Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Guest Post: Promoting the "General Welfare" by Mike Stegall

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I read with interest Mr. Vic Bothast’s editorial [DJ Note: Mr. Stegall is referring to an editorial published elsewhere.] on the federal government’s role in Healthcare. He stated that the government was to provide health care to its citizens because of the “general welfare” clause in the Preamble to the Constitution. He could not be more wrong!

The “general welfare” clause is mentioned twice in the Constitution, once in the preamble, and once in Article 1, Section 8. This section of the Constitution refers to the “general welfare” thus: “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…” The preamble clearly defines the 2 major functions of government: (1) ensuring justice, personal freedom, and a free society where individuals are protected from domestic lawbreakers and criminals, and (2) protecting people of the United States from foreign aggressors. When the Founding Fathers said that “WE THE PEOPLE” established the Constitution to “promote the general welfare”, they did not mean the federal government would have the power to aid education, build roads, and subsidize business. Likewise, Article 1, Section 8, did not give Congress the right to use tax money for whatever social and economic programs Congress might think would be good for the “general welfare”.

James Madison stated that the “general welfare” clause was not intended to give Congress an open hand “to exercise every power which may be alleged to be necessary for the common defense or general welfare.” If by the “general welfare” the Founding Fathers had meant any and all social, economic, or educational programs Congress wanted to create, there would have been no reason to list specific powers of Congress such as establishing courts and maintaining armed forces. Those powers would simply have been included in one all–encompassing phrase, to promote the “general welfare.”

John Quincy Adams observed: “Our Constitution professedly rests upon the good sense and attachment of the people. This basis, weak as it may appear, has not yet been found to fail.” Thomas Jefferson wrote: “I consider the foundation of the Constitution as laid on this ground: That ‘all powers not delegated to the United States, by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States or to the people. To take a single step beyond the boundaries thus specifically drawn around the powers of Congress is to take possession of a boundless field of power, no longer susceptible of any definition.”

It is NOT the government’s business (constitutionally) to “help” individuals in financial difficulty. Once they undertake to provide these kinds of services, they must do so with limited resources, meaning that some discriminating guidelines must be imposed (so many who need that kind of help- so little resources to provide it).

The Founding Fathers said in the preamble that one reason for establishing the Constitution was to “promote the general welfare.” What they meant was that the Constitution and powers granted to the federal government were not to favor special interest groups or particular classes of people. There were to be no privileged individuals or groups in society. Neither minorities nor the majority was to be favored. Rather, the Constitution would promote the “general welfare” by ensuring a free society where free, self responsible individuals- rich and poor, bankers and shopkeepers, employers and employees, farmers and others- would enjoy “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness,” rights expressed in the Declaration of Independence.

One more item for all to ponder, Thomas Jefferson (the most brilliant of minds this country has ever produced in my opinion) wrote in 1791 the danger of misinterpreting the Constitution. “The danger in the hands of Senators and Congressmen is that of instituting a Congress with power to do whatever would be for the good of the people of the United States; and, as they would be the sole judges of the good or evil, it would be also a power to do whatever evil they please.” Unlike public officials during Jefferson’s time, our modern day legislators have a very loose interpretation of the Constitution. The result is that government has mushroomed into a monolithic bureaucracy, one that “WE THE PEOPLE” need to regain control of!

Mike Stegall- Darke County Commissioner.

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