By Pat Tarzwell
It’s Davy Crockett’s birthday next week. The frontiersman, legendary folk hero, three-time Congressman and hero of the Alamo was born on August 17, 1786 in Greene County, Tennessee. He served in Congress when the common man had common sense, as evidenced in a story Crockett relates from his 1870’s biography. (Crockett died in 1836 but his biography came out afterwards). This is a perfect example of how the common man used to know the principles we were founded on and how such men were once willing to speak up. Crockett wrote:
Several years ago I was standing one evening on the steps of the Capital with some other members of Congress, when our attention was attracted by great light over in Georgetown. It was evidently a large fire, we jumped into the hat (a cab), and drove over as fast as we could; when we got there I went to work and I never worked so hard in my life as I did there for several hours. But in spite of all that can be done many houses were burned many families made houseless, 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 as something ought to be done for them and everybody else seemed to feel the same way. 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 could be done. The yeas and nays were recorded, and my name appeared on the journals in favor of the bill.
The next summer when it began to be time to think about election, I concluded I would take the scout around the boys in my districts, so I put a couple shirts and a few twists of tobacco in my saddlebags and I went out. I’d been out about a week and found things going very smoothly when riding one day into a part of my district in which I was more of the stranger than any other part, I saw a man in the field plowing, coming toward the road. I gauged my walk 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. I began, “Well friend, I am one of those unfortunate beings called candidates, and…”
“Yes I know you, you’re Colonel Crocket, I’ve seen you once before and voted for you the last time you were elected. I suppose you are out electioneering now, but you’d better not waste your time or mine, I shall not vote for you again.” I begged him to tell me what was the matter.
Must Be Held Sacred
“Well Colonel,” said he, “you gave a vote last winter which shows you either have not capacity to understand the Constitution, or that you’re wanting the honesty or the firmness to be guided by it, in either case you’re not the man to represent me. Now I believe you to be honest, but an understanding Constitution different from mine I cannot overlook because the Constitution. To be worth anything at all must be held sacred and rigidly observed in all its provisions the man who wield power misinterprets it is the more dangerous the more honest he is…”
Crockett said, “I 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 Constitutional question…”
Is That True?
“No Colonel,” said he, “there is no mistake, though I live here in the back woods, and seldom go from home I take the papers from Washington and read very carefully all the proceedings of Congress. My paper says that last winter you voted for a bill to appropriate $20,000 to some suffers by fire in Georgetown, is that true?’
“Certainly it is,” said I, “and I thought that that would be the last vote which anyone in the world would have found fault with.”
“Well Colonel,” said he, “where do you find in the Constitution any authority to give away public money in charity?”
Crockett wrote, Here was a socgoliger, (I do not know the word, this is just what it sounded like), when I began to think about it, I could not remember a single thing in the Constitution that authorizes it. I found I must take another tack. So I said, “Well my friend. I may as well own up. You got me there, as certainly nobody will complain that a great and rich country like ours should have the insignificant sum of $20,000 to relief women and children, particularly with the full and overflowing treasury. And I’m sure, if you’d of been there you would’ve done as I did.”
It’s Not the Amount
“It’s not the amount,” said he, “that I complain of, it’s 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. While you are contributing to relieve one, you’re 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 million as $20,000. You will very easily perceive that a wide door would be open for fraud, corruption and favoritism on the one hand, and for robbing the people on the other.”
No Right to Give Charity!
“No Colonel, Congress has no right to give charity! Individual members may give as much of their own monies as they please but they have no right to touch the dollar of the public money for that purpose. There are about 240 members of Congress. If they had shown their sympathy for the sufferers by contributing each one-week’s pay, it would’ve made over $13,000. There are plenty of wealthy men in Washington who’d freely given $20,000, without depriving themselves of even one luxury of life. The congressman chose to keep their own money. The people have delegated to Congress by the Constitution the power to do certain things; to do these is authorized to collect and pay monies and for nothing else, everything else beyond this is usurpation and a violation of the Constitution.”
Hard Sound Sense
Crockett then wrote:
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 have not 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, but what you have said here at your plow has got more hard sound sense, then all the fine speeches I’ve 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 you will forgive me and vote for me again, if I ever vote for another un-Constitutional law I wish I may be shot.
He said it was one of the luckiest hits of my life.
Where’s a common sense common man when we need ’em?