By Thomas James Norton
|The United States Supreme Court. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)|
It is difficult to tell which of the half score of Socialistic acts of Congress of the Roosevelt Revolution was the most far-reaching in its threat to the Republic. But the competition for evil lies between the Fascist Tennessee Valley Authority of May 18, 1933, and the Social Security Act of August 14, 1935.
When President Roosevelt
signed A Bill to Alleviate the Hazards of Old Age, Unemployment, Illness, and Dependency, to Establish a Social Insurance Board in the Department of Labor, to Raise Revenue, and for Other Purposes, he made this comment:
"If the Senate and House of Representatives in this long and arduous session had done nothing more than pass this bill, the session would be regarded as historic for all time."
Most complete abandonment of constitutional principle
It will certainly stand apart forever as a complete departure from the Constitution as expounded by its writers,
notably Madison, afterward President, and James Wilson, later a Justice of the Supreme Court of the United States
; by President Monroe in a celebrated veto message of a bill for "public improvements," the beginning of the most wasteful of all squanderings by Congress of the money of the taxpayers; by President Jackson
, who vetoed every appropriation bill not clearly for national
, as distinguished from personal
, welfare; by Presidents Tyler, Polk, Pierce, Grant, Arthur, and Cleveland.
The "hazards of old age, unemployment, illness and dependency" are subjects (if of any government) for the police power of the States, which has been defined as having to do with "the health, morals, safety, education, and general well-being of the people."
"The Federal Constitution
forms a happy combination in this respect," wrote Madison in No. 10 of The Federalist
; "the great and aggregate interests being referred to the National, the local and particular to the State legislatures."
No police power was granted by the people through the Constitution to Congress.
And "Congress is not empowered," wrote Chief Justice Marshall
in 1824 (9 Wheaton 1), "to tax for those purposes which are in the exclusive province of the States."
States cannot abdicate their police power
It was held by the Supreme Court (219 U. S. 270,282) as late as January, 1911, that the police power inhering in the States cannot be surrendered by them.
1. While the Social Security Act gathers money from the employer and the employee, it provides that money so collected shall go into the funds of the United States and that bonds shall be issued against it. Of course, it is the taxpayers who must eventually redeem such bonds.
There is no stronger principle of American constitutional law than that forbidding the delegation of power. For a decade and a half the Newspaper has told us of powers granted by Congress to the President. It has no powers that it can grant or give away. The reports by the Newspaper were constitutionally nonsensical. Yet they affected the public mind, untaught in the Constitution, to accept as valid the abdication -- not the delegation or grant -- of powers by what came to be known as "a rubber-stamp Congress."
Abdication of constitutional duties by Congress
Congress permitted the President and his nonelected advisers to write bills, as George III sent bills to Parliament against the American Colonies, and Congress passed them. But that was abdication of power by Congress, not delegation or grant.
So, too, the States cannot part with their powers or any portion of them. Their power of police, especially, over the welfare of the people they cannot surrender, as the decision of the Supreme Court just before cited shows. Therefore, the rush of the States, like children in the street to whom a handful of coins has been thrown, to enact compliant legislation in order to get "gifts" of their own money from Washington under A Bill to Alleviate the Hazards of Old Age, Unemployment, Illness, and Dependency, to Establish a Social Insurance Board in the Department of Labor, to Raise Revenue, and for Other Purposes, was an unconstitutional abdication by the States of their obligations to the people. The liberties of the people were grossly transgressed.
On the police power resident in the States, Judge Cooley,
recognized half a century ago as the leading constitutionalist of his time, had this to say in volume 2 of the 8th edition of Constitutional Limitations
, page 1232:
"In the American constitutional system the power to establish the ordinary regulations of police has been left to the individual States, and it cannot be taken from them, either wholly or in part, and exercised under legislation by Congress."
States and Congress join in unconstitutional action
Yet that is exactly what was brought to pass by a usurping Congress and abdicating States when the scheme for social security through Washington was set up.
On the same page Judge Cooley said further:
"Neither can the National Government, through any of its Departments, or offices, assume any supervision of the police regulations of the States."
