"A Constitution, being derived from a superior authority, is to be expounded and obeyed, not controlled or varied by the subordinate authority of a legislature. A law, on the other hand, resting on no higher authority than that possesses by every successive legislature, its expediency, as well as its meaning, is within the scope of the letter...."
"...Can it be of less consequence that the meaning of a Constitution should be fixed and known, than that the meaning of a law should be so? Can, indeed, a law be so fixed in its meaning and operation, unless the Constitution be so? On the contrary, if a particular legislature, differing, in the construction of the Constitution, from a series of preceeding constructions, proceed to act on that difference, they not only introduce uncertainty and instability in the Constitution, but in the laws themselves; inasmuch as all laws preceding the new construction, and inconsistent with it, are not only annulled for the future, but virtually pronounced nullities from the beginning."
- James Madison, "Madison's Letter On The Constitutionality Of The Bank Of The United States", June 25, 1831. [Elliot's Debates, Volume 4. Appendix.--Madison on Banks, Pg. 615.]
"If it be asked why the terms "common defense and general welfare," if not meant to convey the comprehensive power which, taken literally, they express, were not qualified and explained by some reference to the particular power subjoined, the answer is at hand -- that, although it might easily have been done, and experience shows it might be well if it had been done, yet the omission is accounted for by an inattention to the phraseology, occasioned, doubtless, by the identity with the harmless character attached to it in the instrument from which it was borrowed [Articles of Confederation].
"But may it not be asked, with infinitely more propriety, and without the possibility of a satisfactory answer, why, if the terms were meant to embrace, not only all the powers particularly expressed, but the indefinite power which has been claimed under them, the intention was not so declared; why, on that supposition, so much critical labor was employed in enumerating the particular powers, and in defining and limiting their extent?
"The variations and vicissitudes in the modification of the clause in which the terms "common defense and general welfare" appear, are remarkable, and to be no otherwise explained than by differences of opinion concerning the necessity or the form of a constitutional provision for the debts of the revolution; some of the members apprehending improper claims for losses, by depreciated bills of credit; others, an evasion of proper claims, if not positively brought within the authorized functions of the new government; and others again, considering the past debts of the United States as sufficiently secured by the principle that no change in the government could change the obligations of the nation. Besides the indications in the Journal, the history sanctions this explanation.
"But it is to be emphatically remarked, that, in the multitude of motions, propostions, and amendments, there is not a single one having reference to the terms "common defense and general welfare," unless we were so to undewrstand the proposition containing them, made on August 25th, which was disagreed to by all the states except one."The obvious conclusion to which we are brought is, that these terms, copied from the Articles of Confederation, were regarded in the new, as in the old instrument, merely as general terms, explained and limited by the subjoined specifications, and therfore requiring no critical attention or studied precaution...."
"...Mr. Wilson, justly distinguished for his intellectual powers, being deeply impressed with the importance of a bank at such a crisis, published a small pamphlet, entitled "Considerations on the Bank of North America," in which he endeavored ro derive the power from the nature of the Union, in which the colonies were declared and became independent states, and also from the tenor of the "Articles of Confederation" themselves. But what is particularly worthy of notice is, that, with all his anxious search in those Articles for such a power, he never glanced at the terms "common defense and general welfare" as a source of it. He rather chose to rest the claim on a recital in the text, "that, for the more convenient management of the general interests of the United States, delegates shall be annually appointed to meet in Congress," which, he said, implied that the United States had general rights, general powers, and general obligations, not derived from any particular state, nor from all the particular states, taken seperately, but resulting from the Union of the whole;" these general powers not being controlled by the article declaring that each state retained all powers not granted by the Articles, because "the individual states never possessed, and could not retain, a general power over the others."
"The authority and argument here resorted to, if proving the ingenuity and patriotic anxiety of the author, on one hand, show sufficiently, on the other, that the term "common defence and general welfare" could not, according to the known acceptation of them, avail his object.
