Davy Crockett and Public Money

Thomas Stern found the Davy Crockett story he alluded to in a comment to Senate Votes Away Your Money!

In the early 1800’s Congress was considering a bill to appropriate tax dollars for the widow of a distinguished naval officer. Several beautiful speeches had been made in support of this bill. It seemed that everyone in the House favored it. The Speaker of the House was just about to put the question to a vote, when Davy Crockett, famous frontiersman and then Congressman from Tennessee, rose to his feet.

“Mr. Speaker, I have as much respect for the memory of the deceased and as much sympathy for the suffering of the living 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 to so 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. Sir, this is no 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. I cannot vote for this bill, but I will give one week’s pay, and if every member of Congress will do the same, it will amount to more than the bill asks.”

There was silence on the floor of the House as Crockett took his seat. When the bill was put to a vote, instead of passing unanimously as had been expected, it received only a few votes. The next day a friend approached Crockett and asked why he spoken against a bill for such a worthy cause. In reply, Crockett related the following story:

Just a few years before, he had voted to spend $20,000.00 of public money to help the victims of a terrible fire in Georgetown. When the legislative session was over, Crockett made a trip back home to do some campaigning for his re-election. In his travels he encountered one of his constituents, a man by the name of Horatio Bunce. Mr. Bunce bluntly informed Crockett, “I voted for you the last time. I shall not vote for you again.”

Crockett, feeling he had served his constituents well, was stunned. He inquired as to what he had done to so offend Mr. Bunce. Bunce replied, “You gave a vote last winter which shows that either you have not capacity to understand the Constitution, or that you are wanting in the honesty and firmness to be guided by it. The Constitution, to be worth anything, must be held sacred, and rigidly observed in all its provisions.” “I take the papers from Washington and read very carefully all the proceedings of Congress. My papers say that last winter you voted for a bill to appropriate $20,000.00 to some sufferers by a fire. Well, Colonel, where do you find in the Constitution any authority to give away public money in charity? 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.”

“The people have delegated to Congress, by the Constitution, the power to do certain things. To do these, it is authorized to collect and pay moneys, and for nothing else. Everything beyond this is usurpation, and a violation of the Constitution. You have violated the Constitution in what I consider to be a vital point. It is a precedent fraught with danger to the country, for when Congress once begins to stretch its power beyond the limits of the Constitution, there is no limit to it, and no security for the People.”

“I could not answer him,” said Crockett. “I was so fully convinced that he was right.” I said to him, “Well, my friend, you hit the nail upon the head when you said I had not sense enough to understand the Constitution. If you will forgive me and vote for me again, if I ever vote for another nconstitutional law, I wish I may be shot.”

After finishing the story, Crockett said, “Now sir, you know why I made that speech yesterday. There is one thing now to which I will call your attention. You remember that I proposed to give a weeks pay? There are in that House many very wealthy men, men who think nothing of spending a weeks pay, or a dozen of them, for a dinner or a wine party when they have something to accomplish by it. Some of these same men made beautiful speeches upon the debt of gratitude which the country owed the deceased, yet not one of them responded to my proposition. Money with them is nothing but trash when it is to come out of the people. But it is the one great thing for which most of them are striving, and many of them sacrifice honor, integrity, and justice to obtain it.”

Congress has changed for the worst since Davy Crockett!

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Davy Crockett Public Money early 1800’s Congress The Constitution Mover Mike


20 Responses to “Davy Crockett and Public Money”

  1. Thank you for printing this; perhaps if one more person reads it and understands what is at stake we still can turn things around.

  2. This is probably the best piece I have ever read on this subject. Thank You.

  3. Fantastic piece. Crockett’s perspective though, I fear is considered an ancient one and naive. More’s the pity. Could any member of Congress speak those words and not expect to be laughed out of either chamber today? We need 535 Crocketts to own up to the limits and protection of the Constitution else we are doomed to more of the silliness and pettiness we witness every day from our nation and states capitals.

  4. Wow. Sums up just about all of my complaints with the current government.

  5. “Man will never be free until the last king is strangled with the entrails of the last priest.”
    – Denis Diderot (1713-1784)

  6. I wholeheartedly agree with the prevailing view that the present congress is, for the most part, useless and embarassing.
    Concerning the above article, however, I would be interested to hear this Mr. Bounce’s position had it been his own community devastated by fires.
    One function of the federal govornment, in theory, is to make possible certain protections that would be impossible to achieve by individuals. That’s the “for the people” part.

  7. Yup, and people say the slippery slope isnt a good argument.

  8. It’s an interesting story about Davy, for sure.

    It should be noted though, that it was a recurring theme in Congress back then as well as in the Presidents office.

    “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.”

    ~ James Madison

  9. So … Then … The problem remains with The People who are afflicted with some form of dementia blindly accept and/or expect the government to offer a public teat to suckle.

    We don’t have a problem with politicians we have a disaster looming with an electorate running about like Helen Keller in the early years.

    What is needed is somebody like The Dog Whisperer to runabout fixing voters as they are the reason we have so many screwy politicians.

  10. Hate to sound like a fanboy – but a similar issue came up in a recent vote with Ron Paul in the Davy Crockett role. He voted against a medal for the Regans as he felt it would not be a good use of public funds, however as the cost was 30,000 he said if every member of congress paid $100 there would be more than enough to pay for it.

    Not even the congressman who brought the motion to the floor would match the $100.

    Sad state of affairs when Congress is happy to spend OUR money like candy, yet shut up when it is their own money…. interesting…..

  11. @jim It is not the job of the federal government, at laid out in the Constitution, to protect against environmental hardships. There are things that it would seem individuals could not do that governments can, such as provide relief after hurricanes. However, as has been shown repeatedly after major hurricanes the federal government does a poor job responding no matter how much money is thrown at the issue. Instead private organizations usually are the successful instruments.

    Further, State and Local governments are fully capable of helping out in such situations when matters are urgent.

  12. Feh. Not impressed. At some point we need to realize that individual charity is not all that effective. Case in point: look at the charity that network news companies give to the parents of missing children. That charity is given on the basis of how salable the story of the child is. If we leave charitably in private hands, then all that will happen is that only the cuddly charity cases will get help. If you can justify that then please do.

  13. “Man will never be free until the last king is strangled with the entrails of the last priest.”
    – Denis Diderot (1713-1784)

    This royally pisses me off. I can’t even IMAGINE what the world would be like if we didn’t have some form of rulers. And its not a characteristic of a priest to infringe on anyone’s freedom, just the personality of a few, so stfu. Maybe the priest should be switched with all of those Jehovah’s Witnesses who keep knocking on my door……. >:(

  14. The hypocrisy of this is that “conservatives” rail against government spending…until that spending is for their pet war or local pork-barrel project.

  15. Bapudi, the sad fact is, the Republicans gained power under Bush, and proceeded to throw out the conservative principles of balanced budgets and living within our means. President didn’t help by allowing every spending measure to pass without once exercising a veto.

    Moral, don’t call most Republicans conservative!

  16. this is getting a stumble thumbs up. i think the american people should be more concerned with where our tax dollars go, and more to the point, what they’re being spent on. I hope that more people read this and feel as strongly as i do about it.

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