Here hangs Lady Liberty
By J.J. Jackson
Make no mistake, in those early years of our history there were even then those who believed that such a term should be broadly applied and without any restraint. Those alive today who wish to ascribe a meaning other than the clear and obvious one to these two words found within our Constitution tout Alexander Hamilton as the pivotal point for their arguments. I dare say that I must defend Mr. Hamilton for he has been much maligned by ignorant sorts. His opinions of the Constitution and the powers that it granted have been greatly misrepresented by those that desperately seek a prominent figure to help with their cause. He was far from perfect but he was not the fiend that he has been turned in to.
History shows that Alexander Hamilton was certainly in favor of the Constitution and those two and very often misused words. However it also shows as well that he believed their meaning and definition to be limited. In Federalist 32 when discussing the general powers of taxation the following in support of a strictly written Constitution he clearly wrote:
In Federalist 83 he said further that:
Those that today seek greater meaning to his words take Mr. Hamilton out of context. They pull quotes of his from thin air and attribute a new meaning to the terms by citing writings such as his "Opinion on the Constitutionality of the National Bank," where he stated that such powers as those granted under the Constitution, "ought to be construed liberally, in advancement of the public good." However it should be noted that Hamilton was not advocating a broader scope for the general Welfare clause and the addition of powers. He had already clearly spoken against that and was merely debating and putting forth his interpretation of another often abused clause known as the Necessary and Proper Clause which states under Article I, Section 8 which is:
His argument was simple; that to place too much of a limitation upon the government and prohibiting it from doing ancillary things that would allow it to fulfill its obligations under Article I would neuter the powers of Congress and prevent it from actually providing for the common defense and promoting the general Welfare as charged.
For example, Congress has the power to build post offices and post roads. But does it have the power to staff those offices and deliver the mail that accumulates in the post offices that it builds? Do it have the authority to demand that others, perhaps the States, do so if it is not allowed? Hamilton's claim of "liberally" applying the powers of Congress was meant in this vain and his argument was that it makes little sense to give Congress the power to do something but not the other powers necessary and required to actually do it effectively.
Likewise the federal government is also granted the power to coin money. But nowhere in the Constitution is it explicitly given the power to put the money it coins into circulation. By implication under the necessary and proper powers granted the federal government it must also have the power to do this otherwise the money would just pile up never to be used. And technically the government or its agents would not even have the authority to pile up the money either since such a power was not granted explicitly if such a severe restriction on authority were adopted. It would, literally, without the necessary and proper clause, be required to let the coins fall where they may and never touch them once they had been minted. There are a myriad of things that go into the coining of money that the government is not expressly given the authority to do but without doing them the government could not fulfill this obligation. This is precisely what the debate over the "liberal" interpretation of the necessary and proper powers of Congress entailed.
This, Hamilton explained clearly as such in his 1791 opinion. Forgive me while I reprint several whole sentences so that the context cannot be misconstrued or my representations claimed to be false:
Further in his paper on the topic of the National Bank, often cited by those seeking desperately for something to support their unconstitutional desires, he clearly again states that the Constitution is a limited set of powers:
Again, he returns to a citation of the principle of necessary and proper powers which are expressly given to the federal government.
Another often cited document by those that wish to abuse the meaning of the General Welfare Clause is Hamilton's "Report on Manufacturers". A quick reading of this document without proper context leads them to conclude that the General Welfare Clause expounds an unlimited power to tax and spend by the Congress of the United States.
They shall cite quotations from this document such as, "The terms "general Welfare" were doubtless intended to signify more than was expressed or imported," and lay a hearty dose of reliance upon passages such as, "The only qualification of the generality of the Phrase in question, which seems to be admissible, is this – That the object to which an appropriation of money is to be made be General and not local; its operation extending in fact, or by possibility, throughout the union, and not being confined to a particular spot," to support their contention.
However, once again, in this very document Hamilton expressly scolds those that think his words meant more and slaps shut the federal treasury on their grubby fingers! He state boldly:
Again I show you that he returns to a discussion of his previous contentions and not an open ended and unlimited power.
Justification is a dangerous tool which each man who seeks political power possesses and many of those that seek justification twist and distort the historical record in order to obtain such power. One can justify just about anything if given the chance, the right audience ignorant of the truth and ultimately enough words or even the sly omission of centain other terms. History is replete with master orators whose ideas were hideous to any sense of reason. Yet these men and women were able to weave a tapestry of words that united the masses against the common good, against liberty and against God given rights and limited government.
