Madison, Hamilton, and Implied Powers

I just finished reading Alexander Hamilton (2004) by Ron Chernow and it is by far one of the best biographies I have ever read. Chernow is a writer that makes one feel like they have a personal connection to the particular person he is writing about.

What is particular interesting is the fact that even back then, the founding fathers of this country debated on what was constitutional. At least for me it is interesting because we had statesmen and politicians that had direct influence on the development of the Constitution, and yet there were debates on what the Constitution meant and what we can imply from its meaning.

In this video, Chernow talks very vaguely about his book and of Hamilton, which is worth a watch. But I have a little quibble, at 17:42, Chernow contradicts himself in saying, “He [Alexander Hamilton] comes up with the so called theory of implied powers.” Hamilton did no such thing, if anything, he can be seen as a person to use implied powers of the Constitution quite often. It was James Madison to actually develop the theory of implied powers, and Chernow makes this claim in his book, here is Chernow:

Later defined as a ‘strict constructionist’ of the Constitution, Madison set forth the doctrine of implied powers that Hamilton later used to expand the powers of the federal government. It was Madison who wrote in Federalist number 44, ‘No axiom is more clearly established in law or in reason than that wherever the end is required, the means are authorized.’ At this juncture, they could make common cause on the need to fortify the federal government and curb rampant state abuses (Chernow 2004: 252). (my emphasis)

It is important to note Madison’s Jeffersonian interpretation of the Constitution (what would make Madison a strict constructionist of the Constitution) only came after he wrote the Constitution and The Federalist Papers. So while Madison and Hamilton did have a huge feud on what was constitutional later on, it is clear that during the time of the development of the Constitution, the two were similar philosophically (Chernow 2004: 223). It follows that it was Madison that changed his views about what the Constitution implied and Hamilton staying the most consistent of the two on the view of a strong central government. The change in views later on was a personal blow to Hamilton. Once good friends and political allies, now bitter rivals that represented opposing views on just about everything. In other words, Hamilton saw Madison’s opposition as “a perfidious desertion of the principles which [Madison] was solemnly pledged to defend,” (Chernow 2004: 306).

What is funny is that Madison’s own defense of the necessary and proper clause in paper 44 came to bite Madison “in the behind” when he switched to his Jeffersonian stance. Madison, in opposition to a national bank, stated that after reviewing the Constitution, ‘it was not possible to discover in it the power to incorporate a bank.’ Elias Boudinot, a Federalist Congressman, responded by reading the “necessary and proper” clause and how paper 44 of The Federalist Papers defends the clause (remember, Madison wrote that paper), and explicitly stating the ‘No Axiom is more clearly established…” quote (Chernow 2004: 350). One could only imagine that Madison felt embarrassingly defeated by his very own words.


Chernow, Ron. 2004. Alexander Hamilton. New York:The Penguin Press.

Hamilton, Alexander, John Jay, and James Madison. [1787] The Federalist Papers. New York: The Modern Library.