Is "Too Big To Fail" General Welfare?

By Paul Parisi   3-20-2023

With the recent and ongoing bank bailouts, many are questioning once again; “are some businesses to big to fail”? We remember the Federal Reserve bailing out insurance giant AIG in 2008, but the government’s possible overreach of the Constitution’s Article 1, Section 8, “General Welfare “clause, goes back to 1792.

Back then, cod fishing was the biggest industry in New England. Cod was salted and exported for big profit. In the late 1700’s, the fisheries were struggling. John Adams asked Congress to pay a bounty to cod fishermen. His reasoning was that to preserve the general welfare, the United States needed well trained sailors in case of war. On February 6, 1792, Congress passed the Cod Fishery Bill. James Madison, known as the father of our Constitution, objected to this bill.

Madison believed the general welfare clause was limited and the federal government’s abuse would cause out of control spending and take away the rights of states.  Madison made this appeal to Congress:

“If Congress can apply money indefinitely to the general welfare, and are the sole and supreme judges of the general welfare, they may take the care of religion into their own hands; they may appoint teachers in every state, county and parish and pay them out of their public treasury; they may take into their own hands the education of children, establishing in like manner schools throughout the union; they may assume the provision of the poor; they may undertake the regulation of all roads other than post-roads; in short, everything, from the highest object of state legislation down to the most minute object of police, would be thrown under the power of Congress … were the power of Congress to be established in the latitude contended for, it would subvert the very foundation, and transmute the very nature of the limited Government established by the people of America …”

We see today that all levels of government use the term “general welfare” as justification to spend taxpayer dollars.

Article 1, Section 8 of the US Constitution states: “The Congress shall have 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; but all Duties, Imposts and Excises shall be uniform throughout the United States”

These are enumerated powers that “we the people” willingly consented to give the government with trust. General welfare was never intended to be a catch all for out of control government spending and debt that has become theft to future generations.