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3396. GENERAL WELFARE CLAUSE, Universal power.—

An act for internal improvement,
after passing both houses, was
negatived by the President. The act was
founded, avowedly, on the principle that the
phrase in the Constitution which authorizes
Congress “to lay taxes, to pay the debts and
provide for the general welfare”, was an extension
of the powers specifically enumerated
to whatever would promote the general welfare;
and this, you know, was the federal
doctrine. Whereas, our tenet ever was, and,
indeed, it is almost the only landmark which
now divides the federalists from the republicans,
that Congress had not unlimited powers
to provide for the general welfare, but were restrained
to those specifically enumerated; and
that, as it was never meant they should provide
for that welfare but by the exercise of the
enumerated powers, so it could not have been
meant they should raise money for purposes
which the enumeration did not place under
their action; consequently, that the specification
of powers is a limitation of the purposes
for which they may raise money. * * * This phrase * * * by a mere grammatical
quibble, has countenanced the General Government
in a claim of universal power. For
in the phrase, “to lay taxes, to pay the debts
and provide for the general welfare”, it is
a mere question of syntax, whether the two
last infinitives are governed by the first or
are distinct and coordinate powers; a question
unequivocally decided by the exact
definition of powers immediately following.—
To Albert Gallatin. Washington ed. vii, 78. Ford ed., x, 91.
(M. June. 1817)