When, in September, 1787, the Constitutional Convention sent the new Fundamental Law
to the States for ratification, only one of them was opposed to it from the start -- or before the start. New York
convoked a convention headed by Governor Clinton which was three fourths against the proposed form of government. Some able men in other States were not wholly satisfied with the Constitution. The objections which they expressed in the ratifying conventions resulted in a Bill of Bights in addition to the limitations on power amounting to a Bill of Rights written in the original Instrument. Several delegates to the Constitutional Convention went home without signing the new form of Government. Alexander Hamilton was the only signer for New York.
Elbridge Gerry of Massachusetts, one of the ablest men in the Convention, did not sign. Edmund Randolph of Virginia and George Mason of Virginia, the author of The Virginia Bill of Rights, did not sign. Nor did William Houstoun of Georgia.
Most important of original objections to Constitution
The commonest and strongest objection was that the identity and sovereignty of the States were not sufficiently guarded. It was this objection that brought out the Tenth Amendment, to prevent Congress from invading the States.
In the convention in New York the point here under discussion was most strongly urged, namely, that the General Welfare Clause gave to Congress powers without limit. The States would eventually be swallowed by the central Government, which properly could deal only with subjects strictly national and international.
Yet the Housing Act of 1937 declared the policy of Congress to be to provide for the general welfare of the Nation by employing its funds and credit to assist the States to relieve unemployment and to safeguard health, and for other like purposes. In 1945 the Supreme Court, in an opinion by Justice Roberts (none dissenting), held (323 U. S. 329) that legislation constitutional!
Thus the objection which chiefly evoked the Bill of Rights, and especially the Tenth Amendment, went for naught.
And in 1941 the Court, in an opinion by Chief Justice Stone (none dissenting), held (312 U. S. 100) that under the Fair Labor Standards Act of Congress of 1938 the Nation can exercise police power in the States! That over-
ruled a great decision (247 U. S. 251), rendered in 1918, that Congress is prevented by the Tenth Amendment from regulating labor conditions in the States.
The first and most important grant of power
The very first grant of power is this:
"Congress shall have power to lay and collect Taxes, Duties, Imposts and Excises to pay the Debts and provide for the common Defence and general Welfare of the United States."
In the convention in New York it was argued that the power to tax and spend for "the general Welfare of the United States" was a grant without limitation at all. That was answered by James Madison, the reporter of the Constitutional Convention, from whose notes day by day we get most of our knowledge of the course of deliberations. In the history of governments and in general fitness for his task he was second to no other man in the Convention.
Madison, along with Hamilton and Jay, was writing a series of 85 papers explanatory of the Constitution and addressed "to the people of the State of New York" to convince them that their objecting convention should ratify the new form of government. Those papers became known as The Federalist
, the most brilliant work on our Constitution. They have been translated into French, German, Spanish, and Portuguese.
Objections of States cleared away by Madison
Of the argument in New York, which was made in other States too, that power in Congress for "the general Wel-
fare" was authority to do its will throughout the land, Madison wrote, evidently in anger:
"No stronger proof could be given of the distress under which these writers labor for objections than their stooping to such a misconstruction."
By "stooping" Madison plainly meant that they knew better and were unfair in their opposition to the General Welfare Clause of the Constitution.
Then he proceeded to explain the language under the established rules of interpretation. Had no other enumeration of powers been made than for taxing and spending, he said, then there might be some color to the objection that Congress would be without restraint -- though that would be an "awkward way of describing an authority to legislate in all possible cases."
"But what color can the objection have," he asked, "when the specification of the objects alluded to by these general terms immediately follows, and is not even separated by a longer pause than a semi-colon?"
Limitation on power of Congress to spend
That is, the grant of power to tax and spend for the "common Defence and general Welfare" is followed in the same sentence by all the other grants -- to borrow money, to regulate commerce, and so on. The first grant of all -- to tax and spend -- is inseparable in the context from all the other grants.
The power to tax and spend was granted to effectuate all of the seventeen succeeding paragraphs of clauses as well as the one in which it appears.
