Wednesday, September 14, 2005

The 'General Welfare' Clause

When many people first read the Constitution, they are confused by its vagueness. The phrase that most people are taken aback by is:

Article I, Section 8, Clause 1:
The Congress shall have 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; but all duties, imposts and excises shall be uniform throughout the United States;

Because of the way this phrase is written, many people assume that it actually says:

"The Congress shall have the power...to...provide for the...general welfare of the United States."

This comes from a blatant misunderstanding of the English language. The phrase contains a preposition within a preposition. This means that everything in the second preposition is subservient to the first. It would look like this in today's U.S. Code or other legislative actions:

The Congress has the power 1)to lay and collect taxes, duties,
-------------------------------------imposts, and excises
--------------------------------------A)to
----------------------------------------1)pay the debts and
----------------------------------------2)provide for the
------------------------------------------a)common defense and
------------------------------------------b)general welfare of the United
--------------------------------------------States
--------------------------------------B)but all duties, imposts and excises
----------------------------------------shall be uniform throughout
----------------------------------------the United States;

Therefore, the only power given to the legislative body under this clause is to lay and collect taxes. Ok, but how can Congress spend this money? This is answered in several other clauses in Article I. The first, is Section 6:

"The Senators and Representatives shall receive a compensation for their services"

The rest are all listed under Section 8 right after that clause. Here they are, as listed:

Sec. 8, Clause 7: "To establish post offices and post roads"

Sec. 8, Clause 8: "To promote the progress of science and useful arts, by securing for limited times to authors and inventors the exclusive right to their respective writings and discoveries"

Sec. 8, Clause 9: "To constitute tribunals inferior to the Supreme Court"

Sec. 8, Clause 12: "To raise and support armies"

Sec. 8, Clause 13: "To provide and maintain a navy"

Sec. 8, Clause 16: "To provide for organizing, arming, and disciplining, the militia"

All the powers are listed right there for you. Now, I know some of you are asking "But where does the government get the power to provide for the general welfare?" Believe it or not, they read this clause just as we have. They did not find the power here. It is in another Clause in the Constitution which we are not addressing today. Go ahead and have a read of Article I Section 8, digest this information, and come back tomorrow. We've got lots to discuss.

Sincerely,
Ted
http://www.law.cornell.edu/constitution/constitution.table.html

1 comment:

melissa said...

State the preposition followed by the second preposition because I'm a little slow. I'm not sure how it breaks down to only "lay and collect taxes"?

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