• Publius

The United States Constitution Explained: Article I - The Legislature: Part 10 - National Supremacy


After 9 posts about who the legislature Is, what the legislature does, how the legislature is supposed to do what they do, what they can do, what they can’t do, and why they do what they do, we get to wrap up Article I with what the Congress can do that the States cannot. That’s right. Section 10 is all about laying boundary lines so that Congress is the only one who can exert the powers we have discussed thus far.


Section 10 – Clause One


No State shall enter into any Treaty, Alliance, or Confederation; grant Letters of Marque and Reprisal; coin Money; emit Bills of Credit; make any Thing but gold and silver Coin a Tender in Payment of Debts; pass any Bill of Attainder, ex post facto Law, or Law impairing the Obligation of Contracts, or grant any Title of Nobility.

To learn more about what these powers are, you should check out our posts on Article I – Section 8 and Article I – Section 9. Assuming you have read those posts, let's talk about why it is crucial that only the National Government has these powers and not the individual States.


Most of the powers listed in this grouping have to do with governing at a national level. Having States able to print their own money or enter into treaties would allow for competing interests with the National Government. The same goes for the States skirting around the last clause of this section by granting Marque or Reprisal letters in place of having troops.


The rest are things that Congress cannot even do. If the National Government cannot have ex post facto laws and bills of Attainder or grant nobility, then the States should not be able to either for the same reasons.

Section 10 – Clause Two


No State shall, without the Consent of the Congress, lay any Imposts or Duties on Imports or Exports, except what may be absolutely necessary for executing it's inspection Laws: and the net Produce of all Duties and Imposts, laid by any State on Imports or Exports, shall be for the Use of the Treasury of the United States; and all such Laws shall be subject to the Revision and Controul of the Congress.

This clause is actually a protection for the State budgets hidden within a prohibition. This clause effectively allows States to have enough taxation on imports and to fund their inspection laws but maintains that only Congress has the power to lay any taxes on imports and exports that are actually profitable.


For example, this means that if a State has a 1% tax on all goods leaving its ports that brings in $1,000,000 throughout the year, but it only costs $500,000 to inspect the same goods, then the State’s 1% tax would be held to be unconstitutional without Congressional approval. Given that the National Congress approves of the tax, any excess past the inspection costs would be paid into the United States’ Treasury and not to the individual State.


And yes, they actually spelled control that way, and no, I am not sure why.


Section 10 – Clause Three

No State shall, without the Consent of Congress, lay any Duty of Tonnage, keep Troops, or Ships of War in time of Peace, enter into any Agreement or Compact with another State, or with a foreign Power, or engage in War, unless actually invaded, or in such imminent Danger as will not admit of delay.

Finally, for Article I, we have the prohibition of States to have any direct war powers except in self-defense. This means that States cannot have their own standing armies, their own warships, or enter into any international agreements without the explicit consent of Congress.


Also, States are barred from having treaties with each other or with other countries. The part of no treaties or compacts with other States means that you cannot legally form a Confederacy and attempt to secede from the Union. The prohibition against treaties with foreign powers ensures that only the National Government of the United States is doing the negotiating so that it is not unbalanced to the whims of any one State.


The last piece of this clause prohibits the States from starting a war. Let’s say that for some reason, a State asked Congress to allow them to have a standing Army and Warships and Congress agreed. This last clause is to ensure that even when Congress allows them to have troops, they cannot use them or their militias to attack another Country or State unless they are actually invaded. This ensures that the military actions of a single State cannot drag the entire country into war.


- Publius


In our next post, we will finally start on Article II and given all of the controversy around this Article, it should be fun. Please remember to follow us on Instagram and Facebook @marchforthfortheconstitution for other Constitution content and share us with your friends. When we reach 100 followers on our Instagram or Facebook page, we will pick one lucky follower to give away a $25 Amazon gift card!

BIG NEWS ALERT: March Forth will be producing a podcast! Beginning this month, our founder, editor, and lead writer Matt Loft will be hosting The Publius Podcast. The podcast's goal is to go more in-depth than we can in these posts in a way that will hopefully be more engaging and easier for our audience to learn from. Stay tuned to our Instagram and Facebook pages for updates on when and where you can find the podcast!

Join our Email List!