Tuesday, March 14, 2017

The Bonus Bill Veto and the Southern Tradition


On March 3, 1817, President James Madison vetoed the Bonus Bill of 1817 – a plan that called for the federal construction of various roads, bridges, and canals throughout the country. In a letter to Congress, the president explained his rationale. Out of all historical writings on constitutional interpretation, I believe it stands today as one of the most important.

Madison’s reasoning was simple – although he personally favored the idea of infrastructure construction, writing that he was “not unaware of the great importance” of such things, he denied the policy’s constitutionality on a federal level. Instead of upholding his own personal proclivities and allowing the Constitution to be undermined, he maintained that the Constitution was one of specific enumerated powers, and the document contained no expressed power for the federal government to do such a thing. “The legislative powers vested in Congress are specified and enumerated in the eighth section of the first article of the Constitution,” he said, “and it does not appear that the power proposed to be exercised by the bill is among the enumerated powers.”


  1. That my great-great-grandfather, born in 1805 on a red dirt farm in Burke County, NC was given the name by his parents "James Madison Smith," is still a most stunning and proud fact of my life. I thank you, Brock, and Abbeville Institute for educating me on my heritage.

    Were I not dependent on Caregivers and wheel-chairs I would surely attend PATCON and Abbeville's events. Carry on.

    1. I'll pick you up on the way back to The Land of the Long Leaf Pine in May!