We are developing the social individualist meta-context for the future. From the very serious to the extremely frivolous... lets see what is on the mind of the Samizdata people.

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Who said it?

It has been urged and echoed, that the power “to lay and collect taxes, duties, imposts, and excises, to pay the debts, and provide for the common defense and general welfare of the United States,” amounts to an unlimited commission to exercise every power which may be alleged to be necessary for the common defense or general welfare.

[…] For what purpose could the enumeration of particular powers be inserted, if these and all others were meant to be included in the preceding general power? Nothing is more natural nor common than first to use a general phrase, and then to explain and qualify it by a recital of particulars. But the idea of an enumeration of particulars which neither explain nor qualify the general meaning, and can have no other effect than to confound and mislead, is an absurdity,[…]

Answer here.

15 comments to Who said it?

  • PersonFromPorlock

    Fortunately, the Constitution is whatever the Supreme Court says it is, and the Court defers to the Congress. So it’s really whatever’s convenient for the making of laws.

    The short form of this is “Oh, that old thing!”

  • RRS

    Well, let’s take that clause as a whole, then take a look at two examples I cited in one of yesterday’s posts:

    It reads: ” ….the general welfare of the United States.”
    It does not read “contributes to” that general welfare or “affects” that general welfare –of the United States

    The welfare of any particular segment of the citizens of the United States, such as those surviving to attain a certain age (Social Security) or who by age, or economic circumstance have medical services needs (Medicare/Medicaid), is not the general welfare of the United States; those are cases of the welfare of particular classes of people.

    So, what does the term “… of the United States” signify, stand for, imply or explicitly define? Is the word “welfare” enough to provide Constitutional authority? Does the word “general” mean anything, or give any more specific meaning to “welfare?”

    Is all this attribution of authority from this clause not just part of efforts to cover-up political fiat and escape the strictures of the constitutional format?

  • Michael Staab

    The power of the Constitution is one of potential and actual reality. The reality is that it still is the law of the land. The potential is that it is the framework for how to bring this government back under its authority.
    We need to exercise those rights, vote and demand real accountability. However we must understand that what we hold them accountable to is based on the constitution itself too.
    Otherwise I think America the Ideal will be replaced with another endless Peoples State.

  • RRS

    Mr. Staab et al.-

    The “Law of the Land” is only what any dominant electorate will support and enforce.

    They no longer choose to rely on the Constitution to provide the totality of the rules for interactions between the functions of governments and themselves. They look instead to what actions will yield the (correctly or incorrectly) perceived objectives of their immediate interests.

  • Laird

    There are innumerable instances of various Founders explaining that the “general welfare” clause doesn’t expand Congress’ specific powers; the Madison quote in the link is merely one example. Beyond that, though, it is an elementary rule of statutory construction that words of specific import supersede words of general import. Another elementary rule is that the language must be interpreted, if at all possible, in such manner as to avoid rendering any of the words superfluous or irrelevant. Anyone who argues that the “general welfare” clause conveys authority to Congress broader than the powers specifically granted understands neither history nor law.

  • Paul Marks

    A classic case of “out of context” reading.

    Article One, Section Eight of the Constitution of the United States lists the specific powers of the Congress – the things it may do if it wishes to do.

    For example, it may fund a navy (it does not have to), or build post roads (ditto).

    The PURPOSE of these powers is the “common defence and general welfare” of the United States.

    There is no “general welfare power” (in the sense of Congess being allowed to spend money on anything it considers for the general welfare) – in fact the powers that Congress has are listed.

    One can attack the 18th century practice of giving a preamble explaining the purpose for which powers are laid out – but to confuse the PURPOSE of the powers (the common defence and general welfare) with the powers themselves is absurd. It means that someone has read a line – but not the words that follow after it.

    “The Constitution is whatever the Supreme Court says it is” bullcrap, the Supreme Court has no “amending power”, the Constitution is what it is, and many Presidents have vetoed Bills as unconstitutional without even asking the opinion of the Supreme Court. And where the Supreme Court has given a ruling which is clearly insane (as with Dred Scot – which meant that a slave taken to a free State remained a slave) its rulings have been (quite rightly) tossed out.

    “The Supreme Court defers to Congress” – often it does not.

    All this Supreme Court business is priestcraft anyway. The Constitution of the United States and the other writings of the Founders are not some hard to understnad mystic work – they are fairly straightforward.

    A jury should have no great difficulty hearing the arugments of both sides in a dispute and checking them against the text.

  • “Welfare” is an unidentified value and “the United States” is an unidentified entity. Absence of identification and separation of value from individual valuer – not merely present in the words of the U.S. constitution but a common characteristic of everyday thought by any number of people at any location at any time.

  • Surellin

    If I’m not mistaken, when the phrase “United States” is used in the Constitution, it refers exclusively to the Federal government of the United States. This is obviously a more circumscribed meaning of the General Welfare clause than the usually understood meaning, that it refers to the public.

  • RRS


    At the risk (but subject to the rewards) of being dubded an “originalist,” the designation “the United States,” which appears throughout the Constitution clearly identifies an entity (an aggregate) created by the relationships agreed to by the representatives of the electorates of the several states.

    It does not mean the “government” (see, the term: “the Government of the United States” as used in the wordings of the document).

    As a concept, it is a whole that is more than the sum of its parts.

  • Alasdair

    @RRS – since the Consitution was set up to protect the Public from the Rulers, and to limit governmental powers by explicitly stating which powers the Federal Government could/should/would have, I hereby declare that thee art duly “dubded” originalist with all benefits and obligations pertaining thereunto …

  • Alasdair

    ACK ! ConsTitution … Constitution !

    OY !

  • Nuke Gray

    The British ‘wanted’ welfare because they had all shared in the victory of WW2, and felt it was a reward. Without WW2, it wouldn’t have happened then, and might have been delayed indefinitely.
    That’s why America has taken so long to be welfared. Now you can expect The War On Sickness to expand the central government indefinitely.

  • Paul Marks

    For those who claim that “originalist” means “racist” (or whatever) – Ben Franklin and John Adams (people who never owned a slave and who always opposed slavery) were “originalists”, i.e. they believed the Constitution meant what it said and that it could only be changed by Amendment or Convention.

    NOT by the words being “interpreted” to mean the opposite of what they were meant to say.

    However, for those who still reject “originalism” (i.e. that the Constitution means what it says), there are three recent rulings by the Supreme Court saying that the so called “commerce clause” can not be taken as justification for X, Y, Z, Federal government power extentions.

    So “precident”/ “case law” is against Comrade Barack Obama also.

    However, he will ignore that – and if the Surpreme Court rules against him he will denounce the Court (as he did over freedom of speech – which he, of course, opposes).

    Sorry but the voters proving they were not racists by voting for Barack Obama (which is the main reason the media gave for voting for him – it would be “historic” and so on) has had and will have a heavy cost.

    Time to vote him and his Comrades out – however much the “mainstream” media (and the “education system”) declares that anyone who opposes Obama is a racist.

    I do not care that he is black (Thomas Sowell, Walter Williams, Jay Parker, Star Jones …… – all black and all are my brothers and sisters in liberty), what I object to about Barack Obama is that he is RED.

  • Laird

    You’re probably right, Paul: Obama will ignore any Supreme Court decision he dislikes. He’ll probably take a page out of Andrew Jackson’s book, who famously said (of a Supreme Court decision he didn’t like) “John Marshall has made his decision: now let him enforce it!”

    Time will tell.

  • zee

    Who said:
    Once you give the people the freedom to do whatever they want – that is exactly what they will do!