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Government, Legislature

legislative powers, James Monroe, powers of Congress, interstate commerce, legislative branch

Congress is the legislative branch of the government of the United States. The Constitution divides Congress into two structures—a House of Representatives and a Senate. These structures are jointly assigned “all legislative powers” in the national government.

The Founders expected Congress to be the dominant branch of the national government. In the early 1800s, James Monroe, the fifth U.S. president, said, “The whole system of national government may be said to rest essentially in powers granted to [the legislative] branch.” In fact, Congress was the center of government until the power of the presidency began to increase in the 20th century. However, from the start the Founders also felt that it was important to retain some control over the powers of Congress. As a result, the Constitution specifically enumerates ten things, some no longer relevant, that Congress may not do. Among other prohibitions, Congress cannot imprison people without due process of law, except in emergencies; Congress cannot pass laws that retroactively make a crime of what was legal when committed; and Congress cannot tax interstate commerce. In addition, the Bill of Rights forbids Congress from abridging rights held by individuals.

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