Skip to comments.Founder's Quotes - On General Welfare
Posted on 10/29/2007 10:03:47 AM PDT by Loud Mime
They are not to do anything they please to provide for the general welfare, but only to lay taxes for that purpose. To consider the latter phrase not as describing the purpose of the first, but as giving a distinct and independent power to do any act they please which may be good for the Union, would render all the preceding and subsequent enumerations of power completely useless.
There is not a single instance in history in which civil liberty was lost, and religious liberty preserved entire. If therefore we yield up our temporal property, we at the same time deliver the conscience into bondage.
John Witherspoon (The Dominion of Providence Over the Passions of Men, 1776)
And a few from Edmund Burke:
Better be despised for too anxious apprehensions, than ruined by too confident security.
No one could make a greater mistake than he who did nothing because he could do only a little.
Never despair; but if you do, work on in despair.
"They defend their errors as if they were defending their inheritance."
"Bad laws are the worst sort of tyranny."
"Among a people generally corrupt liberty cannot long exist."
Justice Brewer in State of Kansas v. State of Colorado, 206 U.S. 46 (1907), establishes that the federal government has no Constitutional claim to power to legislate on issues of a “national character” beyond the specifically enumerated powers. Such undelegated powers are retained by “all the people of the states”:
“...counsel for the government relies upon ‘the doctrine of sovereign and inherent power;’ adding, ‘I am aware that in advancing this doctrine I seem to challenge great decisions of the court, and I speak with deference.’ His argument runs substantially along this line: All legislative power must be vested in either the state or the national government; no legislative powers belong to a state government other than those which affect solely the internal affairs of that state; consequently all powers which are national in their scope must be found vested in the Congress of the United States. But the proposition that there are legislative powers affecting the nation as a whole which belong to, although not expressed in the grant of powers, is in direct conflict with the doctrine that this is a government of enumerated powers. That this is such a government clearly appears from the Constitution, independently of the Amendments, for otherwise there would be an instrument granting certain specified things made operative to grant other and distinct things. This natural construction of the original body of the Constitution is made absolutely certain by the 10th Amendment. This Amendment, which was seemingly adopted with prescience of just such contention as the present, disclosed the widespread fear that the national government might, under the pressure of a supposed general welfare, attempt to exercise powers which had not been granted. With equal determination the framers intended that no such assumption should ever find justification in the organic act, and that if, in the future, further powers seemed necessary, they should be granted by the people in the manner they had provided for amending that act. It reads: ‘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.’ The argument of counsel ignores the principal factor in this article, to wit, ‘the people.’ Its principal purpose was not the distribution of power between the United States and the states, but a reservation to the people of all powers not granted. The preamble of the Constitution declares who framed it,-’we, the people of the United States,’ not the people of one state, but the people of all the states; and article 10 reserves to the people of all the states the powers not delegated to the United States. The powers affecting the internal affairs of the states not granted to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the states, are reserved to the states respectively, and all powers of a national character which are not delegated to the national government by the Constitution are reserved to the people of the United States. The people who adopted the Constitution knew that in the nature of things they could not foresee all the questions which might arise in the future, all the circumstances which might call for the exercise of further national powers than those granted to the United States, and, after making provision for an amendment to the Constitution by which any needed additional powers would be granted, they reserved to themselves all powers not so delegated. This article 10 is not to be shorn of its meaning by any narrow or technical construction, but is to be considered fairly and liberally so as to give effect to its scope and meaning. As we said, construing an express limitation on the powers of Congress, in Fairbank v. United States, 181 U.S. 283, 288, 45 S. L. ed. 862, 865, 21 Sup. Ct. Rep. 648, 650:
“’We are not here confronted with a question of the extent of the powers of Congress, but one of the limitations imposed by the Constitution on its action, and it seems to us clear that the same rule and spirit of construction must also be recognized. If powers granted are to be taken as broadly granted and as carrying with them authority to pass those acts which may be reasonably necessary to carry them into full execution; in other words, if the Constitution in its grant of powers is to be so construed that Congress shall be able to carry into full effect the powers granted, it is equally imperative that, where prohibition or limitation is placed upon the power of Congress, that prohibition or limitation should be enforced in its spirit and to its entirety. It would be a strange rule of construction that language granting powers is to be liberally construed, and that language of restriction is to be narrowly and technically construed. Especially is this true when, in respect to grants of powers, there is, as heretofore noticed, the help found in the last clause of the 8th section, and no such helping clause in respect to prohibitions and limitations. The true spirit of constitutional interpretation in both directions is to give full, liberal construction to the language, aiming ever to show fidelity to the spirit and purpose.’”
