General Welfare clause of the Constitution

James Madison, the man who wrote the Constitution, would disagree that the “General Welfare” clause means that the government’s job is to take care of us:

I cannot undertake to lay my finger on that article of the Constitution which granted a right to Congress of expending, on the objects of benevolence, the money of their constituents. — ¬†James Madison

With respect to the two words ‘general welfare,’ I have always regarded them as qualified by the detail of powers connected with them. To take them in a literal and unlimited sense would be a metamorphosis of the Constitution into a character which there is a host of proofs was not contemplated by its creators.” –James Madison

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. It is to be remarked that the phrase out of which this doctrine is elaborated is copied from the old Articles of Confederation,¬†where it was always understood as nothing more than a general caption to the specified powers.” James Madison, letter to Edmund Pendleton, January 21, 1792


Leave a Reply