In the previous essay in this series, I began an examination of the havoc wrought upon our nation by the statists’ unscrupulous manipulation of the Constitution’s usage of the phrase “to promote the general welfare” (as it is worded in the Preamble) and “to provide for…the general welfare” (as it is worded in Article I, Section 8). The question could be raised, “Just what havoc has been foisted upon us because of this phrase?” True, in the previous essay I only outlined the warnings given by those opposed to the ratification of the Constitution regarding the potential abuse of this phrase. Space does not permit me to include all that has been passed by legislators down through our history, the executive orders issued by various presidents, or even more so, the astronomical abundance of regulations vomited upon our freedom and liberties by the faceless horde of bureaucrats manning the insidious agencies established by different Congresses over the years. However, I will give you a few examples and you can then readily name others that come to your mind.
We need go back only as far as FDR’s “New Deal” (or more appropriately his “Raw Deal”) to see examples of this destructive manipulation. Take the Social Security Act ─ was that not put forth as being a program that would be for “the general welfare”? (Of course there was LBJ’s expansion of this with the passage of Medicare and Medicaid, again for the same reason, our “general welfare”.) Yet, of all the programs of our society today, which ones most threaten to topple our economy and with it, our society? During that same time there was the passage of the Fair Labor Standards Act which would guarantee a “decent minimum wage” for all workers and limit the hours an employer could require them to work. Again, such lofty ideals were trumpeted to be for “the general welfare”. However, as such economic giants as Milton Friedman, F.A. Hayek, and authors such as Ayn Rand and Alan Greenspan have written, such restrictions have had exactly the opposite effect. A minimum wage mandated by governmental fiat will, in the long run, suppress wages and cause a higher rate of unemployment ─ something you could hardly categorize as being for “the general welfare”!
Consider if you will some more recent forays by the general government against our freedom and liberties. The Departments of Agriculture, Education, Energy and Environment ─ just to name a few ─ were all created to aid “the general welfare” of the nation; but instead, what they have done is squander billions upon billions of our earnings taken from us by the government through the intimidation of the Internal Revenue Service. For example, President Carter established the Department of Energy in order to make the nation less dependent upon foreign oil. Forty years and a bloated bureaucracy later, do you see where this goal has been achieved? The Department of Education has done nothing to elevate the level of education among our populace as it was intended to do. While academic scores have declined since its inception, this agency has provided the conduit though which local parental control over the education of their children has been usurped by the general government. Do I even need to go into our most recent example of this, the passage of “Obamacare”? No, I think not; this is enough to paint the picture of how devastating this phrase has been to our freedom, liberties, and our way of life.
Permit me in the remainder of this post to share with you the thoughts on this subject of that champion of liberty and the author of our Declaration of Independence, Thomas Jefferson. This stalwart defender of the principle of republicanism saw much danger in this phrase and with great clarity foresaw its abuse in enslaving us under a despotic “nanny” state.
In a letter dated September 9, 1792, replying to a request made by then President George Washington for his opinion on a matter being promoted by Jefferson’s arch rival Alexander Hamilton (the architect of our current all-invasive central government), Jefferson attacked this danger head-on, asserting that Hamilton’s proposed concentration and extension of the government’s power was both a sham and a perversion of the Constitution:
“…in a Report on the subject of manufactures (still to be acted on) it was expressly assumed that the general government has a right to exercise all powers which may be for the general welfare, that is to say, all the legitimate powers of government: since no government has a legitimate right to do what is not for the welfare of the governed. There was indeed a sham-limitation of the universality of this power to cases where money is to be employed. But about what is it that money cannot be employed? Thus the object of these plans taken together is to draw all the powers of government into the hands of the general legislature, to establish means for corrupting a sufficient corps in that legislature to divide the honest votes & preponderate, by their own, the scale which suited, & to have that corps under the command of the Secretary of the Treasury for the purpose of subverting step by step the principles of the constitution, which he has so often declared to be a thing of nothing which must be changed” [emphasis added].
