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Ron Paul Supports Using General Welfare Clause for Federal Language Mandate

As I documented over at That’s My Congress earlier this month, Ron Paul makes a big fuss in his speeches over the General Welfare Clause of Article I, Section 8 of the Constitution. Article I, Section 8 reads:

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.

Which, boy howdy, sure looks to me like it gives the Congress the power to collect taxes and provide for the general Welfare of the United States. The Hamiltonian strain of constitutional thinking, which includes consistent Supreme Court majorities going back into the middle of the 19th Century, agrees with me. But Ron Paul disagrees:

Madison said: “With respect to the words ‘general welfare,’ I have always regarded them as qualified by the detail of power connected with them. To take them in a literal and unlimited sense would be a metamorphosis of the Constitution into a character which there is a host of proofs not contemplated by its creators.” Madison argued that there would be no purpose whatsoever for the enumeration of the particular powers if the general welfare clause was to be broadly interpreted. The Constitution granted authority to the federal government to do only 20 things, each to be carried out for the benefit of the general welfare of all the people. This understanding of the Constitution, as described by the Father of the Constitution, has been lost in this century.

Because of my continuing and uncompromising opposition to appropriations not authorized within the enumerated powers of the Constitution, I must remain consistent in my defense of a limited government whose powers are explicitly delimited under the enumerated powers of the Constitution…

We could have a General Welfare Clause debate until the cows came home, but that’s not really my point. Heck, let’s imagine for the moment that Ron Paul is right, that the Constitution should not be taken “literally,” and that “The Constitution granted authority to the federal government to do only 20 things,” things not just generally but specifically enumerated in the text of the Constitution.

Then why is Ron Paul a supporting cosponsor of H.R. 997? H.R. 997 is a bill before the 111th Congress, the title of which reads:

To declare English as the official language of the United States, to establish a uniform English language rule for naturalization, and to avoid misconstructions of the English language texts of the laws of the United States, pursuant to Congress’ powers to provide for the general welfare of the United States and to establish a uniform rule of naturalization under article I, section 8, of the Constitution.

I don’t remember where the Constitution enumerated the power of the Congress to declare English as the official language of the United States. It’s not specifically enumerated. The very title of this bill invokes the General Welfare Clause of the Constitution to justify itself.

What’s even odder is the twist in the text of H.R. 997, which contains the following language in the “findings” clause:

Among the powers reserved to the States respectively is the power to establish the English language as the official language of the respective States, and otherwise to promote the English language within the respective States, subject to the prohibitions enumerated in the Constitution of the United States and in laws of the respective States.

In the world of people who think the General Welfare clause doesn’t mean what it literally says, this is a typical statement: powers not specifically, precisely spelled out for the federal government in Article I of the Constitution must be reserved to the states. If such powers are reserved to the states, the federal government must therefore butt out and let the states do what they want. I imagine Ron Paul likes this paragraph in the “findings” section.

That paragraph in the “findings” section, however, doesn’t actually implement anything. It’s a rhetorical statement. The following paragraphs of H.R. 997 actually implement the changes… not by giving states the power to do what they want, but by passing a federal government mandate:

(a) In General- Title 4, United States Code, is amended by adding at the end the following new chapter:

CHAPTER 6–OFFICIAL LANGUAGE

Sec. 161. Official language of the United States

The official language of the United States is English.

Sec. 162. Preserving and enhancing the role of the official language

Representatives of the Federal Government shall have an affirmative obligation to preserve and enhance the role of English as the official language of the Federal Government. Such obligation shall include encouraging greater opportunities for individuals to learn the English language.

Sec. 163. Official functions of Government to be conducted in English

(a) Official Functions- The official functions of the Government of the United States shall be conducted in English.

(b) Scope- For the purposes of this section, the term `United States’ means the several States and the District of Columbia, and the term `official’ refers to any function that (i) binds the Government, (ii) is required by law, or (iii) is otherwise subject to scrutiny by either the press or the public.

(c) Practical Effect- This section shall apply to all laws, public proceedings, regulations, publications, orders, actions, programs, and policies…

Hold the phone, Nellie! While the findings section tells you that it is the power of the states to make any language declaration, this bill does the exact opposite, mandating that English be the Official Language of the United States, and declaring in subsection (b) that yes, this applies to “the several States” too, and that (c) it shall apply to all laws, public proceedings, regulations, publications, orders, actions, programs and policies.

H.R. 997 would implement a huge, sweeping federal mandate by Congress to make an official language of the United States. There’s no power to name official languages in Article I of the Constitution (or anywhere else in the Constitution, for that matter). And the very title of the bill asserts that it is acting “pursuant to Congress’ powers to provide for the general welfare of the United States.” This is the sort of general welfare claim that Ron Paul has spent decades openly despising.

So what is Ron Paul doing supporting this bill?

9 comments to Ron Paul Supports Using General Welfare Clause for Federal Language Mandate

  • PLEASE GO TO WEBSITE BUGLER.ORG AND DOWNLOAD PAPER TITLED “GENRAL WELFARE CLAUSE.”

    THE LAST DAY OF THE CONVENTION [SEPT 17, 1787] A SEMI COLON WAS DISCOVERED WHERE A COMMAS SHOULD HAVE BEEN.

