The General Welfare | Righting Constitutional Misconceptions

From My “Concepts” Series

It was the author of the U.S. Constitution James Madison, who proclaimed:

  • “The government of the United States is a definite government, confined to specified objects. It is not like the state governments, whose powers are more general. Charity is no part of the legislative duty of the government.”

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In this latest example (originally posted Sept of 2012) of John Van Huzuim’s conflating terms and ideas, we see a prime  example of how liberals will argue. First, let us deal with how the framers of the Constitution understood “General Welfare,” and not what John says it means or how he thinks conservative Republicans understand it. Here is some input from two of the authors of the Constitution, professor Williams explains:

On September 17, 1787, thirty-nine men signed the U.S. Constitution. Each year since 2004, we have celebrated Constitution Day as a result of legislation fathered by Senator Robert Byrd that requires federal agencies, and every school that receives federal funds, including universities, to have some kind of program on the Constitution. I cannot think of a more deceitful piece of legislation or a more constitutionally odious person to father it – a person who is known as, and proudly wears the label, “King of Pork.” The only reason that Constitution Day is not greeted with contempt is because most Americans are totally ignorant about the framer’s vision in writing our constitution. Let’s examine that vision to see how much faith and allegiance today’s Americans give to the U.S. Constitution.

James Madison is the acknowledged father of the constitution. In 1794, when Congress appropriated $15,000 for relief of French refugees who fled from insurrection in San Domingo to Baltimore and Philadelphia. James Madison wrote disapprovingly, “I cannot undertake to lay my finger on that article of the Constitution which granted a right to Congress of expending, on objects of benevolence, the money of their constituents.” Today, at least two-thirds of a $2.5 trillion federal budget is spent on the “objects of benevolence.” That includes Medicare, Medicaid, Social Security, aid to higher education, farm and business subsidies, welfare, ad nauseam.

A few years later, James Madison’s vision was expressed by Representative William Giles of Virginia, who condemned a relief measure for fire victims. Giles insisted that it was neither the purpose nor a right of Congress to “attend to what generosity and humanity require, but to what the Constitution and their duty require.”

In 1827, Davy Crockett was elected to the House of Representatives. During his term of office a $10,000 relief measure was proposed to assist the widow of a naval officer. Davy Crockett eloquently opposed the measure saying, “Mr. Speaker: I have as much respect for the memory of the deceased, and as much sympathy for the suffering of the living, if there be, as any man in this House, but we must not permit our respect for the dead or our sympathy for part of the living to lead us into an act of injustice to the balance of the living. I will not go into an argument to prove that Congress has not the power to appropriate this money as an act of charity. Every member on this floor knows it. We have the right as individuals, to give away as much of our own money as we please in charity; but as members of Congress we have no right to appropriate a dollar of the public money.”

In 1854, President Franklin Pierce vetoed a popular measure to help the mentally ill saying, “I cannot find any authority in the Constitution for public charity.” To approve the measure “would be contrary to the letter and the spirit of the Constitution and subversive to the whole theory upon which the Union of these States is founded.” During President Grover Cleveland’s two terms in office, he vetoed many congressional appropriations, often saying there was no constitutional authority for such an appropriation. Vetoing a bill for relief charity, President Cleveland said, “I can find no warrant for such an appropriation in the Constitution, and I do not believe that the power and duty of the General Government ought to be extended to the relief of individual suffering which is in no manner properly related to the public service or benefit.”

Compared to today, yesteryear’s vision vastly differs in what congressional actions are constitutionally permissible. How might today’s congress, president and courts square their behavior with that of their predecessors? The most generous interpretation of their behavior I can give is their misunderstanding of Article I, Section 8 of the Constitution that reads, “The Congress shall have power to lay and collect taxes, duties, imposts and excises, to pay the debts and provide for the common defense and general welfare of the United States.” Misuse of the “general welfare” clause serves as warrant for Congress to do just about anything upon which it can secure a majority vote.

The framers addressed the misinterpretation of the “general welfare clause. James Madison said, in a letter to James Robertson, “With respect to the two words ‘general welfare’, I have always regarded them as qualified by the detail of powers connected with them. To take them in a literal and unlimited sense would be a metamorphosis of the Constitution into a character which there is a host of proofs was not contemplated by its creators.” James Madison also said, “If Congress can do whatever in their discretion can be done by money, and will promote the General Welfare, the Government is no longer a limited one, possessing enumerated powers, but an indefinite one, subject to particular exceptions.” James Madison laid out what he saw as constitutional limits on federal power in Federalist Paper Number 45 where he explained, “The powers delegated by the proposed Constitution to the federal government are few and defined . . . to be exercised principally on external objects, as war, peace, negotiation, and foreign commerce.”

Thomas Jefferson explained in a letter to Albert Gallatin, “Congress has not unlimited powers to provide for the general welfare, but only those specifically enumerated.”

What accounts for today’s acceptance of a massive departure from the framer’s clear vision of what federal activities were constitutionally permissible? It is tempting to blame politicians and yes we can blame them some but most of the blame lies with the American people who are either ignorant of the constitutional limits the framers imposed on the federal government or they have contempt for those limits….

