A Farmer’s Lesson on Holding Elected Officials Accountable
Published on December 21, 2021
Hold Accountable

I have always liked stories of Davy Crockett.  As a Texan, in my mind, Davy Crockett will always be the legendary hero of the Alamo.  Later in my life, I learned he was also a Congressman from Tennessee for several years prior to his fighting and dying for freedom at the Alamo.  In his 1884 book entitled, The Life of Colonel David Crockett, author Edward Ellis tells a story of Representative Davy Crockett, who had spoken in Congress against a bill being proposed to provide charitable money for the widow of a prominent Navy veteran.  Crockett spoke against this and ended up killing the bill.  When asked why he did this, Crockett related a story of when he had previously returned to his district in Tennessee to speak with his constituents before a coming election.  He was taken to Constitution school by a farmer in his district who prioritized enumerated powers far more than Crockett!  The farmer was later identified as Mr. Horatio Bunce and he clearly pointed out to Mr. Crockett how he had been unfaithful to the Constitution on an earlier vote.  I do not know whether Mr. Bunce was real, but I love their conversation as described in the book, and how he educates Crockett on the Constitution and holds him accountable to the Enumerated Powers of Congress!  May we all take our representatives to the same school!  

Holding Officials Accountable

In order to keep the “Limited” in “Limited Government”, someone has to watch over elected officials and make sure they remain faithful to the standard of the Constitution.  That “someone” in our government is “We the People” – each one of us!  We have to be prepared, alert and watch our officials.  When they are not fulfilling their oath, we have to call them out.     “We the People” need to hold our officials accountable.

Lessons from a Farmer

Let’s look into a few of the lessons Crockett learned from his interaction with Mr. Bunce and see what lessons we can learn from the education he received.  Better yet, may we prepare ourselves to follow his example and be alert so we are ready to hold our officials accountable to the Constitution they are sworn to support.

You work for me

When Crockett attempted to introduce himself, Mr Bunce’s reaction was, “Yes, I know you; you are Colonel Crockett, I have seen you once before, and voted for you the last time you were elected.  I suppose you are out electioneering now, but you had better not waste your time or mine. I shall not vote for you again.”  What we see in Mr. Bunce’s response is the clear understanding that Crockett is the Representative – Crockett works for Mr. Bunce – not the other way around!  We need to remember this about our officials.  We do not need to be rude to them, but we don’t need to treat them like some kind of celebrity, either.  They should be treated as representatives – almost employees – of their voters.  We the People are the ones who evaluate the performance of our Representatives and determine whether they should remain in their position.  George Washington calls our officials our “Servants”.

“The power under the Constitution will always be in the people.  It is entrusted for certain defined purposes, and for a certain limited period, to representatives of their own choosing; and whenever it is executed contrary to their interest, or not agreeable to their wishes, their servants can and undoubtedly will be recalled.”

-George Washington
hold officials accountable

Be Alert

Mr Bunce did not know this meeting was going to happen.  However, he had already been reading the papers, and keeping up with how Mr. Crockett voted.  He had noticed a vote that occurred in Congress, knew the Constitution well enough to know the vote was beyond the enumerated powers of Congress, and noticed that his Representative had voted in favor of this unconstitutional action.  As a result, he was fully prepared to speak to him when the opportunity unexpectedly arose in the middle of his workday. 

The Constitution is the Standard

Crockett is taken aback by Bunce’s response to his introduction.  He begs the farmer to please tell him what is wrong.  I love Mr. Bunce’s comment in response because it shows this is not an emotional assessment, but he is measuring his Representative against an objective standard.  The standard is The Constitution of the United States, and whether Crockett has the courage to stand up for it.  He replies to Crockett, “Well, Colonel, it is hardly worthwhile to waste time or words upon it.  I do not see how it can be mended, but you gave a vote last winter which shows that either you have not capacity to understand the Constitution, or that you are wanting in the honesty and firmness to be guided by it.  In either case you are not the man to represent me.”   Mr. Bunce knew the Constitution and was ready to hold his Representative to that standard. 

Two Requirements

It was clear Mr. Bunce had two important criteria for a Representative to properly represent him in Congress.  He said Mr. Crockett was apparently deficient in one or the other.  First, his Representative had to understand the Constitution, and Secondly, he had to have “honesty and firmness” to be guided by it.  If you and I were to apply these two important criteria to the current membership of the House of Representatives, how many do you think would pass this two-pronged test?  I admit I am not familiar with many of them, but I think the number of Representatives is low – very low – who both know the Constitution and have the courage to stand up for it.  They need both of those traits to keep government within its Constitutional limitations.  We have to get back to this standard for our officials at all levels! 

