• Join over 1.2 million students every month
  • Accelerate your learning by 29%
  • Unlimited access from just £6.99 per month

The paradox of power in the United States constitution.

Extracts from this document...


Maglaque THE PARADOX OF POWER IN THE UNITED STATES CONSTITUTION The Constitution is a document which, since its instatement in 1787, has been regarded as the highest standard of American legislature. The document is the epitome of sound construction and organization; it is a glowing manifestation of American values and laws, written in the most sophisticated and ordered manner seemingly possible. However, the Constitution has one blatant and glaring fault: the balance of power between the federal government and the states is difficult to distinguish. This paradox contributed to the complexity of several conflicts in the late 1700's and early 1800's, including the Virginia and Kentucky Resolutions, the case of McCulloch v. Maryland, and the Webster-Hayne debate. The issue of nullification, a right which is not defined in the Constitution as belonging to the states' or, conversely, illegal and against the spirit of the federal government, was at the heart of all three events; the paradox in the Constitution was exemplified, therefore, through nullification. The Constitution gives the federal government the primary portion of power in the United States government. The legislative branch has the ability to make laws, which is fundamentally allowing this branch of the federal government to define what makes the United States a fair and just country for its citizens. "The Congress shall have the power...to make all laws which shall be necessary and proper for carrying into execution the [powers listed in the beginning of Section Eight] and all other powers vested by this Constitution in the government of the United States..."1 The amount ...read more.


In Jefferson's view, when the Supreme Court had declared the Alien and Sedition Acts constitutional, those three branches of government failed. It was then the states' duty to take action regarding the unconstitutionality of the Acts. Those in favor of the Alien and Sedition Acts argued that the Constitution gave only the judicial branch the power to determine whether a law was constitutional or not, and that if a law was to be nullified, it could only happen through the powers of the federal government. Because the Resolutions declared nullification of a law that had passed through the federal system, they were unconstitutional. Furthermore, the only body of government that can judge the constitutionality of a law is the Supreme Court - not the states. The Supremacy Clause, written by Luther Martin, put the federal government at a superior level to the state government. James Madison wanted to go so far as to take away all state legislative power; the Supremacy Clause was an attempt at a certain amount of compromise. It was this blurred compromise that eventually led to the added complexity in debates over nullification. "The Supremacy Clause makes the Constitution, federal laws, and treaties the supreme law of the land, elevating them above state constitutions and laws. The clause thus confers on the federal courts the power to enforce the Constitution against the states, giving implicit sanction to the federal courts' power to declare the state laws unconstitutional."8 At its most basic level, the Constitution is the highest legislative document in the United States - therefore rendering all other legislature void if they contradict with the Constitution. ...read more.


"I consider, then, the power to annul a law of the Union, contradicted expressly by the letter of the Constitution, unauthorized by its spirit, inconsistent with every principle on which it was founded, and destructive of the great object for which it was formed...Each state, having expressly parted with so many powers as to constitute, jointly with the other states, a single nation cannot, from that period, possess the right to secede, because such secession does not break a league but destroys a nation..."14 Jackson's fear of the consequences of secession - a destroyed nation - were proved later with the violent culmination of tensions that manifested themselves in the Civil War; these same tensions were the ones being discussed heatedly in the Webster-Hayne debate. The issue of nullification and states' rights were evident in Virginia and Kentucky Resolutions, the case of McCulloch v. Maryland, and the Webster-Hayne debate. The paradox of power within the Constitution only further complicated the issue of nullification in all three events. The ambiguousness in the appropriation of power between the federal government and states gave the parties representing both sides reasonable support from the Constitution in their arguments; no solution could be conceived because the Constitution did not offer a clear direction. That flaw in the Constitution - that it gives power to both the states and the federal government, which is impossible - makes the conflict of the issue of nullification in the Virginia and Kentucky Resolutions, the case of McCulloch v. Maryland, and the Webster-Hayne Debate so complex that it remained truly unsolved until after the conclusion of the Civil War. ...read more.

The above preview is unformatted text

This student written piece of work is one of many that can be found in our AS and A Level United States section.

Found what you're looking for?

  • Start learning 29% faster today
  • 150,000+ documents available
  • Just £6.99 a month

Not the one? Search for your essay title...
  • Join over 1.2 million students every month
  • Accelerate your learning by 29%
  • Unlimited access from just £6.99 per month

See related essaysSee related essays

Related AS and A Level United States essays

  1. To what extend are rights and liberties better protected in theory than in practice ...

    For example, between 1960 and 1995, the percentage of blacks aged 25-29 who graduated from university rose from 5% to 15%.

  2. Do the strengths of the Constitution outweigh the weaknesses?

    The constitution does however, have measures against the gathering of long-term political power. Fixed terms are a good example; no one individual can be in government office for an overextended period of time (Allowing Roosevelt). The same holds true with staggered government elections (Executive, House, Senate etc)

  1. To what extent has the Constitution protected civil liberties in America?

    It was said that "any or all persons maybe excluded" and were locked up without trial and the government temporarily removed their rights in states such as California and Oregon. This was a violation of amendment 5 as there was no "due process cause".

  2. Are gun control laws popular in the United States?

    mate Sarah Palin announced she was a lifetime member of the National Rifle Association and that she regularly used a rifle in the interest of hunting and fishing.

  1. US Constitution Definition of Terms

    Constitution, addresses the duties that states within the United States have to respect the 'public acts, records, and judicial proceedings' of other states. Basically, judicial decisions that are made in one state are recognized and upheld by other states. It also prevents someone from moving from another state to escape enforcement of a judgement.

  2. Assess the view that the US Constitution often ensures limited government

    This ability is written into the constitution in Article 1, Section 7 of the Constitution, and means that the constitution has often ensured limited government, 110 times out 2564 to be exact, which is what the Framers of the constitution intended. The executive also holds two checks on the judiciary.

  1. American Government Term Paper #1. Discuss the theory of Checks and Balances as outlined ...

    In a country that has a lot of violence and crime, possibly we should start questioning these very laws that allow the general public to be as well armed as our police and military forces. If we revisit these out-of-date laws, maybe we can create new laws, laws that address

  2. Politics and Satire. In the United States the First Amendment protects satirists. There ...

    The political cartoon was a way that politicians could defame their rivals. During the presidency of Andrew Jackson, the Whig party published a cartoon depicting President Jackson wearing a crown and cape while holding a scepter. The caption read ?King Andrew.? This depiction helped to give Jackson the reputation of

  • Over 160,000 pieces
    of student written work
  • Annotated by
    experienced teachers
  • Ideas and feedback to
    improve your own work