Duff O'Melia

Davy Crockett and Ron Paul

When Davy Crockett served in the United States House of Representatives, a bill was proposed appropriating money from the public treasury for the widow of a distinguished naval officer. This bill was about to be passed when Crockett arose and argued against the bill:

“Mr. Speaker – I have as much respect for the memory of the deceased, and as much sympathy for the sufferings 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. This government can owe no debts but for services rendered, and at a stipulated price. If it is a debt, how much is it? Has it been audited, and the amount due ascertained? If it is a debt, this is not the place to present it for payment, or to have its merits examined. If it is a debt, we owe more than we can ever hope to pay, for we owe the widow of every soldier who fought in the War of 1812 precisely the same amount. There is a woman in my neighborhood, the widow of as gallant a man as ever shouldered a musket. He fell in battle. She is as good in every respect as this lady, and is as poor. She is earning her daily bread by her daily labor; but if I were to introduce a bill to appropriate five or ten thousand dollars for her benefit, I should be laughed at, and my bill would not get five votes in this House. There are thousands of widows in the country just such as the one I have spoken of, but we never hear of any of these large debts to them. Sir, this is no debt. The government did not owe it to the deceased when he was alive; it could not contract it after he died. I do not wish to be rude, but I must be plain. Every 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 of our own money 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.”

Ron Paul currently serves in the House. When a bill was proposed to offer his friend Ronald Reagan the Congressional Medal of Honor, Paul arose and argued against the bill:

Mr. Speaker, I rise today in opposition to H.R. 3591. At the same time, I am very supportive of President Reagan’s publicly stated view of limiting the federal government to it’s proper and constitutional role. In fact, I was one of only four sitting members of the United States House of Representatives who endorsed Ronald Reagan’s candidacy for President in 1976. The United States enjoyed sustained economic prosperity and employment growth during Ronald Reagan’s presidency. I must, however, oppose the Gold Medal for Ronald and Nancy Reagan because appropriating $30,000 of taxpayer money is neither constitutional nor, in the spirit of Ronald Reagan’s notion of the proper, limited role for the federal government. Because of my continuing and uncompromising opposition to appropriations not authorized within the enumerated powers of the Constitution, I would maintain my resolve and commitment to the Constitution—a Constitution, which only last year, each Member of Congress, swore to uphold. In each of these instances, I offered to do a little more than uphold my constitutional oath. In fact, as a means of demonstrating my personal regard and enthusiasm for Ronald Reagan’s advocacy for limited government, I invited each of these colleagues to match my private, personal contribution of $100 which, if accepted by the 435 Members of the House of Representatives, would more than satisfy the $30,000 cost necessary to mint and award a gold medal to Ronald and Nancy Reagan. To me, it seemed a particularly good opportunity to demonstrate one’s genuine convictions by spending one’s own money rather that of the taxpayers who remain free to contribute, at their own discretion, to commemorate the work of the Reagans. For the record, not a single Representative who solicited my support for spending taxpayer’s money, was willing to contribute their own money to demonstrate their generosity and allegiance to the Reagan’s stated convictions.
It is, of course, very easy to be generous with the people’s money.

In both cases, our government officials were deciding whether to honor an American by appropriating funds from the US treasury to do so. In both cases, there was a lone voice of reason speaking against being “generous” with other people’s money. In both cases, the lone voice was willing to put up their own money for the cause. In both cases, not one of their colleagues was willing to do the same.

At least in Davy Crockett’s day, the bill didn’t pass.