Edmund Randolph on the General Welfare Clause

Edmund Randolph on the General Welfare Clause


Does the Constitution empower Congress to pass any and every law for the “general welfare?” Many Americans think it does because of the general Welfare clause, but supporters of the Constitution during ratification said it did not. Edmund Randolph was a delegate to the Philadelphia convention. He was initially opposed to the Constitution and refused to sign it. He later changed course and became a strong advocate at the Virginia ratifying convention. During those debates, he forcefully countered Patrick Henry’s assertion that the general Welfare clause would give the new government sweeping power. He said, “But the rhetoric of the gentleman has highly colored the dangers of giving the general government an indefinite power of providing for the general welfare. I contend that no such power is given.” He went on to explain that the first clause of Article I, Section 8 empowers Congress to collect taxes to pay the debts and provide for the common defense and general welfare. But it doesn’t empower them to spend money. He continued, “Is this an independent, separate, substantive power, to provide for the general welfare of the United States? No sir.” The power to spend money follows. Randolph later went on to say reading the general Welfare clause as a broad grant of power would … “violate every rule of construction and common sense.”

7 thoughts on “Edmund Randolph on the General Welfare Clause

  1. In my little mind I believed that welfare was for families of men lost to war, then we started feeding people, then more came.
    I would hate for anyone to be hungry here, anywhere yet it seems almost beyond our means to make sure people can be fed properly by those handing out the foods.
    I would like to see the poor, elderly and insane taken care of humanely, that is all our tax should be used for in my opinion. Of course to keep the nation safe from invaders. I know others will say it's not enough, not fair and some will say they aren't due anything. Feels like someone needs to put their foot (feet) down on the laws of this land.

  2. Patrick Henry was correct in the end in his opposition to the Constitution. His worse fears have become true. The limited government has become unlimited.

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