A year or two ago, as a friend and I were having a couple beers at a bar, another barfly asked us if she could take one of the unoccupied chairs near us. My friend, by way of assent, replied “It’s not mine to give.”

I found that to be a more “fun” reply than my typical “all yours,” but didn’t give it much more consideration until a political friend shared this story about Davy Crockett, from his four-term tenure as a Congressman, in response to my recent Better Citizens blog post.

It’s a long read (perhaps 15 minutes), but it’s absolutely worth your time. The essence is that there are many instances of need where human charity is called for, that nevertheless do not justify government largesse via redistribution of taxpayers’ money. In other words, the monies appropriated by government to carry out the duties spelled out in the Constitution are not the government’s to give, because such giving is outside the scope of its enumerated powers.

Congress had taken up a bill to bestow some monies to the widow of a naval officer, and the bill would have passed with heavy support, but for a speech Crockett made in opposition. In that speech, Crockett observed:

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.

The balance of the story is how he was introduced to this principle by a constituent.

It’s, sadly, beyond reality to imagine that a member of Congress could stand up and deliver Crockett’s speech today and receive any sort of positive acknowledgment, or even change a single “yes” vote to “no” on a giveaway. While there are a couple who might actually make such a speech (see: Justin Amash), it’s pretty obvious that the vast majority of elected politicians believe that the government has the right, both Constitutional and moral, to give away other people’s money.

During my senior year in college, back in the mid-80s, one of the other kids in my dorm was a Russian emigre. In our beer-fueled conversations, I learned a lot, including how he sold blue jeans on the black market to raise enough money to fund his “escape” from the USSR. One thing he told me, that stuck, was how he, during his school years there, was required to memorize the Communist Manifesto. There was no analysis, no dissection, just pure, rote memorization. This is telling, because the Manifesto falls apart under even a semi-literate but critical eye.

My friend who shared the Davy Crockett story suggested that it be a requirement that every member of Congress memorize the story. I’d say it’s a story to study, not memorize. Unlike the Communist Manifesto, Crockett’s tale stands up to principled scrutiny, and imparts real and important lessons.

I’d love to witness a Congressman read the story aloud twice a year, in the House, with the rest of Congress in attendance, and with C-Span running (Baseball manager Bobby Valentine mentioned that he would read the MLB rule book twice a year, presumably to maintain his knowledge and focus). It would take perhaps 30 minutes, the equivalent of two innings of baseball. Even better would be if it were followed by a reading-aloud of the Constitution. Time extremely well spent, in my opinion, and a reminder to our elected officials of both the duties and the limits of their jobs. And, then, a challenge to the rest of Congress to defend their redistributionist ways in light of what he just read.

Alas, it is the rare person who accepts being told “no,” especially when it comes to Other People’s Money, and it is the even rarer Congressman who understands that nothing in the Constitution authorizes redistribution of wealth, even for noble and charitable purposes. They, and many progressives, duck behind the hand-waving blanket “general welfare” clause, misunderstanding (either out of shallow ignorance or deliberate intent) its meaning and purpose.

Some may think this is a very Scrooge-like post for the Christmas season, but I’d say it’s the opposite. It’s a reminder that, if we are to perceive ourselves as members of a society and accept Christ’s message of obligation to our fellows, the charity we offer must be ours to give.

Peter Venetoklis

About Peter Venetoklis

I am twice-retired, a former rocket engineer and a former small business owner. At the very least, it makes for interesting party conversation. I'm also a life-long libertarian, I engage in an expanse of entertainments, and I squabble for sport.

Nowadays, I spend a good bit of my time arguing politics and editing this website.

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