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Does the Federal Government have the right to promote social welfare?

In the Preamble of the Constitution we are told that one of the reasons the U. S. Constitution was set up was to promote the general welfare of the people.

This provision anticipates the RIGHT of Americans to have its government serve the welfare of the people in their collective needs–that is, their GENERAL welfare–and not use the resources of the people for the benefit of certain states or certain people, which would be SPECIAL welfare.

The term “general welfare” was used in the Articles of Confederation and elsewhere to refer to the well-being of the whole people. The Founders did not want the power and resources of the federal government to be used for the special benefit of any one region or any one state. Nor were the resources of the people to be expended for the benefit of any particular group or any special class of citizens. (Making of America p 244)

The entire American concept of “freedom to prosper” was based on the belief that man’s instinctive will to succeed in a climate of liberty would result in the whole people prospering together. It was thought that even the poor could lift themselves through education and individual effort to become independent and self-sufficient.

The idea was to maximize prosperity, minimize poverty, and make the whole nation rich. Where people suffered the loss of their crops or became unemployed, the more fortunate were to help. And those who were enjoying “good times” were encouraged to save up in store for the misfortunes which seem to come to everybody someday. Hard work, frugality, thrift, and compassion became the key words in the American ethic.

Within a short time the Americans, as a people, were on the way top becoming the most prosperous and best-educated nation in the world. The key was using the government to protect equal rights, not to provide equal things. Samuel Adams said the ideas of a welfare state were made unconstitutional by the Founders:
“The utopian schemes of leveling (redistribution of the wealth) and a community of goods (central ownership of all the means of production and distribution) are as visionary and impracticable as those which vest all property in the Crown. (These ideas) are arbitrary, despotic, and, in our government, unconstitutional.”

The Founders had a deep concern for the poor and needy. Disciples of the collectivist Left in the Founders’ day as well as our own have insisted that compassion for the poor requires that the federal government become involved in taking from the “haves” and giving to the “have nots.” Benjamin Franklin had been one of the “have nots,” and after living several years in England where he saw government welfare programs in operation, he had considerable to say about these public charities and their counterproductive compassion.

Franklin wrote a whole essay on the subject and told one of his friends: “I have long been of your opinion, that your legal provision for the poor (in England ) is a very great evil, operating as it does to the encouragement of idleness. We have followed your example, and begin now to see our error, and, I hope, shall reform it.”

A survey of Franklin ’s views on counterproductive compassion might be summarized as follows:

  1. Compassion which gives a drunk the means to increase his drunkenness is counterproductive.
  2. Compassion which breeds debilitating dependency and weakness is counterproductive.
  3. Compassion which blunts the desire or necessity to work for a living is counterproductive.
  4. Compassion which smothers the instinct to strive and excel is counterproductive.

Nevertheless, the Founders recognized that it is a mandate of God to help the poor and underprivileged. It is interesting how they said this should be done.

Franklin wrote: “To relieve the misfortunes of our fellow creatures is concurring with the Deity; it is godlike; but, if we provide encouragement for laziness, and supports for folly, may we not be found fighting against the order of God and Nature, which perhaps has appointed want and misery as the proper punishments for, and cautions against, as well as necessary consequences of, idleness and extravagance? When ever we attempt to amend the scheme of Providence , and to interfere with the government of the world, we had need be very circumspect, lest we do more harm than good.”

Nearly all of the Founders seem to have acquired deep convictions that assisting those in need had to be done through means which might be called “calculated” compassion.

Highlights from their writings suggest the following:

  1. Do not completely care for the needy–merely help them to help themselves.
  2. Give the poor the satisfaction of “earned achievement” instead of rewarding them without achievement.
  3. Allow the poor to climb the “appreciation ladder”–from tents to cabins, cabins to cottages, cottages to comfortable houses.
  4. Where emergency help is provided, do not prolong it to the point where it becomes habitual.
  5. Strictly enforce the scale of “fixed responsibility.” The first and foremost level of responsibility is with the individual himself; the second level is the family; then the church; next the community; finally the county, and, in a disaster or emergency, the state. Under no circumstances was the federal government to become involved in public welfare. The Founders felt it would corrupt the government and also the poor. No constitutional authority exists for the federal government to participate in so-called social welfare programs. (Making of America p 218-220)

The U. S. Constitution states in Article I, section 8: The people of the states empower the Congress to expend money (for the enumerated purposes listed in Article I, section 8), provided it is done in a way that benefits the general welfare of the whole people. Thomas Jefferson explained that this clause was not a grant of power to “spend” for the general welfare of the people, but was intended to “limit the power of taxation” to matters which provided for the welfare of “the Union ” or the welfare of the whole nation. In other words, federal taxes could not be levied for states, countries, cities, or special interest groups. (Making of America p 387)

The Court unlawfully laid the foundation for what turned out to be an amendment to the Constitution in the 1936 Butler case, where “general welfare” was twisted to allow “special welfare”, and the federal budget jumped from six billion to six hundred billion in one generation. (Making of America p 255)   Should the Federal Government be involved in Social Welfare, you be the judge.


Consider this...

There have been many tributes to the Constitution but the highest tribute of all is the willingness of a person to take the time to study it.

The Constitution is an exciting charter for human freedom that establishes nearly 300 vested rights as they apply to various segments of the American society. Many people do not know the nature of these rights or how too protect them. This is why many of those rights have been eroded or lost. 

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