Old Ironsides is the screen name for a guest blogger who will post from time to time here on the U.S. Constitution and how it pertains to current events.
Last month the St. Paul Pioneer Press reported that the world’s richest countries, including the U.S., had agreed to pursue a 100% write-off of $70 billion of debt owed by the poorest countries to institutions such as the World Bank. The undersecretary of the U.S. Treasury said this 100% write-off is something the Bush administration has supported for some time.
About $800 million came from money the U.S. contributed in 1996. The question all this raised in my mind wasn’t whether we were robbed, or if it was right to forgive the debt, but rather why the U.S. made such a loan in the first place.
The Preamble to the Constitution, states “We the people of the United States, in order to form a more perfect union, establish justice, insure domestic tranquility, provide for common defense, promote the general welfare, and secure Blessing…” In Article I, Section 8, the Constitution states, “The congress shall have power to lay and collect taxes, duties, imposts, excises, to pay the debts and provide for the common defense and general welfare of the United States.” Now, the difference between “promoting” and “providing” for the general welfare is a topic for another day, but one thing is clear: the welfare the government is supposed to be concerned about is that of the United States. That does not mean that citizens of the U.S. can’t, or shouldn’t, contribute to the welfare of those outside our borders – only that it is beyond the government’s authority to use tax dollars to do so, whether it’s the World Bank, the International Red Cross or even tsunami relief.
Our Declaration of Independence states that governments are instituted among men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed. This consent is something we, and our government, need to take seriously. I’m reminded of an example of this oversight by a story that appeared in the book “The Life of Colonel David Crockett” where the congressman from Tennessee learned an uncomfortable but enlightening lesson on government largesse from one of his backwoods constituents. I was going to excerpt this story at length from my copy of the book, but someone already has: go read “It’s Not Yours to Give” here.
One of the key points the citizen, a man named Horatio Bunce, made was as follows:
“So you see, Colonel, you have violated the Constitution in what I consider a vital point. It is a precedent fraught with danger to the country, for when Congress once begins to stretch its power beyond the limits of the Constitution, there is no limit to it, and no security for the people. I have no doubt you acted honestly, but that does not make it any better, except as far as you are personally concerned, and you see that I cannot vote for you.”
Crockett was so convicted and convinced by the man’s argument and manner that they became good friends. As Crockett went on to write about the encounter:
It was one of the luckiest hits of my life that I met him. He mingled but little with the public, but was widely known for his remarkable intelligence and incorruptible integrity, and for a heart brimful and running over with kindness and benevolence, which showed themselves not only in words but in acts. He was the oracle of the whole country around him, and his fame had extended far beyond the circle of his immediate acquaintance. Though I had never met him, before, I had heard much of him, and but for this meeting it is very likely I should have had opposition, and had been beaten. One thing is very certain, no man could now stand up in that district under such a vote…I kept him up until midnight, talking about the principles and affairs of government, and got more real, true knowledge of them than I had got all my life before…I have known and seen much of him since, for I respect him – no, that is not the word – I reverence and love him more than any living man, and I go to see him two or three times every year; and I will tell you, sir, if every one who professes to be a Christian lived and acted and enjoyed it as he does, the religion of Christ would take the world by storm.”
Sounds like Mr. Bunce would have been a great blogger!