Friday, January 23, 2009

"It is a fraudulent term"

In 1854, Georgia Senator Robert Toombs was complaining about ever-increasing demands for funds for internal improvement projects from northern legislators, who claimed that every pier, harbor and sandbar was “national” and thus eligible for federal support. To demonstrate the bankruptcy of their position, Tombs framed a hypothetical:
They said it was to be exercised for “national purposes,” but we know practically that that is no limitation at all. You find that here anything is national so that you get strength enough to pass the bill None are national, or all are national, under the same signification.

To build a road from my cotton gin house to the river, on one principle, is national, because it will help me to get my cotton to market, and make me a richer man, and as I am part of the community, it will benefit the whole nation. It is upon that logic that these appropriations are national.

“It is,” Toombs concluded, “a fraudulent term used to deceive, having no definite meaning . . ..”

Fewer than 90 years later, the Supreme Court proved Senator Toombs right, holding that Congress had the power to bar an Ohio farmer from harvesting an extra acre of wheat, even for use on his own farm to feed his poultry and livestock:
It is well established by decisions of this Court that the power to regulate commerce includes the power to regulate the prices at which commodities in that commerce are dealt in and practices affecting such prices. One of the primary purposes of the Act in question was to increase the market price of wheat, and, to that end, to limit the volume thereof that could affect the market. It can hardly be denied that a factor of such volume and variability as home-consumed wheat would have a substantial influence on price and market conditions. This may arise because being in marketable condition such wheat overhangs the market, and, if induced by rising prices, tends to flow into the market and check price increases. But if we assume that it is never marketed, it supplies a need of the man who grew it which would otherwise be reflected by purchases in the open market. Home-grown wheat in this sense competes with wheat in commerce. The stimulation of commerce is a use of the regulatory function quite as definitely as prohibitions or restrictions thereon. This record leaves us in no doubt that Congress may properly have considered that wheat consumed on the farm where grown, if wholly outside the scheme of regulation, would have a substantial effect in defeating and obstructing its purpose to stimulate trade therein at increased prices.

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