The words “provide for the common defense and general welfare” rank among the most abused phrases in the Constitution.Details
Many people use the general welfare clause as their “the federal government can do anything and everything clause.” Others have turned the phrase “provide for the common defense” into a similar justification for federal overreach.Details
Barely 8 months before he died, Thomas Jefferson wrote to the Virginia politician William Giles about the threat posed by the usurpation of states rights by a growing federal power. He identified federal powers claimed under the commerce and general welfare clauses as especially dangerous.Details
Even by 1825, Thomas Jefferson was fearful that the growing central powers of the federal government were encroaching upon those of the states.Details
When challenged on the federal government’s constitutional authority to create welfare programs, meddle in education or run a national healthcare system, progressives will almost always appeal to the “general welfare clause.”Details
March 3, 1817: As his last official act as President, Madison vetoes a bill that would provide federal funding for building roads and canals throughout the United States. The President finds no expressed congressional power to fund roads and canals in the Constitution, and he believes that the federal government should not encroach upon matters delegated to state governments.Details
Rob Natelson has a historical gem of a story from the Anti-FederalistsDetails
In response to my recent essay, â€œThe Tenth Amendment Prohibited the Living Constitutionâ€œ, I received an e-mail which informed me that, â€ theÂ Constitution â€¦ gives Congress the power to make all laws necessary to execute its powers, including the power to provide for the general welfare, which has to include public health and safety.â€
This is definitely a very common understanding, but is it correct?Â Does the congress have the power to make all laws necessary to execute its powers, including the power to provide for the general welfare?
Letâ€™s start withÂ Article 1, Section 8, clause 1 of the US Constitution, which says,
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;
In modern English, the first phrase in that clause might be paraphrased in one of two ways.Â First, by distributing the word power across each of the following phrasesâ€¦
1.) The congress shall have the power to lay and collect taxes, duties, etcâ€¦, the power to pay the debts, the power to provide for the common defense, and the power to provide for the general welfareâ€¦.
Four powers all bundled into one clause.Â Or second, by inserting the clarifying text, â€œin orderâ€â€¦Details
The Founders recognized that human activities are highly independent. Nevertheless, they made the deliberate choice to decentralize power in the interests of better government and human liberty.Details