Once again readers are faced with an opinion bit about health care as a right. Gregory Berg in a guest opinion on May 17 cites two of our founding documents as “proof” of this imaginary right, the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution. Having read both documents as well as a good bit written by the folk who drafted and debated them, I feel I have to fix a legal and historic error.
First, a simple quote: “On every question of construction carry ourselves back to the time when the Constitution was adopted, recollect the spirit manifested in the debates and instead of trying what meaning may be squeezed out of the text or invented against it, conform to the probable one in which it was passed.” — Thomas Jefferson to William Johnson, 1823.
The Declaration of Independence is not a governing document. It does not say how the new nation would be governed but simply explained reasons for independence. When written by the Continental Congress, no one knew how the new nation would be governed but generally figured it would be run by the states. As proof, they finally established the doomed Articles of Confederation, replaced by the Constitution years later.
That leaves the Constitution. Here we wander into treacherous territory as Mr. Berg leaps to misunderstand a phrase in the preamble, “promote the general welfare” and pretends it meant what an activist court would say it did if drafted today, not what it meant when written.
Madison, the father of the Constitution and Bill of Rights, noted:
“With respect to the 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.” — James Madison
“I cannot undertake to lay my finger on that article of the Constitution which granted a right to Congress of expending, on the objects of benevolence, the money of their constituents.” Madison, 1792
“If Congress can do whatever in their discretion can be done by money, and will promote the General Welfare, the Government is no longer a limited one, possessing enumerated powers, but an indefinite one, subject to particular exceptions.” — James Madison, 1792
“The government of the United States is a definite government, confined to specified objects. It is not like the state governments, whose powers are more general. Charity is no part of the legislative duty of the government.” — Madison
I could go on but the idea is clear, the general welfare clause does not mean what Mr. Berg thinks it does. I’ll close with a final quote:
“The trouble with our liberal friends is not that they are ignorant: it is just that they know so much that isn’t so.” — Ronald Reagan
Jim Verdolini is a military retiree and Boise resident.