Madison met this question again in the very first Cong-
ress of the new Government, in which he was a member of the House of Representatives, and where he assembled and formulated twelve of the leading objections to the Constitution that came in from the ratifying conventions in the States for submission as amendments, ten of which were ratified and became known as the Bill of Rights.
First appearance of the "Subsidy"
A bill was introduced by a member from New England to pay a bounty to cod fishermen, to subsidize a private interest, as agriculture and many more private interests have been subsidized by the "New Deal." He spoke at length with great vigor against the bill. Stating that those who wrote the Constitution and those who ratified it conceived it to be not an indefinite Government, but a limited one, "tied down to the specified powers, which explain and define the general terms," he added:
"If Congress can employ money indefinitely to the general welfare, and are the sole and supreme judges of the general welfare, they may take the care of religion into their own hands; they may appoint teachers in every State, county and parish and pay them out of their public treasury; they may take into their own hands the education of children, establishing in like manner schools throughout the Union; they may assume the provision of the poor. . . . Were the power of Congress to be established in the latitude contended for, it would subvert the very foundations, and transmute the very nature of the limited Government established by the people of America."
The consequences of the misapplication by Congress of the money of the taxpayers -- a scourge of mounting debt
and cumulative deficits -- establish Madison as a major prophet.
Hamilton, as well as Madison, rejected the contention strongly urged against the Constitution, that it left the National Government with unlimited power to do its will, and in No. 83 of The Federalist
he said (italics his):
"The plan of the Convention declares that the power of Congress, or, in other words, of the National Legislature
, shall extend to certain enumerated cases. This specification of particulars evidently excluded all pretension to a general legislative authority, because an affirmative grant of special powers would be absurd, as well as useless, if a general authority was intended."
Article I, Section 8 sets boundaries to constitutional power
There is no power in Congress beyond the boundaries of those eighteen paragraphs of clauses.
Certainly James Madison and Alexander Hamilton should have known what the purpose of the Constitutional Convention was. New York, by ratifying the new form of government, accepted what they said. Other States doubtless ratified on their explanation.
Abraham Baldwin of Georgia, a member of the Constitutional Convention, said in Congress in 1798 that "to provide for the common Defence and general Welfare" had "never been considered as a source of legislative power, as it is only a member introduced to limit
the other parts of the sentence." That is, it limits the purposes for which Congress can "lay and collect taxes" and exert its other granted powers.
The legal scholar of the Convention speaks
But there was another man in the Constitutional Convention, the ablest lawyer, as Madison was the ablest historian -- James Wilson, a scholar from Edinburgh and from one of the Temples in London, who explained the taxing and spending power in a course of lectures to what afterwards became the University of Pennsylvania, as Madison had done. He said in part:
"The National Government was intended to promote the 'general Welfare.' For this reason Congress have power to regulate commerce . . . and to promote the progress of science and of useful arts by securing for a time to authors and inventors an exclusive right to their compositions and discoveries."
In this way he proceeded from the Patent and Copyright Clause to explain all the other clauses in section 8 granting power. He made it very clear that Congress was to "provide for the common Defence and general Welfare" by exerting the powers granted to it in the seventeen paragraphs following the first, by which it was authorized "to lay and collect taxes."
Thus, three members of the Constitutional Convention have spoken on this point -- Madison, Baldwin, and Wilson -- and none of them thought that the General Welfare Clause, which has been construed as a limitation on the activities of Congress rather than a grant of power, authorized the Legislative Department to get into anything even remotely resembling a Quixotic adventure "To Alleviate the Hazards of Old Age, Unemployment, Illness, and Dependency, to Establish a Social Security Insurance
Board in the Department of Labor, to Raise Revenue, and for Other Purposes."
