According to Merriam-Webster, the word "enumerate_" means "to ascertain the number of" or "to count or list." An example of using enumerate in a sentence would be, “Let me enumerate the many reasons why it’s a bad idea.” The word had its first known use in the English language around 1616 and is rooted in Latin. Today’s version of the word stems from the Latin word enumeratus_, which is the past participle of enumerare. Additionally, it is rooted in the word numerare, meaning "_to count," which is derived from _numerus, meaning "number."

While the word itself may not be widely used in everyday language, it is used often and very specifically within the powers of the federal government. The powers and limitations of the federal government are expressly listed within the Constitution, and because they are actually listed, they are called the "enumerated powers." This list is also sometimes called "expressed powers" or "delegated powers." Although the names may be interchangeable, they all refer to an explicit set of powers attributed to Congress and outlined by the Constitution.

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The enumerated powers are located in Article 1, Section 8 of the United States Constitution. This section of the Constitution expressly lists the specific powers granted to the U.S. Congress. They are called "enumerated" because the powers are written in a numbered list.

Enumerated Powers and the Constitution

The founders of the country very accurately recognized the importance of limiting the powers of the federal government. The framers of the Constitution were wise enough to understand that the government should have power to run the government effectively but that there should be some limits as to how far these powers could reach. The framers wanted to ensure the personal freedoms of individual citizens and the freedoms on which the country was founded while also giving the government enough power to ensure a well-functioning society.

Specifically, the U.S. Constitution established the three branches of government. The legislative branch makes the laws and includes the Senate and House of Representatives. The executive branch carries out the laws and is comprised of the president, vice president, the cabinet and federal agencies. Lastly, the judicial branch evaluates the laws and is comprised of the Supreme Court and other state- and federal-level courts.

The U.S. Constitution established the laws of the federal government, which are fundamental laws that govern the nation and the basic human rights for the citizens of the country. It was signed on September 17, 1787 by the delegates of the Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia. Article 1 of the Constitution focuses on the legislative branch of the government. Specifically, Section 8 of Article 1 of the U.S. Constitution lists the specific powers granted to Congress.

The U.S. Congress is the lawmaking branch of the government. The total legislature of the government is made up of two houses, also known as a bicameral legislature. This is comprised of the House of Representatives and the Senate. A law cannot be passed unless it is approved by a majority in both houses. This system ensures a balance of power and representation of the people of the country.

Having too much power can be a bad thing, and the authors of the Constitution were aware of this. It was important for the framers of the Constitution to include a way to limit the powers of the federal government. Essentially, the U.S. Constitution expressly lists the things that Congress cannot do. For example, Congress cannot limit a person’s right to free speech, and they cannot dictate how, when or where citizens choose to worship. However, the government does have authority over some issues, such as the production of money, trade and interactions with other governments.

What Are the Enumerated Powers?

The framers of the Constitution felt that the legislative branch of the government would be the most powerful branch of government. Since the legislative branch creates the laws for the entire country, it is reasonable to see why they wanted to ensure some limits to this branch of government. To help maintain a balance of power and to clearly illustrate what the government can and cannot do, the Constitution clearly lists the exact powers of Congress. These are listed in Article 1, Section 8 of the Constitution.

Specifically, the enumerated powers state that Congress has limited powers in a variety of areas. First, the enumerated powers state that Congress has specific powers related to money. For example, Congress has the power to lay and collect taxes, duties, imposts and excises and to pay the debts and provide for the common defense and general welfare of the U.S., but all duties, imposts and excises shall be uniform throughout the U.S.

Congress may borrow money on the credit of the U.S.; regulate commerce with foreign nations, among states and with the Indian tribes; establish a uniform rule of naturalization and uniform laws on the subject of bankruptcies throughout the U.S.; coin money, regulate the value thereof and of foreign coin and fix the standard of weights and measures; and provide for the punishment of counterfeiting the securities and current coin of the U.S.

Additionally, Congress has specific powers when it comes to the military and war. For example, it is expressly written that Congress has the power to: raise and support armies, but no appropriation of money to that use shall be for a longer term than two years; provide and maintain a navy; make rules for the government and regulation of the land and naval forces; provide for calling forth the militia to execute the laws of the union, suppress insurrections and repel invasions; provide for organizing, arming and disciplining the militia and for governing such part of them as may be employed in the service of the U.S., reserving to the states respectively, the appointment of the officers and the authority of training the militia according to the discipline prescribed by Congress.

Lastly, Congress has authority over general creation and adoption of new laws and state representation within the government. Specifically, Congress has the power to: exercise exclusive legislation in all cases whatsoever, over such district (not exceeding 10 miles square) as may, by cession of particular states and the acceptance of Congress, become the seat of the government of the U.S., 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; make all laws which shall be necessary and proper for carrying into execution the foregoing powers; and all other powers vested by the Constitution in the government of the U.S. or in any department or office thereof.

Additional Related Powers

While the enumerated powers are explicitly written out and describe exactly what Congress can do, it is important to understand the implied powers of Congress. Implied powers are exactly that: powers that are not expressly described. Instead, they are implied as a result of the implementation and exercise of the enumerated powers. An example of implied powers would be the establishment and oversight of banking institutions. The development of banks is not listed as an enumerated power, but taxation and oversight of commerce is. Therefore, development and oversight of banking would be an implied power of Congress.

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About the Author

Melanie Forstall has a doctorate in education and has worked in the field of education for over 20 years. She has been a teacher, grant writer, program director, and higher education instructor. She is a freelance writer specializing in education, and education related content. She writes for We Are Teachers, School Leaders Now, Classroom, Pocket Sense, local parenting magazines, and other professional academic outlets. Additionally, she has co-authored book chapters specializing in providing services for students with disabilities.