Sobran Column -- Score One for Jesse
Sobrans -- 
The Real News of the Month

Score One for Jesse

October 28, 1999

Governor Jesse Ventura of Minnesota has made some silly remarks lately, and they have gotten more than their share of publicity. But the best thing he has said didn’t get the attention it deserved.

Ventura recently noted that the Constitution doesn’t grant the federal government any power to create jobs. No headlines ensued, though they should have. It’s real news when a government official gets the Constitution right.

But the conservative columnist George Will, instead of applauding, took exception, accusing Ventura of ignorance of the Constitution. He cited the “general welfare” clause, which, he said, authorizes the federal government to raise money for anything it deems the “general welfare.”

In fact, the only ignorance on display was Will’s. When anti-Federalist opponents of the Constitution objected that the words “general welfare” amounted to a grant of unlimited power, James Madison replied (Federalist No. 41) that their desperation must have driven them to “stooping to such a misconstruction,” which he called an “absurdity.”

Madison explained that “general welfare” was only one phrase in a very long sentence, the rest of which specified the powers comprehended in the phrase: the power to raise armies and navies, to declare war, to coin money, and so forth. If the Constitution had meant to give Congress such a limitless “power to legislate in all cases whatsoever,” as the anti-Federalists charged (and as Will believes), why would it bother listing Congress’s specific powers?

“For what purpose could the enumeration of particular powers be inserted,” Madison asked, “if these and all others were meant to be included in the preceding general power?” Such a construction makes the whole Constitution incoherent; yet most conservatives, as well as liberals, now accept this “absurdity.”

Madison had earlier written (Federalist No. 39) that Congress’s constitutional “jurisdiction extends to certain enumerated objects only, and leaves to the several States a residuary and inviolable jurisdiction over all other objects.” He would stress this point again and again, insisting (in Federalist No. 40) “that in the new government, as in the old, the general [i.e., federal] powers are limited; and that the States, in all unenumerated cases, are left in the enjoyment of their sovereign and independent jurisdiction.”

Further, the principles of the Constitution should be understood “less as absolutely new than as the expansion of principles which are found in the Articles of Confederation.”

“The powers delegated by the proposed Constitution to the federal government are few and defined,” Madison went on (Federalist No. 45). “Those which are to remain in the state governments are numerous and indefinite. The former will be exercised principally on external objects, as war, peace, negotiation, and foreign commerce.... The powers reserved to the several States will extend to all the objects which, in the ordinary course of affairs, concern the lives, liberties, and properties of the people, and the internal order, improvement, and prosperity of the State.”

Finally, Madison repeated that “the change which it [the Constitution] proposes consists much less in the addition of NEW POWERS to the Union than in the invigoration of its ORIGINAL POWERS.” In other words, the Constitution merely put teeth in the Articles of Confederation, leaving untouched the great majority of the states’ “sovereign,” “inviolable,” and “reserved” powers.

The Tenth Amendment would reassure anxieties on this score by stating the principle that “the powers not delegated to the United States [i.e., the federal government] by the Constitution ... are reserved to the states respectively, or to the people.” In other words, if a power is not granted to Congress, expressly or by unavoidable implication, Congress is forbidden to exercise it. By that standard, most federal legislation in this century has been unconstitutional.

Madison always denied that the Constitution would, or could, result in a centralized or “consolidated” government. As president, he vetoed acts of Congress that exceeded the specific powers the Constitution grants to the federal government.

So Jesse Ventura is right, and the highbrow conservative George Will is wrong. Since the Constitution gives the federal government no power to create jobs, any such power belongs to the states, if the people of the states choose to exercise it.

A government without strict limits is tyrannical. You’d think conservative intellectuals would grasp this by now.

Joseph Sobran

Archive Table of Contents

Current column

FGF E-Package columns by Joe Sobran, Sam Francis, Paul Gottfried, and others are available in a special e-mail subscription provided by the Fitzgerald Griffin Foundation. Click here for more information.

Search This Site

Search the Web     Search SOBRANS

What’s New?

Articles and Columns by Joe Sobran
 FGF E-Package “Reactionary Utopian” Columns 
  Wanderer column (“Washington Watch”) 
 Essays and Articles | Biography of Joe Sobran | Sobran’s Cynosure 
 The Shakespeare Library | The Hive | Back Issues of SOBRANS 
 WebLinks | Scheduled Appearances | Books by Joe 
 Subscribe to Joe Sobran’s Columns 

Other FGF E-Package Columns and Articles
 Sam Francis Classics | Paul Gottfried, “The Ornery Observer” 
 Mark Wegierski, “View from the North” 
 Chilton Williamson Jr., “At a Distance” 
 Kevin Lamb, “Lamb amongst Wolves” 
 Subscribe to the FGF E-Package 

Products and Gift Ideas | Notes from the Webmaster
  Contact Us | Back to the home page 

Reprinted with permission
Copyright © 1999 by the Griffin Internet Syndicate