What does the commerce clause really mean?

Posted on April 24, 2011


The Myth

The commerce clause gives the federal government the power to force us to buy health insurance along with the power to control any type activity that even remotely impacts the buying and selling of any type of goods at any level.

The Truth

The Interstate commerce clause only gives the federal government the power to regulate the large-scale transportation of goods between the states.

The Facts

Before the constitution was ratified the United States operated under the Articles of Confederation. The federal government created by the Articles lacked the power to prevent the states from interfering with the free flow of goods through their borders.

States with good harbors would place a high import duty on goods meant for states lacking good harbors.  Some states would charge ridiculous taxes on goods that were merely passing through their borders.  Because of the interference commerce between the states nearly ground to a halt and open conflicts nearly broke between some of the states.

The framers of the constitution wrote the interstate commerce clause to grant the US Congress alone the power to regulate the transportation of goods between the states.

The framers never intended to grant the federal government the power to manage or regulate the lives of individuals or any groups of people.  Neither this clause nor any other in the Constitution grant the federal government the power to force us to do anything.

The Proof

Article 1 Section 8 Clause 3 gives congress the power to regulate commerce among the Several States.

Among the Several States is an expression commonly used by the framers. By analyzing federalist paper number 42, the debates from the Constitution Convention, and writings of the framers it is evident that it means between the individual states.

Commerce is defined as the large-scale movement of goods involving transportation. By analyzing the same writings listed in the previous paragraph it is clear this was the definition used by the framers.

By analyzing the same sources again  and economic texts such as wealth of Nations by Adam Smith for the meaning of the word regulate it is clear that this word has a specific meaning when used to describe trade. Various taxes such as import and export duties were used to increase or decrease the flow of trade. The lower the taxes the greater the flow of trade. The higher the taxes the lower the flow of trade.

By putting all of these concepts together it is clear the intent of the commerce clause is to grant the federal government alone the power to regulate trade by placing taxes on the goods transported between the states. This is verified by studying those same sources.

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