Put simply, the U. S. Government has very limited powers. Originally the U. S. Constitution allowed the government broad powers due to ambiguity - "to pay the Debts and provide for the common Defence and general Welfare of the United States". To provide for the general welfare of the United States allows the government to pass any legislation it wants.
On Dec 15, 1791, the Bill of Rights was ratified, limiting the Federal Government's powers:
"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." Amendment 10 - ratified December 15, 1791
After ratification of the Bill Of Rights the Federal Government has only those powers specifically delegated to it, which are enumerated in Article 1, Section 8. Limits to Federal power(the privilege of the Writ of Habeas Corpus, no Bill of Attainder, etc) are specified in Article 1, Section 9.
These powers, along with the amendments to the Constitution, are the only powers the U. S. Government has. Everything else is reserved for the states or the people according to Amendment 10 in the Bill of Rights.
- Article 1, Section 8
- Clause 1: The Congress shall have Power To lay and collect Taxes, Duties, Imposts and Excises, to pay the Debts and provide for the common Defence and general Welfare of the United States; but all Duties, Imposts and Excises shall be uniform throughout the United States;
- Clause 2: To borrow Money on the credit of the United States;
- Clause 3: To regulate Commerce with foreign Nations, and among the several States, and with the Indian Tribes;
- Clause 4: To establish an uniform Rule of Naturalization, and uniform Laws on the subject of Bankruptcies throughout the United States;
- Clause 5: To coin Money, regulate the Value thereof, and of foreign Coin, and fix the Standard of Weights and Measures;
- Clause 6: To provide for the Punishment of counterfeiting the Securities and current Coin of the United States;
- Clause 7: To establish Post Offices and post Roads;
- Clause 8: To promote the Progress of Science and useful Arts, by securing for limited Times to Authors and Inventors the exclusive Right to their respective Writings and Discoveries;
- Clause 9: To constitute Tribunals inferior to the supreme Court;
- Clause 10: To define and punish Piracies and Felonies committed on the high Seas, and Offences against the Law of Nations
- Clause 11: To declare War, grant Letters of Marque and Reprisal, and make Rules concerning Captures on Land and Water; - Letters of Marque and Reprisal - Government authorization to attack and capture enemy vessels(wartime enemies, pirates) and bring them before the courts.
- Clause 12: To raise and support Armies, but no Appropriation of Money to that Use shall be for a longer Term than two Years;
- Clause 13: To provide and maintain a Navy;
- Clause 14: To make Rules for the Government and Regulation of the land and naval Forces;
- Clause 15: To provide for calling forth the Militia to execute the Laws of the Union, suppress Insurrections and repel Invasions;
- Clause 16: To provide for organizing, arming, and disciplining, the Militia, and for governing such Part of them as may be employed in the Service of the United States, reserving to the States respectively, the Appointment of the Officers, and the Authority of training the Militia according to the discipline prescribed by Congress;
- Clause 17: To exercise exclusive Legislation in all Cases whatsoever, over such District (not exceeding ten Miles square) as may, by Cession of particular States, and the Acceptance of Congress, become the Seat of the Government of the United States, and to exercise like Authority over all Places purchased by the Consent of the Legislature of the State in which the Same shall be, for the Erection of Forts, Magazines, Arsenals, dock-Yards, and other needful Buildings;--And
- Clause 18: To make all Laws which shall be necessary and proper for carrying into Execution the foregoing Powers, and all other Powers vested by this Constitution in the Government of the United States, or in any Department or Officer thereof.
These are limits to the U S Government.
- Article 1, Section 9
- Clause 1: The Migration or Importation of such Persons as any of the States now existing shall think proper to admit, shall not be prohibited by the Congress prior to the Year one thousand eight hundred and eight, but a Tax or duty may be imposed on such Importation, not exceeding ten dollars for each Person.
- Clause 2: The Privilege of the Writ of Habeas Corpus shall not be suspended, unless when in Cases of Rebellion or Invasion the public Safety may require it. - Writ of Habeas Corpus - A person is brought before the court to determine if he is being legally detained.
- Clause 3: No Bill of Attainder or ex post facto Law shall be passed. - Bill Of Attainder - Punishment for a crime without a trial. Ex Post Facto Law - Apply a law retroactively(The act was legal when performed in the past, but a person is charged for the past act once it has become illegal)
- Clause 4: No Capitation, or other direct, Tax shall be laid, unless in Proportion to the Census or Enumeration herein before directed to be taken. - Capitation Tax - A tax on a person simply for existing (versus a tax on commerce, property, etc.)
- Clause 5: No Tax or Duty shall be laid on Articles exported from any State.
- Clause 6: No Preference shall be given by any Regulation of Commerce or Revenue to the Ports of one State over those of another: nor shall Vessels bound to, or from, one State, be obliged to enter, clear, or pay Duties in another.
- Clause 7: No Money shall be drawn from the Treasury, but in Consequence of Appropriations made by Law; and a regular Statement and Account of the Receipts and Expenditures of all public Money shall be published from time to time.
- Clause 8: No Title of Nobility shall be granted by the United States: And no Person holding any Office of Profit or Trust under them, shall, without the Consent of the Congress, accept of any present, Emolument, Office, or Title, of any kind whatever, from any King, Prince, or foreign State.