Government Limited to Certain Enumerated Powers

Article 1 Section 8 from Page 2 of the U.S. Constitution

Article 1 Section 8 from Page 2 of the U.S. Constitution

I have written numerous times about numerous statements made by James Madison (and other founders) which indicate  that our federal constitution is a “limited government” constitution that restricts the federal government from acting ONLY on subjects specifically authorized by Article 1 Section 8 of the U.S. Constitution. They understood that “Government is not reason; it is not eloquent; it is force. Like fire, it is a dangerous servant and a fearful master”, and that limits on government were necessary to preserve our hard-won freedom.


If the fact that they bothered to enumerate a list of powers at all (as opposed to simply stating that congress can do whatever it wants) should be clear enough that ours is a limited government constitution, but the Tenth Amendment should remove all doubt:

The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the states, are reserved to the states respectively, or to the people.

But since some constitutionally contemptuous people insist on unconstitutionally granting far more power to the federal government than the founders intended, it is good to have voluminous and overwhelming proof for the hard of head and hard of heart.

Thanks to today’s broadcast of Wallbuilders Live, I have another weapon in my arsenal of freedom. It is a statement by James Madison in congress on February 7, 1792 on the Cod Fishery Bill which sought powers not granted to the federal government under Article 1 Section 8. In that statement, Madison said, in part:

…I, sir, have always conceived — I believe those who proposed the Constitution conceived — it is still more fully known, and more material to observe, that those who ratified the Constitution conceived — that this is not an indefinite government, deriving its powers from the general terms prefixed to the specified powers — but a limited government, tied down to the specified powers, which explain and define the general terms…

…it was always considered clear and certain that the old Congress was limited to the enumerated powers, and that the enumeration limited and explained the general terms…

…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 establish teachers in every State, county, and parish, and pay them out of the public Treasury; they may take into their own hands the education of children, establishing in like manner schools throughout the Union; they may undertake the regulation of all roads other than post roads. In short, every thing, from the highest object of State legislation, down to the most minute object of police, would be thrown under the power of Congress; for every object I have mentioned would admit the application of money, and might be called, if Congress pleased, provisions for the general welfare.

The language held in various discussions of this house is a proof that the doctrine in question was never entertained by this body. Arguments, wherever the subject would permit, have constantly been drawn from the peculiar nature of this government, as limited to certain enumerated powers, instead of extending, like other governments, to all cases not particularly excepted…

…were the power of Congress to be established in the latitude contended for, it would subvert the very foundations, and transmute the very nature of the limited government established by the people of America…

It would seem to be a more than reasonable conclusion that since Madison was one of those who proposed (and helped write) the Constitution, he would have a pretty good “conception” of what was in the mind of the founders, don’t you think?

I would encourage you to read the entire speech, since there are several more statements by the acknowledged “Father of the Constitution” which even further point to the fact that the “General Welfare Clause” was never intended to override or supersede the enumerated powers of Article 1 Section 8.

Sadly, it is obvious from the list of things Madison cited which would be unconstitutional (federal funding and regulation of education (can you say “Common Core”?), taking over regulation of all roads, etc.) have been allowed in the years since FDR drove a knife into the heart of the Constitution with his socialist initiatives. But just because certain irresponsible parties jerked the steering wheel toward the edge of a cliff is no excuse for those who know better to sit there and do nothing.  Grab that wheel and point it back in the right direction, my fellow Americans!

For further reading, I would also recommend Federalist No. 45 by Madison and Federalist No. 81 by Alexander Hamilton.

If you want to maintain your liberties, take the time to understand what they are…and be able to recognize when someone is trying to cheat you out of them.

This article is printed with the permission of the author(s). Opinions expressed herein are the sole responsibility of the article’s author(s), or of the person(s) or organization(s) quoted therein, and do not necessarily represent those of American Clarion or Dakota Voice LLC.

Comment Rules: Please confine comments to salient ones that add to the topic; Profanity is not allowed and will be deleted; Spam, copied statements and other material not comprised of the reader’s own opinion will be deleted.

