The 3 Most Abused Clauses in the Constitution

Question: What would make the biggest difference in the opportunity Rep. Flores (Tx-17) has as chairman of the Republican Study Committee to advance a conservative social and economic agenda?

Answer: An appreciation of the original intent of the 3 most abused clauses in the Constitution:

  1.  The Interstate Commerce Clause
  2.  The Necessary and Proper Clause
  3.  The General Welfare Clause

One right and many wrong ways to view these important clauses

Alexander Hamilton

Alexander Hamilton

The intent of these three clauses is not a subject of debate or opinion. The Federalist Papers are the authoritative explanation of the Constitution. The incorrect methods and wrong interpretations by which Congress, the Executive Branch and the Judiciary have abused these 3 clauses wouldn’t have happened had citizens held their elected representatives to the correct understanding of these terms. To deny this reality is to deny the intent of the authors of the Constitution.

1. The Interstate Commerce Clause – (Art. I, §8, cl. 3)

the purposes of the “interstate commerce” clause are (1) to prohibit the
States from imposing tolls and tariffs on articles of import and export – goods & commodities – merchandize – as they are transported through the States for purposes of buying and selling; and (2) to permit the federal government to impose duties on imports and exports, both inland and abroad. [Publius Huldah]

In Federalist No. 22 (4th Para), Hamilton said:

The interfering…regulations of some States…have… given just cause of…complaint to others, and…if not restrained by a national control, would be multiplied… till they became… serious sources of animosity and… impediments to the intercourse between the different parts of the Confederacy. “The commerce of the German empire…is in continual trammels from the multiplicity of…duties which the several princes and states exact upon the merchandises passing through their territories, by means of which the…navigable rivers [of]…Germany…are rendered almost useless.” Though the…people of this country might never permit this…to be… applicable to us, yet we may…expect, from the…conflicts of State regulations, that the citizens of each would…come to be…treated by the others in no better light…

In Federalist No. 42 (9th Para), Madison said

…A very material object of this power [to regulate commerce] was the relief of the States which import and export through other States, from the improper contributions levied on them by the latter. Were these at liberty to regulate the trade between State and State…ways would be found out to load the articles of import and export, during the passage through their jurisdiction, with
duties which would fall on the makers of the latter and the consumers of the former…

2. The Necessary and Proper Clause – (Art. I, §8, last clause)

This clause delegates to Congress power to pass all laws necessary and proper to execute its declared powers (Federalist No. 29, 4th para); “the constitutional operation of the intended government would be precisely the same if [this clause] were entirely obliterated as if [it] were repeated in every article”; a power to do something must be a power to pass all laws necessary and proper for the execution of that power, and thus the clause is “perfectly harmless”, a  “tautology or redundancy” (Federalist No. 33, 2nd & 3rd paras). Madison writes to the same effect in (Federalist No. 44, under his discussion of the SIXTH class of powers).

So the clause permits the execution of powers already delegated and enumerated in the Constitution.  No additional substantive powers are granted by the clause. [Publius Huldah]

3. General Welfare Clause (Preamble & Art. I, §8, cl. 1)

Webster’s 1828 Dictionary defines “welfare” as:

“2. Exemption from any unusual evil or calamity; the enjoyment of peace and prosperity, or the ordinary blessings of society and civil government; applied to states.”

“[The General Welfare Clause] has nothing to do with handouts, public relief, or the feds doing whatever they think is a good idea.” [Publius Huldah]

In Federalist No. 41 (last 4 paras), Madison denounced as an “absurd” “misconstruction” the notion that:

…the power “to lay and collect taxes, duties, imposts, and excises, to pay the debts, and provide for the common defense and general welfare of the United States,” amounts to an unlimited commission to exercise every power which may be alleged to be necessary for the common defense or general welfare….

In refuting this “misconstruction”, Madison pointed out that the first paragraph of Art. I, Sec. 8 employs “general terms” which are “immediately” followed by the “enumeration of particular powers” which “explain and qualify”, by a “recital of particulars”, the general terms. [Note: Grammar defines terms of comprehension.]

Madison also said:

…Nothing is more natural nor common than first to use a general phrase, and then to explain and qualify it by a recital of particulars. But the idea of an enumeration of particulars which neither explain nor qualify the general meaning, and can have no other effect than to confound and mislead, is an absurdity

In Federalist No. 83 (7th para), Hamilton said:

The plan of the [constitutional] convention declares that the power of Congress…shall extend to certain enumerated cases. This specification of particulars evidently excludes all pretension to a general legislative authority, because an affirmative grant of special powers would be absurd, as well as useless, if a general authority was intended…
[boldface added]

Adhering to the TRUTH of these clauses will advance the conservative social and economic agenda

Were Rep. Flores to appreciate the original intent of these 3 most abused clauses, he would realize that points in his current plan for the Republican Study Committee as stated in the Town Hall interview

  1. to “provide economic opportunity for hardworking American families,” and
  2. to “protect traditional family values”

are rooted in the institutionalized abuse of those clauses. These two goals are the results of constitutional governance, not to become abused clause means.  For the federal government to use unconstitutional methods to achieve them results in far more harm than good.

The reality of the institutionalized abused of these 3 clauses IS the process by which we the citizens are actually being taxed to fund the destruction of our Creator-endowed rights – the very foundation of the American Exceptionalism.

Institutionalized abuse of these clauses affects other conservative agenda points

Further, the two agenda items regarding strong national defense and improvement of our national security are problem issues not because of funding, but from a lack of constitutional direction.  A conservative agenda must first identify and maintain the constitutional understanding of the purpose of national security and defense. This means the elimination of all regulations, programs, spending throughout entire legislative process, the on-going bureaucratic state, as well as the budget, that is contradictory and contrary to those constitutional responsibilities is the necessary foundation for a conservative agenda.

The institutionalized abuse of these 3 clauses affects every item on Rep. Flores’ stated agenda of how he plans to advance a conservative social and economic agenda.

There can be no advance of a conservative social and economic agenda separate from adherence to objective Truth.


The Federalist Papers – [link to  a searchable online version]

Constitution in 10 Lessons – Lessons 2-3

Nullification: How to Resist Federal Tyranny in the 21st Century , Tom Woods. – Chapters 1-3

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