"That the terms in question were not suspected, in the Convention which formed the Constitution, of any such meaning as has been constructively applied to them, may be pronounced with entire confidence; for it exceeds the possibility of belief, that the known advocates, in the Convention, for a jealous grant ans cautious definition of federal powers, should have silently permitted the introduction of words or phrases in a sense rendering fruitless the restrictions and definitions elaborated by them.
"Consider, for a moment, the immeasurable difference between the Constitution, limited in its powers to the enumerated objects, and expanded as it would be by the import claimed for the phraseology in question. The difference is equivalent to two constitutions, of characters essentially contrasted with each other; the one possessing powers confined to certain specified cases, the other extended to all cases whatsoever. For what is the case that would not be embraced by a general power to raise money, a power to provide for the general welfare, and a power to pass all laws necessary and proper to carry these powers into execution -- all such provisions and laws superseding, at the same time, all local laws and constitutions at variance with them? Can less be said, with the evidence before us furnished by the Journal of the Convention itself, than that it is impossible that such a constitution as the latter would have been recommended to the states by all the members of that body whose names were subscribed to the instrument?
"Passing from this view of the sense in which the terms "common defence and general welfare" were used by the framers of the Constitution, let us look for that in which they must have been understood by the conventions, or rather by the people, who, through their conventions, accepted and ratified it. And here the evidence is, if possible, still more irresistible, that the terms could not have been regarded as giving a scope to federal legislation infinitely more objectionable than any of the specified powers which produced such strenuous opposition, and calls for amendments which might be safeguards against the dangers apprehended from them.
"Without recurring to the published debates of those conventions, which, as far as they can be relied on for accuracy, would, it is believed, not impair the evidence furnished by their recorded proceedings, it will suffice to consult the list of amendments proposed by such of the conventions as considered the powers granted to the government too extensive, or not safely defined.
"Besides the restrictive and explanatory amendments to the text of the Constitution, it may be observed, that a long list was premised under the name and in the nature of "Declarations of Rights;" all of them indicating a jealousy of the federal powers, and an anxiety to multiply securities against a constructive enlargement of them. But the appeal is more particularly made to the number and nature of the amendments proposed to be made specific and integral parts of the constitutional text.
"No less than seven states, it appears, concurred in adding to their ratifications a series of amendments, which they deemed requisite. Of these amendments, nine were proposed by the Convention of Massachusetts, five by that of South Carolina, twelve by that of New Hampshire, twenty by that of Virginia, thirty-three by that of New York, twenty-six by that of North Carolina, and twenty-one by that of Rhode
"Here are a majority of the states proposing amendments, in one instance thirty-three by a singe state, all of them intended to circumscribe the power granted by them to the general government, by explanations, restrictions, or prohibitions, without including a single proposition from a single state referring to the terms "common defense an general welfare;" which, if understood to convey the asserted power, could not have failed to be the power most strentuously aimed at, because evidently more alarming in its range than all the powers objected to put together. And that the terms should have passed altogether unnoticed by the many eyes which saw danger in terms and phrases employed in some of the most minute and limited of the enumerated, must be regarded as a demonstration that it was taken for granted that the terms were harmless, because explained and limited, as in the "Articles of Confederation," by the enumerated powers which followed them.
"A like demonstration that these terms were not understood in any sense that could invest Congress with powers not otherwise bestowed by the constitutional charter, may be found in what passed in the first session of Congress, when the subjects of amendment were taken up, with the conciliatory view of freeing the Constitution from objections which had been made to the extent of its powers, or to the unguarded terms employed in describing them. Not only were the terms "common defence and general welfare" unnoticed in the long list of amendments brought forward in the outset, but the Journals of Congress show that, in the progress of the discussions, not a single proposition was made, in either branch of the legislature, which referred to the phrase as admitting a constructive enlargement of the granted powers, and requiring an amendment guarding against it. Such a forbearance and silence on such an occasion, and among so many members who belonged to the part of the nation which called for explanatory and restrictive amendments, and who had been elected as known advocates for them, cannot be accounted for without supposing that the terms "common defence and general welfare" were not, at that time, deemed susceptible of any such construction as has been applied to them.
