Alexander Hamilton: Portrait in Paradox

By John C. Miller | Go to book overview
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20.
The Effort to Transform
the American Economy

In view of the constitutional objections that had been raised against the of the United States, Hamilton could hardly suppose that his Report on Manufactures would enjoy clear sailing through Congress. "Unconstitutionality" vied with "liberty" as the popular rallying cry of the Madisonians. To them, exclaimed a disgusted Federalist, "everything is unconstitutional. I scarce know a point which has not produced this cry, not excepting a motion for adjourning." Thus forewarned, Hamilton included in his Report on Manufactures a full constitutional justification of the course of action he recommended; it could not again be said that he had failed to anticipate the counterattack of his adversaries. 1

To uphold the constitutionality of government aid to manufactures, Hamilton was obliged to take greater liberties with the letter of the Constitution than he had in the case of the Bank of the United States. In that instance, it had then been sufficient for his purposes to demonstrate that the creation of a corporation was necessary to carry out an enumerated power. But in the Report on Manufactures, he was obliged to base his argument upon something far less tangible--the general-welfare clause of the Constitution.*

The phrase "the common Defence and general Welfare" occurs in the Constitution in a context which has given rise to irreconcilable interpretations of the powers it conveys to the federal government. Because it is inserted at the beginning of a clause which enumerates specific powers possessed by Congress, there were at least three different ways in which this clause could be construed: as a separate grant of substantive power to the federal government to provide for the general welfare; as a clause which

____________________
*
By virtue of the close connection between production and commerce, Hamilton also contended that the inspection of manufactures by agencies of the government was sanctioned by the commerce clause.

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