The so-called “supremacy clause” of the Constitution, found in Article 6, states, “This Constitution, and the Laws of the United States which shall be made in Pursuance thereof; and all Treaties made, or which shall be made, under the Authority of the United States, shall be the supreme Law of the Land; and the Judges in every State shall be bound thereby, any Thing in the Constitution or Laws of any State to the Contrary notwithstanding [emphasis added].”
The key, of course, is the italicized phrase. All laws made in pursuance of the Constitution, or those clearly enumerated in the document, were supreme, State laws notwithstanding. In other words, the federal government was supreme in all items clearly listed in the document.
By the time the Constitution was debated in the several State ratifying conventions in 1787 and 1788, the “supremacy clause” galvanized opponents of the document. The Constitution, they said, would destroy the States and render them impotent in their internal affairs. The response from proponents of ratification illuminates the true intent of the clause. William Davie, a delegate to the Constitutional Convention from North Carolina and proponent of the Constitution, responded to attacks levied on the “supremacy clause” by stating that:
This Constitution, as to the powers therein granted, is constantly to be the supreme law of the land. Every power ceded by it must be executed without being counteracted by the laws or constitutions of the individual states. Gentlemen should distinguish that it is not the supreme law in the exercise of power not granted. It can be supreme only in cases consistent with the powers specially granted, and not in usurpations [emphasis added].
Davie wasn’t alone in this opinion. Future Supreme Court justice James Iredell of North Carolina argued that, “This clause [the supremacy clause] is supposed to give too much power, when, in fact, it only provides for the execution of those powers which are already given in the foregoing articles.If Congress, under pretence of executing one power, should, in fact, usurp another, they will violate the Constitution [emphasis added].”
Furthermore, in a foreshadowing of nullification, Iredell argued that, “It appears to me merely a general clause, the amount of which is that, when they [Congress] pass an act, if it be in the execution of a power given by the Constitution, it shall be binding on the people, otherwise not [emphasis added]. Other ratifying conventions had similar debates, and proponents of the Constitution continually reassured wavering supporters that the Constitution would only be supreme within its delegated authority.
I like that there are several quotes in Brion’s article from some of North Carolina’s founders, men that were there when the Constitution was debated and they knew what the Constitution said and what was intended. When I compare what they said to what our present day sate “leaders” say about the “supremacy clause”, federal powers and state sovereignty I understand the fears of those that knew how some would twist them to promote their national BIG government hopes and dreams.
These present day BIG government state “leaders” are not stupid men or women, they did not get where they are by being stupid, however, they do not believe in the rule of law, they believe in the rule of man – and THEY are that man.
“There are men in all ages who mean to govern well, but they mean to govern. They promise to be good masters, but they mean to be masters.” — Daniel Webster
Join us in October to learn how We the People can use Nullification to push back against these want to be rulers.