"Not Yours to Give" - Final Answer

(Summary of scholarly responses to attribution query, thanks to Ann Toplovich)

Thank you to those who replied to my query regarding the text of “Not Yours to Give,” attributed to an 1828 speech by Tennessee Congressman David Crockett (1786-1836, Congress 1827-1831): under the influence of constituent Horatio Bunce, Crockett delivers a speech to Congress condemning public relief as not consistent with the Constitution. Here is a summary of the results. Tennessee historians were already aware that Crockett was a darling of the Whigs (and their successors) after turning against Andrew Jackson in 1829-1830, splitting with Jackson over land reform and Indian removal, among other issues. He was used as a cat's paw to attack the Democrats even after his death. Crockett also allowed himself to be mythologized during his lifetime as frontiersman, and it can be hard to separate the truth of what he said and did from the political/popular media creation he himself aided.

In the case of “Not Yours to Give,” this episode of Crockett’s life was first published in the January 1867 issue of Harper’s Magazine as “Davy Crockett’s Electioneering Tour” (pp. 606-611, speech on p. 607) by James J. Bethune, a nom de plume used by Edward S. Ellis (1840-1916). (“Bethune” published another piece in Harper’s, "Walter Colquitt of Georgia" which is also about a wonderful speaker whose speeches were not recorded, except in Bethune’s later memories. Ellis was most well known for his dime novels, “Deerhunter” and other Wild West tales for boys.) The 1867 Bethune piece was reprinted by Ellis in his 1884 edition of The Life of Colonel David Crockett, but it does not appear in his original 1861 book on Crockett (available at GoogleBooks). Clearly, Ellis could not have heard Crockett give a speech that took place 12 years before Ellis/Bethune’s birth.

James R. Boylston published an article in The Crockett Chronicle (November 2004, #6) debunking the “Not Yours to Give”/Horatio Bunce story, and also addresses the speech in his new book, David Crockett in Congress: The Rise and Fall of the Poor Man's Friend (October 2009). Gale and Seaton’s Register of Debates for the House on April 1, 1828, records there was indeed a lengthy debate (see images 2079-2089) on whether to award funds to a Widow Brown (wife of a general, not Ellis’s widow of a naval officer); however, although Crockett cast a vote against the bill, he was not present for the discussion. Crockett did demand a roll-call vote. Contrary to what the Harper's article claimed, however, the bill passed the House and the Senate. Ellis states that Bunce’s opposition to Crockett originated in a vote Crockett made in favor of relief for victims of a Georgetown fire. However, the fire was in Alexandria, not Georgetown, and the vote was taken on January 19, 1827 – while Crockett was not elected to Congress until late 1827. All evidence points to the Bunce/”Not Yours to Give” story as a fabrication – as are so many tales about Crockett, including many he told himself.