General Welfare brilliantly defined by Jefferson
Although Jefferson was in Paris while the Constitutional Convention was sitting, he was in close communication with Madison and other delegates. He knew the Constitution. In a profoundly able letter to Albert Gallatin in 1817 he discussed the General Welfare Clause on which the Social Security Act was based (italics inserted):
"You will have learned that an act for internal improvement, after passing both Houses, was negatived by the President. The act was founded, avowedly, on the principle that the phrase in the Constitution which authorizes Congress 'to lay taxes, to pay the debts and provide for the general welfare,' was anextension
of the powers specifically enumerated
to whatever would promote the general welfare; and this, you know, was the Federal doctrine. Whereas our tenet ever was, and, indeed, it is almost the only landmark which now divides the Federalists and the Republicans, that Congress had not unlimited powers to provide for the general welfare, but was restrained to those specifically enumerated
; and that, as it was never meant that they should provide for that welfare but by the exercise of the enumerated powers, so it could not have meant that they should raise money
for purposes which the enumeration did not place under their action
; consequently, that the specification
of powers is a limitation
on the purposes for which they may raise money.
"I think the passage and rejection of this bill a fortunate incident. Every State will certainly concede the power; and
this will be a national confirmation of the grounds of appeal to them, and will settle forever the meaning of this phrase, which, by a mere grammatical quibble, has countenanced the General Government in a claim of universal power
. For in the phrase 'to lay taxes, to pay the debts and provide for the general welfare,' it is a mere question of syntax, whether the two last infinitives are governed by the first, or are distinct and co-ordinate powers; a question unequivocally decided by the exact definition of powers immediately following."
That early interpretation should have been conclusive
That exposition by Jefferson, applied to a practical case in legislation, is perhaps the most illuminating that has been made.
Six years later, Jefferson returned to the subject (italics inserted):
"I have been blamed for saying that a prevalence of the doctrine of consolidation would one day call for reformation or revolution. I answer by asking if a single State of the Union would have agreed to the Constitution had it given all powers to the General Government? If the whole opposition to it did not proceed from the jealousy and fear of every State
of being subjected to the other States in matters merely its own? And if there is any reason to believe the States more disposed now than then to acquiesce in this general surrender of all their rights and powers to a consolidated government, one and undivided?"
Jefferson's reasoning applied to present-day legislation
That is to say, it was inconceivable to Jefferson that the representatives of the people in Congress could ever so far disregard our constitutional history and purpose as to strip their States of local authority by abdicating their police power through such acts as these:
Not a State would have ratified the Constitution,
|The Agricultural Adjustment Act||of May 12, 1933|
|The Tennessee Valley Authority||of May 18, 1933|
|The National Industrial Recovery Act||of June 16, 1933|
|The Federal Surplus Commodities Corporation||of October, 1933|
|The Bituminous Coal Act||of May, 1935|
|The National Labor Relations Act||of July, 1935|
|The Social Security Act||of August, 1935|
Jefferson declared, had it thought such a "revolution" possible.
We have suffered a constitutional revolution without use of amendments in accordance with Article V. That has come about through what Senator Thomas H. Benton of Missouri used to call "latitudinarian construction." That form of construction has been applied to the Commerce Clause and the General Welfare Clause. No other clause in the Constitution, even with the gross twisting which the ardent "progressists" employ, could be used by them in the framing of a bill for flouting the Tenth Amendment, the great bulwark of the States.
Did President Cleveland foresee present-day unconstitutionalism?
In 1888, President Cleveland, evidently noticing the tendency of representatives of the States in the Congress of the Union to favor measures for degrading their commonwealths, gave them in his fourth annual message this lesson in constitutional law:
"The preservation of the partitions between the proper subjects of Federal and local care and regulation is of such importance under the Constitution, which is the law of our very existence, that no consideration of expediency or sentiment should tempt us to enter upon doubtful ground.
"We have undertaken to discover and proclaim the richest blessings of a free Government, with the Constitution as our guide. Let us follow the way it points out -- it will not mislead us."
In the next year President Cleveland vetoed a bill appropriating money from the National Treasury for the purchase of seed wheat to relieve the farmers in a drought-stricken area
. In that message he defined the meaning of the General Welfare Clause as Madison and the others hereinbefore quoted interpreted it (italics inserted):
"Under the limited and delegated authority conferred by the Constitution upon the General Government the statement of the purposes for which money may be lawfully raised by taxation in any form declares also the limits of the objects for which it may be expended. . .