Because of such persons the debate about the meaning of two simple words written into our Constitution over two hundred years ago still rages on to this modern day and is ultimately a question of does the term "general Welfare" mean what those who twist Hamilton's words suggest? Should the term be used in conjunction with enumerated, clear and limited powers to confine the federal government as he and others clearly said or should the term be used "liberally" to allow for the limitless expansion of federal powers to tax, monitor and regulate as a sort of Constitutional loophole to strip slowly every right retained by the States and the people?
You will well note that even as Hamilton promoted what was to be the Supreme Law of the Land he sought the aid of others among the populace with high amounts of clout to bolster his own and whose words would ease the minds of the wary. And it was for good reason. Putting the record straight was of the utmost importance because distrust ran high.
When it came time to defend the words and make clear the manner in which they were used it was James Madison who stepped up and was to put forth a further explanation that was to be accepted widely by those promoting the new federal Constitution. In Federalist 41 Madison stated that objections to the new foundation of our government based on a broad interpretation of the two words previously mentioned ad nauseam were not valid and that it was natural to read the words as pertaining only to the specific list of functions that followed them. Then in Federalist 45 he reiterated this point much more succinctly saying that the powers of the federal government were, "few and defined."
But we can dig deeper and further bolster the truth on this issue. We can quote a myriad of founders of high influence who all promoted just such an idea. Thomas Jefferson is but one and in his 1817 letter to Albert Gallatin he was quite blunt saying, "Congress had not unlimited powers to provide for the general welfare, but were restrained to those specifically enumerated." Further evidence is best found by reading the Constitution in its total context. Such an approach does more to illuminate the clear meaning of what the term "general Welfare" means than any other tactic. Especially that of taking a mere two words out of any reasonable context in an attempt to make them mean what one wants them to in the unreasonable pursuit of power and the destruction of liberty.
Further, while doing this important step, to simultaneously cast even more light on the subject logic dictates that there is no middle ground option. So let us cast aside such a silly notion. Either the term is narrowly and precisely defined or it is indefinite in scope. Either Madison, Jefferson and Hamilton in their strict interpretation are correct or those with devious purposes and who promote their liberal interpretation are correct. Obviously one cannot legitimately make the claim that the term "general Welfare" applies both to a list of enumerated powers as well as some (but not all) non-enumerated ones outside of what is obviously necessary and proper to carry out these enumerated duties. Such however would be the acceptance of those that would promote such a bizarre idea; that it is possible to determine which authorities out of a nebulous soup of infinite powers would be considered as included within the "general Welfare" and which would be discarded and not intended by the founding fathers. Neither Madison, Jefferson or Hamilton believed this and if such a broad meaning were true one would expect to find language such as "that among these are" preceding any list of powers and similar to what was written in the Declaration of Independence to denote the unalienable rights of man which were well defined at the time through various writings including the numerous constitutions of the individual states.
I wish to once again reiterate that the necessary and proper clause is not meant to be used for the argument of bolstering an indefinite scope of the "general Welfare" clause or meant in the same manner as saying, "that among these [powers] are." Once again I remind the reader that this particular clause is clear in that it only applies to those authorities previously enumerated and may not be used in such a broad context.
To proceed, having now beaten this horse thoroughly to death twice over, we know that by reading the Constitution in its full context that the vast majority of the founding fathers agreed that the nation was formed for specific reasons and that among those reasons was the primary one of securing the blessings of a concept known as liberty. Liberty is a very broad term encompassing the concept of individual persons being free to do as they choose while only being constrained in so far as their actions cannot interfere with the liberty and rights of another.
Such is not a radical position. It was not more than a few years prior to the formation of the Constitution that Thomas Jefferson wrote that, "We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal." Such equality begets by default that liberty is bound only by a restraint that as equals our rights are everyone else's rights and our rights cannot trample upon anyone else's in perfect equality.
When two rights appear in conflict, one must ultimately not be a right and simply a bastardization of one's rights made to justify one's actions. You would not be allowed, for example, to murder your neighbor and steal his land because you claim a desire to pursue happiness and own land yourself would you? No. Because you have infringed upon your neighbor's liberty by taking his right to life and his right to own property acquired through free and open transactions in order to do so.
