AN EXPERIMENT IN SELF-GOVERNMENT – PART III The Spending Clause of the Constitution

All fifty-five delegates to the Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia during the summer of 1787 knew they had to make the Constitution strong enough to last, yet protect freedom and liberty of the people in order to be ratified.  They did not want a monarchy and they feared mob rule.  They were aware no government before had success seeking what the Founders were attempting; a self-governing nation where sovereignty was in the people. My purpose for this essay is to show how the Constitution solves that conundrum.  They also had other concerns about the Constitution’s longevity which is the subject of a separate essay.  

The national government designed in the Constitution is similar to the preceding national government under the Articles of Confederation.  It is inferior to State governments in scope and in extent of its sovereignty.  The national government is strictly limited to enumerated powers, and none others.  It cannot create new powers for itself nor can it amend the Constitution by itself.  Period stop. The States, on the other hand have certain enumerated powers, plus all other powers not given to the national government or prohibited to the States.  Nothing prohibits a state establishing any new power it desires, except:   Powers it ceded to the federal government, and powers impairing the rights of the people to life, liberty and property.  The national government’s powers have effect over the whole nation.  They are “the law of the land.”  Just as the national government is charged with the responsibility for national defense against all enemies, foreign or domestic, so is it capable of providing for the general welfare of the United States.  This is so because the States do not have sovereignty throughout the whole country; that would otherwise overlap with the same sovereignty of other States for their boundaries.   

The preceding paragraph provides the general scheme of federal and state responsibilities.  The devil is in the details, as they say.  To tax and spend are the whole of the devil’s domain because it is recognized that the power to tax is the power to destroy, while the power to spend is the power to corrupt.  Article I, Section 8, Clauses 1 through 18, are specifically the details.

1.     All legislative Powers herein granted shall be vested in a Congress of the United States, which shall consist of a Senate and a House of Representatives.  (Article I, Section 1)

2.     Congress shall have Power to lay and collect Taxes, Duties, Imposts and Excises, to pay the Debts and provide for the common Defence (sic) and general welfareof the United States, (Article I, Section 8, Clause 1)

3.     …All Duties, Imposts and Excises shall be uniform throughout the United States….(Article I, Section 8, Clause 1)

4.     The Congress shall have Power To…borrow Money on the credit of the united States….(Article I, Section 8, Clause 2)

5.     The Congress shall have Power to …make all Laws which shall be necessary and proper for carrying into Execution the foregoing Powers, and all other Powers vested by this Constitution in the Government of the United States, or in any Department or Officer thereof.  (Article I, Section 8, Clause 18)

These provisions bring together legislative power (limited and enumerated), taxing power and power to spend money of the government of the United States.  All belong together in Congress.  In 1787, the word “welfare” by itself meant doing some good for some people, but not required to be for all the people.  The meaning of the words general welfareof the United Stateswas known to the Convention delegates and to the people at large to mean welfare for all of the people at the same time, and this welfare must be in every jurisdiction of the United States, at the same time.  In addition, the common defence (sic) also means the defense of all the people and of all the territory of the United States.  The words general welfarewere so strongly limited by that generally accepted meaning that there was very little debate in the Convention or among the ratifying state conventions to reign-in its “excessive” meaning.  If there is to be welfare for the entire nation, it has to be supplied by Congress, not by the separate States.  

PUBLIUSTOO.COM                                                                                      October 1, 2019 Constitutional Taxing and Spending