On June 16th, 1817, Jefferson wrote a letter to his colleague, Albert Gallatin. He wrote to him about a law that had been passed by both houses, and then vetoed by the president. But, the important part here is what he writes about the Constitution (just quickly look over his statement):


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.


Okay, I’ll wait a second for your eyes to un-glaze.


Ready? Good.


First, we have to understand that the United States Constitution gives the Federal Government some jobs to do. It’s very specific. It’s doesn’t say, “Well, do whatever you think is right for today and then we’ll see tomorrow if we should do something different.” Nope, it’s more like a list of chores for them written by their wife…you know…if governments had wives.


Now, the things it’s supposed to do, it has all authority to do. For example, the federal government, and only the federal government, makes treaties with foreign countries. There are some restrictions (like they can’t make any treaty that takes away the sovereign power of the US Constitution), but it’s their job. It’s not for the states, nor the people…no one else gets this job.


So, we have a list of things for the feds TO do, and then we have a list of things NO ONE gets to do (like take on a title of nobility…no kings, please, even on the state level), and then a few things the states CAN’T do.


Then, later in the constitution, in the 10th amendment, it states that anything that is NOT listed for the federal government to do, they CANNOT do. Also, if the states are not denied being able to do it, then the states and/or people CAN do it. Got that?


For instance, the federal government is not authorized to meddle in education. How do I know? Because it’s not enumerated, or specified for them TO do. Also, I know that it’s okay for states to meddle away, as the people see fit. How? Because it’s not on their list of no-no’s.


Think of it this way: if a wife asks a husband to mow the lawn and he goes out and drinks beer with his buddies. She’s going to be mad, right? That’s obvious. If he says, “Well, you didn’t tell me I COULDN’T go drinking with my buddies!” she’s not going to buy it. Same principle with the US Constitution, except YOUR freedoms are riding on you understanding this concept.


Now, back to Jefferson…

He is stating that the “general welfare” is achieved by the federal government having power to do all the things it is ENUMERATED (on it’s “can do” list) to do. The “general welfare” is that of being safe from foreign invaders. It’s knowing that if you apply for and obtain a patent, no one else will steal your idea or get credit for it. It’s resting assured that pirates on the high seas will get what’s coming to them. It’s being able to have the same money accepted all over the US, and not having to change money each time you cross a state line. How annoying would THAT be?


He is also stating that they are only allowed to tax for those things it has been authorized to do. For instance, the federal government is prohibited from taxing you to, say, buy sweaters for chickens that have lost their feathers. How could we possibly know this? Because, it goes back to this: if it’s not on the “can do” list, it’s not for them to do. Simple!


So, the next time some politician (or statist, or liberal, or confused conservative) tries to tell you what a great piece of legislation x, y, or z is, ask yourself this question, “Is my wife gonna be mad at me, or is this actually ON the to do list?”