As if that was not blunt enough, in his letter to Eldridge Gerry on January 26, 1799, he affirmed his opposition to what we see today ─ a bloated bureaucracy with legions of bureaucrats draining our financial resources and piling up mountains of debt, all in the name of “the public good” (or “general welfare”):
“I do then, with sincere zeal, wish an inviolable preservation of our present federal constitution, according to the true sense in which it was adopted by the States,…I am for preserving to the States the powers not yielded by them to the Union,…and I am not for transferring all the powers of the States to the general government….I am for a government rigorously frugal & simple, applying all the possible savings of the public revenue to the discharge of the national debt; and not for a multiplication of officers & salaries merely to make partisans, & for increasing, by every device, the public debt, on the principle of its being a public blessing“ [emphasis added].
Yet this is exactly what happens when a welfare state with a mixed economy is created wherein fifty percent of the citizenry contributes nothing to the government treasury. Instead, they live on the public dole of sundry “general welfare” programs; as a result they continue to support those statists who maintain their positions of power by taking from the producers in society and giving to those who are not. This is the result when the Constitutional rights and powers of the states are stripped away from them and absorbed by the central government. This is why those of us who stand as the heirs to Jefferson’s republicanism and original intent in regards to the Constitution must stand and let our voices be heard in opposition to all that is done under the guise of “general welfare”. If we do not, then we will sink beneath the waves of fascism, weighted down by these burdens which no free society can bear.
He further stated the wisdom of a federal system built upon the principle of republicanism in a letter to Gideon Granger on August 13, 1800, as it relates to leaving things that are concerned with matters of general welfare to the governments closest to the people, and that the general government should be concerned with a very few explicit responsibilities:
“The true theory of our constitution is surely the wisest & best, that the states are independent as to everything within themselves, & united as to everything respecting foreign nations. Let the general government be reduced to foreign concerns only, and let our affairs be disentangled from those of all other nations, except as to commerce, which the merchants will manage the better, the more they are left free to manage for themselves, and our general government may be reduced to a very simple organization, & a very unexpensive one; a few plain duties to be performed by a few servants“ [emphasis added].
If the general welfare clause authorizes the broad expanse of power that so many statists claim it does, then why did the framers enumerate a list of powers following the opening section in Section I, Article 8 of the Constitution? In response it is argued that those enumerations were listed as the “main powers” or as mere “examples” but were not meant to be all-inclusive. Really? Let us turn again to Jefferson’s thoughts on how he viewed this approach to interpreting the Constitution:
“When an instrument admits two constructions, the one safe, the other dangerous, the one precise, the other indefinite, I prefer that which is safe & precise. I had rather ask an enlargement of power from the nation, where it is found necessary, than to assume it by a construction which would make our powers boundless. Our peculiar security is in possession of a written Constitution. Let us not make it a blank paper by construction….If it has bounds, they can be no others than the definitions of the powers which that instrument gives. It specifies & delineates the operations permitted to the federal government, and gives all the powers necessary to carry these into execution” (Letter to Wilson Cary Nicholas, Sept. 7, 1803) [emphasis added].
As you look over the landscape of the current makeup of our central government with all its bureaucracies, established to carry out the copious “general welfare” programs that have been brought into existence over the years, does it appear to you to be a “simple organization” ─ one with limitations on its powers ─ or a behemoth whose powers have been enlarged to the point where the Constitution has been made into nothing more than “blank paper”? Does the argument in favor of applying an expansive meaning to the phrase “general welfare” strike you as being “safe and precise” or “dangerous and indefinite”? I believe the reality of our government today speaks for itself in answer to that question, and it is not the answer given by Jefferson.
He who wrote that “all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness” also pointed out that if we as a people are to realize this right to happiness it cannot be attained if we have a government that wastes the fruit of our labors by assuming the responsibility of providing for each and every necessity under the guise of it being for our general welfare:
“If we can prevent the government from wasting the labors of the people, under the pretence of taking care of them, they must become happy” (Letter to Thomas Cooper, Nov. 29, 1802).