    GOVERNOR MORRIS THE FINAL WRITER OF THE CONSTITUTION CLAIMED THE SEM COLON WAS A MISPLACED DROP OF INK THAT FELL BY MISTAKE.

    NOT SO. THE FINAL DRAFT SUBMITTED BY THE COMMITTEE OF 12 IN LATE AUGUST HAD NO SEMI COLON.

    IN FACT THE INTRUDUCTION TO ENUMERATE POWERS WAS A DIRECT TAKE OFF FROM THE ARTICLES OF CONFEDERATION.

    IF THE SEMI COLON WAS ALLOWED TO STAND THEN GENERAL WELFAE WOULD INDEED BE A DIRECT GRANT OF POWER FOF TAXING AND SPENDING.

    BUT AS IT APPEASRS IS IS A MIDIFICATON OF THE GENERAL POWER TO TAX, FOLLOWED BY A PERECICE ENUMEARATION OF POWERS.

    HAD THIS NOT BEEN THE CASE THE DOCUMEN WOULD NOT HAVE PASSED FINAL VOTE OF ACCEPTANCE.

    THESE INSTANCES CAN BE FOUND ON THE WEB BY GOING TO NATIONAL ARCHIVES SITE AND EXAMANING FARRANDS FOUR VOLUME TREATMENT OF ALL EVENTS LEADIN UP THE THE FINAL DRAFT.

    FARRANDS WORK CAN BE PURCHACED FROM THE YALE UNIVERSITY BOOK STORE.

    THIS WHOLE UNFORTUNATE HAPPENING HAPPENED BECAUSE GOVERNOR MORRIS WAS A CENTERIST AS WAS HAMILTON AND KING.

    JOHNSON WAS A MODERSTE FROM CONN. AND HIS COLLEAGUER ROGER SHERMAN WAS THE ONE WHO PICKED UP ON THE SEMICOLON.

    IT WAS A PRETTY NEAT TRICK AND IT ALMOST HAPPENED.

    BUT IN 1937 EVERYTHING CHANGED.

    READ THE PAPER ON BUGLER.ORG AND LET US KNOW WHAT YOU THINK.

    THE PAPER WAS WRITTEN IN 1992 AND PREDICDTED WHAT IS HAPPENING TO OUR ECONOMY THIS VERY DAY.

    GOD HELP US.

    JOHN W. BUGLER
    BUGLER.ORG

  • Patrick

    Your defense is weak. Other than not focusing on the argument of general Welfare, you mistakenly think that Congress does not have Consitutional power to make English the national language. Here is the power – “To make all Laws which shall be necessary and proper for carrying into Execution the foregoing Powers.” Sect 163 covers this issue. Some in Congress feel that in order to carry into exuecution the Powers people need to know English.

    I am not saying that this law is needed, all I am saying is that you mistakenly stated that the power was not in the Constitution.

    Please, stay on subject and write about “general Welfare”.

  • First Amendment. First Amendment. First Amendment. Heard of it? It includes freedom of speech, Patrick. You can’t require people to speak a certain way in able to vote. Heard of the equal protection clause? It’s also in the Constitution, Patrick, and Congress cannot pass laws that are contrary to the highest law, which is established by the Constitution.

  • I know this thread is dead, but…

    Article I section 8 clause 4:

    To establish an uniform rule of naturalization…

    Therefore making English the official language of America is a necessary and proper [law] for carrying into execution the foregoing power

  • I grant you the Constitution does not give the feds power to declare a national language. It also doesn’t give the feds the power to require multiple languages, strictly speaking.

    However, (see Federalist 33) the principle of strict construction does allow the federal government to establish offices as necessary to carry out its functions and paper work and forms for the same purposes. Presumably, the language in which the business of government is conducted is under the control of Congress.

  • B.T.W. Article IV. Section 1 does give the Congress the power to “prescribe the Manner in which such Acts, Records and Proceedings shall be proved, and the Effect thereof.” Which is in reference to the public act, records and proceeding of the several states!

    So I guess there is Constitutional authority for Congress to tell the states to conduct their business in English!

    • Except, Paul, that this section is later amended by the prohibition on violations of freedom of speech, and by the requirement for equality for all citizens under the law. These amendments, as later additions, restrict the definition of the section that you’ve found.

  • Your assumption that Hamilton agrees with you is highly suspect, if you think that Hamilton did not subscribe to the enumerated powers doctrine. Hamilton was the author of Federalist 33 which spells out the process of strict construction, which is a pointless and unnecessary process if (as Madison stated in Federalist 45) the powers delegated by the … Constitution to the federal government are few and defined.

    Also, Hamilton asserts in Federalist 84, “I go further, and affirm that bills of rights, in the sense and to the extent in which they are contended for, are not only unnecessary in the proposed Constitution, but would even be dangerous. They would contain various exceptions to powers not granted; and, on this very account, would afford a colorable pretext to claim more than were granted. For why declare that things shall not be done which there is no power to do?”

    In other words, there is no need to explicitly prohibit that which is not explicitly allowed. To do so, gives unscrupulous men a pretext for implying that what is not explicitly prohibited is implicitly allowed. Such is not the case, only that which is explicitly allowed and that which is necessary and proper to the exercise thereof is allowed. That does not sound like the words of a man who doesn’t believe in enumerated powers.

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