The “General Welfare” clause
Article I, Section 8 of the Constitution
The 10th Amendment to the Constitution
We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.
– Preamble to the U.S. Constitution.
This posting covers many areas spanning from the original institution through the beginning of the subversion of the US Constitution and the Bill of Rights. This document relies on vetted on-line information, books, and other available materials from institutes of higher education. Credit will be given to the best of the ability of this writer. Spelling will contain the spelling of the time of publication. I can only hope this post can lead to further discussion of the subject matter.
Article 1 [Legislative Branch] Section 8 [Powers of Congress] of the US Constitution defines what the enumerated duties of the Federal Government are while Amendment 10 [ratified December 15, 1791], which is also known as the States’ Rights Amendment, reinforces what is inside and outside the purview of the Federal government. The Constitution was written and ratified to both authorize and limit the powers of the Federal government listing those enumerated duties which, in part, were reaffirmed with the Tenth amendment of the Bill of Rights two years later.
Renderings of the exact enumerated duties are commonplace in the age of the internet; however, this post will look at what the men who wrote the Constitution had to say about the Constitution in general and the “general welfare clause” in particular. James Madison, the father of the Constitution, 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 …” Madison also said, “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.” Reiterating, Thomas Jefferson said, “Congress has not unlimited powers to provide for the general welfare, but only those specifically enumerated.”
Reaffirmation comes as part of the Bill of Rights, and in particular, the 10th Amendment which embodies the general principles of Federalism in a republican form of government. The Constitution specifies the parameters of authority that may be exercised by the three branches of the federal government: executive, legislative, and judicial while the Tenth Amendment reserves to the states all powers that are not granted to the federal government by the Constitution, except for those powers that states are constitutionally forbidden from exercising.
With consideration that the Framers were wary of a centralized government, they created a novel system of mixed sovereignty between duties of the national (Federal) government and those of the States. Noted in The Federalist No. 39, the new government was “in strictness, neither a national nor a federal Constitution, but a composition of both.” Critical to this system was the enumerated federal powers, which allows the federal government to operate only within defined areas where the States individually could not. Federalist No. 33 states that a congressional act beyond its enumerated powers is “merely [an] act of usurpation” which “deserves to be treated as such.” Additionally, in Federalist No. 45, Madison explained: “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.”
Governments control people–constitutions control governments