by Ron Gaudio
Jan 20th, 2010
Davy Crockett (1786-1836), was an American legend, remembered especially for his bravery in the battle of the Alamo. But there was a far more significant battle that he fought to preserve the liberties of American citizens, back in the time when politicians took the Constitution seriously.
One day, when Davy Crockett was serving in the House of Representatives, a bill came up to appropriate money for the benefit of a widow of a distinguished naval officer. As usual in Congress, flowery speeches were made, not so much to convince the House, since most felt that it would pass easily, but to afford the opportunity to connect ones name with the popular bill. Before the Speaker called for the vote, Representative Crockett arose and what he said surprised his colleagues:
“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. Some eloquent appeals have been made to us upon the ground that it is a debt due the deceased. Mr. Speaker, the deceased lived long after the close of the war; he was in office to the day of his death, and I have never heard that the government was in arrears to him. This government can owe no debts but for services rendered, and at a stipulated price. If it is a debt, how much is it? Has it been audited, and the amount due ascertained? If it is a debt, this is not the place to present it for payment, or to have its merits examined. If it is a debt, we owe more than we can ever hope to pay, for we owe the widow of every soldier who fought in the War of 1812 precisely the same amount. There is a woman in my neighborhood, the widow of as gallant a man as ever shouldered a musket. He fell in battle. She is as good in every respect as this lady, and is as poor. She is earning her daily bread by her daily labor; but if I were to introduce a bill to appropriate five or ten thousand dollars for her benefit, I should be laughed at, and my bill would not get five votes in this House. There are thousands of widows in the country just such as the one I have spoken of, but we never hear of any of these large debts to them. Sir, this is no debt. The government did not owe it to the deceased when he was alive; it could not contract it after he died. I do not wish to be rude, but I must be plain. Every man in this House knows it is not a debt. We cannot, without the grossest corruption, appropriate this money as the payment of a debt. We have not the semblance of authority to appropriate it as a charity. Mr. Speaker, I have said we have the right to give as much of our own money as we please. I am the poorest man on this floor. I cannot vote for this bill, but I will give one week’s pay to the object, and if every member of Congress will do the same, it will amount to more than the bill asks.”
Crockett took his seat, amid total silence. The bill came up for a vote and got only a few votes. Except for Crockett’s speech, it would have most likely passed unanimously. What was most telling, is that not one congressman volunteered to sacrifice a weeks pay, or even to discuss the issue! The lesson is obvious. It is always easier to be generous with other people’s money than with one’s own.
Throughout history, governments have had insidious motives for giving largess from the public treasury to the masses. They do this for several reasons. One is to pacify the people. A great example of this is the Romans, in the first century, pacifying the people with “bread and circuses.” A second reason is to get the people dependent upon the government, as it is easier for a government to control the people when the people are dependent upon government for their basic necessities.
As a nation, we were founded by people that survived and persevered under difficult and trying circumstances. Not only did we survive as a nation, but we became the greatest and freest nation that the world has ever seen. Charity was done by common people helping one another without big government programs.
Yet, today we have something different. Today government leaders take money from hardworking families and redistribute it to thieves and swindlers…better known as bankers. Apparently, these same government leaders will be taking over our health, more of our wealth, and possibly even our lives with Obamacare, making our citizens even more dependent upon the government. The fact of the matter is that the public treasury is raided all the time for whichever causes are politically convenient, or for whichever lobbyist will contribute the most to the politicians.
So how did an uneducated, backwoodsman like Davy Crockett have great insight into financial matters that many constitutional scholars lack today? Well, it seems that several years before, another bill was introduced into Congress to provide $20,000 in relief to survivors of a fire in Georgetown. Davy Crockett readily voted yes for this bill that passed by a strong majority. The following summer, as he was campaigning in his district, he came upon a farmer plowing his field. The farmer stopped plowing and came over to talk with Mr. Crockett. The farmer was not very warm to him and after a few formalities, told Mr. Crockett that he shouldn’t waste his time because he would never vote for him. When Mr. Crockett asked why, the farmer replied:
“Well, Colonel, it is hardly worthwhile to waste time or words upon it. I do not see how it can be mended, but you gave a vote last winter which shows that either you have not capacity to under-stand the Constitution, or that you are wanting in the honesty and firmness to be guided by it. In either case you are not the man to represent me. But I beg your pardon for expressing it in that way. I did not intend to avail myself of the privilege of the constituent to speak plainly to a candidate for the purpose of insulting or wounding you. I intend by it only to say that your understanding of the Constitution is very different from mine… because the Constitution, to be worth anything, must be held sacred, and rigidly observed in all its provisions. The man who wields power and misinterprets it is the more dangerous the more honest he is.
“‘It is not the amount, Colonel, that I complain of; it is the principle…The power of collecting and disbursing money at pleasure is the most dangerous power that can be entrusted to man… the Constitution neither defines charity nor stipulates the amount, if you are at liberty to give to any and everything which you may believe, or profess to believe, is a charity, and to any amount you may think proper…You will very easily perceive what a wide door this would open for fraud and corruption and favoritism, on the one hand, and for robbing the people on the other. No, Colonel, Congress has no right to give charity. Individual members may give as much of their own money as they please, but they have no right to touch a dollar of the public money for that purpose. If twice as many houses had been burned in this county as in Georgetown, neither you nor any other member of Congress would have thought of appropriating a dollar for our relief. There are about two hundred and forty members of Congress. If they had shown their sympathy for the sufferers by contributing each one week’s pay, it would have made over $13,000. There are plenty of wealthy men in and around Washington who could have given $20,000 without depriving themselves of even a luxury of life.”
The man’s name was Horatio Bunce, an unknown, backwoods farmer. Davy Crockett recounted this conversation to many people. He claimed that he was “converted” politically and saw the Constitution anew from this point on, even though he thought he understood it prior to this.
“A democracy … can only exist until the voters discover that they can vote themselves largess from the public treasury. From that time on the majority always votes for the candidates promising the most benefits … with the results that a democracy always collapses over loose fiscal policy, always followed by a dictatorship.”
Alexander Tytler (unverified)