May 19, 2009

Limited Government

We had a spirited and interesting discussion a few posts down.

I went hunting for the exact quote I was looking for from James Madison, hampered badly by expecting it to be John Quincy Adams: "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."

I found it as a reference in a Walter Williams column from 2006. Professor Williams, of course, makes my argument about limited government far better than I:

Each year since 2004, on Sept. 17, we commemorate the 1787 signing of the U.S. Constitution by 39 American statesmen. The legislation creating Constitution Day was fathered by Sen. Robert Byrd and requires federal agencies and federally funded schools, including universities, to have some kind of educational program on the Constitution.

I cannot think of a piece of legislation that makes greater mockery of the Constitution, or a more constitutionally odious person to father it -- Sen. Byrd, a person who is known as, and proudly wears the label, "King of Pork." The only reason that Constitution Day hasn't become a laughingstock is because most Americans are totally ignorant of, or have contempt for, the letter and spirit of our Constitution.


I think we are seeing what happens when you believe that government should do whatever it wants, as long as it is swell. FDR had to fight off the Hughes Court, LBJ had a far more divided Congress. President Obama's supra Constitutional escapades are meeting far less organized resistance.

I don't see how we can forcefully object to his trampling of private property and contract rights as we support the adoption and enforcement of unconstitutional powers that we like. It's a short piece, well worth the read.

Philosophy Posted by John Kranz at May 19, 2009 11:00 AM

I presume WW shortened the quote from Madison's Federalist #45 because of length limitations:

"The powers delegated by the proposed Constitution to the federal government are few and defined. Those which are to remain in the State governments are numerous and indefinite. The former will be exercised principally on external objects, as war, peace, negotiation, and foreign commerce; with which last the power of taxation will, for the most part, be connected. The powers reserved to the several States will extend to all the objects which, in the ordinary course of affairs, concern the lives, liberties, and properties of the people, and the internal order, improvement, and prosperity of the State."

But hey, Madison only wrote much of the thing himself, so what did he know?

I once had an overtly socialist political science professor justify social welfare programs to our class, saying, "The Constitution gives Congress the power to tax and spend to promote the general welfare." And most Americans are state-worshipping enough to believe this. As I've pointed out, until 1865, the federal government derived most of its revenues from a quite modest (i.e. not to the levels of Whig/Repuglican protectionism) tariff.

Posted by: Perry Eidelbus at May 19, 2009 3:11 PM

Perry: I've always thought one of the cleverest parts of the leftward slouch was slapping the label "Welfare" on the redistribution of tax money from earners to non-earners, since it would lend legitimacy to the payments in the eyes of the public. But I've always thought the specific choice of the words "general welfare" meant "the welfare of all" rather than "the welfare of a few at the expense of others," and that it referred to things that would benefit all, such as roads.

Also, the phrase "general welfare" is from the preamble, not from any specific section, and therefore is not an enumerated power.

Would you say that rationale is valid?

Posted by: Keith at May 20, 2009 7:23 PM

Absolutely correct. "Welfare" has been so perverted over the last several decades. I realized this as a teenager, when I read some idiotic bleeding heart op-ed decrying welfare cuts, saying that welfare "was a concept considered so benign that the Founding Fathers put it in the preamble to the Constitution." That's complete poppycock, as anyone who's read Madison can tell you.

Posted by: Perry Eidelbus at May 21, 2009 9:13 AM | What do you think? [3]