The Founding Fathers on Redistributionism

Sweetness & Light has a wonderful blog post on the Founding Fathers’ view on government-enforced wealth redistribution. The post contains the following quotations:

“To take from one, because it is thought his own industry and that of his fathers has acquired too much, in order to spare to others, who, or whose fathers, have not exercised equal industry and skill, is to violate arbitrarily the first principle of association, the guarantee to everyone the free exercise of his industry and the fruits acquired by it.” — Thomas Jefferson, letter to Joseph Milligan, April 6, 1816

“A wise and frugal government… shall restrain men from injuring one another, shall leave them otherwise free to regulate their own pursuits of industry and improvement, and shall not take from the mouth of labor the bread it has earned. This is the sum of good government.” — Thomas Jefferson, First Inaugural Address, March 4, 1801

“Congress has not unlimited powers to provide for the general welfare, but only those specifically enumerated.” — Thomas Jefferson

“The moment the idea is admitted into society that property is not as sacred as the laws of God, and that there is not a force of law and public justice to protect it, anarchy and tyranny commence. If ‘Thou shalt not covet’ and ‘Thou shalt not steal’ were not commandments of Heaven, they must be made inviolable precepts in every society before it can be civilized or made free.” — John Adams, A Defense of the Constitutions of Government of the United States of America, 1787

“With respect to the two words ‘general welfare,’ I have always regarded them as qualified by the detail of powers 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 was not contemplated by its creators.” — James Madison in a letter to James Robertson

In 1794, when Congress appropriated $15,000 for relief of French refugees who fled from insurrection in San Domingo to Baltimore and Philadelphia, James Madison stood on the floor of the House to object saying:

“I cannot undertake to lay my finger on that article of the Constitution which granted a right to Congress of expending, on objects of benevolence, the money of their constituents.” — James Madison, 4 Annals of Congress 179, 1794

“[T]he government of the United States is a definite government, confined to specified objects. It is not like the state governments, whose powers are more general. Charity is no part of the legislative duty of the government.” — James Madison

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