James MadisonJames Madison, (1751-1836), Father of the Constitution for the USA, 4th US President

James Madison Quote

“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; they may undertake the regulation of all roads other than post-roads; in short, every thing, from the highest object of state legislation down to the most minute object of police, would be thrown under the power of Congress... 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.”

James MadisonJames Madison
~ James Madison

On the Cod Fishery Bill, granting Bounties. February 7, 1792, referring to a bill to subsidize cod fisherman

Ratings and Comments

Barb Froehling, Mt. Vernon, IL

The original sentiment that has been completely ignored.

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Hollywood    3/11/05

I'm confused... You mean the federal government was NEVER supposed to provide all the social services that have essentially bankrupted the nation? If it is clearly unconstitutional, how come that's all politicians talk about? Man, have I been conned -- what a waste of 12 years of 'education' -- I've merely been programmed. Isn't anyone else mad besides me? What can we do?!

Isaac, nashville

A clear reading of this passage should indicate to all that we as Americans have strayed far from the concept of America. Our mistakes will become all too aparent soon enough.

Terry Berg, Occidental, CA

"If Congress can employ money indefinitely to the general welfare, ..." Well, it seems the definition of 'welfare' needs to be considered in regarding an opinion given in a context which couldn't have conceived of things as they are today. The AHD entry: | wel·fare (wµl“fâr”) n. 1.a. Health, happiness, and good fortune; well-being. b. Prosperity. | In this context our military exists, at least in part, to secure our 'welfare'. I'm not sure it would be prudent to yank all funding for that function in this day and age. I think it's important to avoid 'blanket' judgements insofar as they can sometimes lead to unintended results if acted upon in 'blanket' fashion.

Richard, Altus, OK
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Richard, Altus, OK Terry Berg, Occidental, CA 10/28/21

The military is a strictly enumerated power of the federal government.

S. Engel, Fredericksburg

It is quite clear from Madison's comments that, in his time, "GENERAL welfare" had the same meaning as we ascribe today to the economics term "public good." Thus, that is what the Constitution means by "general welfare."

James E. Lockwood, C.Ht, San Jose, CA

An excellent quotation but how can we motivate the people, who understand, to organize and control their congressman -- or even, on their own, flood their representative with letters and phone calls? I've been trying for 40 years to motivate people who know there is a problem and yet they act as though they are programmed to do nothing. Examples: 1) "When things get bad enough someone will do my job for me!" 2) "Don't tell me about it because I know I'll get interested and I don't want to take the time!" 3) "There is no problem so why should I do anything?" After talking to him for a few minutes he said, "It's too late to win so there's no reason to do anything!" Stage Hypnotist Tom Silver told me, "The American people are now more hypnotized than were the Germans under Hitler." I asked him, "How can I use reason and logic on people that have already been hypnotized?" His only answer was, "Hypnotize them again!" Kreskin, after giving a dramatic demonstration of the power of suggestion, turned to the TV camera and sternly declared, "Watch your politicians!" You can get a lot of quotations from the Russian textbook on psychopolitics called "Brain-washing" by former Communist Kenneth Goff. But (probably) all it will do is frighten people into believing that it's to late to win. James E. Lockwood, C.Ht , 5984 Santa Teresa Blvd, San Jose, CA 95123-4238 Phone: (408) 972-9037

JDoN, Michigan

I think Jefferson had the right - and ultimate - answer. We need a revolution to keep the bureaucrats and politcians on their toes - or back to the pig sty with them!

(KS), Queensbury,NY.

What is past is prologue.

Richard S. Kerr, Morgantown, WV

If the "general welfare" clause were intended to convey to Congress sweeping, open-ended powers, then the enumeration of certain powers would have been redundant. Similarly, either the Tenth Amendment confirms that Congress and the federal government have only the enumerated powers, or else it is meaningless.

Dodge, D.C.

Where is this quote from? When did he say/where did he write this?

Dodge, D.C.

This is a quick response to Terry Berg about our military. The things the governement is allowed to do to protect/promote the "general welfare" are those things specifically mentioned in the Constitution which include the military. Welfare programs (Being a charity organization), education, health care etc. are not listed as powers granted by the People to the Federal Government in the Constitution, but all these powers are claimed by the Fed Gov under a false interpretation of the "general welfare clause." For example: Like Madison said, the government may build roads because that is a power granted by the Constitution... but only post roads! The government may not "undertake the regulation of all roads other than post-roads" even though taking care of all the roads may appear to be the correct interpretation of "general welfare." Madison explicitly says that it is not what the Framers meant by "general welfare." They spelled out specifically what they meant in case any future generations would be confused and the government would try to take more power than it should have. We just have to read the rest of the Constitution!

