U.S. Constitution for Kids – Article 1, Section 8, Clause 8 – March 18, 2011

March 18, 2011 – Article 1, Section 8, Clause 1 – Interpretation of Professor John S. Baker’s Essay

Article 1, Section 8, Clause 1

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;

Professor Baker’s Essay wins the award for the “WOW” essay! The detail he dives into and the fascinating subject he reveals are truly remarkable. He points out that this clause has always been one that sparks debate in every realm imaginable.

Fun Fact #1

Professor Baker first states that since the Constitution writes out specifically what abilities the Congress is to have, it states that our government is one of limits. What does he mean? Well, if the Constitution were to be silent on what powers the government has, it would be ensuing that the government has unlimited powers. The government only has whatever power the Constitution says it has. Fascinating, right?

Fun Fact #2

Professor Baker then brings to our attention the issue of “To” and “to”. If you look closely, literally examining every word, you will find that one “to” is capitalized and one is not. No, this is not just a mistake by the typist. I have always wondered why some words in the Constitution are capitalized when they normally are not. The Professor brilliantly answers this question.

Fun Fact #3

Every enumerated (or named) power given after this begins with a capitalized “To”. Fascinating right? Now, when we take this into consideration the meaning comes out differently.

Fun Fact #4

There are two ways you can look at this clause. The first is as follows:

-There is only one power granted in the first half of this clause. Congress can issue and collect taxes, impost, and excises so they can pay the debts, provide for the common defense, and promote the general welfare of the United States.

Or, you can look at it this way:

-There are four powers granted in the first half of this clause. Congress can issue and collect taxes, impost, and excises, and they can pay debts, and they can provide for the common defense, and they can promote the general welfare.

(Now, if you find that your brain feels like mush, and the words are crawling around the page, don’t worry! It took me 12 hours to thoroughly figure this out.) :-)

Fun Fact #5

Now, which approach is the right one. This is the question! This debate began all the way back to James Madison and Alexander Hamilton. Madison that it was just one power, and Hamilton thought that the powers named were separate. Now, if they, the people who wrote it, had a hard time deciphering the meaning, we shouldn’t feel bad.

Fun Fact #6

Now, so to the modern day question! Does the Government have the authority to create “projects” and earmarks”, such as Medicaid or Medicare, since those projects do not raise funds to pay for taxes? I know for certain that our Founding Father never intended for the government to “take care” or the states. Hamilton, thinking that the powers were separate, just thought “General Welfare” consisted of things like building roads. Things that joined the states together. Sadly, since our Founders are no longer sitting in Independence Hall, we will not be able to know for certain which was the true intention.

So! Now, if you are wondering about that last sentence that tags along, it just means that the Federal Government cannot tax one state more than another state, e.g. they cannot tax California 20% and Rhode Island 5%.

Phew! That’s a mouth full isn’t it! But, fascinating as always.

God Bless,

Juliette Turner

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