Skip to comments.Not Yours to Give
Posted on 01/23/2002 9:15:27 AM PST by Chapita
One day in the House of Representatives, a bill was taken up appropriating money for the benefit of the widow of a distinguished naval officer. Several beautiful speeches had been made in its support. The Speaker was just about to put the question when Mr. Crockett arose:
"Mr. Speaker - I have as much respect for the memory of the deceased, and as much sympathy for the suffering 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 to 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.
"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 charity. Mr. Speaker, I have said we have the right to give as much money of our own 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."
He took his seat. Nobody replied. The bill was put upon its passage, and, instead of passing unanimously, as was generally supposed, and as, not doubt, it would but for that speech, it received but few votes, and of course was lost.
Later, when asked by a friend why he had opposed the appropriation, Crockett gave this explanation:
"Several years ago I was one evening standing on the steps of the Capitol with some other members of Congress, when our attention was attracted by a great light over Georgetown. It was evidently a large fire. We jumped into a hack and drove over as fast as we could. In spite of all that could be done, many houses were burned and many families made homeless, and, besides, some of them had lost all but the clothes they had on. The next morning a bill was introduced appropriating $20,000 for their relief. We put aside all other business and rushed it through as soon as it could be done.
"The next summer, when it began to be time to think about the election, I concluded I would take a scout around among the boys of my district. I had no opposition there, but, as the election was some time off, I did not know what might turn up. When riding one day in a part of the my district in which I was more a stranger than any other, I saw a man in a field plowing and coming toward the road. I gauged my gait so that we should meet as he came to the fence. I spoke to the man. He replied politely, but, as I thought, rather coldly.
"I began: 'Well, friend, I am one of those unfortunate beings call candidates, and---'
"'Yes, I know you; you are Colonel Crockett. I have seen you once before, and voted for you the last time you were elected. I suppose you are out electioneering now, but you had better not waste your time or mine. I shall not vote for you again.'
"This was a sockdolager...I begged him to tell me what was the matter.
"'Well, Colonel, it is hardly worth-while to waste time or words upon it. I do not see how it can be mended, but you had 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. In either case you are not the man to represent me. But I beg you 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 intended by it only to say that your understanding of the Constitution is very different from mine; and I will say to you that, but for my rudeness, I should not have said that I believe you to be honest...But an understanding of the Constitution different from mine in I cannot overlook, because of 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.'
"'I admit the truth of all you say, but there must be some mistake about it, for I do not remember that I gave any vote last winter upon any Constitutional question.'
"'No, Colonel, there's no mistake. Though I live here in the backwoods and seldom go from home, I take the papers from Washington and read very carefully all the proceedings in Congress. My papers say that last winter you voted for a bill to appropriate $20,000 to some sufferers by a fire in Georgetown. Is that true?'
"'Well, my friend, I may as well own up. You have got me there. But certainly nobody will complain that a great and rich country likes ours should give the insignificant sum of $20,000 to relieve its suffering women and children, particularly with a full and overflowing Treasury, and I am sure, if you had been there, you would have done just as I did.'
"'It is not the amount, Colonel, that I complain of; it is the principle. In the first place, the government ought to have in the Treasury no more than enough for its legitimate purposes. But that has nothing to do with the question. The power of collecting and disbursing money at pleasure is the most dangerous power that can be entrusted to man, particularly under our system of collecting revenue by tariff, which reaches every man in the country, no matter how poor he may be, and the poorer he is the more he pays in proportion to his means. What is worse, it presses upon him without his knowledge where the weight centers, for there is not a man in the United States who can ever guess how much he pays to the government. So you see, that while you are contributing to relieve one, you are drawing it from thousands who are even worse off then he. If you had the right to give anything, the amount was simple a matter of discretion with you, and you had as much right to give $20,000,000 as $20,000. If you have the right to give to one, you have the right to give to all; and, as the Constitution neither defines charity nor stipulates the amount, you are at liberty to give to any thing 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 perceived 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 not right to touch a dollar of the public money for that purpose. If twice as many houses had been burned in this country 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 contribution each one week's pay, it would have made over $13,000. There are plenty of men in and around Washington who could have given $20,000 without depriving themselves of even a luxury of life. The congressmen chose to keep their own money, which, if reports be true, some of them spend not very creditably; and the people about Washington, no doubt, applauded you for relieving them from the necessity of giving by giving what was not yours to give. 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.