Dodge, D.C.

Just for more support I got this from another site: [In Federalist No. 41, James Madison asked rhetorically: "For what purpose could the enumeration of particular powers be inserted, if these and all others were meant to be included in the preceding general power?" Madison was replying to anti-Federalist writers who had warned that the 'general welfare' clause opened the way to unlimited abuse. He haughtily accused those writers of "labour[ing] for objections" by "stooping to such a misconstruction" of the obvious sense of the passage, as defined and limited by those powers explicitly listed immediately after it.]

Editor, Liberty Quotes

Madison is referring to a bill to subsidize cod fisherman introduced in the first year of the new Congress http://www.barefootsworld.net/nortonuc12.html

Terry Berg, Occidental, CA

Clarification and point taken - thanks Dodge and Richard K. - and thanks Editor for the link.

Mike, Norwalk

At the time of the writing of the Constitution, Fabian and other forms of Socialism were all the rage in Europe. 'General Welfare" was a popular contemporary term to that time clearly used differently by the Founders (biblical, Locke, Blackstone, etc. principles applied to the individual sovereign) than by the collectivists. For example: "To lay taxes to provide for the general welfare of the United States, that is to say, 'to lay taxes for the purpose of providing for the general welfare.' For the laying of taxes is the power, and the general welfare the purpose for which the power is to be exercised. They are not to lay taxes ad libitum for any purpose they please; but only to pay the debts or provide for the welfare of the Union." (Thomas Jefferson)

Joe, Rochester, MI

Ask the IRS "What law makes me liable to pay income tax?" You won't get an answer. I am happy to pay taxes I am liable for. But I don't want to pay taxes for which I am NOT liable (i.e. income tax).

E Archer, NYC

Let there be no mistake -- the US government has absolutely over-stepped the bounds of the Constitution -- and not only does the American public not know, they beg the government for more. Start by turning off broadcast television -- stop getting daily programming and start studying. The only hope the People have will rest with the change in consciousness from dependence to responsibility.

Joe, Rochester, MI

Those rating this quote less than 4 stars are socialists and communists, liberals at heart. They feel the rest of us are responsible to pay the living expenses of those who find too easier to collect welfare and too irresponsible to work.

Jack, Green, OH

Madison was trying to explain, in too many words, his reasons for putting the checks and balances of divided government into the Constitution. "If Congress can employ money indefinitely to the general welfare, and are the sole and supreme judges of the general welfare", etc, etc., and on and on, ..then, "..the power of Congress ....would subvert .... the limited Government established by the people of America." Good thought, but could be said in about a dozen words. Only three stars for being too verbose.

Lee, Maryland

I don't understand the "too verbose" comment. If anything Madison was outlying concrete examples of how the government can usurp your power, while telling you they are helping you. If anything, his verbosity was prudent, and should be heeded- especially now.

Kevin Tate, OH

One of the key points about the general welfare clause that most miss, even "Constitutional Scholars" is not the words "general welfare" but rather the words "of the United States." The Congress is NOT to provide for the general welfare of the PEOPLE (a word used dozens of times to explicitly state points about the citizenry) but for the general welfare of the STATES, both individually and collectively. The only way the Federal government could legally provide all the entitlement spending they do is if the phrase read: "The Congress shall have the power to lay and collect taxes, duties, imposts and excises, to pay the debts of the United States, and provide for the general welfare OF THE PEOPLE of the United States..." etc. etc. The phrase obviously says no such thing.

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RBESRQ    1/22/09

The point is "If" Please, someone, explain: 'Were the power of Congress to be established in the latitude contended for,..' Generally the comments are good - but we seem to forget all to easily that we are currently practicing socialism like never before but this time for the wealthy and not the welfare of the people. The "general welfare" of the people is an admirable sentiment, and Terry you were right in the first place, don't apologize (good to see you back). Gobbledygook and Codswallop (thanks E for that one), is their no compassion on this blog; are we all so selfish that everyone else can go to hell - lets all retreat into our caves...

