Walter E. Williams

Today's White House proposes and Congress taxes and spends for anything they can muster a majority vote on. My investigative query is: Were the Founders and previous congressmen and presidents, who could not find constitutional authority for today's bread and circuses, just plain stupid and ignorant? I don't believe in long-run ignorance or stupidity, so I reread the Constitution, looking to see whether an amendment had been passed authorizing Congress to spend money on bailouts for airlines, prescription drugs, education, Social Security and thousands of similar items in today's federal budget. I found no such amendment.

Being thorough, I reread the Constitution and found what Congress might interpret as a blank check authorization -- the "general welfare clause." Then I investigated further to see what the Framers meant by the "general welfare clause." In 1798, Thomas Jefferson said, "Congress has not unlimited powers to provide for the general welfare, but only those specifically enumerated." The Constitution's father, James Madison said: "With respect to the two words ‘general welfare,' I have always regarded them as qualified by the detail of powers connected with them. To take them in a literal and unlimited sense would be a metamorphosis of the Constitution into a character which there is a host of proofs was not contemplated by its creators."

My detective work concludes with several competing explanations. The first is that the great men who laid the framework for our nation were not only constitutionally ignorant but callous and uncaring, as well. The second is it's today's politicians who are constitutionally ignorant. Lastly, it's today's Americans who have contempt for the Constitution, and any congressman or president upholding the Constitution's letter and spirit would be tarred and feathered.

Walter E. Williams

Dr. Williams serves on the faculty of George Mason University as John M. Olin Distinguished Professor of Economics and is the author of 'Race and Economics: How Much Can Be Blamed on Discrimination?' and 'Up from the Projects: An Autobiography.'
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