James Madison on Entitlements

The words entitlement and entitlements did not appear in the 1828 Webster’s Dictionary,1 neither are they mentioned in the U.S. Constitution. Today, Merriam Webster’s Dictionary defines entitlement as “A government program providing benefits to members of a specified group.”2

Entitlements are also known as legalized plunder. Wrote Frédéric Bastiat:

“When a portion of wealth is transferred from the person who owns it — without his consent and without compensation, and whether by force or by fraud — to anyone who does not own it, then I say that property is violated; that an act of plunder is committed.”3

Another definition of entitlement is “The state or condition of being entitled: right.”2 Congressman Ron Paul argued that entitlements are not rights.4

“Entitlements are not rights,” Paul flatly stated. “Rights mean you have a right to your life, you have a right to your liberty, you should have a right to keep the fruits of your labor.”

James Madison on Entitlements

Can we trust James Madison, the Father of the U.S. Constitution, to settle the question—are entitlements justified within the limited powers granted to the federal government?

In 1794, three thousand French emigrants from the Island of St. Domingo landed unexpectedly. Committee member Samuel Smith said, “There was never a more noble and prompt display of the most exalted feelings, than had been exhibited on this occasion. He believed that such as scene of distress had never been seen in America.”4

Mr. Madison wished to relieve the sufferers, but was afraid of establishing a dangerous precedent, which might hereafter be perverted to the countenance of purposes very different from those of charity. He acknowledged, for his own part, that he could not undertake to lay his finger on that article in the Federal Constitution which granted a right of Congress of expending, on objects of benevolence, the money of their constituents. And if once they broke the line laid down before them, for the direction of their conduct, it was impossible to say to what lengths they might go, or to what extremities this practice might be carried.5


Entitlements are not rights.

James Madison was correct to foresee that once the federal government began distributing the people’s money for benevolent purposes, it was impossible to say how far it would be taken. Had he foreseen today’s national debt, reason suggests he would have safeguarded the public against entitlements in the Bill of Rights!

Should the federal government ever demand payment from every American for our portion of the entitlement spending, we will be furious and the debate over entitlements will quickly end.

If the United States ever defaults on our national debt, I predict Americans will be asked to surrender sovereignty, federal lands or both. At that time the majority will realize entitlements were part of a much larger scheme.

The states added the Bill of Rights because they were worried the federal government would disregard the rule of law. I believe when the U.S. Constitution is restored, citizens will demand the end of entitlements and insist on a new Constitutional amendment.

Please Vote for Me!

Let’s thank Congressman Jason Chaffetz for his six years of public service and release him so he can serve his country in another capacity. Vote Robert Stevens for Congress. Let me show you what I can do.


1Merriam-Webster’s 1828 Dictionary Entitlement. Notice the closest words are entitle and entitled which are defined as To give a title to and Dignified or distinguished by a title respectively.

2Merriam-Webster Entitlement.

3The Law by Frédéric Bastiat. 1850. See the quote under the section Plunder Violates Ownership

4Ron Paul: ‘Entitlements are not rights’

5House of Representatives, 3rd Congress, 1st Session, Page 170. This is the first recorded debate on the constitutionality of using public funds for benevolence. An appeal to the General Welfare clause was made even then (bottom of page 172).