You are on page 1of 1

Jefferson: Federal Criminal Powers Limited

Copyright © 1994 Jon Roland. Permission is granted to publish with attribution .

Thomas Jefferson, in the Draft of the Kentucky would be governing the state as a kind of federal
Resolution, 1798: territory for the duration of the emergency. The only
other exception is a power to discipline military
... the Constitution of the United States, having personnel for acts they might commit, including those
delegated to Congress a power to punish on state territory. However, this power would not
treason, counterfeiting the securities and extend to nonmilitary government officials, who would
current coin of the United States, piracies, and be subject only to federal civil remedies or removal
felonies committed on the high seas, and from office, or criminal prosecution under state law.
offenses against the law of nations, and no Federal "territory" does not include property owned
other crimes whatsoever; and it being true as a in fee simple by the federal government that lies within
general principle, and one of the amendments state territory, nor property on which activities are
to the Constitution having also declared, that otherwise subject to regulation as interstate commerce
"the powers not delegated to the United States or for excise or import taxation, neither of which create
by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the "federal territory" unless the land has been ceded to the
States, are reserved to the States respectively, federal government by the state legislature, nor do the
or to the people," therefore the act of Congress, powers to regulate or tax provide authority for criminal
passed on the 14th day of July, 1798, and penalties (deprivation of life or liberty), only for civil
intituled "An Act in addition to the act intituled penalties (deprivation of property).
An Act for the punishment of certain crimes Apply this standard to most of the statutes passed
against the United States," as also the act during the last 60 years or to the federal agencies and
passed by them on the -- day of June, 1798, regulations established during that period, and it is clear
intituled "An Act to punish frauds committed why constitutionalists see a conspiracy to
on the bank of the United States," (and all their incrementally overthrow the Constitution. The
other acts which assume to create, define, or constitutional guarantees of civil rights won't protect us
punish crimes, other than those so enumerated if the restrictions on governmental powers are not
in the Constitution,) are altogether void, and of strictly enforced. Those who imagine they can support
no force; and that the power to create, define, only the provisions they like and ignore violations of
and punish such other crimes is reserved, and, others are deluding themselves.
of right, appertains solely and exclusively to the Citizens have failed to do their duty to
respective States, each within its own territory. independently determine the constitutionality and
legality of official acts. They have been all too willing
This is the classic Jefferson quote in which he to delegate that duty to courts, superiors, or legal
succinctly states the constitutional limits on the powers advisors. The Principle of Nuremberg is that the duty
of the central government to prosecute persons under to make such a determination cannot be delegated. The
criminal law for acts committed on state territory. He U.S. Constitution was meant to be understood and
does not get into the "general legislative powers" of enforced by every citizen, according to the intent of the
Congress over federal territories, which have been Framers, and not according to the passions of the
reasonably interpreted to allow broad criminal moment. We have seen what happens in other
jurisdiction, but the Constitution clearly states that such countries, like the old Soviet Union, when an otherwise
jurisdiction extends only to territory not the territory of good constitution is not enforced by every citizen. This
any state. One might also argue that the constitutional is especially important when courts become corrupt,
provision that empowers the federal government to and interpret the Constitution in ways that serves not
guarantee to the States a republican form of the people but their would-be masters.
government confers powers of criminal prosecution in
the event that the federal government had to step in Constitution Society, 6900 San Pedro #147-230, San
temporarily to govern a state in which government had Antonio, TX 78216, 210/224-2868
failed to maintain a republican form, in which case it