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Diagram of Tax/Spend/Welfare Clause

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  • Jon Roland
    A useful exercise is to diagram the clauses of the U.S. Constitution using the Reed-Kellogg method many of us learned in public school. Here is the diagram for
    Message 1 of 1 , Jul 8, 2012
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    A useful exercise is to diagram the clauses of the U.S. Constitution using the Reed-Kellogg method many of us learned in public school. Here is the diagram for a slightly abbreviated version of the Tax/Spend/Welfare Clause,
    [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.
    The omitted words are in square brackets [], omitted because they don't contribute much to analysis of the sentence structure, and to keep the size of the diagram small enough (990x480).

    The key points are that "to pay and provide" don't modify "Power", but "Taxes", and "for Defense and general Welfare" modify "provide". Each modifying phrase restricts the word it modifies.

    The tricky part of the analysis is to recognize that there is a phrase "to be spent" omitted after "Taxes". In the legal jargon of 1787 a tax was almost always raised to be spent for something that was typically specified when the tax was authorized.

    To reach the interpretation some seek to give to the Clause, "to pay and provide" would have to modify "Power", and the Clause would have to insert the word "and":
    [The] Congress shall have Power To lay and collect Taxes, [Duties, Imposts and Excises,] and to pay the Debts and provide for the common Defence and general Welfare of the United States.
    The lack of the "and" after "Taxes" is critical, and it shows that "for common Defence and General Welfare" are a restriction on spending, not a delegated power unto themselves.

    At the time the Constitution was written, "general" meant "not specific or special", and that "general" is a restriction on "Welfare" makes the Clause a directive that taxes and spending not be done for the benefit of some parts of the country at the expense of others. It was a bar to intentional redistribution.

    That interpretation is further emphasized by the second clause in the sentence:
    but all Duties, Imposts and Excises shall be uniform throughout the United States;

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    -- Jon
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    Jon Roland Campaign                   http://jonroland.net
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    Constitution Society               http://constitution.org
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