On the Memorial of the Relief Committee of Baltimore, for
the Relief of St. Domingo Refugees.
House of Representatives, January 10, 1794.
Mr. MADISON remarked, that the government of the United States is a definite
government, confined to specified objects. It is not like the state
governments, whose powers are more general. Charity is no part of the
legislative duty of the government. It would puzzle any gentleman to lay his
finger on any part of the Constitution which would authorize the government to
interpose in the relief of the St. Domingo sufferers. The report of the
committee, he observed, involved this constitutional question -- whether the
money of our constituents can be appropriated to any other than specific
purposes. Though he was of opinion that the relief contemplated could not be
granted in the way proposed, yet he supposed a mode might be adopted which
would answer the purpose without infringing the Constitution.
Mr. NICHOLAS concurred in the sentiment with Mr. Madison. He considered the
Constitution as defining the duty of the legislature so expressly, as that it
left them no option in the present case.
Mr. BOUDINOT supported the question on constitutional grounds. He instanced
several cases, which had occurred and might occur, in which relief must
necessarily be granted, and that without occasioning any doubt of the
constitutionality of the business; such as granting pensions, affording relief
to the Indians, supporting prisoners, &c. He alluded to the circumstance of
the alliance between the United States and France, the connection between the
citizens of the United States and that country, &c.
Mr. DEXTER stated sundry objections from the Constitution. It will not be
pretended, he supposed, that the grant of moneys, on this occasion, was for the
general welfare; it is merely a private charity. He was in favor of going into
a committee on the subject, but wished a short delay, that he might revolve the
question more fully in his own mind.
Mr. MADISON, in reply to Mr. Boudinot, who had stated several cases as in
point, observed, that those cases came within the law of nations, of which this
government has express cognizance; the support of prisoners is a case provided
for by the laws of nations; but the present question, he remarked, could not be
considered in any such point of view. (Motion lost.)
[Note. In May, 1812, "An Act for the relief of the citizens of
Venezuela" was passed, authorizing the President to expend $50,000 to
purchase provisions for that object. The motion to fill the blank with that
amount was moved by Mr. Calhoun, and carried by ayes, 45; noes, 29.]