Waffler, Smith, Arkansas

Jack Green has it right. Madison started with the word "IF" a big big word. Madison is simply thinking out loud and mulling over an issue. Of course everyone wants limited government but most would enjoy unlimited resources flowing their way as some have in oil rich Arab countries but generally speaking we live in a world of limited money and resources which must be allocated wisely. Private decisions are best but government decisons for the "common good" "general welfare" are vital.

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    RBESRQ    1/22/09

    I am reminded of this quote: 'Words have the power to both destroy and heal. When words are both true and kind, they can change our world.' - Buddha

    E Archer, NYC

    RBESRQ, I find it hard to believe that you repeatedly refer to 'compassion' as a role in government. Compassion is once again an INDIVIDUAL act and can only be 'virtuous' if it is voluntary. You have objected to the corruptions of the Church -- how is the State any different? Who decides what level of 'service' the citizen must commit? "For our own good" is completely subjective -- heretics have been burned at the stake 'for our own good.' The entire premise is wrong -- compassion cannot be legislated NOR can it ever be distributed equally. Compassion is a BLESSING, not a right. Life is hard, and shit happens -- then we die. Yes, compassion is vital to a happy society, but only when it comes from the heart. You cannot force the rest of us to pay and pay and pay so that everyone can get unlimited medical attention -- where does it end? Everyone has to have $200,000 treatments to live another year? All we will accomplish is forming a pharmaceutical monopoly with HUGE regulatory bodies that will protect their profits. Look, I resent being forced to pay for other people's mistakes -- it is my choice to help those whom I want to help and vice versa. Americans are VERY compassionate and generous -- look at the thousands of charities and foundations. Government is wasteful and corrupt -- we should be taking away powers from them, not consolidating more power into fewer and fewer hands until there is some bureaucrat deciding if YOU are worth saving.

    E Archer, NYC

    The crazy thing is that Madison is telling us that the powers granted to the federal government by the Constitution do NOT include all the things the government does today -- and the people expect it!!! Hell, Waffler would tell us that the government SHOULD 'borrow' money indefinitely to the general welfare, SHOULD be the sole and supreme judges of the general welfare, SHOULD appoint teachers in every State, county and parish, SHOULD pay them out of their public treasury, SHOULD take into their own hands the education of children, establishing in like manner schools throughout the Union, SHOULD assume the provision of the poor, SHOULD undertake the regulation of ALL roads, SHOULD control every thing, from the highest object of state legislation down to the most minute object of police, in short SHOULD subvert the very foundations, and transmute the very nature of the limited Government established by the people of America. This is the road to serfdom.

    Mike, Norwalk

    Archer, WOW, extremely well said.

    Waffler, Smith, Arkansas

    Archer you still cannot read. Madison is saying that things must be paid for, borrowing as the Reagans and Bushes have done is not paying for them is not looking to the ways and means.

    J Carlton, Calgary

    If Madison could see the US today...he could honestly say ..."I told you so"

    Technomage, Phoenix, AZ

    Waffler, Perhaps, if you took all the intermediate phrases out, it would make more sense as to the actual intention of Madison's statement: "If Congress can employ money indefinitely to the general welfare, ... it would subvert the very foundations, and transmute the very nature of the limited Government established by the people of America." Your interpretation is not accurate.

    Rich1776, Asheville, NC

    The key is "promote" the general welfare. If the founders wanted the feds to ensure general welfare, they would not have written, "PROVIDE for the common defense, ENSURE domestic tranquality, PROMOTE the general welfare...". These words were chosen carefully. Promote means: to contribute to the growth or prosperity of (per Websters). Provide means: to supply or make available. To contribute to the growth of general welfare clearly means to do things that assist the people in growing their welfare or their wealth.

    Vishnu, Spencer, Iowa

    To Waffler: While Reagan & the Bushes and all politicians who authorize deficit spending deserve criticism for their greedy desire to spend borrowed money that they certainly have no obligation to repay, the total national debt has grown, whether slightly or greatly, every year for decades under all the Democrat presidents as well, according to: http://www.treasurydirect.gov/govt/reports/pd/histdebt/histdebt.htm The recent Bush record deficits were plenty bad, but I am incredulous at the current 1.6 to 2 Trillion proposed deficit for '09. Party makes little difference in D.C. when it comes to irresponsible spending. Just as "It's GOOD to be king" (for the king at least), the majority of politicians in Congress prefer spending every dollar they can get their hands on, versus any lesser amount. What possible incentive do they have to do differently? That certainly will continue until a balanced budget Constitutional amendment or some other restraint is imposed on the feds.

