Article 1, Section 9, Clause 7

Document 3

St. George Tucker, Blackstone's Commentaries 1:App. 362--64


All the expenses of government being paid by the people, it is the right of the people, not only, not to be taxed without their own consent, or that of their representatives freely chosen, but also to be actually consulted upon the disposal of the money which they have brought into the treasury; it is therefore stipulated that no money shall be drawn from the treasury, but in consequence of appropriations, previously made by law: and, that the people may have an opportunity of judging not only of the propriety of such appropriations, but of seeing whether their money has been actually expended only, in pursuance of the same; it is further provided, that a regular statement and account of the receipts and expenditures of all public money shall be published from time to time. These provisions form a salutary check, not only upon the extravagance, and profusion, in which the executive department might otherwise indulge itself, and its adherents and dependents; but also against any misappropriation, which a rapacious, ambitious, or otherwise unfaithful executive might be disposed to make. In those governments where the people are taxed by the executive, no such check can be interposed. The prince levies whatever sums he thinks proper; disposes of them as he thinks proper; and would deem it sedition against him and his government, if any account were required of him, in what manner he had disposed of any part of them. Such is the difference between governments, where there is responsibility, and where there is none.

Yet even this excellent regulation has an inconvenience attending it, which was formerly hinted at. According to the theory of the American constitutions, the judiciary ought to be enabled to afford complete redress in all cases, where a man may have a just claim for compensation for any injury done him, or for any service which he may have rendered another, in expectation of a just recompence. According to the laws of Virginia, if a claim against the commonwealth be disallowed or abated by the auditor of public accounts, any person who may think himself aggrieved thereby may petition the high court of chancery, or the district court held at Richmond, according to the nature of his case, for redress; and such court shall proceed to do right thereon; and a like petition shall be allowed in all other cases to any person who is entitled to demand against the commonwealth any right in law or equity. But although redress is thus intended to be afforded in such cases, yet it seems to be held, that the treasurer can not pay the money for which the claiment may have obtained a judgment, or decree, until the general assembly have passed a law making an appropriation, for that purpose, if no law authorising such payment be previously passed. But whatever doubt there may be upon the subject, under the laws of the state, it seems to be altogether without a question, that no claim against the United States (by whatever authority it may be established,) can be paid, but in consequence of a previous appropriation made by law; unless, perhaps, it might be considered as falling properly under the head of contingent charges against the government. An interpretation which may be somewhat strained, and which the executive department of the government, to which the management of the fund appropriated for contingent charges is committed, might be as little disposed to admit, as congress might be to pass a law making a specific appropriation.

Both the constitution and laws of the United States appear, then, to be defective upon this subject; inasmuch, as they neither provide in what manner a just claim against the United States, which may happen to be disallowed by the auditor and comptroller of the treasury, shall be judicially examined; nor for the payment of any just claim which might be judicially established, without submitting it to the discretion of congress, whether they will make an appropriation for that purpose. As the congress are supposed, in all pecuniary cases, to have the same common interest with their constituents, they can hardly be considered in any other light than as parties, whenever a demand is made against the public. They cannot then be presumed to be altogether as impartial judges in such cases, as those who are sworn to do equal right to all persons, without distinction: and although the practice has been to petition them for any disputed claim against the United States, cases may arise where such a petition might be highly improper, and yet the nature of the case be such, as to entitle the party to obtain redress according to the dictates of moral obligation. A judicial court is, according to the true spirit of the constitution, the proper place in which such a right should be enquired into, and from which redress might be finally obtained: and that, without impediment from any other department of the government. This might be effected by an amendment, declaring, that no money shall be drawn from the treasury but in consequence of appropriations made by law; or, of a judicial sentence of a court of [the] United States.

The Founders' Constitution
Volume 3, Article 1, Section 9, Clause 7, Document 3
The University of Chicago Press

Tucker, St. George. Blackstone's Commentaries: With Notes of Reference to the Constitution and Laws of the Federal Government of the United States and of the Commonwealth of Virginia. 5 vols. Philadelphia, 1803. Reprint. South Hackensack, N.J.: Rothman Reprints, 1969.

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