Liberals love to bastardize clauses in the Constitution in an effort to find ways to subvert it. Why would they want to subvert it? So that they can ultimately destroy the American system and replace it with a utopian heaven on earth. Hey, you asked.
One of the clauses liberals love to misconstrue is known as “The General Welfare Clause,” that magical clause that liberals believe gives the federal government the right to pass any law it sees fit, regardless of Constitutional limitations, because, hey, let’s face it, the general welfare means money for everyone, right? Wrong.
The General Welfare Clause, found in the Preamble to the Constitution, was actually put in there as a limitation of power against the Congress.
There are no omnibus grants of power in the Constitution, as every power granted is limited in one way or another, usually in several ways, and not necessarily in the clause that grants certain powers.
The next time a liberal wrongly argues that the General Welfare Clause is what gives the federal government the power to do something, ask them where the General Welfare Clause came from. There is a definite story behind it, and you can bet money that the liberal will have no knowledge.
Here is where the General Welfare Clause originated.
During the Constitutional Convention, Philadelphia’s Benjamin Franklin proposed that the federal government be given “a power to provide for cutting canals where deemed necessary.” In those days canals were important for commerce. Ships came into port where their cargo was unloaded. Canals were used to transport the cargo through cities and towns to be delivered to stores and manufacturing sites, etc. What Franklin proposed was the power of the federal government to establish a power to create, and then maintain canals for that purpose.
Connecticut’s Roger Sherman objected, arguing that “the expense in such cases will fall on the U. States, and the benefit accrue to the places where the canals may be cut.”
Thankfully, Franklin’s motion was defeated by a vote of 8 states to 3. Basically, Sherman argued that it wouldn’t be fair for all Americans to be taxed for cutting canals when the canals would only benefit people who used them.
Debates began because of that vote, and later those debates extended into the States during the ratification process. The powers of the federal government are enumerated. That means they’re specifically numbered, for those of you who claim to be liberals. And since the powers are numbered it means if a power the federal government seeks is not among the numbered powers in the Constitution then the federal government does not have that power. But the States do. Sorry, liberals, it’s just something you have to accept.
So, the first rule of the General Welfare Clause is that any power the federal government wants to claim must already be listed as one of the enumerated powers, and if it is, the power, or the project the federal government wants to do, must benefit everyone who is taxed to pay for it. That is where the term “General Welfare” comes from. A program that is to be funded by taxation must benefit the general population and be for the good of the country’s welfare, or be Constitutional.
If the federal government seeks a power that is not enumerated in the Constitution, the only way it can gain that power is to ask the States for permission to take that power for itself in the form an amendment to the Constitution. That’s what an amendment is. Liberals who think the Congress can pass any law it wants believe that an amendment is a really, REALLY super important law. And that’s because they’re morons.
Remember, the 10th Amendment says:
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.
I don’t remember the federal government passing an amendment for creating the Department of Justice, the FBI, DEA, or any of the other alphabet departments and agencies, but they created them anyway. It also means that the federal government did not have the power to create Social Security, Medicare or Medicaid, as I don’t know of the Amendment for each of those programs where the federal government created those powers.
If you still don’t believe me on the powers of the federal government vs. the powers of the States, read what James Madison wrote in Federalist 45.
Under the Articles of Confederation states were nation states. Got news for you, they still are. This meant that states created their own laws of nationhood, which sometimes caused disputes, lawsuits and possibly war. For example, New Jersey could create laws that said that only businesses in NJ could conduct business in NJ. This would have caused problems for businesses in Pennsylvania, New York, Delaware, etc.
So the Founders wanted to create a neutral third party referee that would handle the issues of nationhood, so that the states wouldn’t have to deal with them anymore. The powers enumerated to the federal government are powers for nationhood. The Constitution created powers for the federal government to handle issues of nationhood, period. The federal government was not created to help people or to make life equal among society.
Don’t believe me, read here what Madison, who scholars refer to as the Father of the Constitution, said, among other things, in Federalist 45:
(If you learn the following you will never be wrong again on the powers of the federal government vs the power of the States as mandated in the U.S. Constitution, I promise.)
“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. 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.
The operations of the federal government will be most extensive and important in times of war and danger; those of the State governments, in times of peace and security. As the former periods will probably bear a small proportion to the latter, the State governments will here enjoy another advantage over the federal government. The more adequate, indeed, the federal powers may be rendered to the national defense, the less frequent will be those scenes of danger which might favor their ascendancy over the governments of the particular States.”
Notice here how Madison says that the powers to the federal government are few and defined, while every other power will go to the States and are numerous and indefinite.
He even gets into examples for each. For example, he says “The former will be exercised principally on external objects”, which means that the federal government will only deal with nationhood issues. He goes on to give the examples of this such as “war, peace, negotiation (treaties), and foreign commerce.” These are issues of nationhood that the Founders didn’t want the States to be fighting over.
He goes on to mention the issues that the States will handle, being “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.” That means EVERYTHING not specifically enumerated in the Constitution for the federal government. And yes, they meant even powers that were not yet conceived.
This means that whenever the federal government wants to give itself a power that wasn’t already listed in the Constitution, like a national healthcare program, it needs to go through the Amendment process. And we used to do that, until the Progressive movement took hold at the beginning of the 20th century. For over a hundred years Progressives have whittled down our Constitutional system with death by a thousand cuts of rogue legislation.
Now you know the true meaning of the General Welfare Clause. Use that knowledge the next time a leftist tries to claim it means the federal government can do whatever it wants.
Read more about the General Welfare Clause and other issues on American Constitutional government by reading the book Essays on Foundations of American Constitutional Government: “. . . by the Chains of the Constitution,” by Robert D Gorgoglione. You can pick up a copy by clicking here.