    Gina Altukova, Old Bridge

    Congress violates US Constitution in every possible way. US Supreme Court already took religion in its own hands by announcing prayers in schools unconstitutional. Founding Fathers did not want Federal Government to interfere in religious matters, leaving these matters to states. They did not want Federal Government to establish a National Church. Because of that, Thomas Jefferson wrote about a separation between the state and the church. In his wildest dreams he would not imagine that it would be interpreted by the modern Supreme Court as a separation between the state and the religion. As John Adams told: "Our Constitution was made only for a moral and religious people." Congress established uniform public schools (James Madison warned about this) where anti-American indoctrination is rampant. Congress established welfare payments which are nothing more but a redistribution of wealth. Pretty soon, all aspects of our lives will be controlled by the Federal Government, if we continue to allow it to further violate the Constitution of the United States.

    anonymous, Dallas

    Lookit, rope-a-dopes, has it ever occurred to you all that we have followed his prescription *to the letter*? He's talking about *Congressional* -- that is to say, *Federal* -- spending power. The roads, schools, religious issues, even business subsidies (usually in the form of reduced or tax-free business zones) have all been left up to the states and local governments. The exception is, of course, the road issue -- namely, the fact that the federal government builds interstates -- but the interstates were a *defense* project. Eisenhower had them built so that we could move troops and equipment quickly using automobiles just like the Germans did on the Autobahn. Now I think it's adorable that you and that lilliputian doctor from Galveston all blather on about "liberty" as though you know what it means, and I hope you all have yourselves a good time. But when it comes to politics, it's big-boy time, and I expect you all to stay quiet and go back to playing Xbox in your rooms.

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    Me    11/4/09

    Very well said. I think it is important to note that the Const. says PRMOTE (not provide or ensure) the General Welfare. Also, the Founding Fathers believed welfare to mean "faring well" and knew that if it ever meant anything else than that, our nation would be in serious trouble. Madison is by far my favorite Founding Father and this quote is one of my favorites from him. If only he could see our nation now. Him and the rest of the Founding Fathers would be sadened to see their hard work towards a limited government disappear.

    Conrad, Michigan

    Honestly, the Framers must be spinning in their graves like lathes with the transformation of a great and proud Republic into a despotic Democracy that twists every word they spoke and wrote into something it is not, only to gain tyrannical power over the good people of these united States. It is a sad state in which we find ourselves today, as too many people are dependent upon government for their daily meat, bread, and drink. And they are all too willing to hammer the rivets of shackles upon those who are deprived of their rightful property and wealth to provide for them, using the said despotic government as the administer of both sides.

    Tom Amlie, Mount Joy, PA

    I think this is a great sentiment, but I (flame suit on) really question the veracity of this quote. Quite frankly, it screams "bogus quote!". PLEASE. SOURCE! Our work in trying to stem the creeping crud of the state is hard enough; bogus quotes make the work that much harder, and we look like idiots when someone calls us on it. Did he really reference public education? That wasn't an issue at the time, which leads me to beleive this is a made-up quote by some good intentioned person. Again, this is a wonderful sentiment with which I wholeheartedly agree, but I NEED A REFERENCE!

    Tom Amlie, Mount Joy, PA

    My apologies for the preceding comments where I questioned the accuracy of the quote. I found it elsewhere in its original source. You have to admit, the quote is almost too good to be true! The foresight these men had is amazing.

    Suze, Fairfax, VA

    James Madison also said: "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."

    Carrie Tuazon, Troy, MI

    Our founding fathers truly understood oppression. They had experienced it first hand and had endless examples of European govt failure. It is sad how far we have come from the intent of our founding fathers. Man is always striving to control others and our ignorance and apathy have led us to where we are today. Maybe now people will educate themselves and refuse to allow the continuing bastardization of our Constitution. It is not a "living" document. It very clearly enumerates the purpose and powers of the federal govt. Can we save it in time?

