We the people of the United States, in order to form a more perfect union, establish justice, insure domestic tranquility, provide for the common defense, 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.and in Article 1 Section 8:
Section 8. The Congress shall have 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; but all duties, imposts and excises shall be uniform throughout the United States;
Over time, Liberals and Progressives have used these references to "general welfare" to justify unlimited expansion of federal government power. They argue that, despite the Constitution's limit on the scope of the federal government to specific enumerated powers, the government has the power to do anything if it merely states it is to benefit the "general welfare". Therefore, they argue, the federal government has the power of taxation for the purpose of redistributing wealth, of mandating the purchase of health insurance, and so on.
James Madison, the Father of the Constitution, and Thomas Jefferson, the writer of the Declaration of Independence, wrote extensively about what is meant by the term "general welfare" in the Constitution. Their views reflect the original intent of the Constitution, which is its only meaning until it is amended otherwise. Madison was very specific in regards to Art.1 Sec. 8 and the words "general welfare". He said:
"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".
The following is a selection of additional quotes by Madison and Jefferson on "general welfare" and the Constitution:
"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." James Madison in a letter to James Robertson
"If Congress can employ money indefinitely to the general welfare, and are the sole and supreme judges of the general welfare, they may take the care of religion into their Own hands; they may a point teachers in every state, county, and parish, and pay them out of their public treasury; they may take into their own hands the education of children, establishing in like manner schools throughout the Union; they may assume the provision for the poor; they may undertake the regulation of all roads other than post-roads; in short, every thing, from the highest object of state legislation down to the most minute object of police, would be thrown under the power of Congress; for every object I have mentioned would admit of the application of money, and might be called, if Congress pleased, provisions for the general welfare." James Madison
"Congress has not unlimited powers to provide for the general welfare, but only those specifically enumerated." Thomas Jefferson
"To take from one, because it is thought his own industry and that of his fathers has acquired too much, in order to spare to others, who, or whose fathers, have not exercised equal industry and skill, is to violate arbitrarily the first principle of association, the guarantee to everyone the free exercise of his industry and the fruits acquired by it." Thomas Jefferson, letter to Joseph Milligan, April 6, 1816
"I predict future happiness for Americans if they can prevent the government from wasting the labors of the people under the pretense of taking care of them." Thomas Jefferson
"I cannot undertake to lay my finger on that article of the Constitution which granted a right to Congress of expending, on objects of benevolence, the money of their constituents." James Madison, 4 Annals of Congress 179, 1794
"[T]he government of the United States is a definite government, confined to specified objects. It is not like the state governments, whose powers are more general. Charity is no part of the legislative duty of the government." James Madison
The Framers of the Constitution explicitly stated that charity is no duty or power of the federal government. They were not against charity, at the private or state government level, but they understood that if the federal government is given the power to do anything in the name of charity, it will inevitably use charity as an excuse to expand its own size and power, and the power and liberty of the states and of the people will be diminished and eventually destroyed. We are far down that path today. It would be good on this Constitution Day for Liberals and Conservatives alike to consider the above words and wisdom of our Founding Fathers and re-evaluate their views on the proper role and power of the federal government.
I forgot to include another quote from James Madison, which encapsulates the entire spirit of the Constitution and the intended legal role of the federal government:
"Powers delegated to the federal government are few & defined. Those which are to remain in the states are numerous and indefinite. The former will be exercised principally on external objects: war, peace, negotiation & foreign commerce.... The powers reserved to the several states will extend to all the objects which, in the ordinary course of affairs, concern the lives, liberties & properties of the people" James Madison