I can't say whether the story is true or not. I spent a little time looking for information, but I'm not a researcher. Congressional records don't exist for that time. But whether it's real or not, it is a great explanation for why government should NOT be in the charity business.
In my column, I mentioned a section of the story which was supposed to be a constituent's argument to Davy Crocket as to why he wouldn't get the man's vote. The full text:
" 'It is not the amount, Colonel, that I complain of; it is the principle. In the first place, the govment ought to have in the Treasury no more than enough for its legitimate purposes. But that has nothing to do with the question.
The power of collecting and disbursing money at pleasure is the most dangerous power that can be intrusted to man, particularly under our system of collecting revenue by tariff, which reaches every man in the country, no matter how poor he may be, and the poorer he is the more he pays in proportion to his means. What is worse, it presses upon him without his knowledge where the weight centers, for there is not a man in the United States who can ever guess how much he pays to the government.
So you see, that while you are contributing to relieve one, you are drawing it from thousands who are even worse off than he. If you had the right to give anything, the amount was simply a matter of discretion with you, and you had as much right to give $20,000,000 as $20,000. If you have the right to give to one, you have the right to give to all; and, as the Constitution neither defines charity nor stipulates the amount, you are at liberty to give to any thing and everything which you may believe, or profess to believe, is a charity, and to any amount you may think proper.
You will very easily perceive what a wide door this would open for fraud and corruption and favoritism, on the one hand, and for robbing the people on the other. No, Colonel, Congress has no right to give charity. Individual members may give as much of their own money as they please, but they have no right to touch a dollar of the public money for that purpose. If twice as many houses had been burned in this county as in Georgetown, neither you nor any other member of Congress would have thought of appropriating a dollar for our relief: There are about two hundred and forty members of Congress. If they had shown their sympathy for the suffers by contributing each one week's pay, it would have made over $13,000. There are plenty of men in and around Washington who could have given 520,000 without depriving themselves of even a luxury of life.
The congressmen chose to keep their own money, which, if reports be true, some of them spend not very creditable; and the people about Washington, no doubt, applauded you for relieving them from the necessity of giving by giving what was not yours to give. The people have delegated to Congress, by the Constitution. the power to do certain things. To do these, it is authorized to collect and pay moneys, and for nothing else. Everything beyond this is usurpation, and a violation of the Constitution.
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 it's 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..'
It's hard today to even imagine what government would be like that didn't provide a host of personal services to it's constituents. Prince William has it's own Water Park. It runs golf courses (I just read a great article by Thomas Sowell where he notes that golf courses are NOT for the poor and indigent). There are homeless shelters, a skate park, and yes, two Senior Day Care centers.
We are working to cut our budget, but are debating whether to build a new baseball stadium for a businessman who owns a minor league ballclub to use. And whenever you try to cut any individual charitable program, people who use the program will rise up and point out all the other "less worthy" charities that are being funded. I got a good list from one reader who supported the Senior Day center.
That argument won't work with me because I agree they should all be cut. Government is way too big. It does way more than it ever was intended to do, or has a right to do. Government is not a particularly efficient provider of services, and it has no idea about cost/benefit.
In contrast, the free market is brutally efficient, and well-capable of setting the "correct" price for services, much to the shagrin of those who enjoy getting subsidized services at other people's expense. A private company would offer Senior Day care services if there was a demand at the price it cost to deliver those services. If there is no demand, the service won't be offered, if the people who want the service aren't willing to pay what it costs, they have effectively chosen for themselves not to partake of the service.
If someone is not willing to pay the full value of something, I'm not going to feel guilty when they tell me it's so important that it's my responsibility to help them pay for it.