Founding Fathers Friday on Saturday… “general welfare”

The “general welfare clause” is one of the most misunderstood phrases in the U.S. Constitution. What is “the general welfare of the United States?” Just in empirical statistics most Americans respond to the question with: “The government needs to provide jobs”; The government should provide medical care”; Thanks to Barack Obama and the Democrat Party, “The government needs to provide health care”; “The government should guarantee workers a minimum wage”; “The government should provide for the poor,” and on it goes.

Thanks to some lawyers these “demands” on the government have been fostered by an incorrect reading of the Constitution, or more accurately, by not reading the Constitution and taking someone else’s judgment for what it says. To be fair – let’s face this fact: the Constitution of the United States is not some stupendous bit of reading. The documents are no “War and Peace” or the “Bell Curve” in length, nor was it ever intended to be according to the Founders.

Moreover, approximately 90 percent of what the government does is actually unconstitutional – and it’s all due to an expansion of government power under the guise of the “general welfare” clause, which states:

“The Congress shall have 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…” (Article 1, Section 8 of the United States Constitution).

Originally the United States of America was designed as a confederation of independent states; therefore, the phrase “general welfare” was intended to cover anything that benefitted the Union as a whole, such as military hardware for the common defense. Other items such as the infrastructure of the individual states such as piers, canals, or harbors were not considered the “general welfare” of the Union because those issues would benefit one state or community at the expense of other states.

At the Constitution Convention in Philadelphia, Gouverneur Morris of Pennsylvania attempted to expand federal power for internal improvements by placing a semi-colon between “excises” and “to pay” so that Article 1, Section 8 of the Constitution would read in part: “The Congress shall have 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…”

Therefore if your children, family members, or friends say that they don’t understand understand why we have to learn about this punctuation stuff anyway” just kindly remind them of what Roger Sherman of Connecticut discovered Morris’s plan and removed it before it hit the floor for debate.[1]


[1] The story of Morris, Sherman, and the attempt to change the constitution can be found in: The Politically Incorrect Guide to THE FOUNDING FATHERS, Brion McClanahan, Regnery Publishing, Inc., 2009.

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