. This 'general welfare of the United States,' as used in the Constitution, can only justify appropriations for national
objects and for purposes which have to do with the pros
perity, the growth, the honor, or the peace and dignity of the Nation
What would Mr. Cleveland think could he know that the Federal Government now subsidizes the farmer, pensions everybody, and plans to medicate and hospitalize the whole population? And no amendment to the Constitution authorized the change!
Supreme Court ignored history and learning on General Welfare
Notwithstanding all that members of the Constitutional Convention had written in explanation of the General Welfare Clause, which they had drafted with the care that marked every line of the Constitution, the Supreme Court of the United States, on May 24, 1937, three months after the President had attacked the Judiciary as inefficient and obstructive and asked Congress to recast it to his liking, in an opinion (301 U. S. 548) by Justice Cardozo, with dissents by Justices Sutherland, Van Devanter, McReynolds, and Butler, used this language:
"It is too late today for the argument to be heard with tolerance that in a crisis so extreme the use of the moneys of the Nation to relieve the unemployed and their dependents is a use for any purpose narrower than the pro-motion of the General Welfare."
That expressed the popular notion of the party in power, that a "crisis," or an "emergency," or an "extraordinary emergency," such as the President
was given to declaring
2. The field of the President's authority is very limited. It does not include the States, to say nothing of the external world. In No. 75 of The Federalist Madison pointed that out:
"The execution of the laws and the employment of the common strength, either for this purpose or for the common defence, seems to comprise all the functions of the Executive Magistrate."
as difficulties unfolded, and as Congress had declared in the National Industrial Recovery Act and its companion pieces, confers on Congress powers which the Constitution did not and which it therefore withheld. The Constitution withheld more powers from Congress than it granted. Besides that precaution, the Tenth Amendment was added to warn Congress not to "grab" power in any circumstances whatsoever, especially against the States.
Two fundamental errors in decision of Supreme Court
In the opinion by Justice Cardozo it is assumed
that because Washington could give relief it had the power
to do so. It points out that for a given time Washington gave emergency relief to the amount of $2,929,307,366, while the States expended only $689,291,802 and local subdivisions $777,675,366.
But official figures assembled by the United States News for June 18, 1938, showed that for five years the people of the States had paid to the National Government in taxes $20,411,847,208 and received in "benefits" from their own money $18,267,527,000.
They gave to Washington more than 2 billion over what was returned to them. Those figures are absolute disproof of the statement of the Court, that "the fact developed quickly that the States were unable to give the requisite relief."
But even had the States been unable to give relief, that fact would not have conferred power on Congress to take
over police jurisdiction in the States, which the Constitution had not granted.
Instead of the first American coup d'état
, which was executed by the Federal Emergency Relief Act of May 12, 1933, Congress should have repealed the Income Tax Law and the Estate Tax Law, by which it had been draining the States of their resources, and let the States, in close contact with the needy, go ahead and perform their police duties of relief. It chose revolution.
Rapid spread of the evil of subsidies
"Federal aid" to States for relief, for schools, and for what you will has grown worse and worse. In a report by the floor leader of the House of Representatives on January 8,1950, to the Ways and Means Committee it was shown that for the fiscal year ending June 30,1949, the people of the States paid in Federal taxes $41,864,542,295, while they got back in "aid" from their own money $5,551,054,046.
As Just before stated, for the five years
ending June 30, 1938, the States paid in Federal taxes $20,411,347,208, or less than one half of what they paid in the last one year
. That is what may be described as "going some." The "grants in aid" for the five-year term averaged 3 billion, 653 million, while for the last one year they were 5 billion, 551 million -- and all unconstitutional.
Arkansas, Mississippi, and New Mexico are the only States that got back anything near to half what they had paid.
3. A vigilant reporter for the United Press discovered that the king of the Hoboes was visiting a friend in Pittsburgh and he interviewed His Highness for the edification of the country. The King, who has made several trips around the world, has concluded that modern travel (Cont. on 198)
The situation is fantastic, for it has often been shown in Congress that there is not a State in the Union that is not in a stronger financial position than the National Government. The States need no "aid" from Washington -- except for political purposes. That's what is going on, reminding of the "bread and circuses" which the politicians provided for the populace of sinking Rome.
