Understanding “the general welfare”

The general welfare clause is one of the most horribly understood and most misused pieces of the United States Constitution, second only to the Interstate Commerce Clause. With it, Congress has exercises many wealth redistribution schemes with the argument that it’s constitutional. However, when you look at the Founding Father’s intent, nothing could be further from the truth.

To start with, let’s look at this quote from Thomas Jefferson:

“Congress has not unlimited powers to provide for the general welfare, but only those specifically enumerated.”

James Madison agrees:

“With respect to the 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.”

It all looks pretty straight forward to me.

The phrase “general welfare” didn’t create a broad power that could be thrown around whenever someone wanted to justify taking from the rich and giving to the poor. No, it was guidance on how best to use the powers given to the Congress. They weren’t to work towards the benefits of a particular group, but for the benefit of Americans as a whole.

This idea has been lost through history, but that doesn’t negate what it means. Our Founders created something precious. They weren’t perfect by any means, but they gave us something special. They knew what could happen with wealth redistribution, though in their time it was generally redistributed to even wealthier folks. They didn’t want that happening here. Unfortunately, their plain language was still misinterpreted by those who wanted to use tax dollars to buy votes. They use their guidance plan to justify stealing money from one group of people and giving it to another without cause. They find anything they can to try and cloak their pet programs as constitutional.

The problem is, they can’t.

It’s clear that the Founding Fathers had no intentions of “spreading the wealth around”. They gave Congress specific powers, and that was it. The idea that we would be taxed to support others who don’t work would be abhorrent to them. Frankly, I think Jefferson and Madison would slap the stuffing out of more than one member of Congress if given the chance.

Of course, none of this touches on the fact that wealth redistribution schemes don’t do anything for the general welfare in the first place. They take money that could be spent or invested that would create jobs and, after sending it through a bureaucracy that part of that money must support, the amount given out is less than the money taken in. It would be better for us to spend the money, create jobs, and give these people jobs of their own so they won’t need our money.

It’s just too bad that’s not how government works.


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