General welfare is a term that is used more than once in the United States Constitution.
First, it is mentioned in the Preamble:
"We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare.."
Next, it is mentioned in Article 1, Section 8:
"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 preamble itself does not institute any laws or lay down the rights of duties of any section of government. The preamble is merely an introduction if you will. It is just stating why the Constitution was being written.
Article 1, on the other hand, is the section of the Constitution that deals with the powers of our legislative body.
Section 8 is stating that Congress has the power to, among other things, provide for the defense and general welfare of the United States.
So what does "general welfare" mean?
I think the word welfare has come to mean different things to different people.
Today, when you mention the word 'welfare' the first thing that immediately comes to most people's minds is government assistance to the poor.
However, that is not what the Constitution is talking about. The Constitution was never intended to entitle people to financial assistance from the state. In fact, most of the framers of the Constitution were very distrusting of government and would have never proposed such a ridiculous idea.
If you want to know what type of general welfare the Constitution is talking about you have to go back and read what the term meant in 1787.
Not only that but you need to read the term in context with the rest of the paragraph. "Provide for the Common Defence and General Welfare of the United States..."
The term 'general welfare' in 1787 is a term that means (and should still mean if you ask me) general well-being. The terms common defense and general welfare go hand in hand. The framers of the Constitution are talking about Congress having the power to provide for the defense of the country and the safety of its citizens. Nothing more. Nothing less.
So the next time you hear someone tell you that everyone is entitled to certain things because the Constitution says they are, explain to them how wrong they really are.
This country was never meant to become a "welfare state" as the term is used these days.
It is up to Congress to establish laws that:
(a) protect our country from invasion
(b) protect our borders
(c) provide safety for our citizenry, and
(d) collects taxes to fund the aforementioned functions.
It is not, however, the duty of Congress to make sure that everyone in the country who thinks they are entitled to certain things has a decent place to live, or a decent place to work, or has enough money to support their family, or has adequate health care. It is not their job. Those types of things fall under the heading of what I call personal responsibility.
I believe, however, that it is well within the rights of Congress to establish laws that remove barriers that allow our citizens to obtain these things more easily, but it is not their job to hand a person a job, or a house, or a check, or give them free health care.
Okay, I am rambling a bit now, back to the topic at hand.
The term general welfare was not written with the intention of giving every citizen a handout.
It was written with the intention of providing for the safety of our nation's citizens. Pure and simple.