Not Yours to Give, David Crockett
Not Yours to Give
David Crockett
0:23 h History Lvl 7.57
David Crockett (August 17, 1786 – March 6, 1836) was an American folk hero, frontiersman, soldier, and politician. He is commonly referred to in popular culture by the epithet "King of the Wild Frontier". He represented Tennessee in the U.S. House of Representatives and served in the Texas Revolution. Not yours to give is a speech, from the book The Life of Colonel David Crockett, compiled by Edward S. Ellis in 1884. Crockett became famous during his lifetime for larger-than-life exploits popularized by stage plays and almanacs. After his death, he continued to be credited with acts of mythical proportion. These led in the 20th century to television and film portrayals, and he became one of the best-known American folk heroes.

Not Yours to Give

by
Colonel David Crockett


One day in the House of Representatives, a bill was taken up appropriating moneyfor the benefit of a widow of a distinguished naval officer. Several beautifulspeeches had been made in its support. The Speaker was just about to put thequestion when Crockett arose:

“Mr. Speaker — I have as much respect for the memory of the deceased, and as muchsympathy for the sufferings of the living, if suffering there be, as any man inthis House, but we must not permit our respect for the dead or our sympathy fora part of the living to lead us into an act of injustice to the balance of theliving. I will not go into an argument to prove that Congress has no power toappropriate this money as an act of charity. Every member upon this floor knowsit. We have the right, as individuals, to give away as much of our own money aswe please in charity; but as members of Congress we have no right so toappropriate a dollar of the public money. Some eloquent appeals have been madeto us upon the ground that it is a debt due the deceased. Mr. Speaker, thedeceased lived long after the close of the war; he was in office to the day ofhis 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 grossestcorruption, appropriate this money as the payment of a debt. We have not thesemblance of authority to appropriate it as a charity. Mr. Speaker, I have saidwe have the right to give as much money of our own as we please. I am thepoorest man on this floor. I cannot vote for this bill, but I will give oneweek’s pay to the object, and if every member of Congress will do the same, itwill 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, no doubt, itwould, 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, Crockettgave this explanation:

“Several years ago I was one evening standing on the steps of the Capitol withsome other members of Congress, when our attention was attracted by a greatlight over in Georgetown. It was evidently a large fire. We jumped into a hackand drove over as fast as we could. In spite of all that could be done, manyhouses were burned and many families made homeless, and, besides, some of themhad lost all but the clothes they had on. The weather was very cold, and when Isaw so many women and children suffering, I felt that something ought to be donefor them. The next morning a bill was introduced appropriating $20,000 fortheir relief. We put aside all other business and rushed it through as soon asit could be done.

“The next summer, when it began to be time to think about the election, Iconcluded I would take a scout around among the boys of my district. I had noopposition there, but, as the election was some time off, I did not know whatmight turn up. When riding one day in a part of my district in which I was moreof a stranger than any other, I saw a man in a field plowing and coming towardthe road. I gauged my gait so that we should meet as he came to the fence. As hecame up, I spoke to the man. He replied politely, but, as I thought, rathercoldly.

“I began: ‘Well, friend, I am one of those unfortunate beings called candidates,and — ’

“‘Yes, I know you; you are Colonel Crockett, I have seen you once before, andvoted for you the last time you were elected. I suppose you are outelectioneering now, but you had better not waste your time or mine. I shall notvote 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 donot see how it can be mended, but you gave a vote last winter which shows thateither you have not capacity to understand the Constitution, or that you arewanting in the honesty and firmness to be guided by it. In either case you arenot the man to represent me. But I beg your pardon for expressing it in thatway. I did not intend to avail myself of the privilege of the constituent tospeak plainly to a candidate for the purpose of insulting or wounding you. Iintend by it only to say that your understanding of the Constitution is verydifferent from mine; and I will say to you what, but for my rudeness, I shouldnot have said, that I believe you to be honest… But an understanding ofthe Constitution different from mine I cannot overlook, because theConstitution, to be worth anything, must be held sacred, and rigidly observed inall its provisions. The man who wields power and misinterprets it is the moredangerous the more honest he is.’

“‘I admit the truth of all you say, but there must be some mistake about it, forI do not remember that I gave any vote last winter upon any constitutionalquestion.’

“‘No, Colonel, there’s no mistake. Though I live here in the backwoods andseldom go from home, I take the papers from Washington and read very carefullyall the proceedings of Congress. My papers say that last winter you voted for abill to appropriate $20,000 to some sufferers by a fire in Georgetown. Is thattrue?’

“‘Well, my friend; I may as well own up. You have got me there. But certainlynobody will complain that a great and rich country like ours should give theinsignificant sum of $20,000 to relieve its suffering women and children,particularly with a full and overflowing Treasury, and I am sure, if you hadbeen there, you would have done just as I did.’

“‘It is not the amount, Colonel, that I complain of; it is the principle. In thefirst place, the government ought to have in the Treasury no more than enoughfor its legitimate purposes. But that has nothing to do with the question. Thepower of collecting and disbursing money at pleasure is the most dangerous powerthat can be intrusted to man, particularly under our system of collectingrevenue by a tariff, which reaches every man in the country, no matter how poorhe 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 weightcenters, for there is not a man in the United States who can ever guess how muchhe pays to the government. So you see, that while you are contributing torelieve 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 ofdiscretion 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, asthe Constitution neither defines charity nor stipulates the amount, you are atliberty to give to any and everything which you may believe, or profess tobelieve, is a charity, and to any amount you may think proper. You will veryeasily perceive what a wide door this would open for fraud and corruption andfavoritism, 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 asmuch of their own money as they please, but they have no right to touch a dollarof the public money for that purpose. If twice as many houses had been burned inthis county as in Georgetown, neither you nor any other member of Congress wouldhave thought of appropriating a dollar for our relief. There are about twohundred and forty members of Congress. If they had shown their sympathy for thesufferers 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 congressmenchose to keep their own money, which, if reports be true, some of them spend notvery creditably; and the people about Washington, no doubt, applauded you forrelieving them from the necessity of giving by giving what was not yours togive. The people have delegated to Congress, by the Constitution, the power todo certain things. To do these, it is authorized to collect and pay moneys, andfor nothing else. Everything beyond this is usurpation, and a violation of theConstitution.

“‘So you see, Colonel, you have violated the Constitution in what I consider avital point. It is a precedent fraught with danger to the country, for whenCongress 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 youacted honestly, but that does not make it any better, except as far as you arepersonally concerned, and you see that I cannot vote for you.’

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