Philadelphia –

As September began, the Convention had made remarkable progress toward drafting a new Constitution, but many questions had been left for later. The delegates agreed “to refer such parts of the Constitution as have been postponed, and such parts of Reports as have not been acted on, to a Committee of a member from each State….” The “Brearly Committee,” chaired by David Brearly of New Jersey, reported back its suggestions for how to address difficult issues related to the powers of Congress and the shape of the Executive branch.

One issue that touched on the relationships of the states to one another and to the national Legislature was the full faith and credit clause. The Articles of Confederation had such a clause, though it applied very narrowly to state courts: “Full faith and credit shall be given in each of these States to the records, acts, and judicial proceedings of the courts and magistrates of every other State.” The Brearly Committee report recommended expanding the scope of this full faith and credit to legislative as well as judicial proceedings, and granting the national Legislature a new power to enforce compliance. Delegates settled on the language we now read in Article IV, Section 1: “Full Faith and Credit shall be given in each State to the public Acts, Records, and judicial Proceedings of every other State. And the Congress may by general Laws prescribe the Manner in which such Acts, Records and Proceedings shall be proved, and the Effect thereof.”

The Brearly Committee also made recommendations regarding the powers of Congress over commerce and finance. Congress, it was agreed, could “lay and collect taxes duties imposts & excises, to pay the debts and provide for the common defence & general welfare, of the U. S.” Congress would also be given the power of regulating relations with Indian tribes, of making laws to govern federal lands, and of granting patents to protect the rights of inventors and authors of property in their ideas.

Finally, delegates had already agreed to give Congress – as opposed to the Executive – power to “declare war”. The Brearly Committee’s report led to the granting of two new powers to Congress that minimized the Executive power over war.  First, Congress, and not the Executive, was empowered to grant letters of marque and reprisal, which effectively deputized private vessels to capture vessels suspected of piracy and bring them for trial. Second, Congress was empowered “to raise and support armies” but it was stipulated that “no appropriation of money to that use shall be for a longer term than two years.” These powers, among others, reflected a general wariness among the Convention’s delegates of granting too much power to the Executive branch. This wariness is also apparent in the Convention’s inability to settle on the Chief Executive’s powers, mode of election, and term of office, until very late in the Convention. That debate will be the subject of our next post.

Posted in Countdown to the Constitution


One Response to “Countdown to the Constitution – Brearly Committee – Powers of Congress”

  1. [...] that discusses the executive’s election, term, powers, and removal in a holistic way. Thus the Brearly Committee is tasked with such a conversation. The result – Article II of the Constitution. Read on for some [...]

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