During the ratification debates, supporters of the Constitution insisted that the new general government would only exercise the powers explicitly enumerated in the document. But less than three years after ratification, Alexander Hamilton did a complete 180, suddenly discovered “implied powers” and wrecked the Constitution.
During the Philadelphia Convention, many framers favored a strong national government. In fact, James Madison even proposed a federal veto on state laws. But as the convention wore on, delegates voted down proposals to create a centralized “national” government one by one – including Madison’s federal veto. The Constitution that emerged from the Convention created a general government with a few, defined, enumerated powers.
Opponents of the Constitution warned that the proposed “federal” government would quickly grow in power and scope. But, supporters of the Constitution, including Hamilton, swore this wouldn’t happen. They “sold” the Constitution to a relatively skeptical public by promising that the general government would not be able to go beyond the specific powers laid out in the document.
James Madison gave perhaps the most succinct and clear explanation of the limited nature of the federal government in Federalist #45.