Article 1, Section 9, Clause 7

[Volume 3, Page 378]

Document 4

Joseph Story, Commentaries on the Constitution 3:§§ 1341--43


§ 1341. This clause was not in the original draft of the constitution; but the first part was subsequently introduced, upon a report of a committee; and the latter part was added at the very close of the convention.

§ 1342. The object is apparent upon the slightest examination. It is to secure regularity, punctuality, and fidelity, in the disbursements of the public money. As all the taxes raised from the people, as well as the revenues arising from other sources, are to be applied to the discharge of the expenses, and debts, and other engagements of the government, it is highly proper, that congress should possess the power to decide, how and when any money should be applied for these purposes. If it were otherwise, the executive would possess an unbounded power over the public purse of the nation; and might apply all its monied resources at his pleasure. The power to control, and direct the appropriations, constitutes a most useful and salutary check upon profusion and extravagance, as well as upon corrupt influence and public peculation. In arbitrary governments the prince levies what money he pleases from his subjects, disposes of it, as he thinks proper, and is beyond responsibility or reproof. It is wise to interpose, in a republic, every restraint, by which the public treasure, the common fund of all, should be applied, with unshrinking honesty to such objects, as legitimately belong to the common defence, and the general welfare. Congress is made the guardian of this treasure; and to make their responsibility complete and perfect, a regular account of the receipts and expenditures is required to be published, that the people may know, what money is expended, for what purposes, and by what authority.

§ 1343. A learned commentator has, however, thought, that the provision, though generally excellent, is defective in not having enabled the creditors of the government, and other persons having vested claims against it, to recover, and to be paid the amount judicially ascertained to be due to them out of the public treasury, without any appropriation. Perhaps it is a defect. And yet it is by no means certain, that evils of an opposite nature might not arise, if the debts, judicially ascertained to be due to an individual by a regular judgment, were to be paid, of course, out of the public treasury. It might give an opportunity for collusion and corruption in the management of suits between the claimant, and the officers of the government, entrusted with the performance of this duty. Undoubtedly, when a judgment has been fairly obtained, by which a debt against the government is clearly made out, it becomes the duty of congress to provide for its payment; and, generally though certainly with a tardiness, which has become, in some sort, a national reproach, this duty is discharged by congress in a spirit of just liberality. But still, the known fact, that the subject must pass in review before congress, induces a caution and integrity in making and substantiating claims, which would in a great measure be done away, if the claim were subject to no restraint, and no revision.

The Founders' Constitution
Volume 3, Article 1, Section 9, Clause 7, Document 4
The University of Chicago Press

Story, Joseph. Commentaries on the Constitution of the United States. 3 vols. Boston, 1833.