Similar Posts:

Bob Ellis has been the owner of media company Dakota Voice, LLC since 2005. He is a 10-year U.S. Air Force veteran, a political reporter and commentator for the past decade, and has been involved in numerous election and public policy campaigns for over 20 years. He was a founding member and board member of the Tea Party groups Citizens for Liberty and the South Dakota Tea Party Alliance. He lives in Rapid City, South Dakota with his wife and two children.
Bob Ellis
View all articles by Bob Ellis
Leave a comment with your Facebook login
Print Friendly
  • AZ BOB

    That may be how thy started and the Bill of Rights ,the 1st 10 amendments but since then 17 more Amendments were made and that changed the the whole ball game and you now see its affects. Its over until a Revolution!!!!

    • Bob Ellis

      That is true, but none of those amendments repealed or overrode Article 1 Section 8 or the Tenth Amendment.

      The nature of our constitution hasn’t changed. We’ve just been lax in allowing usurpers to ignore it. We need to stop that.

  • thisoldspouse

    Who was the Democratic Rep who said, “I don’t worry about the Constitution.”?

    That said it all for me about that Party.

    • Bob Ellis

      I think that was Phil “I don’t worry about the Constitution” Hare of Illinois.

      • thisoldspouse

        Ah, yes. What a piece of excrement.

      • thisoldspouse

        Being from Chitcago, I’m sure we was re-elected?

        • Bob Ellis

          Actually Republican Bobby Schilling beat him 53%-42%. I guess miracles do still happen…at least in 2010 when that happened, there were still miracles.

  • publiushuldah

    Great article! Love every word.

    • Bob Ellis

      Thanks very much!

  • dr. theo

    Excellent piece, Mr. Ellis. Thanks for posting.

    • SDJammer

      I agree, but I suspect that the vast majority of the people who read it are part of the so-called “Choir”. How do we get this information to the people that can really benefit from it?

      Our educational system in this country has become complicit in the progressive indoctrination of Americans. We have untold millions of people that do not understand these very basic concepts. I am convinced that if we can find a way to educate people on conservative principles and how the Founding Fathers used them to build the greatest country on earth, we have a chance of them taking a stand against the destructive efforts of the progressive liberals.

      • thisoldspouse

        When you’re on the internet, and become a willing target for the Left by virtue of your conservative views, rest assured that plenty of those of opposing viewpoint are going to read this piece. And these articles get shared by these Marxists with friends who might be lead to the light of truth.

        • Bob Ellis

          They DO get around, but not nearly widely enough. People can help, too, by sharing through social media, etc.

          When American Clarion was Dakota Voice, we were indexed on Google News, and we got a LOT of flack from libs then. But when I created American Clarion and moved operations under that banner and reapplied to get AC in Google News, they turned me down, and have done so repeatedly for the last year and a half (no reason given, just “Sorry Charlie, you don’t meet our criteria.” I think when I started Dakota Voice, they didn’t realize it was going to be a hard-hitting conservative outlet, but they had “wised up” when I tried it again with American Clarion.

  • Bob Ellis

    They bring up some interesting and compelling points, but some conservatives that I respect very much, Phyllis Schlafly among them, believe it would get out of control too easily. Trusting their judgment, and knowing the diabolical forces already at work out there, I’m inclined to agree.

    • AZ BOB

      Out of control too easily ( that sounds like a Progressive liberal remark) Its already out of control by the Republicans, the Democrats and the Judiciary’s. Nobody is paying attention to the Constitution unless it is a particular object for there cause to wave before the unknowing. I look at all the Senators and Representatives who are on the umpteenth term and see a record of a bunch of interfering rules and laws not covered in Section 8 or those added after the 1st ten. They have not fixed anything accept create a powerful constituency to get them reelected. When you read why the created or the selling points to add the amendments against what the outcome was and is I, and others believe you have to take that power away from politicians and back to the people anything else is a band-aid. I would take the chance on getting out of control to easily over what we have now. I think our experience that Created the Conservative Patriot groups and this discussion will I hope see and demand control. But with the biggest force in Politics being special interest and the Huge Lobbyists influence we need to take the rug out from under there feet and that would be repealing some amendments.