In the US Constitution, the Tax clause, found in Article I, Section 8, Clause 1 is:

The Congress shall have Power To lay and collect Taxes, Duties, Imposts and Excises, to pay the Debts and provide for the common defense and general Welfare of the United States; but all Duties, Imposts and Excises shall be uniform throughout the United States

After the Constitution was ratified, Alexander Hamilton pushed for a broader reading of this clause, transmuting it to the General Welfare clause to greatly expand the authorities of the Federal Government.

If it was last pushed into prominence by United States V. Butler, and worsened by Helvering V. Davis, when was the last significant repudiation of the Hamiltonian reading?

By significance, consider official efforts to either advance legislation by representatives/senators or movement by Federal Government officials. Ignore campaign speeches, and promises from the punditry. Unless there is a decision form the Supreme Court that reverses the adoption of the Hamiltonian interpretation that I haven't found yet, I expect an answer to this question would involve a member, or group of members, of Congress

An Example The want for a repudiation of this reading is intentional. While there may be measures that have constrained it, this question is looking for a reversal of the Hamiltonian reading, shifting back to the Madisonian intentions. As an example, consider the response to the decision in Kelo V. New London. When the court decided it was within the governments authority to take property and give it do a third party, specifically a private enterprise, under the guise that the increase in the tax base was considered a public use, Senator John Cornyn of Texas put forth legislation to constrain the use of Eminent Domain for economic Development (it didn't pass). Similarily, the decision resulted in a number of states taking similar actions to prevent the same. This was a repudiation of the Supreme Courts ruling.

  • 2
    Are you asking about efforts from legislative branch or judicial?
    – user4012
    Commented Sep 6, 2018 at 12:43
  • For puzzled modern readers please give background on what a narrower definition of "general Welfare" would look like. (Slavery? Restricted suffrage?)
    – agc
    Commented Sep 6, 2018 at 15:10
  • Have you looked here? en.wikipedia.org/wiki/…
    – David Rice
    Commented Sep 6, 2018 at 15:16
  • @user4012 The primary focus is action from the Legislature. A SCOTUS decision would be good, but I don't think the clause has been revisited since Helvering, though I'm still reviewing cases. Commented Sep 6, 2018 at 16:19
  • @DavidRice Yes. While the cases listed moderately constrained this view, they are not a repudiation. Commented Sep 6, 2018 at 16:24

2 Answers 2


I don't know if it was the most recent, but in 2007 Ron Paul proposed an amendment eliminating income taxes - https://www.congress.gov/bill/110th-congress/house-joint-resolution/23 This would seem to fit your definition of a "significant repudiation" in that it's actual legislation that was proposed.

  • It does, though wrong portion of the Constitution. He's after the 16th amendment. Commented Sep 6, 2018 at 22:19

While the jurisprudence hasn't been revisited and a law hasn't been passed, I was looking for any effort to advance the legislation to reject the position taken by Congress.

The jurisprudence in United States v. Butler, 297 U. S. 1, 297 U. S. 66 (1936) Helvering v. Davis, 301 U. S. 619, 301 U. S. 640-641 (1937); has been cited at Buckley v. Valeo, 424 U.S. 1 (1976)

Appellants' "general welfare" contention erroneously treats the General Welfare Clause as a limitation upon congressional power. It is rather a grant of power, the scope of which is quite expansive, particularly in view of the enlargement of power by the Necessary and Proper Clause. M'Culloch v. Maryland, 4 Wheat. 316, 17 U. S. 420 (1819).

and South Dakota v. Dole, 483 U.S. 203 (1987)

In considering whether a particular expenditure is intended to serve general public purposes, courts should defer substantially to the judgment of Congress.

did not repudiate Hamilton's reading of what "general welfare" is relevant to the power to lay taxes.

It is not clear how you came to the conclusion that the cited cases are

significant repudiation of the Hamiltonian reading

where Hamilton states that it is the Legislature which determines what is the "general welfare" is, not the Judicial Branch Alexander Hamilton, Report on Manufactures 5 Dec. 1791 Papers 10:302--4 by Alexander Hamilton

The terms "general Welfare" were doubtless intended to signify more than was expressed or imported in those which Preceded; otherwise numerous exigencies incident to the affairs of a Nation would have been left without a provision. The phrase is as comprehensive as any that could have been used; because it was not fit that the constitutional authority of the Union, to appropriate its revenues shou'd have been restricted within narrower limits than the "General Welfare" and because this necessarily embraces a vast variety of particulars, which are susceptible neither of specification nor of definition.

It is therefore of necessity left to the discretion of the National Legislature, to pronounce, upon the objects, which concern the general Welfare, and for which under that description, an appropriation of money is requisite and proper. And there seems to be no room for a doubt that whatever concerns the general Interests of learning of Agriculture of Manufactures and of Commerce are within the sphere of the national Councils as far as regards an application of Money.

The only qualification of the generallity of the Phrase in question, which seems to be admissible, is this--That the object to which an appropriation of money is to be made be General and not local; its operation extending in fact, or by possibility, throughout the Union, and not being confined to a particular spot.

where the Supreme Court of the United States have left it to the prerogative of Congress to answer the political question of what "general welfare" is, South Dakota v. Dole, 483 U.S. 208 (1987)

"the concept of welfare or the opposite is shaped by Congress...." Helvering v. Davis, supra, at 301 U. S. 645.

Thus, Helvering decision has not been repudiated and is still stare decisis.

  • The Cited cases in the Questions aren't a repudiation of the Hamiltonian interpretation, they were the affirmation that established the Jurisprudence that the other cases you've cited lean on. You've misread the Question. I've down voted this answer because it attacks the Question instead of addressing it. While it may be that the answer is no, this fails in that regard. Commented Sep 6, 2018 at 18:39
  • @DrunkCynic Only Congress can define what "general welfare" is. The term "repudiation" has nothing to do with the Constitution, Congress or SCOTUS. What you are essentially asking is if Congress has limited its own powers relevant to taxing and its own expansive interpretation of "general welfare", which it has not. And, as stated in the answer, that is a political question which only Congress can clearly answer; the Legislative Branch writes laws. The Judicial Branch interprets laws with the Const. as the standard. There is no "attack" on the Question whatsoever. The answer points out facts Commented Sep 6, 2018 at 18:42
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    The Judicial Branch has overturned itself before: Brown against Plessy. A repudiation would be embodied by either Congress or SCOTUS rebuking the decision of Butler. The extra-Constitutional power of Congress, expansive creation from nothing, was a fiction of the Courts from the New Deal Era that increased the Federal Government Power beyond the narrowly enumerated restrictions designed. If a single legislator has put forth a measure to restrict the Government, the question can be answered in the affirmative. Commented Sep 6, 2018 at 18:56
  • @DrunkCynic If you are looking for a concise answer "There has not been any 'repudiation' of Madison's intentions relevant to 'general welfare' by Congress". "If a single legislator has put forth a measure to restrict the Government" is rather broad language. "restrict the Government" directly relating to how the government defines and creates laws relevant to the term "general welfare" and "tax"? How are you defining "restrict the Government"? By "put for a measure" do you mean language in a bill that uses that language or that language in a bill could be interpreted in that manner? Commented Sep 6, 2018 at 18:59

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