In the case of Carter v. Carter Coal Co., 298 U.S. 238 (1936), the Court had occasion to review the limits of the legislative power of Congress as is Constitutionally restricted to specifically enumerated powers. Justice Sutherland, in delivering the opinion of the Court made it clear that a national “general public interest” or promotion of “the general welfare” is insufficient authority to legislate, absent the legitimate authority of a specifically enumerated power:
...”Certain recitals contained in the act plainly suggest that its makers were of opinion that its constitutionality could be sustained under some general federal power, thought to exist, apart from the specific grants of the Constitution...the powers which Congress undertook to exercise are not specific but of the most general character-namely, to protect the general public interest and the health and comfort of the people, to conserve privately-owned coal, maintain just relations between producers and employees and others, and promote the general welfare, by controlling nation-wide production and distribution of coal. These, it may be conceded, are objects of great worth; but are they ends, the attainment of which has been committed by the Constitution to the federal government? This is a vital question; for nothing is more certain than that beneficent aims, however great or well directed, can never serve in lieu of constitutional power.”
“The ruling and firmly established principle is that the powers which the general government may exercise are only those specifically enumerated in the Constitution, and such implied powers as are necessary and proper to carry into effect the enumerated powers. Whether the end sought to be attained by an act of Congress is legitimate is wholly a matter of constitutional power and not at all of legislative discretion. Legislative congressional discretion begins with the choice of means and ends wit the adoption of methods and details to carry the delegated powers into effect. The distinction between these two things-power and discretion-is not only very plain but very important. For while the powers are rigidly limited to the enumerations of the Constitution, the means which may be employed to carry the powers into effect are not restricted, save that they must be appropriate, plainly adapted to the end, and not prohibited by, but consistent with, the letter and spirit of the Constitution. McCulloch v. Maryland, 4 Wheat. 316, 421. Thus, it may be said that to a constitutional end many ways are open; but to an end not within the terms of the Constitution, all ways are closed.
“The proposition, often advanced and as often discredited, that the power of the federal government inherently extends to purposes affecting the Nation as a whole with which the states severally cannot deal or cannot adequately deal, and the related notion that Congress, entirely apart from those powers delegated by the Constitution, may enact laws to promote the general welfare, have never been accepted but always definitely rejected by this court. Mr. Justice Story, as early as 1816, laid down the cardinal rule, which has ever since been followed-that the general government ‘can claim no powers which are not granted to it by the constitution, and the powers actually granted, must be such as are expressly given, or given by necessary implication.’ Martin v. Hunter’s Lessee, 1 Wheat. 304, 326. In the Framers Convention, the proposal to confer a general power akin to that just discussed was included in Mr. Randolph’s resolutions, the sixth of which, among other things, declared that the National Legislature ought to enjoy the legislative rights vested in Congress by the Confederation, and ‘moreover to legislate in all cases to which the separate States are incompetent, or in which the harmony of the United States may be interrupted by the exercise of individual Legislation.’ The convention, however, declined to confer upon Congress power in such general terms; instead of which it carefully limited the powers which it thought wise to intrust to Congress by specifying them, thereby denying all others not granted expressly or by necessary implication. It made no grant of authority to Congress to legislate substantively for the general welfare, United States v. Butler, supra, 297 U.S. 1, at page 64, 56 S.Ct. 312, 102 A.L.R. 914; and no such authority exists, save as the general welfare may be promoted by the exercise of the powers which are granted. Compare Jacobson v. Massachusetts, 197 U.S. 11, 22, 25 S.Ct. 358, 3 Ann.Cas. 765.”
Hats off to the two of you for some great, worthy citations. All Freepers should have them.
Take a good draw on a Tucher Siechen for me...please?
I lived near Rothenburg O.T., for almost four years; I miss the country badly.
One finding before the 17th Amendment, the other afterwards.
Thanks for the information; I’ve printed it and will find more about the latter judge.
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.
If you're a Madison fan, this book treats him well; I'm only two chapters in so far.
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