"The essence of Government is power; and power lodged as it must be, in human hands, will ever be liable to abuse."
- James Madison, in his Speech to the Virginia Convention on December 2, 1829
United States Capitol, the building where the Congress meets
The elections for the president have always gotten more attention than any other in this country, and it is well and good that they do so - the president has an enormous amount of power that needs to be watched, no matter who's president; and I do not wish to downplay the importance of this when I comment on American elections here.
The White House
Of equal importance, though, is what happens with the Congressional elections; because the legislature has a great deal of power entrusted to it as well; and it is well that we pay it some attention if we want to influence what happens in Washington.
In that spirit of clarifying what our Constitution says about Congressional power here, I thought I'd quote from the most relevant section to our current topic, to give you a sense of how important the Congressional elections really are to us in this country.
Constitution of the United States
In Article 1, Section 8 of the Constitution (which has 18 paragraphs in it - the reasons I referenced earlier); it says that:
"The Congress shall have the power:
1. To lay and collect taxes, duties, imposts, and excises, to pay the debts and provide for the common defence and general welfare of the United States; but all duties, imposts, and excises shall be uniform throughout the United States:
Headquarters of the Internal Revenue Service, or "IRS"
2. To borrow money on the credit of the United States:
3. To regulate commerce with foreign nations, and among the several states, and with the Indian tribes:
4. To establish an uniform rule of naturalization, and uniform laws on the subject of bankruptcies throughout the United States:
Immigrants arriving at Ellis Island, 1902
5. To coin money, regulate the value thereof, and of foreign coin, and fix the standard of weights and measures:
6. To provide for the punishment of counterfeiting the securities and current coin of the United States:
7. To establish post-offices and post-roads:
Expansion of the Interstate Highway System (1972)
8. To promote the progress of science and useful arts, by securing for limited times to authors and inventors the exclusive right to their respective writings and discoveries:
Headquarters of the U. S. Patent and Trademark Office
9. To constitute tribunals inferior to the supreme court:
United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit (California),
one of the most influential appeals courts
one of the most influential appeals courts
10. To define and punish piracies and felonies committed on the high seas, and offences against the law of nations:
USS Philadelphia burning after a confrontation with the Barbary Pirates -
11. To declare war, grant letters of marque and reprisal, and make rules concerning captures on land and water:
FDR asks Congress to declare war after Pearl Harbor (1941)
12. To raise and support armies, but no appropriation of money to that use shall be for a longer term than two years:
American troops approaching Omaha Beach on D-Day - Normandy, France (1944)
13. To provide and maintain a navy:
Aircraft carrier USS Yorktown at Pearl Harbor, just days before it saw action at the Battle of Midway (1942)
14. To make rules for the government and regulation of the land and naval forces:
The Pentagon, headquarters of the Department of Defense
15. To provide for calling forth the militia to execute the laws of the union, suppress insurrections and repel invasions:
George Washington (then-President of the United States) reviews the troops
before they go to suppress the "Whiskey Rebellion" - circa 1791-1794
16. To provide for organizing, arming and disciplining the militia, and for governing such part of them as may be employed in the service of the United States, reserving to the states respectively, the appointment of the officers, and the authority of training the militia according to the discipline prescribed by Congress:
National Guard troops patrolling Los Angeles, after the Rodney King riots of 1992
17. To exercise exclusive legislation in all cases whatsoever, over such district (not exceeding ten miles square) as may, by cession of particular states, and the acceptance of Congress, become the seat of the government of the United States, and to exercise like authority over all places purchased by the consent of the legislature in which the same shall be, for the erection of forts, magazines, arsenals, dock-yards, and other needful buildings: And,
Washington, D. C. (Lincoln Memorial)
18. To make all laws which shall be necessary and proper for carrying into execution the foregoing powers, and all other powers vested by this constitution in the government of the United States, or in any department or officer thereof."
(Source: Article 1, Section 8 of the Constitution)
United States Capitol
That's a lot of reasons to vote in the Congressional elections! Congress has a lot of power under the Constitution, you see, as these previous quotes make clear; and we don't want that power to end up in the wrong hands ...
Capitol Dome at night
Thus, if you want to influence what happens in Washington, you might consider voting in the midterm elections as well as the presidential elections. (Here's a page about how you can do so, if it's at all helpful to you.)
Footnote to this blog post:
Thomas Jefferson once said that "One hundred and seventy-three despots would surely be as oppressive as one." (Source: "Notes on the State of Virginia," as quoted by James Madison in Federalist No. 48)
If you liked this post, you might also like:
So what are the "midterm elections," anyway?
The legislative branch: Two houses of Congress limited by a presidential veto
United States Census can influence a state's votes in Congress
Part of a series about
The Constitution itself, and the story behind it
Convention at Philadelphia: The writing of the Constitution (1787)
Preamble: The Constitution's mission statement, with some thoughts about separation of powers
States' rights: The conflict between the "several states" and the federal government
The Congress: Its power to make laws, and the president's power to veto them (in some cases)
Powers of Congress: A few reasons why the Congressional elections are so important
Frequency of elections: So how long do all of these people serve, anyway?
Representation: So who decides how many votes each state gets?
Slavery: The complicated legacy of the "Three-Fifths Clause"
The presidency: Powers of the executive, and their being subject to impeachment
Threats of impeachment: The power of Congress to keep presidents in line
The courts: "Good behaviour," some important judicial powers, and how they're appointed
Miscellaneous: Amendment process, "supreme law of the land," and some closing remarks
Debates over the Constitution, then and since
Debates over ratification: Whether to adopt the Constitution in the first place
The "Federalist Papers": Frequently asked questions about them, and why they're important
Debates over checks & balances: Do they actually conflict with separation of powers?
The Bill of Rights: Important in the debates over ratification (adopted 1791)
The First Amendment: Freedom of speech, freedom of the press, and peaceable assemblies
Congressional pay: The amendment that never made it into the Bill of Rights
Abolishing slavery: The things that led up to the famous antislavery amendment
The Constitution today: Some thoughts about civics education
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