So then we must return to the modern day Hamiltonian's view of an open ended and broad general Welfare clause understanding this. Does such an interpretation support or destroy individual liberty, the equality of all mankind where rights do not conflict and that is bulwark of limited government control?
Under this liberal view of general Welfare and with a keen tongue one could begin justification of nearly anything without much trouble and, dare I say, everything without much more of an effort. With such a distorted take on the general Welfare clause everything and anything, even if it violates the basic tenants of liberty, can and will be justified as a legitimate function of government and constitute a need for taxes and regulation out of Congress.
Such misinterpretation has already been used numerous times by modern day fiends that hoist up perversions of Hamilton to justify time and again taxes for acts of benevolence performed by government that benefit a predetermined and favored few and not the whole. Programs from Social Security to Welfare to Medicare to Food Stamps have all been created with one justification or another under the auspices of bettering the general Welfare despite the groups that these programs serve having survived with their true liberties intact prior to such government creations. But the facts remain. With these programs, all created under the auspices of furthering a liberal and open-ended interpretation of the general Welfare clause which was never envisioned, the liberty of one is regularly taken for the benefit of another in the end making slaves of the taxpayer to those that receive the benefits of such programs and also slaves of those that receive the benefits of such programs to the government itself.
Although some will shy from this comparison, such use of the power of government is not a far cry from the hideousness of the slavery that was rampant within the United States at the time of our founding and where people were brought from Africa to labor as forced servants having the fruits of their work taken by dictate to enrich others. The concept that any group of Americans should be allowed to take the property, land, life, wealth, time or possessions of another group under threat of punishment by government solely for their own benefit is so alien to the concept of liberty that it cannot be squared with its basic tenants and certainly not included in any reasonable discussion of the general Welfare of any nation. Such actions may, for certain, be for the betterment of someone's specific Welfare, but not the Welfare of our nation in general which was founded upon the concept of equality and freedom; Liberty.
But the extent of the desire within those who wish to expand by leaps and bounds the powers of the federal government beyond its Constitutional limits does not cease at direct redistribution of wealth. No, they would also lay and collect taxes to meddle in the affairs of citizens and regulate behavior that neither physically harms anyone nor infringes on the rights of others in order to sway their interactions. From determining the number of gallons of water allowed in one's toilet to the wages that employers must pay their employees to regulating the content which may be broadcast or that is otherwise shared by private individuals with other private individuals each of these are just a cursory glance at how expanding government has impeded our liberties. No liberty or general Welfare is protected by such acts, but such certainly are infringed under the auspices of promoting both.
Other whole parts of the Constitution are cast aside by this ideological malfeasance and the fallacious expansion of the meaning of the general Welfare beyond a simple and confined set of powers to which it should rightfully be constrained. From the freedom to contract without interference and by free choice as well as the sundry terms of those contracts between freemen to the right to private property and the right to be free from unreasonable searches, all rights begin to fall by the wayside as we expand the role of government into realms that true Federalists did not imagine.
We know there was a real fear that some would abuse the Constitution and seek to expand its powers based on the debate and correspondence over the document's wording. So deep was this fear that the founding fathers attempted to reinforce the idea of a federal government with limited powers by adding the Tenth Amendment which specifically states, "The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people."
It does not get much clearer than this that the Constitution is a set of limited powers not to be expanded upon based on whim and desire. For if the general Welfare clause was designed to grant the unlimited power to tax and spend to our federal government on any issue or cause Congress decided was in the interest of the general Welfare then what powers would possibly be retained by the States after enough time should pass and Congress had slowly brought all powers under its wings like a mother bird huddling her chicks? The answer to this question is none! And the Tenth Amendment would not have been needed because all power would reside within the federal government under such an interpretation. All that would be required would be for Congress to claim each power at a time when they so desired.
To the relief of Lady Liberty, Madison's words helped win the day all those years ago and the Constitution was ratified even though she and the Founding Fathers knew that it was with the help of those who desired to liberally interpret the general Welfare clause and at some later point play upon the ignorance of some and the simple search for power of others.
The battles started early and were fought often over the expansion of the term "general Welfare" from a small, defined set of government powers. Sometimes the battles were won and other times they were lost as justification for such expansion was not in short supply and both Madison and Jefferson, each while President, vetoed and admonished those legislators that tried to raise revenues and spend tax dollars outside of the powers in Article I. Although they were also not without fault in this matter either. Jefferson, for example, appropriated funds to purchase large tracts of land with no authority for Congress to approve such an expenditure. Even Jefferson himself conceded that such was not constitutional but did the deed anyway.
