Saturday, September 05, 2009

A Lesson on Taxes and Spending

In preparation for this week's issue of "Of Government and Men", I wanted to recount this story about David Crockett. I have seen this story in a number of places, the version I am going to quote below is from Ted, White, and Blue by Ted Nugent. "The Nuge" in turn is quoting from The Life of Colonel David Crockett by Edward Sylvester Ellis. This story is about a lesson then Congressman David Crockett learned from a constituent. The story as quoted was in Crocket's words.

One evening, Congressman Crocket and a number of other elected officials were around the Capital when they noticed a large fire had broken out in Georgetown. They rushed to the scene and tried to lend their hand, but the damage was done. Crocket was distraught to see a number of families were now homeless, and had only the clothes on their back as a result of the fire. The next day, a bill was introduced appropriating $20,000 for the relief of the victims of this fire. Congress put aside all other business to rush this through, and they were quite proud of themselves at appropriating this money for those families.

The next summer, Crocket was back in his home district campaigning for re-election. He didn't expect any trouble, but thought it might be a good idea to feel out his constituents. He came across a farmer who was polite to him but very cold at the same time. The farmer told Crocket he had voted for him before, but wouldn't be voting for him again. Crocket was shocked and begged the man to tell him why. Eventually the farmer came back to the vote the previous year to appropriate $20,000 for the victims of the Georgetown fire. He asked Crocket if he had in fact voted for said $20,000 relief bill. Crocket said he had, and he was proud he had. Any nation as rich as ours could afford to give, "…the insignificant sum of $20,000 to relieve the suffering women and children, particularly with a full and over flowing treasury…" This was the problem. The farmer pointed out that Crocket either hadn't read the Constitution, or didn't understand it, and that his vote for this bill proved it. He pointed out that first, the government should only have enough money to cover it's legitimate purposes. The money in the treasury is taken from working families, so while Congress may feel good giving this money to families in need, what about the need of the families they took these funds from?

Secondly, the Constitution doesn't define charity. If Congress believes it has the right to donate to charity (as in this case) then there is no stopping the amount they may take from one family to give to another. Finally, the farmer pointed out, "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." The farmer stressed that the money Congress had appropriated for the relief of the fire victims wasn't Congress's money to give away. They should take up a collection of their personal money if they felt that passionately about it, but they shouldn't take from the treasury, and by extension, the other families of the nation to give to these families.

Crocket then says the following:

"I tell you I felt streaked. 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."

He finally asked the man to give him one more chance. Crocket promised to study and be guided by the Constitution. He hoped that if he ever voted for another bill such as the Georgetown fire bill, he would be shot dead. This is an important story from our nation's history, and one with lessons for today's Congress as it debates health care and other issues. Congressman David Crocket had his eyes opened to the meaning of the Constitution by talking to a constituent. I hope more of our members of Congress learn from their constituents during this recess, and that they realize that tax money isn't their money. It's the people's money and it should be treated with the respect it deserves.

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