Constitution Day

By Williams, Walter E. | Freeman, November 2006 | Go to article overview
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Constitution Day


Williams, Walter E., Freeman


On September 17,1787,39 men signed the U.S. Constitution. Each year since 2004 we have celebrated Constitution Day as a result of legislation, fathered by Senator Robert Byrd, that requires federal agencies and every school that receives federal funds, including universities, to have some kind of program on the Constitution. I cannot think of a more deceitful piece of legislation or a more constitutionally odious person to father it-a person who is known as, and proudly wears the label, "King of Pork." The only reason that Constitution Day is not greeted with contempt is that most Americans are totally ignorant about the framers' vision in writing our Constitution. Let's examine that vision to see how much faith and allegiance todays Americans give to the U.S. Constitution.

James Madison is the acknowledged father of the Constitution. In 1794, when Congress appropriated $15,000 for relief of French refugees who fled from insurrection in San Domingo (now Haiti) to Baltimore and Philadelphia, Madison wrote disapprovingly, "I cannot undertake to lay my finger on that article of the Constitution which granted a right to Congress of expending, on objects of benevolence, the money of their constituents" (James Madison, 4 Annals of Congress 179 [1794]). Today, at least two-thirds of a $2.5 trillion federal budget is spent on the "objects of benevolence." That includes Medicare, Medicaid, Social security, aid to higher education, farm and business subsidies, welfare, ad nauseam.

A few years later, Madison's vision was expressed by Representative William Giles of Virginia, who condemned a relief measure for fire victims. Giles insisted that it was neither the purpose nor a right of Congress to "attend to what generosity and humanity require, but to what the Constitution and their duty require" (http : / / tuftspr imarysource. org/ ?p=163).

In 1827 Davy Crockett was elected to the House of Representatives. During his term of office a $10,000 relief measure was proposed to assist the widow of a naval officer. Crockett eloquently opposed the measure saying, "Mr. Speaker: I have as much respect for the memory of the deceased, and as much sympathy for the suffering of the living, if there be, as any man in this House, but we must not permit our respect for the dead or our sympathy for 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 on 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 to appropriate a dollar of the public money" (from his famous "Not Yours To Give" speech, originally published in Tlic Life of Colonel David Crockett by Edward Sylvester Ellis, www.fee.org/library/books/ notyours.asp).

In 1854 President Franklin Pierce vetoed a popular measure to help the mentally ill saying, "I cannot find any authority in the Constitution for public charity." To approve the measure "would be contrary to the letter and the spirit of the Constitution and subversive to the whole theory upon which the Union of these States is founded" ("Franklin Pierces 1854 Veto," www. disabilitymuseum.org/lib/docs/682.htm?page=2). During President Grover Cleveland's two terms in office he vetoed many congressional appropriations, often saying there was no constitutional authority for such an appropriation. Vetoing a bill for relief charity, Cleveland said, "I can find no warrant for such an appropriation in the Constitution, and I do not believe that the power and duty of the General Government ought to be extended to the relief of individual suffering which is in no manner properly related to the public service or benefit" (18 Congressional Record 1875 [1887]).

Compared to today, yesteryear's vision differs vastly in what congressional actions are constitutionally permissible.

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