Since those early days of our Republic it has become fashionable to accept broad infringements upon our liberties by federal authorities and agents as they expand their grasp and the role of government. We, the people, allowed all this to happen despite knowing better. We have done this and in essence covet that which is our neighbor's when it is material in nature and infringe upon their liberty when their ethereal acts may indeed bother and offend our sensibilities but cause no true harm to be done to anyone else's rights and liberties.
The blatant examples of unconstitutional government brought forth based on the bastardization of the General Welfare Clause are numerous. They have piled up over the decades to form an enormous mountain whose destruction would be a monumental, but necessary task if we still desire liberty. From enforced government retirement savings plans (Social Security) to imposed "charity" for the poor (Welfare) these abominations are impossible to avoid and impossible to claim as valid when that all important phrase used to justify them is put into context and the lies are stripped away.
With the dawning of every new day and with every new Congress and President elected, each with their own plans for appeasing their constituents using the money of others, more and more such hideous violations of our Constitutional Republic are witnessed. All under the premise that people "generally" will not take responsibility for their own "Welfare" and that because of this the government should act to hold their hands and cast a safety net for them beneath their feet. Of course the obviously fallacious nature of such claims is clear. For when looking at history each of these programs do nothing except supplant already existing liberties and charitable acts that existed prior to such programs with government and its administrative hand now taking the lead.
Once again we see this repulsive ballet playing out as our Congress at the behest of President Obama struggles to manipulate, warp and ultimately circumvent the federal constitution with the passage of legislative controls over the health care and insurance systems used by many Americans to cover expenses which may occur in their own lives. Of course there is clearly no such power granted under the already proven limited powers of the general Welfare clause. By corollary there can also be no such power under the necessary and proper clause either because such only grants authority to do what is necessary and proper with relation to those foregoing powers.
Disciples of big government say that it is in the best interest of the general Welfare that certain, if not all Americans have money provided for them from the government in order for them to obtain health insurance to cover medical care. They also claim that those not granted such a special favor due to arbitrary factors, such as having too great of an income, etc., should simply accept the government's hand in dictation of what is covered, by whom, how and where. The justification, after enough words have been spewed, is that it would not be in the interest of the nation to have in existence a group of people who have no insurance to cover feebleness or other maladies which may strike at any time and that such a group would be a drain on the resources of society and that said group would suffer needlessly in times of illness. It is also further, and quite magically, reasoned that the family, friends and local neighbors of such people would simply not care for these persons and aid them and that they are so isolated and despicable in their personal lives that none would lift a finger to help even though for decades and centuries prior to such programs being concocted they had. It is reasoned that since it is in the interest of the general Welfare that these people be helped that government should be the agent of that help. They then propose to either extend existing taxes or levy new taxes or fees on other productive Americans currently earning wages determined to be in excess in the marketplace to pay for said program or worse – to sell our children into bondage and at the feet of government by spending money that we do not currently have. They stretch even further and claim that all Americans, even those that could afford health insurance, should gladly accept government restrictions upon what plans they may be allowed to buy, what ills such plans should cover and regulations upon how care shall be doled out. Then they perform the most sick and twisted power grab of all and force those that are wealthy enough to not need insurance because they can pay all expenses for their own health care out of pocket to buy into the system in order to bolster it. All for the sake of the general Welfare.
But what about the fact that such taxes, fees and debt takes the property (i.e. wages) of one person and gives that property to another by arbitrary force? What about the fact that such restrictions to be imposed violate our written covenant with the federal government? What about the fact that the free interaction between individuals to contract for their own lives as they see best is impeded? Is this liberty? I reiterate again that it is certainly not! And I will say that boldly and take all the stones you will hurl at me if you so dislike hearing the truth of this matter!
The long train of facts from human history reveals the truth of not just this but other sinister plots to overthrow just government. The elderly in America got by prior to the invention of programs like Social Security and Medicare by getting the aid of others through the glory of charity. The poor managed without Welfare and Food Stamps while getting the aid of charity from churches and their communities. We know this for a certainty! Just as we know that the sick have rarely gone without care for their conditions if they so sought it out. While there will always be failures of any system, those miniscule examples do not damn it as so imperfect that it should be torn asunder and granted to the authority of government. Each year the cost of free care to those that cannot afford treatment is highly noticeable. Companies, hospitals and doctors and nurses donate time, sweat and their own treasure to treat patients without health insurance and who have taken no responsibility for their own well being and assumed risks they have decided to take. Health care has never been in shortage for those that need it although often those that need it do not seek it out. So there is no way that helping such persons could be justified as a legitimate function of limited government considering these facts.
