal government can only exercise powers that are listed in the enumerated list and an exercise of powers beyond this point is unconstitutional. However, there is a clause requiring the federal government to make laws that are proper and necessary for the exercise of the enumerated powers. The clause gives the federal government power to make laws and exercise more powers thus adding to the list of enumerated powers. Over time, the federal government through the congress has added to the list of enumerated powers thus gaining more control over issues affecting both the states and the country at large. One instance is the establishment of the Federal Reserve System that helps in the regulation of the monetary supply of the United States.

The federal government has powers to call forth the militia and execute the laws of the union as well as suppressing insurrections and repel invasions. Moreover, the militia clause of the eighth section of the first article of the constitution gives the federal government the power to organize, arm and discipline the militia (Ginsberg, 2013, pp 51). In these provisions, the states are given the right to maintain a militia but at the discretion of the Congress. Ideally, the states may establish militia but under powers that are subordinate to the powers of the Congress. Initially, the Congress first gave the president powers to call out the militia to suppress insurrections in 1975. Through these powers, presidents employed the power in enforcing federal law in the 1950s to quell desegregation disputes. Later, the same powers were used in restraining civil disturbances in the country during the 1960s. In addition to governing the militias in the thirteen states, the constitution confers power upon the congress to govern the District of Columbia. Today, the congress has delegated the power to a locally elected government but at the oversight of the federal government.

In execution of all the powers that the constitution gives the congress, there is necessary and proper clause that makes the execution most effective. It states that the congress has powers to make all laws that are necessary and proper in the execution of the foregoing powers as well as other powers provided by the constitution (Ginsberg, 2013, pp 21). The provision is considered elastic due to the fact that it stretches the powers of the federal government to incorporate other powers. It enables the congress to use any other means that it thinks is reasonable in putting these powers into action. The clause is useful in the proper functioning of the federal government because it provides a channel in which it can validate more laws. The congress has powers to enact legislation that is necessary and proper for the execution of the powers of the other two branches of the federal government.

In another clause, the constitution of the United States provides the federal government with powers to punish maritime crimes that are committed in the seas of the country. The congress of the United States has continually used the powers to punish offences against the laws of nations. The United States is however not an exception as other countries have the same powers. Also, the federal government has powers to constitute lower courts to help the Supreme Court in execution of justice. This power is particularly helpful because the Constitution of the United States only provides for a Supreme Court (United States, 2012). By bestowing the powers on the Congress, the constitution bridges the gap created by the constitution thus helping in maintaining the stability of the country. Moreover, the congress further has powers to set the jurisdiction and functioning of the lower courts. By giving these powers to one branch of the federal government, the constitution allows the government to control and define its functioning thus making it even more independent in execution of powers.

Another power given to the federal government is the power to protect copyright and patents thus putting the education system rightly within the jurisdiction of the federal government (Ginsberg, 2013, pp 17). In so doing, the constitution asserts the role of the federal government in ensuring the success of the education system in the United States. The federal government also powers to regulate the value of the United States currency among other important roles in the management of the economy. Further, the congress has powers to come up with both coins and paper currencies thus ensuring a strong grip on the currency. The power to regulate the economy of the entire country ensures a uniform development of the economy as well as well as having a uniform currency.



Ginsberg, B. (2013). We the people: An introduction to American politics. New York: W.W. Norton & Co.

United States. (2012). The Constitution of the United States of America and selected writings of the founding fathers.


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