Monday, September 19, 2005

FOR DISCUSSION -- The Cleveland Veto

Posted by Craig Westover | 1:13 PM |  

During President Grover Cleveland's term in office, severe drought affected Texas farmers, destroying most of their seed crops. Congress passed a bill that would have provided $10,000to resupply the Texas farmers with seed corn. By 1887 standards, $10,000 was not an outrageous sum of money. Below is the text of President Cleveland's veto of the bill.

"It is the represented that a long-continued and extensive drought has existed in certain portions of the State of Texas, resulting in a failure of crops, and consequent distress and destitution.

Though there has been some difference in statements concerning the extent of the people's needs in the localities thus affected, there seems to be no doubt that there has existed a condition calling for relief; and I am willing to believe that, notwithstanding the aid already furnished, a donation of seed grain to the farmers located in this region, to enable them to put in new crops, would serve to avert a continuence or return of unfortunate blight.

And yet I feel obliged to withhold my approval of the plan, as proposed by this bill, to indulge a benevolent and charitable sentiment through the appropriation of public funds for that purpose.

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.

A prevalent tendency to disregard this limited mission of this power and duty should, I think, be steadfastly resisted, to the end that the lesson should be constantly enforced that though the people support the Government the Government should not support the people.

The friendliness and charity of our countrymen can always be relied upon to relieve their fellow-citizens in misfortune. This has been repeatedly and quite lately demonstrated. Federal aid in such cases encourages the expectation of paternal care on the part of the Government and weakens the sturdiness of our national character while it prevents the indulgence among our people of that kindly sentiment and conduct which strengthens the bonds of a common brotherhood.

That's a pretty pure statement of the constituitional principle of limited government. Is it practical inthe face of devestation like that caused by Hurricane Katrina?

UPDATE: Brian "Saint Paul" Ward elegantly comments --
Regarding Cleveland's prescient concern for our national character, one of the most tragic results of the flooding in New Orleans is that the suffering caused didn't generate more introspection and thus more wisdom. When the false promise of an omnipotent government is trotted out as the solution, people stop questioning what they could have done to avoid this suffering, or what they could have personally done to ameliorate its effects. The victims can blame the government for causing their suffering. And the witnesses to the suffering can assume the government will make it all better (at least $200 billion better) without them personally have to take responsibility for anything. That, fellow citizens, is the perfect storm. One from which there is no high ground to run to.