Promoting the General Welfare

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Many of those defending a federal government takeover of the healthcare system have not paused to consider if doing so is even Constitutional. Some proponents, however, cite the “general welfare” clause in the preamble as license for this and virtually every social program that comes along. This is simply wrong, and it’s time to set the record straight.

The preamble to the U.S. Constitution reads as follows:

We the people of the United States, in order to form a more perfect union, establish justice, insure domestic tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general welfare, and secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.

First and foremost, the preamble sets the stage for the Constitution and explains why it was written. The preamble does not define rights, responsibilities, or liberties.

Note the difference between PROVIDE and PROMOTE in the preamble. The founders used the word PROVIDE in reference to the common defense because the federal government would be playing a direct role in funding and control. The founders chose the word PROMOTE in reference to general welfare because they did not envision any such direct control.

Note also the use of the term GENERAL WELFARE. The word GENERAL suggests that government’s role will pertain to society as a whole, not select groups or individuals. In addition, the word WELFARE had a much different connotation when the Constitution was written than it does today. Welfare’s meaning was closer to “well being” at that time. WELFARE was not commonly used in the government context—such as “the welfare state”—until the middle of the 20th century.

The preamble simply states that part of the purpose of the Constitution is to foster a general well-being. How this might translate into specific activities is discussed in the text of the Constitution itself. In other words, the general welfare clause does not authorize any government activity whatsoever. End of story.

So the next time someone gives you the GENERAL WELFARE argument in support of healthcare “reform” or any social program, be sure to set him straight. You might also wish to ask him how a $12 trillion national debt is contributing to our effort “to secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity.”

7 Comments

7 Comments

  1. Mike  •  Oct 25, 2009 @7:10 PM

    Parnell’s right, but I’d bet that most of the Dems supporting this atrocity see the Constitution as an obstacle to their agenda anyway and just don’t care.

  2. goldcon  •  Oct 26, 2009 @6:03 AM

    The Constitution used to be about individual rights and responsibilities, and limits on the federal government. Now it’s been twisted into group rights and entitlements.

  3. Carol  •  Oct 26, 2009 @7:39 AM

    Exactly, the Constitution means little to these people (socialist dems and wimpy repubs) who want to take our sovereignty and reduce us to a banana republic…and we are to think that all of this is in the name of the “general welfare”-how stupid do they think we are?

    Can we challenge this to the Supreme Court? Are we turning into another Honduras?

  4. John Parnell  •  Oct 26, 2009 @8:15 AM

    Many Americans have come to accept the left’s premise that the Constitution is a living and breathing document, which is another way of saying that it shouldn’t be an obstacle to social engineering and government tinkering that would otherwise be prohibited. It seems that few Americans really understand the basics of the Constitution. It’s not as complicated and nuanced as some liberal scholars would like us to believe…Yes, a government takeover of healthcare probably should be challenged on Constitutional grounds. But given American sentiment and the current makeup of the Court, I am not confident that this approach would be successful.

  5. jeff  •  Oct 27, 2009 @1:07 AM

    its laughable….i hear obama on the radio right now talking about “fiscal responsibility”….i think i see how this works now – do one thing and claim you’re doing the opposite…

  6. Barry  •  Nov 9, 2009 @6:35 PM

    Great information and discussion, but can you expound on this in relation to the real clause that they are referring to when they mention the “General Welfare” clause. That is in the introductory statement in Article 1 Section 8 where it says “…provide for the common defence and general welfare.” This is the section that they have used to twist and pervert the original meaning of this. The Statists use these few words to dispense with every constraint the framers intended for this vital section of the Constitution and thus have breached the firwall of the protections in the Constitution.

  7. John Parnell  •  Nov 9, 2009 @7:53 PM

    Good point, and you said it well. My original argument holds true in terms of rhetoric. For example, Steny Hoyer argued last month that Congress has “broad authority” to force Americans to purchase other things as well, so long as it was trying to promote “the general welfare” (www.cnsnews.com/news/article/55851). This is really twisted logic. The Constitution specifically limits the power of the federal government, but Hoyer claims that the founders were OK with Congress doing whatever it wanted in the name of “general welfare.” Anyone who’s confused should simply read the Constitution as a complete document. Everything points to limited government and specifically, limited Congressional powers. Authorizing this kind of meddling in both the economy and the personal affairs of citizens just wouldn’t fit with the rest of the document.