In my last post I showed how pre-Revolutionary colonial pamphlets espousing the American cause tend to rebut a favorite theory of some “progressive” writers—that the Constitution granted Congress nearly complete power over all activities with interstate effects.
Surprisingly, most delegates to the 1787 constitutional convention initially favored a central government nearly that powerful. They would have subordinated the states to the level of counties in England. Naturally Alexander Hamilton—“Mr. Big Government” among the Founders—took this position. But so did many of the convention’s moderates, such as James Madison and Edmund Randolph.
Under Madison’s and Randolph’s guidance, the Virginia delegation presented an initial draft for a constitution commonly known as the “Virginia Plan.” It called for a national legislature with authority “to legislate in all cases to which the separate States are incompetent, or in which the harmony of the United States may be interrupted by the exercise of individual Legislation.” The Virginia Plan similarly called for national courts that could hear any matter “which may involve the national peace and harmony.”
To be sure, even this language would not have granted the central government as much authority as the “progressives” claim for it today, since not all interstate effects result in state “incompetence” or damage interstate harmony. Nevertheless, it would have resulted in a very powerful central government.
The convention at first agreed, and adopted resolutions approving these parts of the Virginia Plan. As time wore on, however, the delegates thought better of it, and changed their minds. One reason was, no doubt, a recognition that the general public would never approve a strongly “national” constitution.Details