September 17 is Constitution Day

The U.S. Constitution was ratified, on September 17, 1787.  Two hundred and twenty-eight years later, there are some misconceptions about it that we should reflect on.

The general Welfare Clause:  The term “general welfare” is used in the preamble of the Constitution.  One of the reasons our founders wrote the Constitution was to promote the general Welfare.  According to Webster’s Dictionary (1828), Welfare was “peace and prosperity or the ordinary blessings of society and civil government”.  The term “general Welfare” appears again in the first sentence of Article I, 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 Defence and general Welfare of the United States; but all Duties, Imposts and Excises shall be uniform throughout the United States; ”  I will now allow James Madison to explain what is meant by Article 1 Section 8 of the Constitution;

“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. No stronger proof could be given of the distress under which these writers labor for objections, than their stooping to such a misconstruction.” (Federalist 41)

Madison continues;

“Had no other enumeration or definition of the powers of the Congress been found in the Constitution, than the general expressions just cited, the authors of the objection might have had some color for it; though it would have been difficult to find a reason for so awkward a form of describing an authority to legislate in all possible cases. …But what color can the objection have, when a specification of the objects alluded to by these general terms immediately follows, and is not even separated by a longer pause than a semicolon? … 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”.        

Article I, Section 1 of the Constitution states, “All legislative Powers herein granted shall be vested in a Congress of the United States, which shall consist of a Senate and House of Representatives.”  Since all legislative (law-making) power is vested in Congress, zero legislative power is vested in the Executive or Judicial branches.

Well this doesn’t seem like rocket science but a lot of people seem to get this wrong.  So, allow me to summarize;  All law-making power is vested in Congress.  Congress has only the powers specifically enumerated.

Now I challenge you to find constitutional authorization for more than 20% of what our federal government is doing.  Please realize that if our government were held to Mr. Madison’s understanding of it’s power, it would be about 20% it’s current size and 20% it’s current cost.

If you really want to study the Constitution, there are some great resources here.  The John Birch Society has a great DVD series called The Constitution is the Solution.  I highly recommend it.

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