Not Yours To Give
Col. David Crockett
US Representative from Tennessee
Edward Sylvester Ellis,
The Life of Colonel David Crockett
Porter & Coates, 1884.
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. Several beautiful
speeches had been made in its support. The Speaker was just about to put the
question when Crockett arose:
"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 not the 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.
"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 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."
He 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.
Later, when asked by a friend why he had opposed the appropriation,
Crockett gave this explanation:
"Several 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 houseless, and, besides, some of them had lost all