Can't recall when we've ever read an essay which so aptly defines the proper function of our country's Constitution as this one. Many of you have probably seen it before, please pass it on ....
Not Yours to Give
One day in the House of Representatives, a bill was taken up appropriating money for
the benefit of a 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 Crockett
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 in
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
weather was very cold, and when I saw so many women and children suffering, I felt that
something ought to be done for them.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.
"'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 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.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; and I will say to you what, 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 I cannot overlook, 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.'
"'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 like 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 intrusted to man,
particularly under our system of collecting revenue by a 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 than he.If you had the right to give
anything, the amount was simply 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 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 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
"'Well, my friend, you hit the nail upon the head when you said I had not 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
fine 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 you will forgive me
and vote for me again, if I ever vote for another unconstitutional law I wish I may be
"'No, Colonel, we are not rich people in this section, but we have plenty of provisions to contribute for a barbecue, and some to spare 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 it up on Saturday week.Come to my house on Friday, and we will go together, and I promise you a very respectable crowd to see and hear you.'
"'Well, I will be here.But one thing more before I say good-by.I must know your
"'Well, Mr. Bunce, I never saw you before, though 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 but 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 that district under such a vote.
"At the appointed time I was at his house, having told our conversation to every
crowd I had met, and to every man I stayed all night with, and I found that it gave the
people an interest and a confidence in me stronger than I had every seen manifested
"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 opened 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 prejudice, 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 your consideration only.'
"'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 Davy 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 honors I have received and all the reputation I have ever made, or ever
shall make, as a member of Congress.
Holders of political office are but reflections of the dominant leadership--good or
bad--among the electorate.