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Is Welfare Unconstitutional?

No less than framers Madison and Jefferson, plus at least five presidents and dozens of prominent statesmen throughout American history thought so!
 
"Our peculiar security is in the possession of a written Constitution. Let us not make it a blank paper by construction." - President Thomas Jefferson, 1803
 
How do we interpret the Constitution?
Though many erroniously view the Constitution as an intentionally vague and loosely interpreted document, by simply looking at the document one soon learns that there are many very disitinct methods with which to interpret, define, and study the Constitution.

1. The document itself: Though few realize it, the Constitution is a very defined and extremely straight forward text with many definitions inherent in the common logic behind it.

2. The Framers Themselves: What the framers themselves thought about the Constitution, their thinkings in general about government, their intentions on the terminology and wordings of the Constitution as expressed at the Constitutional Convention, and their writings related to the document. Examples: 3. The Constitution implemented, 1787-1834: This period from the writing of the Constitution to the end of the Marshall court shows the institution of the new government by the men who founded it (and reflecting on their intentions of its implementation).
Is Welfare Unconstitutional?
Overview:

Until the New Deal era, a general acknowledgement that individual social welfare, more specifically the use of public monies for the purpose of charity by the national government, was unconstitutional on the national level prevailed in government. Charity was known not to be an enumerated power nor one reasonably implied by the "necessary and proper" clause and therefore considered unconstitutional. Yet around the time of the New Deal, government began overlooking this clear unconstitutionality. The Supreme Court temporarily checked this until the Court Packing Scandal led to pro-welfare rulings by an incapacitated court, fearing dismantling by FDR and therefore under duress, in 1937.  Since then the use of public monies for charity, or social welfare, has expanded in what is reasonably termed direct defiance of the Constitution. This page will, using the three interpretive tools described above, demonstrate how today's social welfare state remains in direct defiance of the United States Constitution.
 



The Framers Speak:
Long has it been acknowledged that Congress's powers were limited as described above by Article I, Section 8.  Here the framers acknowledge this Section as a limiting factor, proving that today's misinterpretations, which allow full justification for practically anything Congress desires to do under the guise of this often misread and forgotten section, are both erronious and absurdly illogical.
 
Proof of intentional and strict limitations on the authority and power of Congress:
"[Congressional jurisdiction of power] is limited to certain enumerated objects, which concern all the members of the republic, but which are not to be attained by the separate provisions of any." - James Madison, Federalist 14
 
"The powers delegated by the proposed Constitution to the federal government are few and defined . . . to be exercised principally on external objects, as war, peace, negotiation, and foreign commerce." - James Madison, Federalist 45
 
"If Congress can do whatever in their discretion can be done by money, and will promote the General Welfare, the Government is no longer a limited one, possessing enumerated powers, but
an indefinite one, subject to particular exceptions." - James Madison, 1792
 
Note the reference to "General Welfare." Please do not confuse this with "social welfare" as we know it today, or public charity. The two are distinctly different as will be addressed later in detail
 
"The Constitution allows only the means which are ‘necessary,’ not those which are merely ‘convenient,’ for effecting the enumerated powers. If such a latitude of construction be allowed to this phrase as to give any non-enumerated power, it will go to every one, for there is not one which ingenuity may not torture into a convenience in some instance or other, to some one of so long a list of enumerated powers. It would swallow up all the delegated powers, and reduce the whole to one power, as before observed" - Thomas Jefferson, 1791
 
"Congress has not unlimited powers to provide for the general welfare, but only those specifically enumerated." - Thomas Jefferson, 1798
 
    There we have it! Proof that both the Father of the Constitution and unquestionably our nation's foremost expert on the Constitution, James Madison, AND the Father of American Independence, Thomas Jefferson, specifically acknowledging Congressional powers to be strictly limited and defined - quite a long shot from today!
    One distinction must be noted though. Jefferson and Madison were by no means representative of the opinions of all the framers. They were both strict constitutionalists representative of those very fearful of the strength of the new government. For that reason I turn to the other side most represented in Alexander Hamilton - one that believed in a looser interpretation.
 
"This specification of particulars [the 18 enumerated powers of Article I, Section 8] evidently excludes all pretension to a general legislative authority, because an affirmative grant of special powers would be absurd as well as useless if a general authority was intended." - Alexander Hamilton, Federalist 83
 
Here Hamilton specifically acknowledges that all congressional powers are enumerated (necessary and proper relationships included as such an enumeration). Hamilton notes that the existance of these enumerations alone makes the notion that Congress has full and general legislative power to act as it desires for if such broad congressional power was intended, specifications of powers (the 18 enumerated powers) would be useless.
 