All that will be accomplished by government imposed mandates on health care, and has been accomplished by similar acts in the past, is that instead of families, churches, communities and individuals handling these issues with accountability it will now be the federal government that does so without any semblance of such. All that has changed is the hand which cares for these groups and not the fact that they are cared for. Except that now the hand that cares for them will be another faceless bureaucracy siphoning off its own fees to perpetuate its own and growing existence and that, if we are to be honest, cares little to nothing about any of those they half-heartedly proclaim to help but only that the bureaucracy itself exists. And those within the bureaucracy care about the bureaucracy's own existence only inasmuch as that there is a continuing existence of their bureaucratic posts and positions and that such will continue on in perpetuity so that they might continue to draw salaries paid for by tax payer dollars collected by force rather than having to exert effort to earn those dollars through convincing others that their cause is just and that they are good stewards of said money.
By partaking in such acts, those that believe in a broad and nearly all encompassing power under the general Welfare clause have violated the basic tenants which the Constitution was established to protect. At this point those Americans that are taxed no longer have the liberty to spend their money, which is their property, as they see fit to help those that they deem to be in need. Other Americans are forced to accept standards not of their own choosing but of a bureaucrat's desire and have their own personal liberty shrunk. Instead government forces the expenditure of independent wealth on programs that profit not everyone but instead singular groups of people which those in government can warn would surely lose such benefits if the kindly and wise bureaucrats were ever deposed from power. People are no longer free to choose ultimately how or even if they will expend their fortune and are instead forced to do so in a manner dictated by the federal state for unconstitutional powers conjured out of thin air. They are not only made to act as dictated but also told that their wages will be garnished today to pay for the benefit of others and not themselves and that the punishment for not abiding will be fines, detention or even perhaps loss of their own life for their defiance.
Whatever government welfare program you choose, this same model holds true; one American is taxed to better another and not the general Welfare of the nation. We have in the most very basic of sense turned the Constitution on its head! We have tracked down, bound and hanged Lady Liberty exchanging her blessings for a yoke that confines us and binds us to an unkind master who tells us when and how to expend our efforts by mandate, what crops to sow and when to reap them. We have divested ourselves so far from the basic principle of liberty as a cause that is to be championed and ignored the history laid bare before us about where such actions lead. We have ignored the very first and most basic principle of good government; it's limited nature to treat all under its care equally before the law and preserve individual liberty and rights which are beyond the reach of any man. And as we do this dastardly deed? Look up friends! Look up! See what is happening! Lady Liberty hangs from a tree choking out her final breaths, grasping as the noose that we have looped around her neck tightens!
That noose has been fashioned from the words of those that have lied to us and sought to deceive us for their own power with wicked tongues. And we have let them continue to lie to us. But for what? For the false perception that if we add just one more knot in the rope, one more restriction to Liberty, one more false mandate for government to perform under the auspices of the "general Welfare," one more link in the chain that we can somehow attain a higher state of freedom? That the quicker we kill Liberty the quicker we shall attain such?
How sick and twisted an idea this is! How are we to accept that by allowing our inalienable rights to be taken and our bodies to be bound by more and more rope that we will find more liberty in our lives? Will no one free Lady Liberty? Will no one step up and cut her loose? Has no one the courage to stand up and unsheathe their knife and defy our government masters and the hordes of loyalists to them who seek to have our monies placed within their palms? Or will we just be content to carve Liberty's epitaph into the bark of the tree on which she will now surely die? And will we have the courage to write that epitaph truthfully if we choose not to act?
Beware for that epitaph sadly will read: "Here hangs Lady Liberty, choked out by the general Welfare!"
J.J. Jackson is a libertarian conservative author from Pittsburgh, PA who has been writing and promoting individual liberty since 1993 and is President of Land of the Free Studios, Inc. He is the lead editor contributor to American Conservative Daily and also the founder of SignalCongress.com. He is the owner of The Right Things - Conservative T-shirts & Gifts. His weekly commentary along with exclusives not available anywhere else can be found at http://www.libertyreborn.com.
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