And another thing …
To read all the liberal blogs and columnists, you’d think the Tea Party attendees were a bunch of ignorant rednecks incapable of understanding a cogent argument or what’s good for them. Tea partiers are portrayed as silly states’ righters afraid of the big, bad federal government.
I dare say many of those Tea Party types could do a better job of quoting the Founders when it comes to the meaning of the Constitution’s “commerce” and “general welfare" clauses than their critics.
Let’s see what Jefferson and Madison had to say about the role of federal power and if it doesn’t sound similar to the Tea Party rhetoric.
Thomas Jefferson in his autobiography:
“But it is not by the consolidation, or concentration of powers, but by their distribution, that good government is effected. Were not this great country already divided into states, that division must be made, that each might do for itself what concerns itself directly, and what it can so much better do than a distant authority. Every state again is divided into counties, each to take care of what lies within it's local bounds; each county again into townships or wards, to manage minuter details; and every ward into farms, to be governed each by it's individual proprietor. Were we directed from Washington when to sow, & when to reap, we should soon want bread.”
James Madison, speech in the Virginia Ratifying Convention on Control of the Military, June 16, 1788:
“Since the general civilization of mankind, I believe there are more instances of the abridgment of freedom of the people by gradual and silent encroachments by those in power than by violent and sudden usurpations. On a candid examination of history we shall find that turbulence, violence, and abuse of power by the majority trampling on the rights of the minority, have produced factions and commotions, which in republics, have more frequently than any other cause produced despotism. If we go over the whole history of the ancient and modern republics, we shall find their destruction to have generally resulted from those causes.”
Jefferson on constitutionality of bill creating a national bank:
“’To lay taxes to provide for the general welfare of the U.S.’ that is to say ‘to lay taxes for the purpose of providing for the general welfare.’ For the laying of taxes is the power and the general welfare the purpose for which the power is to be exercised. They are not to lay taxes ad libitum for any purpose they please; but only to pay the debts or provide for the welfare of the Union. In like manner they are not to do anything they please to provide for the general welfare, but only to lay taxes for that purpose. To consider the latter phrase, not as describing the purpose of the first, but as giving a distinct and independent power to do any act they please, which might be for the good of the Union, would render all the preceding and subsequent enumerations of power completely useless. 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 U.S. and as they would be the sole judges of the good or evil, it would be also a power to do whatever evil they pleased. It is an established rule of construction, where a phrase will bear either of two meanings, to give it that which will allow some meaning to the other parts of the instrument, and not that which would render all the others useless. Certainly no such universal power was meant to be given them. It was intended to lace them up straitly within the enumerated powers, and those without which, as means, these powers could not be be carried into effect.”
Madison in a letter to Edmund Pendleton, 1792:
“If Congress can do whatever in their discretion can be done by money, and will promote the General Welfare, the Government is no longer a limited one, possessing enumerated powers, but an indefinite one, subject to particular exceptions.”
Jefferson letter to Thomas Cooper Washington, 1802:
“The path we have to pursue is so quiet that we have nothing scarcely to propose to our Legislature. A noiseless course, not meddling with the affairs of others, unattractive of notice, is a mark that society is going on in happiness. If we can prevent the government from wasting the labors of the people, under the pretence of taking care of them, they must become happy.”
Madison was a Federalist. Jefferson sympathized with the Anti-Federalists. But they agreed on the need to limit central power.
Sounds like Tea Party rhetoric to me.