largesse to relatives of 9/11 Victims
by Tony Medley
find the money paid to the relatives of the 9/11 victims by the
Congress, taxpayers’ money, offensive in the extreme. While it was a
terrible tragedy and while I sympathize with the relatives, the
government of the United States had no obligation to pay them anything,
and certainly not out of taxpayers’ funds. There has been at least one
person in the House of Representatives who agrees with me.
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 someone else arose:
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 in
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.
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 a 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.
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, it would, but for that speech, it received but few votes, and of
course, was lost.
this could statement could have, and should have, been made in 2001 when
Congress appropriated the largesse it bestowed on the survivors of the
9/11 victims, the year was not 2001. No, nobody in our Congress had the
courage or integrity to make this speech. This speech was made in the
1830s and the speaker was Davy Crockett.
when asked by a friend why he had opposed the appropriation, Crockett
gave this explanation:
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 one 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
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 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. As he came up, I spoke to the man.
He replied politely, but, as I thought, rather coldly.
began: 'Well, friend, I am one of those unfortunate beings called
'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.'
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 intended 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.'
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
'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 suffers by a
fire in Georgetown. Is that true?'
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 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 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 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 suffers by
contributing 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 creditable; 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 Constitu- tion, 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 it's 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..'
tell you I felt streaked. I saw if I should have opposition, and this
man should go to talking, he would set others 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 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 I ever vote
for another unconstitutional law I wish I may be shot.
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 acknowledgment 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 will do what I can to keep
down opposition, and perhaps, I may exert a little influence in that
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 the 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 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 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
I will be here. but one thing more before I say good-bye. I must know
'My name is Bunce.'
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.
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.
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 ever seen manifested before. Though I was
considerably fatigued when I reached his house, and, under ordinary
circumstances, 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.
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:
--- 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.
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:
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.
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.
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.'
went down, and there went up from that crowd such a shout for Davy
Crockett as his name never called forth before.
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 reputation
I have ever made, or shall ever make, as a member of Congress.
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
insignificance 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 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."