…read more…

POLITISTICK notes the difference when they write: “Progressives and their communist cousins — even RINOs (Republicans in name only) will argue the ‘General Welfare’ clause is somehow being authorization for the federal government to spend on anything members of Congress dreams up.” Continuing Madison is again quoted from:

James Madison, in his brilliance, anticipated this argument, of course, and shot it down on several different occasions:

“If Congress can do whatever in their discretion can be done by money, and will promote the general welfare, the Government is no longer a limited one possessing enumerated powers, but an indefinite one subject to particular exceptions.”

In other words, if the words “general welfare” meant going outside of the enumerated powers, there would have been no reason to even write the enumerated powers in the first place!

Madison further imagined where Congress might stretch the General Welfare clause if it were misinterpreted to be open-ended:

If Congress can apply money indefinitely to the general welfare, and are the sole and supreme judges of the general welfare, they may take the care of religion into their own hands; they may establish teachers in every State, county, and parish, and pay them out of the public Treasury; they may take into their own hands the education of children, establishing in like manner schools throughout the Union; they may undertake the regulation of all roads other than post-roads. 

In short, everything, from the highest object of State legislation, down to the most minute object of police, would be thrown under the power of Congress; for every object I have mentioned would admit the application of money, and might be called, if Congress pleased, provisions for the general welfare.

[….]

For all of the reasons above, with the Democrat Party all but merging with the Communist Party USA and the Republicans, led by big government RINO’s Paul Ryan and Mitch McConnell, only wanting slightly smaller and just barely less unconstitutional than the Democrats, I strongly support both the Convention of States and the Federalist Party. Both parties are arguing which can bastardize the U.S. Constitution the most. We know that the Democrats will always be the most aggressive in this venture but the Republicans are not far behind.

The Sage from South-Central

Larry Elder  on his radio program takes a call in regards to this exact same understanding of the General Welfare Clause.

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Ben Franklin Money Quote

  • I am for doing good to the poor, but I differ in opinion of the means. I think the best way of doing good to the poor, is not making them easy in poverty, but leading or driving them out of it. In my youth I travelled much, and I observed in different countries, that the more public provisions were made for the poor, the less they provided for themselves, and of course became poorer. And, on the contrary, the less was done for them, the more they did for themselves, and became richer. (Ben Franklin)

In another ARTICLE Professor Williams ends with this, and I think it is suitable for this discussion:

You might say, “If our Constitution provides no authority for programs near and dear to the hearts of so many Americans, the heck with the Constitution.” If that’s your perspective, you’re in good company. The Courts, Congress and the White House beat you to it. Long ago they said, “The heck with the Constitution.”

This is what John is saying, the heck with the constitution! Take note as well that not only does he miss-defines what conservative think, he also argues for police and fire personnel, and then from there jumps to welfare programs (the war on poverty, so-called). (Remember what I always point out with John? Non-sequiturs… he is full of them.) Now, Obama-Care is placed under this umbrella the writers of the clause rejected. I will end here with Professor Williams in regards to Obama-Care:

Here is the second part to POLITISTICK’s post on the matter… love me some Madison!

…Only certain, specifically identified powers, called “enumerated powers,” were delegated to the federal government from the states — powers that the Founding Fathers believed were best performed on a national basis, duties like “provide for the common defense,” to coin money, establish uniform immigration laws, “Post Offices,” treaties with foreign nations, to regulate (which does not mean restrict) interstate commerce, and a few others. These powers were clearly listed in Article I, Section 8, of the U.S. Constitution.

James Madison, considered the main author and father of the Constitution, wrote in Federalist #45, regarding the Alleged Danger from the Powers of the Union to the State Governments Considered, the following two sentences that summarize this principle of state sovereignty and a limited federal government:

“The powers delegated by the proposed Constitution to the federal government, are few and defined. Those which are to remain in the State governments are numerous and indefinite.”

Madison further described the proper role for the soon-to-be federal government versus the unique roles of the individual states:

“The former will be exercised principally on external objects, as war, peace, negotiation, and foreign commerce; with which last the power of taxation will, for the most part, be connected. The powers reserved to the several States will extend to all the objects which, in the ordinary course of affairs, concern the lives, liberties, and properties of the people, and the internal order, improvement, and prosperity of the State.”

So (let’s forget the politicized decision by the tyrants in black robes who declared Obamacare constitutional — it is not) what does this mean? Would a full single-payer healthcare system like the one proposed in California (which would have more than doubled the entire state budget) be allowed by the U.S. Constitution?

You bet it would — on the state level — but NOT on the national level. If people in California want to more than double their already exorbitant taxes in order to pay for such a system, they are allowed to under the Tenth Amendment, which states, referring to Article I, Section 8:

“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.”

Nowhere in Article I, Section 8 of the Constitution among the enumerated powers are the words, medicine, health care, doctor visits, surgery, healthcare insurance (yes, people got sick in the late 1700’s and there were doctors and medicine), or anything like this even remotely mentioned as a power being transferred by the states to the federal government…..

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