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The Illegality of Federal Aid to Haiti

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In my blog last Friday (Jan. 15), I made the point that U.S. government compassion for Haiti wasn’t compassion at all, given that the money is taken by force by the IRS and distributed by federal politicians and bureaucrats who didn’t earn it. I pointed out that no one, including the president, the members of Congress, IRS agents, federal bureaucrats, the military, the taxpayers, or the citizenry could be considered caring or compassionate, in a moral or religious sense, given that the process involves the forcible taking and distribution of people’s money. The only thing that matters, in the eyes of God and in a moral sense, is when people help others on a purely voluntary basis. Finally, I observed that a truly free society is one in which people are free to do what they want with their own money, including saying no in response to a request for financial assistance from people in need.

But there’s another important factor that we should consider when it comes to the hundreds of millions of dollars in federal aid that President Obama and his cohorts are promising to distribute to Haiti. That’s the factor of illegality. The giving of U.S. taxpayer money to foreigners is not authorized by the U.S. Constitution, which is the law that we the people have imposed on federal officials.

When the Framers called the government into existence, it was under the understanding that, unlike most foreign governments, this government would not have unlimited power to do whatever it wanted. Instead, this government’s powers would be limited to those enumerated in the Constitution.

Does the Constitution grant the power, either to the president or Congress, to send military and financial aid to the people of Haiti or any other nation that suffers a natural disaster?

It does not. One searches the Constitution in vain for a grant of such power.

This point was emphasized by President Grover Cleveland, a Democrat, who vetoed a bill passed by Congress that provided for federal aid to Texas farmers who were suffering from a severe drought. This is what Cleveland stated in his veto message:

“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 the 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.

Cleveland also made an important point about the American private sector:

“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.”

This point regarding illegality was also made by Congressman Davy Crockett, who, in response to a congressional attempt to provide financial assistance to the widow of a distinguished naval officer, stated:

“I will not go into an argument to prove that Congress has no power to appropriate this money as an act of charity. Every member upon 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 so to appropriate a dollar of the public money.”

How unfortunate that we now live in an era in which federal politicians and bureaucrats do whatever they want, including donating taxpayer money to their heart’s content, then congratulating themselves for how good and caring they are, and, of course, ignoring the very law that they purportedly swear to preserve, protect, and defend.

This post was written by:

Jacob G. Hornberger is founder and president of The Future of Freedom Foundation. He was born and raised in Laredo, Texas, and received his B.A. in economics from Virginia Military Institute and his law degree from the University of Texas. He was a trial attorney for twelve years in Texas. He also was an adjunct professor at the University of Dallas, where he taught law and economics. In 1987, Mr. Hornberger left the practice of law to become director of programs at the Foundation for Economic Education. He has advanced freedom and free markets on talk-radio stations all across the country as well as on Fox News’ Neil Cavuto and Greta van Susteren shows and he appeared as a regular commentator on Judge Andrew Napolitano’s show Freedom Watch. View these interviews at LewRockwell.com and from Full Context. Send him email.