What is Government’s Role in Charity?


Our federal government has expanded way, way beyond its role as authorized in the Constitution. Not that it shouldn’t do some of the unauthorized things that it does; the point is that, if we want it to do those things, then we should amend the Constitution to permit it. Allowing the government to continue to do unauthorized, and, therefore, illegal things would make us as guilty in trashing the Constitution as if we were to join in a coup to forcibly overthrow the government, and the result will be the same. Sooner or later — and it’s looking like sooner — our country will be transformed from a republici where rights are guaranteed by contract to something else entirely.

Let’s say that you have an old dry well in the back yard, a family cat, and a little boy who likes to throw the cat into the well. You tell the boy not to throw the cat into the well, but he keeps doing it anyway. If you neither stop him from doing it nor discipline him for disobeying you, then you can’t blame him for thinking that, while you may not have wanted him to do it the other day, it’s perfectly okay now. On the other hand, if you catch him doing it, grab him by the ankle, and hold him out over the well to get some idea of how the cat might have felt, then he would probably come to the conclusion that it wasn’t such a good idea. At least my brother did.

Every American has a duty, whether sworn or not, to protect and defend the Constitution of the United States of America from all enemies, both foreign and domestic. We have, for far too many years, abdicated that responsibility, and have instead allowed the federal government to continue to throw the cat into the well — in other words, to grow far beyond what the Constitution allows. That regrettable and irresponsible behavior, of which I am as guilty as any, needs to come to an end today. We must steel our resolve, and be willing to act, to do one of two things:

  1. We must either force the federal government to shrink to live within the limits as described in the Consitution, or
  2. We must amend the Constitution to authorize any of those, now unauthorized and illegal, things that we wish for it to continue to do.

Fellow Americans and patriots, we must begin somewhere, so let’s begin by addressing the question of what role government should have in charity. 

Christians are taught that charity is a good thing. However little that they may have, they are supposed to share a part of it with others. The question is not, though, whether charity is a good thing but what role, if any, government should have in it? In order to explore that question, we should first agree upon the meaning of charity. If you Google the word, here are a couple of the definitions you might find:

Charity: Aid given to those in need; A gift for public benevolent purposes .

Now, let’s define “aid”: Help given.

And “given”: Presented as a gift; bestowed without compensation or expectation of future compensation.

And “gift”: Something voluntarily transferred by one person to another without compensation or expectation of future compensation.


Now to our question – What role does government have in charity?:

Morally and Ethically
There are three things that, while not necessarily specifically stated, are implicit in the true meaning of charity:

  1. You must give something that belongs to you, for which you possess, therefore, the right to give – because:
    a. If you give something belonging to someone else with their permission, then the gift is not from you, and
    b. If you give something belonging to someone else without their permission, then you are both a thief and a third party transfer agent (see below), but you are not a benefactor.
  2. The gift must be voluntary – If I hold a gun on you and force you to give a twenty dollar bill to a blind beggar, then that is not charity, and the act satisfies the charitable obligation of neither of us.
  3. The gift must be made without expectation of compensation (or future compensation) – Else it would be a quid pro quo, a trade, or a contractual transaction and not charity.

Imagine, if you will, a situation wherein your bank might take $100 out of your account and put it into the account of Freddie the Freeloader because it may think that ol’ Freddie needs it more than you. That’s a third party transfer. The third party — your bank  (like the government) — never owned the money and cannot, therefore, make a gift of it. So, the payment to Freddie is a third party transfer, and the bank is acting as a third party transfer agent.


Now, how do these relate to government?

  1.  You must give something that belongs to you
    Government owns nothing, so it cannot, therefore, make a gift of what it may have in its possession. When it sends money to a person that is less than what that person paid in, then it can be said that such is a refund but not a gift. And, when it sends money to a person that is over and above what that person may have paid in to the government, then it is not making a gift but a third party transfer from one person to another.
  2. The gift must be voluntary
    When the government takes your money in order to transfer it to someone else, it does so under the threat of civil and/or criminal penalties if you do not allow them to take it. So, such contributions by you are made only under duress, and you can neither choose whether to give the money nor to whom the money will go. Any such transfers from you to someone else, no matter how dire their need, can, therefore, never be charity, because they were not, in any definition of the word, voluntary on the part of the donor — you.
  3. The gift must be made without expectation of compensation
    I’ll leave judgment of this to you, but I am of the opinion that government never, ever transfers your money to another without expectation of some resulting benefit to itself or to those who advocate, promote, and demagogue the transfer.


But isn’t government charity legal?
As to what the government can and cannot lawfully do, here’s what James Madison, principal author of the United States Constitution and fourth president of the United States, had to say:


The powers delegated by the proposed Constitution to the federal government are few and defined. Those which are to remain in the State governments are numerous and indefinite.


With respect to the two words ‘general welfare,’ I have always regarded them as qualified by the detail of powers connected with them. To take them in a literal and unlimited sense would be a metamorphosis of the Constitution into a character which there is a host of proofs was not contemplated by its creators.


And here’s what Thomas Jefferson, principal author of the Declaration of Independence and third president of the United States, had to say:


Congress has not unlimited powers to provide for the general welfare, but only those specifically enumerated.


So is there, then, a provision in the Constitution for charity? See what the founders and others have to say, either directly upon the subject, or close thereto:

James Madison:


I cannot undertake to lay my finger on that article of the Constitution which granted a right to Congress of expending, on objects of benevolence, the money of their constituents.


Charity is no part of the legislative duty of the government.


Benjamin Franklin, who many might say was the most influential Founder:


When the people find that they can vote themselves money, that will herald the end of the republic.


