"I cannot undertake to lay my finger on that article of the Constitution which granted the right to Congress of expending, on objects of benevolence, the money of their constituents."
James Madison (1751-1836)
"The Father of the Constitution"
"The Father of the Constitution"
Virginian James Madison may have been the shortest American president, standing at 5'4", but he was certainly among the biggest thinkers. He was instrumental, if not the driving force, in the drafting of the United States Constitution, hence his moniker as its "father."
As such, he was familiar with its parameters and objectives. As one of the original ORIGINALISTS, he understood tyranny and how one of the main objectives of the document was to prevent tyranny. It was to limit the country's federal gubment, to specific limits, with enumerated powers, so the citizen would never have to worry about living under the threat of tyrannical overlords.
A slave revolt on the French colonial island of Saint-Dominigue eliminated slavery there and founded the Haitian Republic. This resulted in Haiti being one of only two independent republics to be established before the 19th Century after a revolution with a European power.
As the revolt concluded, many French refugees fled to the United States. France and the United States were, after all, close allies during the American Revolution.
Many fled to the ports of Baltimore and Philadelphia. Congress appropriated $15,000 toward their relief, calling this an act of "benevolence."
The James Madison quote above comes from his writing very disapprovingly of the appropriation as "unconstitutional."
A few years later a large fire left many victims and Congressmen wanted to respond, appropriating monies in the same manner. Representative William Giles of Virginia insisted this was outside the purview of Congress, encouraging them instead not "to attend to what generosity and humanity require, but to what the Constitution and their duty require."
Years later Representative Davy Crockett responded in like manner in a debate about whether to appropriate money for the widow of a naval officer. His statement was that Congressmen could give away their own money as they wished in benevolence, "but as members of Congress we have no right to appropriate a dollar of the public money." This story can be read here.
Presidents in those days routinely vetoed such legislation as unconstitutional. The two most veto-prone presidents were Polk and Cleveland.
These ORIGINALISTS all understood the purpose, parameters and extent of the Constitution. When did those things change?
Today, what percentage of the federal expenditure is spent to control "objects of benevolence?" Two thirds? Seventy percent? I say control because that is what it amounts to. There are always strings attached. And some recipients end up trained to think it is normal and even that they are "entitled" to such "benevolence."
This "benevolence" always comes from the pockets of their neighbors, however, as the federal gubment has no money of its own, and produces nothing.
I read the Constitution all the time. It is even installed on my phone! And, like Madison, I cannot lay my finger on where the Constitution affords Congress the ability to give away so much to so few.
And as to laying a finger on the Constitutional article, neither can anyone in gubment...