    Preston Sturges, Kalamazoo MI

    The tea party overlooks the fact that the colonists were revolting against English CORPORATIONS (corporations were invented to exploit the colonies). English laws forced the colonies to buy nearly everything into the hands of foreign companies. The English built country houses packed with gold and silver furnishings. The Tea Party, which is corporate sponsored and corporate controlled and largely full of the affluent people who don't work, with PR provided by the corporate media is much more the sort of person who would have wanted Madison hung for threatening the corporate status quo.

    Amphictyon, Hill Country of Texas

    Madison was our greatest founding father; he devised the majority of our constitutional form of government. His warning was not heeded because the productive citizens have been, increasingly with each generation, overtaken as prey, by a cooperative subpopulation: predators, ridden by parasites. This predator/parasite subpopulation is far larger than most whining Taxpayers realise; the 'takers' comprise roughly 40% of America today. Now, over 67 million of us are non-filers; millions of us lawfully so, as law-abiding Nontaxpayers. You may learn how to cease being prey, by studying A Tax Honesty Primer- taxhonestyprimer (dot) blogspot (dot) com. Once out of the predators' and parasites' "fair share" line, things take on a very different cast; but this is merely defense. To play offense -- to defend and enforce the terms of the Constitution, requires that you join AmericaAgain! and start overseeing your members of Congress, right from home. When required, your AmericaAgain! chapter brings the corrupt member of Congress to his State court under criminal indictment on STATE penal codes. It is kept off the federal playing field, and we go back to Madison's original plan: a federal association of sovereign States. Or to put it another way: the gazelles build a lion-trap that WORKS. MyAmericaAgain (dot) org

    Rob Maranville, Lexington, KY

    @ Preston - Please do not conflate corporatism which is the current condition of corporations using the vile authoritarian force of government to enact legislation favorable to themselves with free enterprise. And also please recognize that the party whores who call themselves the TEA party are NOT the libertarians and limited government types who originated the TEA party in 1988 as a fund raising organization for Ron Pauls presidential campaign - which has morphed into the Campaign for Liberty - C4L. The TEA party is being hijacked by big government republicans.

    Ralph Howarth, Wauconda IL

    James Madison also said in Federalist #10: The influence of factious leaders may kindle a flame within their particular states -- a rage for paper money, for an abolition of debts, for an equal division of property, or for any other improper or wicked project.

    Epaminondas, Arlington, TX

    Google the Constitution of the Confederate States of America, and you'll see where the southern states who suceeded from the union used the US Constitution as their blueprint for writing theirs. There are some differences, obviously, but most notably on this topic was the elimination of the phrase "general welfare" from both the preamble and the opening part of Article I, Section 8 in which the phrase occurs in the US Constitution. The south got it wrong on the matter of slavery and the inalienable right of all men, regardless of color, to have life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, but when it came to local & states' rights, and limited general government powers, they absolutely got it right.

    wyocowboy3331, Cheyenne

    What a great quote from a great man. I may use that quote for my research paper on the constitutionality of social security.

    Weldon Gebhard, Panama City

    Madison is warning "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" i.e. Separation of Religin and Government IS specified in the constitution. And, "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." Important phrase here, "sbvert the very foundations" He and other writers of the Constitution alwas warned citizens to be ever watchful of Government.

    Josh, fayetteville

    How apropos....

    Johnny, Charlotte

    I am amazed at how wise many of our forefathers were and yet we are not taught this in school. People are willingly ignorant of the truth and will not wake up to the reality of the situation until it is too late. Hopefully those of us that actually read and comprehend will have enough conviction and love for the country and our fellow countrymen that we will get the message out.

    J Carlton, Calgary

    And now we know why Jackson and Co. left "promote the general welfare" out of the Confederate Constitution.

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    Mary-MI    4/5/17
    Ronw13, Oregon

    A " one nation conservative " movement, born from Tory democracy and mob rule. Prior to the war of Northern aggression, England dealing with industrialization and labor woes, swaying northern sentiment in support of Fabian socialism. BANG, State and Individual sovereignty, at gun point, taken away ! Now we see the results of over a 150 years of Constructive Fraud committed by Congress and the IRS. Tar and feathers, a swing set on the WH lawn and all State capitals. Responsible Adults, now, are in the room. foolish adults acting like spoiled children, beware. Resign, Repent or face the charges. Nature has its way of working things out, regardless of the fancy of men and designing lawyers, not worthy of the term statesmen. male or female.

    SCSURFR, La Mirada

    Madison hits it again. By the looks of these comments, we are not the nation envisioned.


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