Few Americans realize that up until 1937 the Congress of the United States conducted its business within the boundaries of seventeen enumerated powers granted under Article I Section 8 of the United States Constitution. These powers defined clearly the areas of national purposes over which Congress could enact legislation including the allocation of funds and levying of taxes. Anything not set down in the enumerated powers was considered outside the purview of the national government and hence, a matter for the states. There were occasional challenges to the concept but it was not unit Franklin Roosevelt’s “New Deal” that it was attacked in deadly earnest.
The words “General Welfare” in the introduction to the enumerated powers of Article I Section 8 were never intended to be an object for extension of the power to tax and spend; and up until President Roosevelt’s ‘New Deal’ statues, no court ever so averred.
Roosevelt knew he could never get our country out of the Great Depression it was in under the Constitution as it then stood, which he had sworn up uphold, without changing or altering it, which he did by influencing the Supreme Court to reinterpret and redefine the “General Welfare” clause. Their decision to do this said in effect, Congress would no longer be held to enumerated powers but instead could tax and spend for anything; so long as it was for “general welfare”.
Nothing immediately happened after this Supreme Court decision because of WWII and post war construction, until Lyndon B. Johnson became President and basically said, “Damn the enumerated powers, full speed ahead”. President Johnson’s ‘Great Society’, which he first mentioned in 1964, began an unprecedented borrowing and spending which has prevailed until today because all Presidents and Congresses since have all jumped on and began robbing this never ending gravy train of ‘something for everyone; spend now, pay later’.