Patrick Henry Article 4 Section 4 June 14, 1788

Mr. Henry still retained his opinion, that the states had no right to call forth the militia to suppress insurrections, &c. But the right interpretation (and such as the nations of the earth had put upon the concession of power) was that, when power was given, it was given exclusively. He appealed to the committee, if power was not confined in the hands of a few in almost all countries of the world. He referred to their candor, if the construction of conceded power was not an exclusive concession, in nineteen twentieth parts of the world. The nations which retained their liberty were comparatively few. America would add to the number of the oppressed nations, if she depended on constructive rights and argumentative implication. That the powers given to Congress were exclusively given, was very obvious to him. The rights which the states had must be founded on the restrictions on Congress. He asked, if the doctrine which had been so often circulated, that rights not given were retained, was true, why there were negative clauses to restrain Congress. He told gentlemen that these clauses were sufficient to shake all their implication; for, says he, if Congress had no power but that given to them, why restrict them by negative words? Is not the clear implication this–that, if these restrictions were not inserted, they could have performed what they prohibit?

The worthy member had said that Congress ought to have power to protect all, and had given this system the highest encomium. But he insisted that the power over the militia was concurrent. To obviate the futility of this doctrine, Mr. Henry alleged that it was not reducible to practice. Examine it, says he; reduce it to practice. Suppose an insurrection in Virginia, and suppose there be danger apprehended of an insurrection in another state, from the exercise of the government; or suppose a national war; and there be discontents among the people of this state, that produce, or threaten, an insurrection; suppose Congress, in either case, demands a number of militia,–will they not be obliged to go? Where are your reserved rights, when your militia go to a neighboring state? Which call is to be obeyed, the congressional call, or the call of the state legislature? The call of Congress must be obeyed. I need not remind this committee that the sweeping clause will cause their demands to be submitted to. This clause enables them “to make all laws which shall be necessary and proper to carry into execution all the powers vested by this Constitution in the government of the United States, or in any department or officer thereof.” Mr. Chairman, I will turn to another clause, which relates to the same subject, and tends to show the fallacy of their argument.

The 10th section of the 1st article, to which reference was made by the worthy member, militates against himself. It says, that “no state shall engage in war, unless actually invaded.” If you give this clause a fair construction, what is the true meaning of it? What does this relate to? Not domestic insurrections, but war. If the country be invaded, a state may go to war, but cannot suppress insurrections. If there should happen an insurrection of slaves, the country cannot be said to be invaded. They cannot, therefore, suppress it without the interposition of Congress. The 4th section of the 4th article expressly directs that, in case of domestic violence, Congress shall protect the states on application of the legislature or executive; and the 8th section of the 1st article gives Congress power to call forth the militia to quell insurrections: there cannot, therefore, be a concurrent power. The state legislatures ought to have power to call forth the efforts of the militia, when necessary. Occasions for calling them out may be urgent, pressing, and instantaneous. The states cannot now call them, let an insurrection be ever so perilous, without an application to Congress. So long a delay may be fatal.

There are three clauses which prove, beyond the possibility of doubt, that Congress, and Congress only, can call forth the militia. The clause giving Congress power to call them out to suppress insurrections, &c.; that which restrains a state from engaging in war except when actually invaded; and that which requires Congress to protect the states against domestic violence,–render it impossible that a state can have power to intermeddle with them. Will not Congress find refuge for their actions in these clauses? With respect to the concurrent jurisdiction, it is a political monster of absurdity. We have passed that clause which gives Congress an unlimited authority over the national wealth; and here is an unbounded control over the national strength. Notwithstanding this clear, unequivocal relinquishment of the power of controlling the militia, you say the states retain it, for the very purposes given to Congress. Is it fair to say that you give the power of arming the militia, and at the same time to say you reserve it? This great national government ought not to be left in this condition. If it be, it will terminate in the destruction of our liberties.


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