Finally, on the decision in the Social Security case, it was based not only on the erroneous assumption of the inability of the States to perform their duties in giving relief, but also on what Justice Cardozo termed "a cyclical depression." To be sure, permanent legislation is not justified by a cyclical depression.
Constitutionality of Social Security Act not for Supreme Court
In the light of the reading of "general Welfare of the United States" which was given by Madison and other members of the Constitutional Convention, and by Jefferson, who was in constant communication with members while the Convention was sitting, and by several Presidents, it was not for the Executive Department, the Legislative Department, or the Judicial Department, or all of them together, to give the words a different meaning.
(3. Cont from 197) is attended by too many risks, and he has therefore concluded to become a lobbyist for "Federal aid" to young men possessed by the urge to wander. He believes that all such young men should have each year a vacation of two weeks at the expense of the Government. "Then they could travel safely and in style," he said.
Is that any more absurd than that the wealthy State of Kansas, which, up to an act for pensions to its sons who served in World War I, had no debt at all, should receive "Federal aid" in 1950 for the benefit of its needy in the amount of $18,000,000? The supervisor of welfare reported that fact in June.
[Kansas does not differ from the other states. Degeneracy is general. To them the Constitution is a dead letter.
As in 1895 the Supreme Court, refusing to strike out a limitation in the Constitution on taxation, referred the proponents of the Income Tax Law of 1894 to the Ultimate Power, to the people as the only Constitution makers, to write an amendment if they should deem that expedient, so in the Social Security case the Supreme Court should have held the act of Congress unconstitutional and referred the "planners" and their project to the people for disposition. Then a proposal to let Congress "into a boundless field of power no longer susceptible of any definition" would have brought the answer from those who alone had it.
That course would have been what Justice Brandeis called "procedural regularity," which he said must always be followed in resolving constitutional problems.
Where authority over welfare resides
It is within the police power of the State to protect the farsighted, the frugal, and the temperate from the tax burden of caring for the indifferent, the unthrifty, the profligate, and the handicapped when they become unable to care for themselves. It may require persons not voluntarily carrying insurance in standard companies to do so, if they cannot show resources making insurance unnecessary. And it can compel employers of such persons to make payroll deductions for the payment of insurance premiums through the working years of the employees.
The United States has no constitutional interest in this subject.
This discussion may well be closed by a quotation from a sound decision of the Supreme Court on January 6, 1936, holding the Agricultural Adjustment Act unconstitutional
as not authorized by the General Welfare Clause. Later, on May 24, 1937, the Court, as seen, sustained the Social Security Act as within the General Welfare Clause -- on two erroneous conceptions: (1) that the States could not care for the people in need (which would not confer authority on Congress), and (2) that "a cyclical depression" gave power to Congress to take control forever.
An admirable view of history
In the Agricultural Adjustment case the Court, speaking through Justice Roberts, said:
"Until recently no suggestion of the existence of any such power in the Federal Government has been advanced. The expressions of the Framers of the Constitution, the decisions of this Court interpreting that Instrument, and the writings of great commentators will be searched in vain for any suggestion that there exists in the Clause [General Welfare] under discussion, or elsewhere in the Constitution, the authority whereby every provision and every fair implication of that Instrument may be subverted, the independence of the individual States obliterated, and the United States converted into a central Government exercising uncontrolled police powers in every State of the Union, superseding all local control or regulation of affairs or concerns of the States.
"Hamilton himself, the leading advocate of broad interpretation of the power to tax and appropriate for the general welfare, never suggested that any power granted by the Constitution could be used for the destruction of local self-government in the States, Story countenances no such doctrine. It never seems to have occurred to them, or to those who have agreed with them, that the general
welfare of the United States (which has aptly been termed "an indestructible Union, composed of indestructible States") might be wrecked by obliterating the constitutional members of the Union."
Justices Stone, Brandeis, and Cardozo dissented.
That decision shows the ground we have since abandoned, with Congress "in a boundless field of power, no longer susceptible of any definition."
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