Actually, they were very specific with regard to the powers delegated. But if questions do arise, the rule is to discover our founders intentions by resorting to the debates during which time our Constitution was framed and ratified. Keep in mind these debates give context to the text of our Constitution, and are an essential source in determining what our Constitution means if questions should arise.
Our very own Supreme Court, in Hawaii v. Mankichi, 190 U.S. 197 (1903) emphasizes the importance of legislative intent:
But there is another question underlying this and all other rules for the interpretation of statutes, and that is what was the intention of the legislative body? Without going back to the famous case of the drawing of blood in the streets of Bologna, the books are full of authorities to the effect that the intention of the lawmaking power will prevail even against the letter of the statute; or, as tersely expressed by Mr. Justice Swayne in 90 U.S. 380 :
“A thing may be within the letter of a statute and not within its meaning, and within its meaning, though not within its letter. The intention of the lawmaker is the law.”
In the case of our Constitution, We, the People of the united States, are the lawmaker.
This very rule concerning legislative intent is also stated by Jefferson in the following words:
***“On every question of construction [of the Constitution], carry ourselves back to the time when the Constitution was adopted, recollect the spirit manifested in the debates, and instead of trying what meaning may be squeezed out of the text, or invented against it, conform to the probable one in which it was passed.”***–Thomas Jefferson, letter to William Johnson, June 12, 1823, The Complete Jefferson, p. 322.
And the noteworthy Chancellor James Kent, in his Commentaries on American Law (1858) puts it as follows:
*** "The Constitution is the act of the people, speaking in their original character, and defining the permanent conditions of the social alliance; and there can be no doubt on the point with us, that every act of the legislative power contrary to the true intent and meaning of the Constitution, is absolutely null and void.***
You may also find a recent Supreme Court decision quite interesting in which the SCOTUS references the Federalist Papers 18 times in order to document the intent of our Constitution and enforce it. See:UNITED STATES v. LOPEZ, (1995). Also see: GREGORY v. ASHCROFT, 501 U.S. 452 (1991) and: Nixon v. United States (91-740), 506 U.S. 224 (1993).
Unfortunately, we have law students who are no longer taught the most fundamental rule of constitutional law [enforcing the documented intentions under which our Constitution was adopted]. They are taught case law, and then to apply “precedent” as set by our Supreme Court. But the fact is, our Constitution is the ultimate “precedent” and not supreme court rulings designed to circumvent the very intentions and beliefs under which our Constitution was adopted.
Also note that under the rules of constitutional construction
16 Am Jur 2d Constitutional law
Meaning of Language
Ordinary meaning, generally
***”Words or terms used in a constitution, being dependent on ratification by the people voting upon it, must be understood in the sense most obvious to the common understanding at the time of its adoption…***”__ (my emphasis) The Court is not free to make the words or phrases in our Constitution mean whatever they so desire, but are confined to their original understanding as understood by our founding fathers. This fundamental rule was not followed in the Kelo decision in which Justice Stevens in delivering the opinion in Kelo effectively expanded the meaning of “public use” to allow the taking of private property for purposes other than what our Constitution declares.
But let us now look at a few other authoritative sources:
The whole aim of construction, as applied to a provision of the Constitution, is to discover the meaning, to ascertain and give effect to the intent of its framers and the people who adopted it.***_____HOME BLDG. & LOAN ASS’N v. BLAISDELL, 290 U.S. 398 (1934)
***“A constitutional provision is to be construed, as statutes are, to the end that the intent of those drafting and voting for it be realized."***(Mack v Heuck (App) 14 Ohio L Abs 237)
***“No part of the constitution should be so construed as to defeat its purpose or the intent of the people in adopting it.”***Pfingst v State (3d Dept) 57 App Div 2d 163 .
"Where language used in a constitution is capable of two constructions, it must be so construed as to carry into effect the purpose of the constitutional convention.” Ratliff v Beal, 74 Miss.247,20 So 865 .
***"In construing federal constitutional provisions, the United States Supreme Court has regularly looked for the purpose the framers sought to accomplish.”***Everson v Board of Education, 330 US 1, 91 L Ed 711,67 S Ct 504, 168 ALR 1392.
"The primary principle underlying an interpretation of constitutions is that the intent is the vital part and the essence of the law." Rasmussen v Baker, 7 Wyo 117, 50 P 819.
I could provide countless other quotes to establish the fact that enforcing the documented intentions and beliefs under which our Constitution was adopted is one of the courts primary functions, but heck, our very own Congress is aware it is required to be obedient to the intentions and beliefs under which our Constitution was adopted although they ignore it today:
***“In construing the Constitution we are compelled to give it such interpretation as will secure the result intended to be accomplished by those who framed it and the people who adopted it…A construction which would give the phrase…a meaning differing from the sense in which it was understood and employed by the people when they adopted the Constitution, would be as unconstitutional as a departure from the plain and express language of the Constitution.”***_____ Senate Report No. 21, 42nd Cong. 2d Session 2 (1872), reprinted in Alfred Avins, The Reconstruction Amendments’ Debates 571 (1967),
***Those who reject abiding by the intentions and beliefs under which our Constitution was agree to, as those intentions and beliefs may be documented from historical records, wish to remove the anchor and rudder of our constitutional system so they may then be free to “interpret” the Constitution to mean whatever they wish it to mean. ***