The Principle is Key

Mr. Bunce went on to tell Representative Crockett that fidelity to the Constitution is most important.  He said, “nor would I discard an honest representative for a mistake in judgment as a mere matter of policy.  But an understanding of the Constitution different from mine I cannot overlook, because the Constitution, to be worth anything, must be held sacred, and rigidly observed in all its provisions.  The man who wields power and misinterprets it is the more dangerous the more honest he is.”  To this I say, “Wow”!  What an understanding Mr. Bunce had!  If an official gets a policy vote wrong – we might forgive that.  But if he is deficient in his understanding of the Constitution, or his faithfulness to obeying it, we cannot let that slip – not even once!

“Now, more than ever before, the people are responsible for the character of their Congress. If that body be ignorant, reckless, and corrupt, it is because the people tolerate ignorance, recklessness, and corruption. If it be intelligent, brave, and pure, it is because the people demand these high qualities to represent them in the national legislature.… If the next centennial does not find us a great nation … it will be because those who represent the enterprise, the culture, and the morality of the nation do not aid in controlling the political forces.” 

-President James Garfield

Did Crockett learn his lesson?

After Crockett’s meeting with Mr. Bunce, he went back to Congress and later found himself in another discussion – the proposal to make a charitable contribution to the Naval officer’s widow.  He could not vote again for something not included in the Enumerated Powers of Congress!  The lessons he learned from his constituent had hit their mark!  He began his speech, “Mr. Speaker—I have as much respect for the memory of the deceased, and as much sympathy for the sufferings of the living, if suffering there be, as any man in this House, but we must not permit our respect for the dead or our sympathy for a 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 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.”  Crockett’s speech effectively killed the bill in Congress, but he went on to issue a challenge to the other Congressmen.  He said he would not support the bill, but he would personally donate a week’s pay to the cause, and if they all did that, they would have more than the amount on the bill.  The bill failed, but not one member of Congress took Crockett’s challenge and agreed to donate from his personal funds.  I suppose the members of Congress found it easier to give away other people’s money than their own! 

Representative Crockett had learned several valuable lessons from the farmer in his district.  It is important for us to learn from him as well.  We can take (at least) the following lessons from Mr. Bunce and use them in holding our officials accountable to the Constitution.

  1. Mr. Bunce understood the relationship – Representative Crockett worked for him – not the other way around. 
  2. Mr. Bunce was alert – he knew the Constitution, and was keeping up with the newspapers.  He knew how his Representative had voted on previous proposed legislation.
  3. Mr. Bunce held his Representative to the standard set in the Constitution. 
  4. Mr. Bunce knew his representative needed to meet two criteria:  He needed to know the Constitution, and he also needed the courage to stand up for it. 
  5. Mr. Bunce prioritized adherence to Constitutional principles.  He was willing to forgive a poor policy decision, but commitment to the Constitution was non-negotiable.

How do I know?

You may be asking, “Ok, so I need to hold my Representative accountable…  I can learn from the stories of Mr. Bunce but how do I learn:  1) What the Constitution says, so I know how my Representative should vote, and  2) How do I know what issues are being discussed and debated in Congress? 

Learn the Constitution

It is important for all Americans to learn the Constitution of the United States.  What does it say?  What did our Founding Fathers intend when they wrote it?  Our Representatives are sworn to support the Constitution, so there is no way we can hold them accountable, if we don’t know what that document says.  My first recommendation here is to take out a copy and read it.  It is not as complicated as you might think.  Secondly, at Patriot’s Hope, we regularly host Patriot Academy’s classes via online courses.  So, keep an eye out for our available classes and join us as we learn the Constitution together.  Thirdly, please come back often to PatriotsHope.com.  Please register your email with us so you will be the first to know when we post new articles.  This is a good way to learn the American principles that have long defined our nation, even though modern politicians are trying to move us away from them.

Know What’s Going On

We all need to know the Constitution, but we also need to know what is going on in Washington.  What bills are being proposed?  What confirmations or maybe treaties are being considered in the Senate?   At Patriot’s Hope, we recommend everyone interested in keeping up with what is going on in Washington.  I know of no better way to do that, than to become a member of the Heritage Action Sentinel Program.  If you sign up, you will receive a call each Monday afternoon.  You will not have to talk – only listen to the speaker.  The speaker will talk through some of the biggest things going on in Washington, and will encourage you to call your Representative and/or Senator, as appropriate, to let your voice be heard.  You will know what is going on, and why it is important!  You will be armed with the information you need to hold your Representative accountable! 

