Necessary is Supposed to Mean Necessary

By: Michael Boldin

When the Constitution was ratified, the word necessary meant, well, necessary. 

But in the dystopian “future” we live under today, words don’t mean what they actually mean. They always mean something else – whatever supporters of the monster state can use to keep expanding centralized power.

In just a few short years after ratification, the word necessary started getting a new definition.

Alexander Hamilton, recognizing the opposition to his plans for a national bank were strong, had to suddenly do one of the biggest flip-flops in history and start finding “implied powers” in the document. The natural partner to that was that he had to redefine the word necessary into something else, like “convenient” or “useful.”

Thomas Jefferson, of course, opposed this view:

“The Constitution allows only the means which are “necessary,” not those which are merely “convenient” for effecting the enumerated powers.”

James Madison did as well:

Its meaning must, according to the natural and obvious force of the terms and the context, be limited to means necessary to the end and incident to the nature of the specified powers.

Despite the vehement opposition from fellow Virginians like Jefferson, Madison and Edmund Randolph, Pres. George Washington went with Hamilton and signed the bank bill into law.

That established what John Dickinson in 1767 called the “detestable precedent.” Once the government gets a foot in the door with a new power, people should never expect them to voluntarily give it back.

Instead, as George Mason warned, they’d always seek to expand that power even further:

“Those who have power in their hands will not give it up while they can retain it. On the contrary we know they will always when they can rather increase it.”

That’s why, in his argument against the Bank in 1791, Thomas Jefferson warned, “To take a single step beyond the boundaries thus specially drawn around the powers of Congress, is to take possession of a boundless field of power, no longer susceptible of any definition.”

And we shouldn’t be surprised that Mason, Jefferson – and many others – were right. Instead of a temporary change for a single bank over a specific number of years, the precedent was established that “necessary” no longer meant necessary.

In the 1819 case of McCulloch v Maryland, Chief Justice John Marshall – surprise, surprise – ultimately sided with the Hamiltonian view, writing in his opinion that “If reference be had to its use, in the common affairs of the world, or in approved authors, we find that it frequently imports no more than that one thing is convenient, or useful, or essential to another.”

In some parts of his opinion, he copied Hamilton almost word-for-word.

But, unlike the views of James Madison and Thomas Jefferson, notes Constitutional scholar Randy Barnett – which are almost always completely ignored – “Marshall’s opinion is a central part of every casebook on constitutional law.”

Today, virtually every “expert” on the constitution, every lawyer, every federal judge – they all hold this view as well.

The result hasn’t been good either.

Instead of a government limited to delegated powers, it’s now limited only by what they determine is “convenient.”

And no one should be surprised that this helped build the largest government in history.