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David Crockett US Representative from TennesseeOriginally published in "The Life of Colonel David Crockett," by Edward Sylvester Ellis.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. Speaker--I have as much respect for the memory of the deceased, and as much sympathy for the suffering of the living, if there be, as any man in this House, but we must not permit our respect for the dead or our sympathy for 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 not the power to appropriate this money as an act of charity.
Some eloquent appeals have been made to us upon the ground that it is a debt due the deceased. We cannot without the grossest corruption, appropriate this money as the payment of a debt.
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. In spite of all that could be done, many houses were burned and many families made houseless, 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 children suffering, I felt that something ought to be done for them.
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 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 my district in which I was more of a stranger than any other, I saw a man in a field plowing and coming toward the road. 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.
The man who wields power and misinterprets it is the more dangerous the honest he is.'" 'I admit the truth of all you say, but there must be some mistake.
Though I live in the backwoods and seldom go from home, I take the papers from Washington and read very carefully all the proceedings of Congress.
My papers say you voted for a bill to appropriate $20,000 to some sufferers by fire in Georgetown. In the first place, the government ought to have in the Treasury no more than enough for its legitimate purposes. 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 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. 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. 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.
If they had shown their sympathy for the sufferers by contributing each one week's pay, it would have made over $13,000. The people have delegated to Congress, by the Constitution, the power to do certain things.
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.
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I saw if I should have opposition, and this man should go to talking and in that district I was a gone fawn-skin.
I could not answer him, and 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 had not sense enough to understand the Constitution. 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. 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 for a barbecue, and some to spare for those who have none. 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.
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 for a heart brim-full 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. 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. 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. Whether you will vote for me is a matter for your consideration only.""I went on to tell them about the fire and my vote for the appropriation and then told them why I was satisfied it 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 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.'"Now, sir," concluded Crockett, "you know why I made that speech yesterday.
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 $20,000 when weighed against the honor of the nation. 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 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.



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