Go to Hell, Texas, Wherever

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Coonskin-cap wearer Davy Crockett–one of the major character in the stinker version of The Alamo now disgracing movie theaters across this sweet land of liberty–wasn't just another pretty face who came to a grisly end at one of the most storied battles in American military history (yeah, yeah, the Republic of Texas' war with Mexico counts as American military history. I might add that it was in many ways fought for dishonorable reasons, including Texans' desire to keep slavery legal).

As John Fund of the Wall Street Journal reminds us, Crockett was also a U.S. congressman who pushed for limited government (whether he was in fact "libertarian," as Fund suggests, is not fully clear). Fund writes:

Then in 1834 [Crockett] stumbled badly when he took time away from a congressional session to promote his book in a three-week tour of the Northeast. He lost his re-election bid, 51% to 49%, to a war hero with a wooden leg. He then famously told his constituents, "You may all go to hell, and I will go to Texas." He did just that and his death the next year at the Alamo ensured his place among America's heroes.

Almost forgotten in the mystique of his legend is Crockett's commitment to the principles of limited government. An 1884 biography of Crockett by Edward Sylvester Ellis published an account of a speech Crockett gave on his views on government called "Not Yours to Give."…

One day in the House, a bill was taken up appropriating money for the benefit of a widow of a distinguished naval officer. Several beautiful speeches had been made in its support. The speaker was just about to put the question when Rep. David Crockett arose:

"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. I am the poorest man on this floor. I cannot vote for this bill, but I will give one week's pay to the object, and if every member of Congress will do the same, it will amount to more than the bill asks."

Go here to read the rest.

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  1. You can buy coffee mugs with the “Go to Hell” quote in any airport gift shop in Texas. I prefer to fill mine with Shiner, tho…

  2. Very stirring.

    I think small government candidates sould lead with their opposition to death benefits for military families.

  3. joe,

    >”small government candidates sould lead with their opposition to death benefits for military families”

    lousy comparison. I will agree with you AFTER the end of the welfare state! Actually, not even then. The volunteer military is the employee of the Federal govt. They should have death benefits just like I do at my work (private employer). Small government has got nothing to do with it.

  4. joe,
    I think if the benefits were paid out of the salaries of Congressmen, no one would be opposed. Heck, under the Crockett plan, everyone but the Congressmen come out ahead (no spending of public money and more money for the widow).

  5. I think that joe was being sarcastic, suggesting that maybe opposition to such benefits would not be a good centerpiece issue for libertarian candidates.

  6. Well duh thoreau. 🙂

  7. > I think small government candidates sould lead with their opposition to death benefits for military families.

    Dear Good Sir joe, Whilst we produce propositions to emulate our revered David Crockett, might I also propose we don ‘coon skin caps and return to the manner and dress as our mid 19th century heroes. For as anyone can reason, a story regaling the greatness of an individual implies prescription of behavior. One may also keep the following abbreviation in remembrance, WWDD.

  8. Mo-

    I was responding to Zorel, who seemed to be taking joe seriously.

  9. Ron Paul has a much larger version on his House website, providing greater context.

  10. “I might add that it was in many ways fought for dishonorable reasons, including Texans’ desire to keep slavery legal).”

    That was a faction of Texas immigrants from the U.S., but not the Tejanos.

    Navarro and the Tejanos wanted to keep slavery out.

    The war with Mexico was more complex than what the film protrays(evil American foreigners invading Mexican lands), and what you assert(to keep slavery legal).

    Both are simplistic.

  11. “I might add that it was in many ways fought for dishonorable reasons, including Texans’ desire to keep slavery legal).”

    That was a faction of Texas immigrants from the U.S., but not the Tejanos.

    Navarro and the Tejanos wanted to keep slavery out.

    The war with Mexico was more complex than what the film protrays(evil American foreigners invading Mexican lands), and what you assert(to keep slavery legal).

    Both are simplistic.

  12. Yeah, that Davy Crockett quote has floated around libertarian circles for years, and inevitably warms our hearts. Unfortunately, as I understand it, the congressman Crockett had Whiggish tendencies that weren?t very libertarian, such as federal dollars for internal improvements.

    On the Texas War of Independence, however, I think that on balance the cause was just ? a reaction to the centralizing tendencies and corruption of the government in power and the revoking of rights and guarantees that both white and other settlers were promised going in. It certainly was not simply a fight by white slaveowners to keep their slaves in bondage, which gets things wrong on several levels.

  13. Query whether the distinction the Congressman was making wasn’t between a system of widows’ pensions on the one hand and ad hoc charity on the other, and not between government spending or none at all.

  14. What I’m suggesting, thoreau, is that telling war widows they’re s.o.l. is a perfect metaphor for libertarianism. Since this item was posted, I take it Gillespie agrees.

    And Mo, Crockett’s proposal was a dodge. The members of Congress couldn’t possibly provide assistance to every war widow on their own. Either benefits are offered from the public treasury, or the families left behind aren’t guarenteed assistance.

