The Enumerated Powers of Government – Part 1

I enjoy researching and writing about current events, interesting, and entertaining things that happen daily. However, as much as I enjoy those topics, I find researching our founders and the constitution not only fascinating but necessary. Education has been so lacking in the past 40+ years that there are many things regarding the Constitution people do not know. This may be somewhat boring to some, but I feel compelled to share my “take” as it were in our founding document and its intended handcuffs on government.

I am not a constitutional expert, I am simply someone who believes words mean things and that there are no deep dark secrets in our founding document; it simply means what it says. The constitution is not that long, and it is not tedious reading. Certainly, every US citizen should have a copy and know the basics. Uneducated people are easily misled, so don’t be one of those people.

While I was taught that we are governed by three co-equal branches of government, I do not believe that now. I believe they are listed in order of importance, Article I covers the legislature, Article II the Executive and Article III the Judiciary. In recent years, the reality of things is that the Judiciary has become the most powerful, and even just one “swing” justice holds ultimate power.

That was never meant to be.

There are roughly 30 legislative powers delegated throughout the Constitution, they can be found in a list compiled by The 10th Amendment Center. Following are the 18 listed Congressional powers:

“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; To borrow on the credit of the United States; To regulate Commerce with foreign Nations, and among the several States, and with the Native American Tribes.

To establish an uniform Rule of Naturalization, and uniform Laws on the subject of Bankruptcies throughout the United States; To coin Money, regulate the Value thereof, and of foreign Coin, and fix the Standard of Weights and Measures; To provide for the Punishment of counterfeiting the Securities and current Coin of the United States; To establish Post Offices and Post Roads; 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; To constitute Tribunals inferior to the supreme Court.

To define and punish Piracies and Felonies committed on the high Seas, and Offenses against the Law of Nations; To declare War, grant Letters of Marque and Reprisal, and make Rules concerning Captures on Land and Water; To raise and support Armies, but no Appropriation of Money to that Use shall be for a longer Term than two Years.

To provide and maintain a Navy; To make Rules for the Government and Regulation of the land and naval Forces; To provide for calling forth the Militia to execute the Laws of the Union, suppress Insurrections and repel Invasions; To provide for organizing, arming, and disciplining, the Militia, and for governing such Part of them as may be employed in the Service of the United States, reserving to the States respectively, the Appointment of the Officers, and the Authority of training the Militia according to the discipline prescribed by Congress.

To exercise exclusive Legislation in all Cases whatsoever, over such District (not exceeding ten Miles square) as may, by Cession of particular States, and the acceptance of Congress, become the Seat of the Government of the United States, and to exercise like Authority over all Places purchased by the Consent of the Legislature of the State in which the Same shall be, for the Erection of Forts, Magazines, Arsenals, dock-Yards, and other needful Buildings; And 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 of the United States Constitution Historically congress made an effort to pass legislation that was most likely constitutional, however, during the FDR administration, much of that went out the window, never to return.

In 2010 when Obamacare legislation was being approved, CNSNews.com asked Rep. John Conyers, “The individual mandate in the bill requires individuals to purchase health insurance. The Congressional Budget Office (CBO) has said that never before in the history of the United States has the federal government required anyone to purchase any good or service.

What part of the Constitution do you think gives Congress the authority to mandate individuals to purchase health insurance?” Conyers said: “Under several clauses, the good and welfare clause and a couple others. All the scholars, the constitutional scholars that I know — I’m chairman of the Judiciary committee, as you know — they all say that there’s nothing unconstitutional in this bill and if there were, I would have tried to correct it if I thought there were.” The operative words there of course, “If I thought…”.

This is a man who was chairman of a very powerful committee. He alone can control many things whether legislation is moved out of committee or even considered.  Can somebody please tell me where I can find The “Good and Welfare Clause?”

Progressives have long bemoaned the fact that the Constitution is a document of limited powers. Barack Obama has frequently discussed how frustrated he is that the Constitution is a charter of negative liberties; it tells the government what it cannot do, not what it can do. There is a restraint to the Marxist notion of redistribution of wealth for a reason, it goes against the very fabric of freedom and liberty. Progressives began to pick phrases out of the Constitution and call them “Clauses,” and the uneducated simply believe there is a section of the Constitution giving specific power to the government.

Now, there are legitimate clauses in the document, such as the “Advice and Consent” clause giving the Senate the responsibility to give advice and consent of presidential appointments. The Senate represented the states, so it was the states saying they approved of the appointments. Note that the clause was specific as to the authority it gave. However, we often hear of the “General Welfare,” “Commerce,” and the “Necessary and Proper” clauses used to authorize a plethora of agencies and programs totaling trillions of dollars and thousands of pages of regulations restricting people and businesses.

