From General to Personal Welfare

Bill Neinast

A liberal friend misunderstood--probably intentionally--the point of my comments about the estate tax several weeks ago.  

The gist of those comments about this unfair double taxation is that most of those paying this tax are what have been dubbed the millionaires among us.   These taxpayers are not the Clintons, Pelosis, and Rieds with millions from speeches, book signings, and other investments that might come their way because of their political connections.  Those multi millionaires will have their millions in trusts and foundations that somehow are not included in their estates for tax purposes.

Most of the millionaire families facing the estate tax collector are farmers, ranchers, and small business owners.  Their wealth is in land and other real property needed for successful businesses.  Some will have to sell land and other property that has been accumulated over years of hard work with money that has already been taxed. 

The liberal’s argument was that the government had to collect those taxes so the mandates of the Constitution could be met.  He referred specifically to Article I, Section 8. which reads in part, “The Congress shall have Power To lay and collect Taxes, Duties, Imposts and Excises, to pay the Debts and provide for the common Defense [sic’ and general Welfare of the United States; but all Duties, Imposts and Excises shall be uniform throughout the United States…”

He emphasized specifically those words about providing for the general welfare of the country.  He ignored the 17 clauses following the quoted material that indicate what the Founding Fathers had in mind when they wrote, “provide for the common Defense and general Welfare.”

Life and expectations were different when the Constitution was written.  Individuals and families were expected to take care of themselves. 

When Mom and Dad got too old or weak to work, they moved in with some of their children or the children moved back in with them until death did them part. 

If lightning struck and destroyed a home, family and friends pitched in to rebuild.  “Barn Raisings” where the community had a picnic while they helped a neighbor build a barn were the norm.

The tremendous burden of caring for a mentally or physically disabled child was stoically borne by the family with occasional help from the church, not the state.

The roads were wagon trails following paths blazed by the earliest settlers.  The maintenance, if any, was by the owners of the land containing or abutting the roads.

Under those facts of life in the 18th Century, the men writing the Constitution believed that paying for the general welfare meant providing for law and order, including prisons, and a court system.  

They did include a specific provision for establishing a postal system and “post roads.”  That system may not have survived without the assistance of private enterprise like the Pony Express, Wells Fargo, and currently UPS, and FedEx.  

This attitude prevailed well into the 19th Century.  In 1817, Congress appropriated money to build the Erie Canal destined to be the first major work for mass transportation.   President James Madison, however, a Jeffersonian Democrat, vetoed the bill because he thought it was unconstitutional.

So here’s the perspective.

Class warriors are finally successful in changing the meaning of general welfare to personal welfare after WWI.

Stay tuned.


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