He went on to warn in a letter to Joseph Cabell on Feb. 2, 1816, that the threat to this happiness comes from the consolidation of power into the hands of the central government instead of it being dissipated down through more local channels. From such division of authority, he asserts, comes the protection of our liberties by providing a strong network of checks and balances on the powers of these various levels of government against one another:
“…the way to have good and safe government, is not to trust it all to one, but to divide it among the many, distributing to every one exactly the functions he is competent to….It is by dividing and subdividing these republics from the great national one down through all its subordinations, until it ends in the administration of every man’s farm by himself; by placing under every one what his own eye may superintend, that all will be done for the best. What has destroyed liberty and the rights of man in every government which as ever existed under the sun? The generalizing and concentrating all cares and powers into one body,…” [emphasis added].
Given this, then, and our current state of affairs, what would Jefferson have us do? Did he foresee the possibility of his beloved Republic becoming what it is today? To these questions he did give answer, just seven months before his death. In a letter to William Branch Giles, dated December 26, 1825, he detailed what has become our fate and what steps we must attend if we are to regain the liberties which are being swallowed up by the tyranny that our central government has become:
“I see, as you do, and with the deepest affliction, the rapid strides with which the federal branch of our government is advancing towards the usurpation of all the rights reserved to the States, and the consolidation in itself of all powers, foreign and domestic, and that, too, by constructions which, if legitimate, leave no limits to their power. Take together the decisions of the federal court, the doctrines of the President, and the misconstructions of the constitutional compact acted on by the legislature of the federal branch, and it is but too evident, that the three ruling branches of that department are in combination to strip their colleagues, the State authorities, of the powers reserved by them, and to exercise themselves all functions foreign and domestic. Under the power to regulate commerce, they assume indefinitely that also over agriculture and manufactures, and call it regulation to take the earnings of one of these branches of industry, and that too the most depressed, and put them into the pockets of the other, the most flourishing of all. Under the authority to establish post roads, they claim that of cutting down mountains for the construction of roads, of digging canals, and aided by a little sophistry on the words ‘general welfare,’ a right to do, not only the acts to effect that , which are specifically enumerated and permitted, but whatsoever they shall think, or pretend will be for the general welfare. And what is our resource for the preservation of the constitution? Reason and argument? You might as well reason and argue with the marble columns encircling them. The representatives chosen by ourselves? They are joined in the combination, some from incorrect views of government, some from corrupt ones, sufficient voting together to out-number the sound parts; and with majorities only of one, two, or three, bold enough to go forward in defiance. Are we then to stand to our arms,…? No. That must be the last resource, not to be thought of until much longer and greater sufferings….We must have patience and longer endurance then with our brethren while under delusion; give them time for reflection and experience of consequences; keep ourselves in a situation to profit by the chapter of accidents; and separate from our companions only when the sole alternatives left, are the dissolution of our Union with them, or submission to a government without limitation of powers. Between these two evils, when we must make a choice, there can be no hesitation” [emphasis added].
Is it not evident that Jefferson saw so clearly the beginnings in his own day on a small scale what we see today played out before us “from sea to shining sea” on a much broader and expansive plain? And what does he give us as our alternative as an answer to this assault upon our freedom and liberties? Not reason and argument ─ this is something which we know will not work with the fascists who dominate the Democrat Party in Congress and the Obama Administration. Armed rebellion ─ the reason we have the right to bear arms guaranteed to us by the second amendment? Possibly, but only as a last resort. Secession of States from the Union? When the only choice left is liberty or tyranny, yes; however, such a likelihood was squashed by Lincoln when he launched the unconstitutional invasion of the southern states who tried to do just that.
That leaves us with relying upon our elected representatives to do the right thing by us and the Constitution. But I must ask, how has this option worked out ─ especially as of late? Not very well, as we have too many men and women ensconced in their positions in Congress who are more in love with their status and power than they are with the principles of freedom, liberty, and the obligation of their oath to uphold the Constitution, and who have sold out our freedom and liberties for a bowl of pottage. Jefferson stated we must have patience with them until they come to realize their mistaken judgments, but the time for patience has run out. It is time that we resort to the only peaceful remedy left us, namely, the voting out of office all those who have made a career of using, in Jefferson’s words, “sophistry”. These sophists who distort the intent of the Constitution so as to aid and abet their grasp on power, must be replaced with men and women who have a love for the principles upon which this nation was founded ─ men and women who will put principle above personal gain and prestige. Only then can we begin the dismantling of this monolithic monster which has been erected upon the perverted foundation of “the general welfare”.