"No legislative act … contrary to the Constitution can be valid. To deny this would be to affirm that the deputy is greater than his principal; that the servant is above his master; that the representatives of the people are superior to the people themselves; that men acting by virtue of powers may do not only what their powers do not authorize, but what they forbid." - Alexander Hamilton, Federalist 78
 
This quotation furthers the above statement by acknowledging legislation contrary to the Constitution to be unconstitutional. Since powers of Congress are enumerated and done so binding Congress to these powers alone (necessary and proper related powers included), a power outside of these enumeration without reasonable relation must be contrary to the Constitution and therefore unconstitutional.
 
The Framers specifically on public charity:
 
"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 criticizing an attempt to grant public monies for charitable means, 1794


Words of the Presidents: Aside from Jefferson and Madison, at least three other men who have the recognition of being President of the United States openly acknowledged social welfare to be Unconstitutional.
 
Spoken while serving as President...
 
While vetoing a social welfare charity bill one president stated:
"[I must question] the constitutionality and propriety of the Federal Government assuming to enter into a novel and vast field of legislation, namely, that of providing for the care and support of all those … who by any form of calamity become fit objects of public philanthropy ... I cannot find any authority in the Constitution for making the Federal Government the great almoner of public charity throughout the United States. To do so would, in my judgment, be contrary to the letter and spirit of the Constitution and subversive of the whole theory upon which the Union of these States is founded." - President Franklin Pierce, 1854
 
And while vetoing a bill appropriating relief charity from public monies another president stated:
"I can find no warrant for such an appropriation in the Constitution, and I do not believe that the power and duty of the General Government ought to be extended to the relief of individual suffering which is in no manner properly related to the public service or benefit." - President Grover Cleveland, 1887
 
Perhaps the greatest irony in the issue of welfare came from a statement by the Father of Big Government, Franklin Delano Roosevelt. Roosevelt, a man known for giving in on his previous word and selectively compromising his beliefs, not to mention the Constitution, in pursuit of an agenda. Roosevelt took to the podium on March 2, 1930 to talk about states rights as Governor of New York. In this speech, printed in entirity on March 3, 1930 by the New York Times, he had this to say:
 
"As a matter of fact and law, the governing rights of the States are all of those which have not been
surrendered to the National Government by the Constitution or its amendments. Wisely or unwisely,
people know that under the Eighteenth Amendment Congress has been given the right to legislate on this particular subject1, but this is not the case in the matter of a great number of other vital problems of government, such as the conduct of public utilities, of banks, of insurance, of business, of agriculture, of education, of social welfare and of a dozen other important features. In these, Washington must not be encouraged to interfere." - Franklin Delano Roosevelt, 1930
 
Roosevelt went back on this statement not two years later as he was elected president and instituted the New Deal. In fact most of the key New Deal relief programs were immediately declared unconstitutional for the very reasons subject of this page.
 
1 Note: FDR refers to Prohibition of Alcohol, which in 1930 was a legal power of Congress granted by now cancelled Amendment 18 and enacted by the Volstead Act. Speech transcribed in the New York Times, March 3, 1930.


What others have to say:
 
One day around 1830 Congress was considering a measure to grant a sum from the public money to a widow of a recently deceased veteran. The measure was expected to pass unanimously until a Congressman rose to the floor. It was none other than the famous frontiersman and lawmaker Davy Crockett:
 
    "Mr. Speaker, I have as much respect for the memory of the deceased, and as much sympathy for the sufferings of the living, as any man in this House. But we must not permit our respect for the dead or our sympathy for a part of the living to lead us into an act of injustice to the balance of the living. I will not go into an argument to prove that Congress has no power to appropriate this money as an act of charity. Every member upon this floor knows it.  We have the right, as individuals, to give away as much of our own money as we please in charity; but as members of Congress we have no right to so appropriate a dollar of the public money. Some eloquent appeals have been made to us upon the ground that it is a debt due the deceased. Mr. Speaker, the deceased lived long after the close of the war; he was in office to the day of his death, and I have never heard that the government was in arrears to him. Every man in this House knows it is not a debt. We cannot, without the grossest corruption, appropriate this money as the payment of a debt. We have not the semblance of authority to appropriate it as a charity. Mr. Speaker, I have said we have the right to give as much money of our own as we please. I am the poorest man on this floor. I cannot vote for this bill, but I will give one week's pay to the object, and if every member of Congress will do the same, it will amount to more than the bills asks." - Congressman Davy Crockett 2
 
Crockett, the poorest man in Congress, donated a great portion of his salary to the widow - more than any other Congressman. The lesson: Congress often claims great compassion by offering the public money to charity yet when it comes time for private charity the very same people refuse. It is he who contributes under his own initiative to charity who is the truly compassionate, not he who gives the money of others only to credit himself. My message to Congress: Rather than claim compassion in fraud by appropriating the money of others as charity, engage in true compassion by giving from your own pocket!
 
2 Note: transcribed in: The Life Of Colonel David Crockett, by Edward S. Ellis, published by Porter & Coates in 1884.


The "General Welfare" Clause - Misinterpretation at its finest.
Coming soon

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