“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.”

This is, of course, the preamble to the Constitution.  Please take note of the mention of “General Welfare.” This is what progressives will tell you is the general welfare clause. They would have you believe that the subsequent restrictions on congress listed in the document do not apply, that if a congress determines something is for the people’s welfare, then it is okay. If that is true, is there any limit to what government may do? I believe the shoving of Social Security, Medicare and Obamacare (among countless other programs and agencies) down our collective throats answers that question with a resounding NO!

“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.”

You may remember this from the above-listed powers. The “Necessary and Proper” clause is derived here. Note it is restricted right here by “Powers vested by this Constitution”, however, we as people and states have allowed the government to do what they say is in our best interest. Once again, the words of Benjamin Franklin ring true, “They who can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety.”

The “Commerce” clause, “To regulate Commerce with foreign Nations, and among the several States, and with the Indian Tribes” is also listed in the enumerated powers above. Note the specifics of the clause. Now consider this case, Wickard v. Filburn that appeared before the Supreme Court in 1942. Claude R. Wickard, Secretary of Agriculture, brought the case against Ohio farmer, Roscoe Filburn. Filburn was raising wheat on his farm for his own use: to feed cattle and make flour for his own purposes. He did not sell the wheat or flour, nor did he intend to engage in commerce. The government’s position was that by him not buying the wheat, but growing it for his own use, he affected commerce! This is outrageous!

This happened in the early 1940’s, so we have been in trouble for a long time.

If a government agency, (pick your alphabet soup of the day, EPA, OSHA, IRS) decides you are violating their desires, there is no protection from their tyranny. If we are criminally charged, we have protections and an assumption of innocence, however if a government agency decides you are in violation, you are considered guilty and have NO due process as guaranteed in the Bill of Rights.

Another important note is the restriction of government ownership of lands. The federal government is to own only the 10 square miles of Washington D.C., and such, as is necessary for forts, arsenals, ports and such necessary buildings and only then at the approval of each state legislature. The vast parcels of land owned and controlled by the government and its agencies are in direct opposition to the constitutional authority granted.

Obviously, I cannot share an exhaustive list of government abuses; my goal here is to encourage people to educate themselves. Read the Constitution and see where we have departed from the liberties that were to be protected from a tyrannical and overbearing government.

Let’s look at some well-known quotes by some of our founders regarding tyranny, they are an indictment of us and our complacency.

“All tyranny needs to gain a foothold is for people of good conscience to remain silent.”

“Enlighten the people, generally, and tyranny and oppress ions of body and mind will vanish like spirits at the dawn of day.”

“When the people fear the government, there is tyranny; when the government fears the people, there is liberty.”

“Experience hath shewn, that even under the best forms of government those entrusted with power have, in time, and by slow operations, perverted it into tyranny.”

“When once a republic is corrupted, there is no possibility of remedying any of the growing evils but by removing the corruption and restoring its lost principles; every other correction is either useless or a new evil.” — Thomas Jefferson.

“Government is not reason, it is not eloquence, it is force; like fire, a troublesome servant and a fearful master. Never for a moment should it be left to irresponsible action.”

“If the freedom of speech is taken away then dumb and silent we may be led, like sheep to the slaughter.” – George Washington

“I believe there are more instances of the abridgment of freedom of the people by gradual and silent encroachments by those in power than by violent and sudden usurpation… The means of defense against foreign danger historically have become the instruments of tyranny at home..If tyranny and oppression come to this land, it will be under the guise of fighting a foreign enemy.” President James Madison

“It is the religion of ignorance that tyranny begins.”

“Rebellion to tyrants is obedience to God”

“It is the first responsibility of every citizen to question authority.” —Benjamin Franklin “It is the duty of the patriot to protect its country from its government.” —Thomas Paine

Clearly, our founders feared and detested tyranny, and their level of government abuse that equated to tyranny was MUCH lower than ours. We are the frogs in the water as the temperature is slowly turned up, and the cauldron is nearly boiling; but rather than do something about it, most of us simply get more comfortable and enjoy the warmth.

While it is important for us to become educated and involved, and for us to take action as citizens, it is also vital to learn how to show people a constitutional government BENEFITS the people and is ultimately, to their advantage. Constitutionalists have been terrible salesmen; we must learn to highlight, and sell the advantages of liberty.

In Part 2 we will look at Article II and the Executive Branch, the Presidency.

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2 thoughts on “The Enumerated Powers of Government – Part 1

  1. Pingback: The Enumerated Powers of Government – Part 2 – The Voice of Reason

  2. Pingback: The Enumerated Powers of Government – Part 3 – The Voice of Reason

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