"It may be thought, perhaps, due to the subject, to advert to a letter of October 5, 1787, to Samuel Adams, and another, of October 16, of the same year, to the governor of Virginia, from R.H. Lee, in both of which it is seen that the terms had attracted his notice, and were apprehended by him "to submit to Congress every object of human legislation." But it is particularly worthy of remark that, although a member of the Senate of the United States, when amendments to the Constitution were before that house, and sundry additions and alterations were there made to the list sent from the other, no notice was taken of those terms as pregnant with danger. It must be inferred that the opinion formed by the distinguished member, at the first view of the Constitution, and before it had been fully discussed and elucidated, had been changed into a conviction that the terms did not fairly admit the construction he had originally put on them, and therefore needed no explanatory precaution against it."
- James Madison, Nov. 27, 1830 letter to Mr. Stevenson. [Elliot's Debates, Volume 4. Appendix.--Madison Letter on Debts, Pg. 612 - 615.]
Interesting reading, isn't it? Now let's examine what Mr. Madison, and the people he referenced above, had to state about our Natural Right:
“[Tyranny cannot be safe] without a standing army, an enslaved press, and a disarmed populace.”
- James Madison, autobiography.
"The defence of one’s self, justly called the primary law of nature, is not, nor can it be abrogated by any regulation of municipal law. This principle of defence is not confined merely to the person; it extends to the liberty and the property of a man: it is not confined merely to his own person; it extends to the persons of all those, to whom he bears a peculiar relation -- of his wife, of his parent, of his child, of his master, of his servant: nay, it extends to the person of every one, who is in danger; perhaps, to the liberty of every one, whose liberty is unjustly and forcibly attacked. It becomes humanity as well as justice."
- James Wilson, 'Of the Natural Rights of Individuals', 1790-1792 (Signed the Declaration of Independence and U.S. Constitution, Congressman, Delegate to the Constitutional Convention and U.S. Supreme Court Justice).
"Natural Rights of the Colonists as Men.
"Among the natural rights of the Colonists are these: First, a right to life; Secondly, to liberty; Thirdly, to property; together with the right to support and defend them in the best manner they can. These are evident branches of, rather than deductions from, the duty of self-preservation, commonly called the first law of nature...."
"...When men enter into society, it is by voluntary consent; and they have a right to demand and insist upon the performance of such conditions and previous limitations as form an equitable original compact. Every natural right not expressly given up, or, from the nature of a social compact, necessarily ceded, remains...."
"...In the state of nature every man is, under God, judge and sole judge of his own rights and of the injuries done him. By entering into society he agrees to an arbiter or indifferent judge between him and his neighbors; but he no more renounces his original right than by taking a cause out of the ordinary course of law, and leaving the decision to referees or indifferent arbitrators..."
"...The natural liberty of man is to be free from any superior power on earth, and not to be under the will or legislative authority of man, but only to have the law of nature for his rule...."
"...In short, it is the greatest absurdity to suppose it in the power of one, or any number of men, at the entering into society, to renounce their essential natural rights, or the means of preserving those rights; when the grand end of civil government, from the very nature of its institution, is for the support, protection, and defence of those very rights; the principal of which, as is before observed, are Life, Liberty, and Property. If men, through fear, fraud, or mistake, should in terms renounce or give up any essential natural right, the eternal law of reason and the grand end of society would absolutely vacate such renunciation. The right to freedom being the gift of God Almighty, it is not in the power of man to alienate this gift and voluntarily become a slave..."
- Samuel Adams, in a collaborative work with Benjamin Franklin, titled 'The Rights of the Colonists', (actual title; 'The Report of the Committee of Correspondence to the Boston Town Meeting'), dated Nov. 20, 1772.
"[W]hereas, to preserve liberty, it is essential that the whole body of the people always possess arms, and be taught alike, especially when young, how to use them; nor does it follow from this, that all promiscuously must go into actual service on every occasion. The mind that aims at a select militia, must be influenced by a truly anti-republican principle; and when we see many men disposed to practice upon it, whenever they can prevail, no wonder true republicans are for carefully guarding against it."
- Richard Henry Lee, The Pennsylvania Gazette, Feb. 20, 1788.