Monday, March 08, 2010

The 'common good' clause

From The Patriot Post comes this quote from one of our founding fathers* - a blantant rejection of the current philosophy that the phrase 'provide for the common good' allows Congress to do just about anything:

"It would reduce the whole instrument to a single phrase, that of instituting a Congress with power to do whatever would be for the good of the United States; and as they would be the sole judges of the good or evil, it would be also a power to do whatever evil they please. Certainly no such universal power was meant to be given them. It [the Constitution] was intended to lace them up straightly within the enumerated powers and those without which, as means, these powers could not be carried into effect." ~ Thomas Jefferson

*corrected per comment below


Your Average Citizen said...

Ah, very good quote but Jefferson was not the "author" of the US Constitution nor part of the delegation of the group known as the "Framers."

A man named Gouverneur Morris of Pennsylvania was in charge of the committee to draft the final copy of the Constitution. Other men who had much to do with writing the Constitution included John Dickinson, Gouverneur Morris, Thomas Jefferson, John Adams, Thomas Paine, Edmund Randolph, James Madison, Roger Sherman, James Wilson, and George Wythe. Morris was given the task of putting all the convention's resolutions and decisions into polished form. Morris actually "wrote" the Constitution. The original copy of the document is preserved in the National Archives Building in Washington, D.C.

Jacob Shallus who, at the time, was assistant clerk of the Pennsylvania State Assembly, and whose office was in the same building in which the Convention was held, was given the task of engrossing the Constitution prior to its being signed.

* The U.S. Constitution is the work of several men, directly and indirectly. The three most notable persons whose work influenced the Constitution but who were not involved in its writing are Thomas Jefferson, John Adams and Thomas Paine. The group of men involved in the writing of the Constitution are generally referred to as the "framers".

* No single individual wrote it. Twelve of the thirteen states sent delegates to the Constitutional Convention to revise the Articles of Confederation and the entire convention worked on it. After the political questions were hashed out a 'committee of style' was formed to put the ideas into formal words. It is generally accepted that Gouverneur Morris created most of the actual wording included in the final draft from the Committee of Style.

* The original copy of the document is preserved in the National Archives Building in Washington, D.C.

* The person most associated with authoring the US Constitution was James Madison, the fourth President of the United States. Primary Author: James Madison (drafted the Virginia Plan). He is known as "The Father of the Constitution." James Madison wrote the Constitution in 1787. The constitution wasn't passed until 1788.

Some would argue that Madison was not the "Father of the Constitution" but he played an enormous role.

Jefferson was in Paris at the time of the Constitutional Convention.

Source: WikiAnswers but also verified/fact checked via my personal library.

Jeff said...

Engrave the quote on a plaque and send it to President Obama and the rest of the Health Care enthusiasts in Congress

Maggie Thurber said...

Thank you for the correction - I've also corrected the post....

mud_rake said...

Your Average Citizen- "very good quote but Jefferson was not the "author" of the US Constitution nor part of the delegation of the group known as the "Framers."

Why should 'facts' get in the way of great propaganda, eh?

Maggie Thurber said...

mud_rake - a simple mistake, corrected with pleasure thanks to Your Average Citizen...what's your problem? Do you just ignore your mistakes when you make them????

And while my description (since corrected) of Jefferson was in error, his understanding of the clause obviously is not.

No more distractions. If you have a comment about the quote, it's very welcome. But trying to divert attention away from today's highly convenient interpretation in order to gloss over the fact that the clause was never meant to do what congress today uses it for won't work here.

Maggie Thurber said...

mud_rake: you were warned about following the rules of this blog and that failure to do so would result in comments being rejected.

I welcome respectful dialog. That means you comment without hurling insults and degrogatory remarks.

If you have a comment about Jefferson's explanation of the restriction on the 'common good' clause, that is polite, it is most welcome and I look forward to having respectful debate with you on the subject matter.

Pieter The Prophet said...

Hi Maggie, I was "google(ing) around and happened upon your post. Any constitutional argument must include the whole constition. No one part stands alone, and there fore no one particular argument focused on a given phrase in the constitution holds much weight. "The Common Good" can mean "The United States" as in individual states considered together, "We the People" as in the sum of each individual, or The U.S. as in our government. Obviously, that's where the discussion begins. I would like to think that the greatest good for the greatest number of individuals in our country would be the ultimate goal of any legislation passed by our government. Freedom, can mean from fear, hunger, poor health, injustice, unequal treatment, loss of property, loss of liberty, etc. Being free to starve to death for example, I am sure, doesn't rate high on anyone's personal liberty list. So the fight must be for the best result for all concerned at all times. I beleive the framers purposefully created a document that is remarkably broad. Their intent, was for us to decide over and over again, what is the "common good". I beleive that gives our legislators a great deal of freedom to decide, as they are our elected officials. If we decide that our common good, means good health for everyone, and decide that we all need to contribute to pay for it, then it is the responsibility of our government to make that happen.

Maggie Thurber said...


while your arguments may be true of state governments, you cannot redefine the entire Constitution (taken as a whole as you suggest), to grant the government the power to do things that are not specifically enumerated.

Our federal government is one of enumerated powers - meaning, those listed as being within it's authority.

To construe the 'common good' clause as permission to do whatever the people (or electeds) decide it means goes against the entire purpose of our Constitution which was specifically written to LIMIT government.

In taking the document as whole, it's purpose was to restrain the federal government, while leaving the states free to do such 'experiments.'

Using your logic, the federal government under our Constitution could never decide to do many of the things it does, including health care.

Additionally, being a Republic and not a democracy, 'we' cannot and should not decide to infringe upon anyone's liberty. The government is there to ensure our rights are not infringed - especially by the government and certainly not by others. Your insistence that I contribute (in some way) toward what a majority determine to be a common good infringes upon my liberty. And when government forces that upon me, that is tyranny.

If I wanted to help others pay for health care, I'd do it through a charity of my choice. Anything else is an infringement upon MY rights - and therefore, cannot be for my good.

There is no way any action by a government can produce 'the best result for all concerned at all times.' The 'common good' always ends up being only what a majority (usually just a majority of those elected and not even the public, considering the majority of the public now wants Obamacare repealed) decide is 'best' - despite all opposition. That then transforms us to a democracy - and you know the definition: two wolves and a sheep deciding what's for dinner.

The Republic is when the sheep has a gun.

Our nation's government was established to ensure our rights - not create so-called rights only dispensible by the government, nor allow others to infringe upon those rights in the name of the common good.

You should read the Federalist Papers.

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