Conclusion

If we are going to have limited government, then we have to hold our Representatives accountable to The Constitution of the United States.  We can learn from how Mr. Bunce did this effectively with Mr. Crockett.  When Mr. Crockett went back to Congress, he did not continue to vote the same way.  Mr. Bunce’s corrections got through to Mr. Crockett and influenced his thinking, and (more importantly), his voting.  We need to do the same!   Let’s get educated, and then get busy holding them accountable! 

“We in America do not have government by the majority – we have government by the majority who participate…  All tyranny needs to gain a foothold is for people of good conscience to remain silent.”

-Thomas Jefferson

 

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Comments

12 Comments

  1. Paulette Mayfield

    A call to action as demonstrated by Mr. Bunce.

    Reply
    • Jason Southerland

      Yes Maam! May we learn from him how to interact with our elected officials and how to hold them accountable to the Constitution they are sworn to support! Thank you for your comment!

      Reply
  2. Lela G. Goar

    This is indeed a call to action. I have written to my representatives in the past to thank them for something they did for us, but I also need to pay attention when they don’t do something that is in the constitution and call them out on that.

    Great article and one I can really relate to as the daughter of a farmer and the wife of a farmer. How do we sign up for the briefings?

    Reply
    • Jason Southerland

      Thank you! Yes, I definitely agree we need to hold them accountable to the Constitution they swore to support! You asked how to sign up for the briefings – what do you mean by briefings? You mean to meet your Congressman? Probably the easiest thing would be to attend one of their Town Hall meetings (if they are already in office), or even better would be to catch them at a campaign event while they are running for election or re-election. You could call their office to find out when and where they will be having a public meeting. Thank you for the comment!

      Reply
  3. Marsha Hill

    An excellent story of the fact that our Constitution is pure common sense also! Why should a bunch of taxpayers pay a
    “bereavement” tax, so to speak. That’s where churches, friends, family and community come in. Too bad Mr. Bunce wasn’t
    vocal when welfare continued after the depression!!!!

    Reply
    • Jason Southerland

      Yes! When we talk about what is Constitutional vs Not, people often want to ask, “Don’t you think we need to do this…” (Whatever the “this” is at the time). The beautiful thing is that we can do all of it, it is just that the federal government can’t do it. So, we can help those who are in need of help, but like you mention, we do that as family, or church, or community – not the federal government. Thank you for your comment!

      Reply
  4. Catherine (Cathy) Spencer

    This was a timely article; I can’t challenge anyone right now until I know the Constitution myself. That said this article challenged me. It also showed me that Washington DC representatives and senators have used our tax dollars very unwisely and it is very easy for them to vote themselves a pay raise, which makes me angry, and waste tax money that all of us could be putting to good use if we had that money.

    Reply
    • Jason Southerland

      Yes, that is so true! Since writing this article, RaShell and I happened to run into our US Representative in a store one day. He had just signed the National Defense Authorization Act which contained language that ladies would have to register for the draft. He backpedaled and made excuses but unfortunately for him, my wife was with me… 🙂 Now I encourage everyone to vote for someone other than Ellzey for U.S. House District 6. Thank you for your comment!

      Reply
  5. Melody Allen

    Great article, Jason! I know I previously looked at some of our elected officials as celebrities, as you describe in this article. I sometimes forget that our elected officials DO work for us…the people. I like how you made mention that elected officials are pretty much like our employees. As a manager myself responsible for multiple employees, this reminds me that we must hold our elected officials to the same level of service that I expect of employees that work for me each and every day. I set high standards for my paid employees, and that standard should be even higher for the folks that are making important decisions that will affect my life and the lives of my family.

    Reply
    • Jason Southerland

      Thank you, Melody! Yes, we can all learn from Mr. Bunce on this one! We let those folks off the hook with way too much! Thank you for your comment and for being a part of the class!

      Reply
  6. Tim Rennie

    Ah, yes – we should all be like Mr. Bunce!

    See my post on the “What are Enumerated Powers?” blog – we should be keeping a report card on our elected representatives in Congress before stepping into the voting booth.

    Contacting a congressional reps in DC is not easy, but we must persist in providing feedback, especially concerning their enumerated powers if we ever hope to begin to reverse the tide.

    Reply
    • Jason Southerland

      Yes – I agree, we should all learn from Mr. Bunce! He is one of my favorite people. 🙂 Absolutely, we have to keep up with how these folks are voting, and generally how they are doing in the performance of their duties. They are all sworn to support the Constitution of the United States, how are each of them doing at that? I also wanted to clarify where you said contacting them isn’t easy. I think you meant that getting two-way communication isn’t easy. But, even if they aren’t writing or calling back, we should still call their offices and communicate our desires of how they should vote even if it is just to one of their interns or maybe even an answering machine. At least then, our voice is counted at least as a tally mark on the correct side of the issue! Thank you for your comment!

      Reply

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