James Madison Papers

Bill Granting Congress Limited Power to Regulate Commerce, 5 June 1784

Bill Granting Congress Limited
Power to Regulate Commerce

[5 June 1784]

Whereas the United States in Congress assembled, more effectually to preserve the Commercial Interests thereof, ought to be invested with power for a limitted time, to prohibit the importation and exportation of Goods, Wares & Merchandizes to and from any of the United States in Vessels, not the property of the States, or the Subjects of a power who shall have formed a Commercial Treaty with the same

Be it enacted that the United States in Congress assembled, shall be and they are hereby authorized and empowered to prohibit in any manner they shall think proper, for any term not exceeding fifteen years, the importation & exportation of any Goods, Wares, or Merchandize to or from this State in Vessels belonging to or navigated by the Subjects of any power with whom the United States, shall not have formed Treaties of Commerce, and also for the like term to prohibit the Subjects of any foreign State, Kingdom or Empire, unless authorized by Treaty from importing into this State, Goods, Wares or Merchandize which are not the produce or manufacture of the Dominion of the Sovereign whose Subjects they are. Provided that to all Acts passed by the United States in Congress assembled, in pursuance of the above powers, the assent of nine States shall be necessary.

This act shall commence and be in force so soon as each and every State in the Union shall pass similar Acts, and as soon as the Governor of this Commonwealth shall be notified that each and every State in the Union have passed similar Acts, he shall & he is hereby authorized to issue his proclamation declaring the Act in force.1

Ms (Vi). In Henry Tazewell’s hand. Docketed: “A Bill To invest the united States in Congress assembled with additional powers for a limited time.” The bill was first read on 5 June and passed on 28 June (JHDV description begins Journal of the House of Delegates of the Commonwealth of Virginia; Begun and Held at the Capitol, in the City of Williamsburg. Beginning in 1780, the portion after the semicolon reads, Begun and Held in the Town of Richmond. In the County of Henrico. The journal for each session has its own title page and is individually paginated. The edition used is the one in which the journals for 1777–1786 are brought together in two volumes, with each journal published in Richmond in either 1827 or 1828 and often called the “Thomas W. White reprint.” description ends , May 1784, pp. 37, 81). Though not in JM’s hand he must have introduced the 19 May resolution which called for enactment of this bill (ibid., p. 12).

1For the background of this legislation see the Resolutions to Strengthen Powers of Congress of 19 May 1784. The approved bill was carried to the Senate by Thomas Mathews, a circumstance which renders JM’s authorship tenuous. The act is printed in Hening, Statutes description begins William Waller Hening, ed., The Statutes at Large; Being a Collection of All the Laws of Virginia, from the First Session of the Legislature, in the Year 1619 (13 vols.; Richmond and Philadelphia, 1819–23). description ends , XI, 388–89. Governor Harrison had already expressed skepticism about “divided measures” by individual states (Harrison to John Tyler, 3 May 1784, Executive Letter Book description begins Executive Letter Book, 1783–1786, manuscript in Virginia State Library. description ends , pp. 317–18). His pessimism was warranted, for the matter was never acted upon by Congress after delegate Samuel Hardy presented it to the Committee of the States (JCC description begins Worthington Chauncey Ford et al., eds., Journals of the Continental Congress, 1774–1789 (34 vols.; Washington, 1904–37). description ends , XXVII, 589; Burnett, The Continental Congress, p. 634).

Index Entries