Thomas Jefferson:


To take from one, because it is thought his own industry and that of his fathers has acquired too much, in order to spare to others, who, or whose fathers, have not exercised equal industry and skill, is to violate arbitrarily the first principle of association, the guarantee to everyone the free exercise of his industry and the fruits acquired by it.


South Carolina Senator William Draden, 1828:


If Congress can determine what constitutes the general welfare and can appropriate money for its advancement, where is the limitation to carrying into execution whatever can be effected by money?


President Grover Cleveland vetoing a bill for charity relief, 1875:


I can find no warrant for such an appropriation in the Constitution, and I do not believe that the power and duty of the General Government ought to be extended to the relief of individual suffering which is in no manner properly related to the public service or benefit.


President Franklin Pierce’s 1854 veto of a measure to help the mentally ill:


I cannot find any authority in the Constitution for public charity. [To approve the measure] would be contrary to the letter and spirit of the Constitution and subversive to the whole theory upon which the Union of these States is founded.


This from the New York Times when it was still a real newspaper run by real journalists:

When men get in the habit of helping themselves to the property of others, they cannot easily be cured of it. — The New York Times, in a 1909 editorial opposing the very first income tax


Congressman Davy Crockett:


Mr. Speaker – I have as much respect for the memory of the deceased, and as much sympathy for the sufferings of the living, if suffering there be, as any man in this House, but we must not permit our respect for the dead or our sympathy for a part of the living to lead us into an act of injustice to the balance of the living. I will not go into an argument to prove that Congress has no power to appropriate this money as an act of charity. Every member upon this floor knows it. We have the right, as individuals, to give away as much of our own money as we please in charity; but as members of Congress we have no right so to appropriate a dollar of the public money.


If you haven’t read the story about the above speech by Congressman Davy Crockett, you should go here and read it. You will find it well worth your time.


So, the answer to the original question is really very simple:

Question – What role does government have in charity?

Answer – No role at all. None! And furthermore, any such transfers are explicitly unconstitutional and, therefore, illegal, immoral, and unethical.

Now that we have answered conclusively the basic question of what is government’s role in charity, we can go on to address an even more important question:


What can possibly be wrong with the government helping poor people?

At first, we may be inclined to think that government helping poor people is a good thing, but if we just give the matter a little more thought, we come to a different conclusion entirely. Let us first ask ourselves, though, just why we would want for government to help poor people? If you were to pose the question, here are a few answers that you might get:

  1. Because they need help.
  2. Because the government can afford it.
  3. Because it makes me feel better.
  4. Because people won’t help others unless the government forces them to.

Now, let us explore those answers a bit:

  1. Because they need help.
    This may answer the question why poor people should be helped but not why government should do the helping.
  2. Because the government can afford it.
    There again, this is not a good answer. Government only has money because it takes it from us. It can take money from us because we allow it to, and the instrument by which we allow it to – the United States Constitution – specifies the rules by which it is allowed to engage in this practice. That the government might be able to afford something is not a justification for doing it. For that, we must look to the document that provides for the taking and why – once again, the Constitution.
  3. Because it makes me feel better.
    As to this, let us first agree that, while this practice may make some people feel better, it most certainly does not make all people feel better and probably does not even make most people feel better. In other words, if making someone feel better were an actual benefit, the question arises if this is a proper role of government, and for the answer, we must look, again, to the Constitution.
  4. Because people won’t help others unless the government forces them to.
    Whether this is appropriate for the government to do can best be answered by another question: If it is legitimate for you to have government, acting in your proxy, to force me to give money to others, why, then, would it not also be legitimate for you to take a gun and do the same thing directly?

So, why not have the government to help poor people? Let us be reminded that for everything there is a cost and that we should, therefore, consider the costs of this practice, as well, along with any perceived benefits. What, then, might such costs be? Here are a few thoughts:

  • Each of us has a moral obligation to be charitable, and, for the reasons stated in the section above, money given by government on our behalf to poor people, no matter how much, can not reduce the charitable obligation of any one of us, let alone all of us, by so much as a single cent. What government spends for us is, therefore, in addition to our individual charitable obligation and not in place of it.
  • If we allow the government to make the decisions as to who is deserving of ‘charity’, then we know, because history tells us, that such decisions will be always come to be made pursuant to political, rather than charitable, motivations.
  • If we argue that it is legitimate and moral for government to loot others to make us feel better, then it can logically loot us for similar reasons. Sauce for the goose…

To be sure, those are all very good examples of the costs of ‘government charity’, but there is another that is even more important than all others combined:

If taxing one group for the benefit of another is unconstitutional, and it is explicitly, patently, and inarguably unconstitutional, then to allow it to happen has the effect, intended or otherwise, of nullifying the Constitution. That is, I believe, a dangerous road to go down. Why? Because it is a path with no end and one so steep that once you begin down it, it becomes very difficult to ever get back.

If we allow the Constitution to be violated for one reason, then how can we morally argue that it should not also be allowed to be violated in any of a thousand other ways for equal or better reasons?

So we see, therefore, that, not only does government have no legitimate or moral authority to engage in ‘charity’, to allow it to do so anyway is fraught with peril for the survivability of the republic. Charity is unquestionably good. It is, however, an individual obligation and not a collective one, so the phrase, “government charity”, is both oxymoronic and paradoxical. In other words, we, as patriots, should fight the absurd and dangerous notion of government charity to our very last breath.

Jere Moore
Jere Moore has been blogging about political matters since 2008. His posts include commentary about current news items, conservative opinion pieces, satirical articles, stories that illustrate conservative principles, and posts about history, rights, and economics.