Constitutionality

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It seemed like Thanksgiving came too soon each year. John loved the food and fun. But the conversation over dinner always made him look indecisive and weak. You see, his family loved politics, and Thanksgivings came right before the next presidential elections. This year the front runners were Andrew Jackson and John Quincy Adams. John was impressed by both candidates and would have voted for both had such an option existed. His uncle Stephen was a Republican and was particularly fond of voicing his opinions about the candidates. John’s father, Thomas, was both a Federalist and a northerner to the core. As one would expect, this led to conflict year after year. This year John would get a chance to vote and that meant that his position on the topic would have to be clear before the meal was over. But not to worry, he’d have enough time to draw up his opinions before either of the men would solicit his input. All it took was a good look at the first three American presidents and their administrations.


The family gathered around the table on his uncle’s plantation in southern Virginia and the thanksgiving meal began as planned. The conversation about the quality of the food died down and was replaced by an awkward silence. Stephen hated these times where the person next to him could hear him chewing and thought to open a new topic- politics. “It’s sad that a person like John Quincy Adams could think he can run for president this year. Both he and his federalist friends disappeared under James Monroe. They started out wrong and continue to be all wrong. Just look at the first of their kind, George Washington. He let his presidency be run by a cabinet and by that arrogant Alexander Hamilton who developed the National Bank. Where was that allowed in the constitution? Who said Washington could delegate his responsibilities to other men. America chose George Washington, not a bunch of men for him to dump his work on. And now a Cabinet is a normal part of government. ”

John had expected this but didn’t think his father would respond so quickly. “Stephen, don’t talk about what you don’t know. I questioned his decisions before, but then I read our constitution. A bank is constitutional. In Article 1 Section 8 it says that the congress has the power ‘to lay taxes for the purpose of providing for the general welfare.’ Permission ‘to regulate commerce with foreign nations, and among the States, and with the Indian tribes’ (Constitution, Article 1, Section 8) is also given to them. Now, Stephen, think of the value differences between my Pennsylvanian currency and your Virginian one before the creation of the National Bank. In the same section, the constitution says that congress also has the power ‘to coin money, [and] regulate the money thereof.’ (Constitution, Article 1, Section 8) The creation of a National Bank was perfectly legal. Oh, and what other petty issue did you bring up? Ahh, yes, the Cabinet? As much as I praise Washington, he couldn’t have made all those decisions on his own. It also says in the constitution that congress has the right ‘to make all laws which shall be necessary and proper for carrying into execution.’ It was only necessary and proper for him to appoint people for each position. And look where it got us, without it we wouldn’t have a National Bank. And don’t forget. Without that national bank and currency, John wouldn’t have been able to buy that ring for your daughter.” With that he chuckled and looked at his brother, victory sparkling in his eyes.

As John blushed and lowered his head, he heard his uncle laughing as well and snapped his head back up to hear Uncle Stephen say, “First of all, don’t bring the children into this. Second, you mentioned that congress has the power to regulate commerce. Yes your right, but you’re missing something. Making a bank and regulating commerce are two very different things. You said something about coining, let them coin, whose stopping them. Just because they are coining doesn’t call for a national bank. You will never understand, especially with your mindset valuing loose interpretation. Lastly, Washington may have been right in his own eyes about the bank and cabinet, but what about John Adams and the Alien and Sedition Acts. Do you think those truly Federalist concepts violate the Bill of Rights?”

Thomas was annoyed that his brother kept going but had to argue back. “If I am guessing correctly, you mean to say that ‘freedom of speech’ (Bill of Rights) is violated by the Sedition Acts. Am I correct? Well, the Sedition Acts do not say that people may not express their ideas. It just states ‘that if any person shall write, print, utter or publish... malicious writing… against the government of the United States… or the President… shall be punished by a fine… and by imprisonment.’ No big deal. Why would one want to speak badly about a strong Federalist government? Only you would, Stephen, and that’s why it bothers you so. “

“You are blinded by your own beliefs, Thomas. That is violates the Bill of Rights nonetheless. And what about the Alien Acts. They say that it’s lawful that an ‘alien…shall be imprisoned so long as, in the opinion of the President, the public safety be required.’ Certainly that violates the sixth amendment which states ‘the accused shall enjoy the right to a speedy and public trial by an impartial jury.’ What are they being accused of, not being American? All of us, except maybe the Indians, are immigrants. And the president is not an impartial jury. He’s the last thing from it.” Stephen countered angrily.

By then John wanted to leave the dinner table, but knew that it would be rude and may even bring more attention onto him that he desired. So he sat and heard his father say, “Alright, well, since you’re so convinced Federalists are wrong, why don’t you take a look at your hero Thomas Jefferson. Did the constitution give him permission to purchase Louisiana? And what about congress? He didn’t have their consent when he made that impulsive decision. And don’t pull a necessary and proper on me. That is for loose interpretation.”

Everyone at the table heaved a sigh that was heard from a mile away. It was clear to John that this argument wasn’t going to end anytime soon. So he dumped more turkey onto his plate and kept listening. “Thomas, what can I say except that it was necessary and proper. Jefferson was amazed when offered with details of the purchase. He did doubt the constitutionality of buying that land, because of the constitution didn’t address that issue. However, Napoleon might have taken back his offer. Through his decision, Jefferson showed flexibility as a leader. No other president, whether Federalist or Republican, was willing to leave their beliefs for the betterment of the country. That, my brother, is what the necessary and proper clause in the constitution is all about. Not an excuse to pass any law they feel like. Hey, didn’t John Adams try to pull something else with that clause. Yes, Marbury vs. Madison and the midnight judges. Such a case is an absolutely perfect example of a president misusing his power with the elastic clause.

Thomas face went as red as the cranberry sauce and then white like the mashed potatoes before he slammed the table with his fist, stood up, and shouted back, “Stephen, John Adams had to put in all those judges last minute to make sure that daft swines such as yourself didn’t become judges.”


Stephen remained seated and smiled smugly, “Thomas, in doing so, your party showed the country its own foolishness. If Adams didn’t try this stunt, America would still be under the Judiciary Act of l789 and not of 1801. We’d be using a judiciary system put in place by a Federalist and not by Thomas Jefferson. ”
Thomas slammed the table one more time and stomped off. Now it was John in an awkward situation. He was the oldest son of Thomas and all eyes had settled on him. At a loss of what to say or do, he attempted to lighten the mood. “What a great meal we have shared. Thank you for inviting us, now our family must go so that we can catch the steam boat back. Good--”

“John, you need not be like your father in everyway. There is nothing wrong with disagreeing with your father.”

“Aye sir, there isn’t. I am a Republican. I agree with what you said, but I will support my father everywhere except the voting polls. So now, we must leave.”

Stephen sighed, “You’ve got a good head on your shoulders, don’t lose that. Go ahead now.”

John went around to where his mother was seated and helped her out before leaving the dining room. He went through all the motions of leaving, but his head was still taking in all the information he heard during that meal. He had always lived by his father’s political views. And though he questioned them, he had no evidence as to why not to vote Federalist. Now he did. Today he knew that when the polls came around, he would be voting for Andrew Jackson, because he was a Republican





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