Thomas Jefferson Knowledge Institute

Franklin Pierce

Served from 1853 to 1857

Franklin PierceCongress passed a bill to give financial aid to the indigent mentally ill. President Pierce, after examining the bill, vetoed it. Why? "The question presented, therefore, clearly is upon the constitutionality and propriety of the Federal Government assuming to enter into a novel and vast field of legislation, namely, that of providing for the care and support of all those among the people of the United States who by any form of calamity become fit objects of public philanthropy." Such legislation clearly exceeded the limits set by the constitution.

Pierce recounted that the States ratified a constitution containing the amendment "The 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." Therefore care of the poor and the sick was the purview of the states, not the federal government. Pierce's argument against federal extra-constitutional legislation is a long read, carefully constructed, and quite compelling.