Saturday, August 20, 2005
A Comma or a Semicolon?
Chief Justice John Marshall responds to a Timothy Pickering in 1828:
My Dear Sirs,
I have always supposed that there ought to be a comma instead of a semicolon after the word excises. I have never believed that the words, "to pay the debts and provide for the common defense and general welfare of the United States" were to be considered as a substantive grant of power...
I have no doubt of the correctness of our opinion that a general power to make internal improvements would not have been granted by the American people..."
John Marshall (Timothy Pickering Papers; Mass. Historical Society)
Article I, Section 8 of the U.S. Constitution being dissected down to the last jot and tittle, as to what the "general welfare" clause could possibly be inferring. The shame of it is revealed in our sorry Welfare States of America.
Joseph Story and John Marshall were contemporaries. The point is best made by James McClellan in Joseph Story. The suffering over law and intent was never more clear. "[Story] combined traditional natural law and the Constitution into a barrier against the rise of tyranny, injustice, and the wholesale alteration of American liberties; but at the same time, he inadvertently prepared the way for the leviathan state through a liberal interpretation of the Constitution. Joseph Story thus bequeathed to America a set of conflicting precedents which are at once friendly and hostile towards limited government." ((P 312, emphases mine)
In Story's Commentaries on the Constitution, the issue of the welfare clause is totally muddled as he recalled "the framers' principle of a government based upon limited powers" and in the next stroke of the pen, denied that the words "to provide for the common defense and general welfare" were words of limitation on taxing power! In other words, he did not agree with the Chief Justice, John Marshall.And so, you wonder why this man has been a difficult study : ( But I refuse to throw out all of Story's knowledge for some failed insights. As a Unitarian, Joseph Story revealed his faith in God's wisdom and guidance but as Mr. McClellan intuitively cites what I see as the problem: "Law was his religion, and he loved the American Constitution because it was to him a conservative Constitution. The Commentaries on the Constitution was his memorial to that divinely decreed covenant between God and man, and he worshipped at its altar with a religious inspiration." (p 312)
A brilliant man, with his head in the right place more often than not, it is heartbreaking that the intellect, as so often happens, overrode the heart, where he would have found the Source of his strength. A great respecter of civilization who helped found Harvard Law School, Joseph Story sought and gave allegiance to Divine Law but forgot the Author. The very Builder and Pillar of civilization was the Giver of Justice Story's wisdom but if McClellan is right, the devotion was not mutual. God carried our nation on the back of Joseph Story, through a difficult era. If only Mr. Story had let God help him...the first story (pun intended) might not have been so shakey. And we wobble and tremble still. Startin with the foundation is sounding better every day. Christian Exodus is putting words into action and they haven't forgotten the Rock!
"All nations that forget God shall be turned into hell." ~Psalm 9:17
"Let every soul be subject unto the higher powers. For there is no power but of God: the powers that be are ordained of God." ~Romans 13:1
Article I, Section 8: The Congress shall have Power To lay and collect Taxes, Duties, Imposts, and Excises, to pay the Debts and provide for the common Defence and general Welfare of the United States; but all Duties, Imposts and Excises shall be uniform throughout the United States;...
In all three copies I own, the semicolon is now a comma. It seems it didn't matter. It has been made to mean whatever government porkers want it to mean. I say, add an exclamation point--"The Congress shall have power to lay and collect taxes!" As Marshall said, "A general power...would not have been granted by the American people." Really? Maybe not, if they were awake!