The United States Constitution serves a double purpose. It operates as an instrument to delimit the several spheres of federal and state authority, and to provide for the organization of the Federal Government. In this chapter we shall be concerned with only the first of these two subjects. That quaestio vexata of the original purpose of the Constitution, whether intended to serve as an agreement between sovereign compacting States, or as the fundamental instrument of government of a single sovereign people, it is fortunately no longer necessary to discuss. For the purte of a treatise on the constitutional law of the United States it exists to-day it is sufficient to describe the Constitution as a legal instrument distributing the totality of governmental powers between the federal and state governments, according to the general principle that the powers granted the Federal Government are specified, expressly of by implication, and that the remainder of the possible governmental powers "not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people."1
It will have been noticed that in speaking of the powers possessed by the General Government, the term udelegated " is used, whereas, in speaking of the powers possessed by the States, the word "reserved" is employed. This exhibits the fundamental principle governing the division of powers between the General eminent and the States according to which the former possesses only these powers that are by the Constitution granted to it, whereas the States are entitled to all powers except those expressly or by implication denied to them by the Constitution. Thus the General Government is commonly spoken of as one of enumerated and the State governments as governments of un-enumerated powers.
1 Tenth Amendment. As to certain of the powers granted to the Federal Government, as will presently appear, the fact that they may he exercised by that government does not, until they are so exercised, deprive the States of the authority to exercise them.
This distinction would in all probability have been recognized and adopted by the Supreme Court as a logical corollary from the general character of the Constitution, had there been no express direction in that instrument itself to such effect. Out of superabundant caution, however, the Tenth Amendment was adopted.
The phrase uor to the people" covers these powers which, though constitutionally exercisable by the States, for aught the federal Constitution has to say, are by their own state constitutions denied to their respective governments. Thus the federal and the state constitutions differ in this important respect that the grants of the former operate to endow the General Government with powers that it would not otherwise possess, whereas the provisions of the latter in the main operate to deprive the governments which they create of powers they otherwise would possess.
Except when expressly limited, - as, for instance, where the power which is given to levy taxes is restricted by the provisions that "all duties, imposts, and excises shall be uniform throughout the United States," that "no tax or duty shall be laid on articles exported from any State," and that "no capitation or other direct tax shall be laid, unless in proportion to the census or enumeration hereinbefore directed to be taken," a power granted to Fed eral Government is construed to be absolute in character.