In 1883 a serious drought ravaged through the state of Texas causing suffering for many Texan farmers. Members of the house wanted to help, so they created House bill number 10203, which was "An Act to enable the Commissioner of Agriculture to make a special distribution of seeds in drought-stricken counties of Texas, and making an appropriation therefor."
The bill would allocate $10,000 in federal funds for the purpose. It was passed by members of the Senate who also wanted to help. Grover Cleveland wanted to help, but he was an ardent proponent of following the Constitution, and vetoed any bill that violated it, even when it was a bill he thought noble.
After vetoing it, he sent the following letter to Congress explaining his inaction:
I return without my approval House bill number ten thousand two hundred and three, entitled "An Act to enable the Commissioner of Agriculture to make a special distribution of seeds in drought-stricken counties of Texas, and making an appropriation therefor."
It is 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 continuance or return of an 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 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.
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.
It is within my personal knowledge that individual aid has, to some extent, already been extended to the sufferers mentioned in this bill. The failure of the proposed appropriation of ten thousand dollars additional, to meet their remaining wants, will not necessarily result in continued distress if the emergency is fully made known to the people of the country.
It is here suggested that the Commissioner of Agriculture is annually directed to expend a large sum of money for the purchase, propagation, and distribution of seeds and other things of this description, two-thirds of which are, upon the request of senators, representatives, and delegates in Congress, supplied to them for distribution among their constituents.
The appropriation of the current year for this purpose is one hundred thousand dollars, and it will probably be no less in the appropriation for the ensuing year. I understand that a large quantity of grain is furnished for such distribution, and it is supposed that this free apportionment among their neighbors is a privilege which may be waived by our senators and representatives.
If sufficient of them should request the Commissioner of Agriculture to send their shares of the grain thus allowed them, to the suffering farmers of Texas, they might be enabled to sow their crops; the constituents, for whom in theory this grain is intended, could well bear the temporary deprivation, and the donors would experience the satisfaction attending deeds of charityIn other words, Grover Cleveland was perhaps the last president to refuse to use the bully pulpit for his own personal gain. Had he signed such a bill, perhaps his popularity would have benefited. But because he was an ardent supporter of the Constitution, he did not sign laws based on emotion nor for personal gain.
So while Congress wanted to allocate $10,000 to the cause, Grover Cleveland believed the people could do far better than any governmental offering, and he was right: $100,000 in private funds were donated to the cause.