  15. The War for Texas Independence was fought for a variety of reasons, some good, some bad.

    The result of the war was less complex. The Republic of Texas ended up $10 million in debt (500,000 ounces of Gold at the time). This debt forced the Texas government to ask for a bailout from the United States government, and that is how Texas joined the Union.

    War always leads to debt, and is even a worse investment of taxpayer funds than charity, with due respect to Colonel Crocket.

  16. This was a fight between the tejanos and the dictatorship of Santa Anna for the independence of Texas. The tejanos wanted to make Texas its own country yet thier militia was small, Houston found an opportunity to engage and intercepted the idea.

  17. I didn’t write that the war with Mexico was solely fought to perpetuate slavery, but it was clearly one of the major reasons, which no one seems to disagree with. And it’s an utterly bad reason, I’m sure you all agree.

    For a tremendous history of Texas that takes up the issue of centralization/decentralization from Indian times through the early 20th century, I recommend the relatively difficult to come by volume Bluebonnets and Blood (1938), by Lenoir Hunt. Hunt is particularly interesting in his descriptions of Sam Houston, the slave-owning, slavery-hating Texas founding father who ended his political career by refusing to secede from the Union.

  18. What I’m suggesting, thoreau, is that telling war widows they’re s.o.l. is a perfect metaphor for libertarianism. Since this item was posted, I take it Gillespie agrees. Crockett’s proposal was a dodge. The members of Congress couldn’t possibly provide assistance to every war widow on their own

    Here are just a few of the reasons why you are, as usual, completely wrong:

    (1): Congress wasn’t debating assistance for “every war widow”. It was debating assistance to precisely one woman, who the members of Congress most assuredly *could* have provided for.
    (2): The woman was not “a war widow”, as her husband did not die in a war. Her husband had served in the war of 1812, decades earlier — the woman was “a war widow” to the same extent that Theresa Heinz would be if John Kerry died tomorrow.
    (3): Crockett made the point that, if Congress owed the man’s widow money for his service in 1812, it owed the same amount to every widow of every veteran of that war, but (a) wasn’t offering it, (b) couldn’t afford it, and (c) wouldn’t even entertain the thought of trying, since those other widows were nobodys.

    In other words, what Crockett did was the equivalent of voting against a bill to give $100,000 to a single, individual widow of a single Vietnam Veteran who died in 2002, perhaps after she’d caught the interest of the press, that provided no benefits at all to the widows and families of all the other men and women who fought in Vietnam.

  19. Nick:

    Sounds like a great book to check out. On slavery, my only point was that while defending slavery from potential abolition by the Mexican authorities may have been the motivation of some of the revolutionaries, it was not the motivation for the majority — nor the proximate cause.

  20. As a fellow Tennessean, I can establish cousinship with Davey, so I’m pleased his treatment hasn’t been too harsh here.
    From what little I’ve studied his political career, I gather he was like the front man pumped up by wealthy land-speculating special interests to be in opposition to Andrew Jackson. Davey was sort of like a small-scale Bush (who was pumped up by wealthy oil interests.)

  21. “Navarro and the Tejanos wanted to keep slavery out.”

    Are you sure about that?

  22. Americans went to Texas saw the Mexies couldn’t keep it and took it. It’s a story as old as time.

  23. Sounds a little like how John McCain might come off if he ran as Kerry’s veep.

  24. As it is proving to be on point to this discussion, I presume that the review of a critical Andrew Jackson biography in the current issue of Reason will be up here soon.

  25. Crockett was not a libertarian. He was a Whig, and the Whigs were generally the party of bigger government compared to the Jacksonian Democrats: they favored a protective tariff, internal improvements, and a national bank. Crockett permitted his name to be used as “author” of a slanderous biography of Martin Van Buren, probably the purest champion of laissez-faire in the White House. (Jeffrey Rogers Hummel has even called Van Buen AMerica’s greatest president.)

    As V. L. Parington put it:

    “He had become a valuable asset to the Whig party. To find a native Tennesseean, a real coonskin democrat, one who had served under Jackson and been sent to Congress as a Jacksonian, as authentic a Westerner as the General himself, at bitter personal odds with Old Hickory, ready to talk out in meeting and eager to repudiate the latter’s attack upon the Bank, was a find indeed to the hard-pressed Whigs; and they would have been no politicians if they had not used what God sent. In consequence Davy soon found himself talked about. His picturesque eccentricities began to be exploited. His rugged western honesty was applauded; his shrewd backwoods intelligence was praised; his frontier humor was skillfully touched up; his characteristic motto, ‘go ahead’, was seized upon as an expression of the progressive spirit of the lusty young Whig party.”

    http://xroads.virginia.edu/~Hyper/Parrington/vol2/bk01_03_ch03.HTML

    (I am not myself a libertarian, so I don’t necessarily share a Hummel’s reverence for Van Buren or disdain for the Whigs; but that’s another matter. The point is if libertarians are looking for a “usable past”, they could find better heroes than Crockett…)

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