Saturday, September 5, 2009

James Madison on the General Welfare Clause

The left often uses the "general welfare" clause to justify "welfare" programs, claiming that it is authorized in article 1, section 8 of the Constitution.
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;
James Madison, widely known as "the father of the Constitution" had this to say about it. He had just vetoed a bill that would have established roads and canals to facilitate commerce and military operations (sounds like the interstate highway system, doesn't it?). In his veto message to congress, Madison said it didn't fit the Constitutional principle of enumerated powers:
Having considered the bill this day presented to me entitled “An act to set apart and pledge certain funds for internal improvements,” and which sets apart and pledges funds “for constructing roads and canals, and improving the navigation of water courses, in order to facilitate, promote, and give security to internal commerce among the several States, and to render more easy and less expensive the means and provisions for the common defense,” I am constrained by the insuperable difficulty I feel in reconciling the bill with the Constitution of the United States to return it with that objection to the House of Representatives, in which it originated.

The legislative powers vested in Congress are specified and enumerated in the eighth section of the first article of the Constitution, and it does not appear that the power proposed to be exercised by the bill is among the enumerated powers, or that it falls by any just interpretation with the power to make laws necessary and proper for carrying into execution those or other powers vested by the Constitution in the Government of the United States…

To refer the power in question to the clause “to provide for common defense and general welfare” would be contrary to the established and consistent rules of interpretation, as rendering the special and careful enumeration of powers which follow the clause nugatory and improper. Such a view of the Constitution would have the effect of giving to Congress a general power of legislation instead of the defined and limited one hitherto understood to belong to them, the terms “common defense and general welfare” embracing every object and act within the purview of a legislative trust. It would have the effect of subjecting both the Constitution and laws of the several States in all cases not specifically exempted to be superseded by laws of Congress, it being expressly declared “that the Constitution of the United States and laws made in pursuance thereof shall be the supreme law of the land, and the judges of every state shall be bound thereby, anything in the constitution or laws of any State to the contrary notwithstanding.”
So the guy who wrote the specification for our government, the binding contract between our government and We the People -- the Constitution -- has said the Constitution doesn't provide a blank check for every "welfare" program that pork barrel politicians want to write.

The last time I checked, the original Constitution was still in force, with relatively few changes. If We the People today want something different, we cannot arbitrarily re-interpret it; we must amend it.

Two hundred years later, we have a federal interstate highway system, but still no amendment authorizing it.

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