"'So you see, Colonel, you have violated the Constitution in what I consider 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 have no doubt you acted honestly, but that does not make it any better, except as far as you are personally concerned, and you see that I cannot vote for you.'
"I tell you I felt streaked. I saw if I should have opposition, and this man should go to talking, he would set other to talking, and in that district I was a gone fawn-skin. I could not answer him, for the fact is, I was so fully convinced that he was right, I did not want to. But I must satisfy him, and I said to him: 'Well, my friend, you hit the nail upon the head when you said I did not have sense enough to understand the Constitution. I intended to be guided by it, and thought I had studied it fully. I have heard many speeches in Congress about the powers of Congress, but what you have said here at your plow has got more hard, sound sense in it than all the find speeches I ever heard. If I had ever taken the view of it that you have, I would have put my head into the fire before I would have given that vote; and if I ever vote for another unconstitutional law I wish I may be shot.'
"He laughingly replied: 'Yes Colonel, you have sworn to that once before, but I will trust you again upon one condition. You say that you are convinced that your vote was wrong. Your acknowledgement of it will do more good than beating you for it. If, as you go around this district, you will tell people about this vote, and that you are satisfied that it was wrong, I will not only vote for you, but I will do what I can to keep down opposition, and perhaps, I may exert a little influence in that way.'
"'If I don't,' said I, 'I wish I may be shot; and to convince you that I am earnest in what I say I will come back this way in a week or ten days, and if you will get up a gathering of people, I will make a speech to them. Get up a barbecue, and I will pay for it.'
"'No, Colonel, we are not rich people in this section, but we have plenty of provisions to contribute to a barbecue, and some to share for those who have none. The push of crops will be over in a few days, and we can then afford a day for a barbecue. This is Thursday; I will see to getting up on Saturday week,. Come to my house on Friday, and we will go together, and I promise you a very respectable crowed to see and hear you.'
"'Well, I will be here. But one thing more before I say good-bye. I must know your name.'
"'My name is Bunce.'
"Not Horatio Bunce?'
"'Well, Mr. Bunce, I never saw you before thought you say you have seen me, but I know you very well. I am glad I have met you, and very proud that I may hope to have you for my friend.'
"It was one of the luckiest hits of my life that I met him. He mingled but little with the public, but was widely known for his remarkable intelligence and incorruptible integrity, and for a heart brimful and running over with kindness and benevolence, which showed themselves not only in words by in acts. He was the oracle of the whole country around him, and his fame had extended far beyond the circle of his immediate acquaintance. Though I had never met him before, I had heard much of him, and but for this meeting it is very likely I should have had opposition, and had been beaten. One thing is very certain, no man could now stand up in this distinct under such a vote.
"At the appointed time I was at this house having told our conversation to every crowd I had met, and to every man I stayed all night with, and found that it gave the people an interest and a confidence in me stronger than I had ever seen manifested before. Thought I was considerable fatigued when I reach his house, and, under ordinary circumstance, should have gone early to bed, I kept up until midnight, talking about the principles and affairs of government, and got more real, true knowledge of them than I had got all my life before. I have known and seen much of him since, for I respect him -- no, that is not the word -- I reverence and love him more than any living man, and I go to see him two or three times a year; and I will tell you sir, if everyone who professes to be a Christian, lived and acted and enjoyed it as he does, the religion of Christ would take the world by storm.
"But to return to my story. The next morning we went to the barbecue, and , to my surprise, found about a thousand men there. I met a good many whom I had not known before, and they and my friend introduced me around until I had got pretty well acquainted -- at least, they all knew me.
"In due time notice was given that I would speak to them. They gathered up around a stand that had been erected. I open my speech by saying:
"'Fellow-citizens --- I present myself before you today feeling like a new man. My eyes have lately been opened to truths which ignorance or prejudices, or both, had heretofore hidden from my view. I feel that I can today offer you the ability to render you more valuable service than I have ever been able to render before. I am here today more for the purpose of acknowledging my error than to seek your votes. That I should make this acknowledgment is due to myself as well as to you. Whether you will vote for me is a matter for you consideration only.'
