Cleveland's Veto of an Appropriation for Celebrating Decoration Day

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Cleveland's Veto of an Appropriation for Celebrating Decoration Day  (1882)  by Grover Cleveland
From The Writings and Speeches of Grover Cleveland
Grover Cleveland, while mayor of Buffalo, vetoed a bill appropriating city funds toward the celebration of Decoration Day (now Memorial Day), even as he privately expressed his willingness to make a personal donation toward the event.[1]

Buffalo, May 8, 1882.

To the Common Council:

At the last session of your honorable body a resolution was adopted directing the city clerk to draw a warrant for five hundred dollars in the favor of the Firemen's Benevolent Association.

This action is not only clearly unauthorized, but it is distinctly prohibited by the following clause of the State Constitution:

No county, city, town or village shall hereafter give any money or property, or loan its money or credit to, or in aid of any individual, association or corporation, or become directly or indirectly the owner of stock in or bonds of any association or corporation; nor shall any such country, city, town, or village be allowed to incur any indebtedness, except for county, city, town, or village purposes.

At the same meeting of your honorable body the following resolution was passed:

That the City Clerk be and is hereby directed to draw a warrant on the Fourth of July Fund for five hundred dollars, to the order of J. S. Edwards, Chairman of the Decoration Day Committee of the Grand Army of the Republic, for the purpose of defraying the expenses attending a proper observance of Decoration day.

I have taxed my ingenuity to discover a way consistently to approve of this resolution, but have been unable to do so.

It seems to me that it is not only obnoxious to the provisions of the Constitution above quoted, but that it also violates that section of the charter of the city which makes it a misdemeanor to appropriate money raised for one purpose to any other object. Under this section I think money raised "for the celebration of the Fourth of July, and the reception of distinguished persons," cannot be devoted to the observance of Decoration day.

I deem the object of this appropriation a most worthy one. The efforts of our veteran soldiers to keep alive the memory of their fallen comrades certainly deserve the aid and encouragement of their fellow-citizens. We should all, I think, feel it a duty and a privilege to contribute to the funds necessary to carry out such a purpose. And I should be much disappointed if an appeal to our citizens for voluntary subscription for this patriotic object should be in vain.

But the money so contributed should be a free gift of the citizens and taxpayers, and should not be extorted from them by taxation. This is so, because the purpose for which this money is asked does not involve their protection or interest as members of the community, and it may or may not be approved by them.

The people are forced to pay taxes into the city treasury only upon the theory that such money shall be expended for public purposes, or purposes in which they all have a direct and practical interest.

The logic of this position leads directly to the conclusion that, if the people are forced to pay their money into the pubic fund and it is spent by their servants and agents for purposes in which the people as taxpayers have no interest, the exaction of such taxes from them is oppressive and unjust.

I cannot rid myself of the idea that this city government, in its relation to the taxpayers, is a business establishment, and that it is put into our hands to be conducted on business principles.

This theory does not admit of our donating the public funds in the manner contemplated by the action of your honorable body.

I deem it my duty, therefore, to return both the resolutions referred to without my approval.

Grover Cleveland.

Notes

  1. While the ordinance making this appropriation was still pending, Mr. Cleveland wrote the following letter to the Chairman of the Committee having the matter in charge:

    Buffalo, May 7, 1882.

    John M. Farquhar, Esq.

    Dear Sir: I have tried very hard, but failed to find a way, consistently to approve the resolution of the Common Council appropriating $500 for the observance of Decoration day.

    If my action has the effect of stopping the payment of this sum for the purpose, and you attempt to raise the necessary sum by subscription, you may call on me for $50.

    Yours very truly,
    Grover Cleveland.