"I went on to tell them about the fire and my vote for the appropriation and then told them way I was satisfied to was wrong. I closed by saying:
"'And now, fellow-citizens, it remains only for me to tell you that the most of the speech you have listened to with so much interest was simply a repetition of the arguments by which your neighbor, Mr. Bunce, convinced me of my error. It is the best speech I ever made in my life, but he is entitled to the credit for it. And now I hope he is satisfied with his convert and that he will get up here and tell you so.'
"He came upon the stand and said: 'Fellow-citizens --- It affords me great pleasure to comply with the request of Colonel Crockett. I have always considered him a thoroughly honest man, and I am satisfied that he will faithfully perform all that he has promised you today.'
"He went down, and there went up from that crowd such a shout for Davey Crockett as his name never called forth before.
"I am not much given to tears, but I was taken with a choking then and felt some big drops rolling down my cheeks. And I tell you now that the remembrance of those few words spoken by such a man, and the honest, hearty shout they produced, is worth more to me than all the repetition I have ever made, or shall ever make, as a member of Congress.
"Now, sir," concluded Crockett, "you know why I made that speech yesterday. There is one thing now to which I wish to call to your attention. You remember that I proposed to give a week's pay. There are in that House many very wealthy men --- men who think nothing of spending a week's pay, or a dozen of them, for a dinner or a wine party when they have something to accomplish by it. Some of those same men made beautiful speeches upon the great debt of gratitude which the country owed the deceased -- a debt which could not be paid by money --- and the insignificance and worthlessness of money, particularly so insignificant a sum as $10,000 when weighed against the honor of the nation. 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."
-------------------------------------------------------------------------------- David Crocket was born August 17, 1786, at Limestone (Greene County), Tennessee. He died March 6, 1836, as a defender of the Alamo.
When one looks up Crockett's term, oddly, the thing he is most remembered for is advocating free land for squatters, i.e., the government giving land to Tennesseans. That doesn't appear to square with this quaint little myth.
Have you checked your FReep Mail? 137 sites which reference this article.......... do I need more?
In 1874 and 1875 Mr. Ellis served as editor of Public Opinion, a Trenton daily newspaper. From 1878 to 1881 he was editor of Golden Days and in 1891 was editor of Holiday. Both magazines were for children. Edward Ellis specialized in boys stories, inspirational biography, and history for both children and adults. He was a major author during the era of inexpensive fiction of the nineteenth century which was known as the "dime novel." Because he wrote under dozens of pseudonyms, as well as under his own name, it is virtually impossible to know just exactly how many books Mr. Ellis wrote. It is believed there were hundreds.
Edward was a young schoolteacher when he wrote his first novel mentioned above (Seth Jones). Many of his books were adventure tales of the frontier with settings ranging from the days when the eastern United States was being settled, to the expansion of the American West of the late nineteenth century. Using the pseudonyms Bruin Adams or J.F.C. Adams, Ellis claimed to be a nephew of renowned Western frontiersman James Capen ("Grizzly") Adams, and in this guise he published several novels. One of his most popular characters in these books was Deerfoot who was a native American. His works were considered to be well written by the standards that prevailed in that day, and were enjoyed by adults as well as by young people.
Until the middle eighteen eighties Ellis wrote, primarily, works of fiction. After that time, he turned to writing accounts of historical events, mostly for adults. He issued a number of personal statements about whatever was most important in the minds of the public of that day. In his histories he was always fair in his opinions on differences within the nation, but internationally he espoused American preeminence. He said: "The record of no people can approach it in magnificence of achievement as regards art, science, education, literature, invention, and all that makes for true progress." (From Tent to White House, 1899, p.7). He believed that the normal expectancy of human life is a hundred years, that a teacher should excel in athletic prowess, and that "the vices of cigarette smoking, of tobacco chewing, of beer and alcoholic drinking, threaten the very existence of the rising generation." (Continental Primary Physiology, 1885, p.9).
Edward Ellis died at Cliff Island, Maine in 1916 at the age of 76.
Too bad the story isn't true. Crockett was a charlatan.
5 posted on 1/23/02 10:35 AM Pacific by Huck [ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 4 | View Replies | Report
Sorry! I guess I can't read!
Originally published in "The Life of Colonel David Crockett," by Edward Sylvester Ellis.
You mean the government offering land to those willing to risk their lives and fortunes if they would just help the US settle new territories? Do you think of this as a giveaway? Do you think all the people who settled land in the land rushes were given something akin to welfare? What a crock.
Oh well, late for my nap!
I think of giving away land as a giveaway. Yes.