Horatio Bunce – American Hero

If I asked you to name ten American heroes, George Washington would probably make the list. If you thought in terms of more modern history, perhaps you might add names such as Marcus Luttrell, the Navy SEAL who told his harrowing tale in his book, Lone Survivor. I doubt that Horatio Bunce would be on your list. That would be a mistake.

As you probably guessed from the lack of boys named Horatio in classrooms today, Mr. Bunce lived in the 1800s. I don’t know much of his life story but, like the boy in The Emperor’s New Clothes, he spoke up and acted when needed. Approached by David Crockett (better known today as Davy Crockett), then running for re-election in Tennessee, Mr. Bunce told the candidate that while he had voted for him in the last election, he would no longer do so. Pressed to explain why, the farmer explained that David Crockett’s support for a bill showed that the congressman did not understand the Constitution.

We know of this exchange because David Crockett referenced it in a speech that he later gave in Congress, entitled Not Yours to Give*. It was in many ways an apology to his constituents. It seems that he had supported providing money to families in Washington D.C. who had lost their homes in a devastating fire. As Mr. Bunce explained to him, charity is a function of individuals, not government. Representative Crockett acknowledged his mistake and pledged to not make it again. Mr. Bunce proceeded to campaign for Crockett’s re-election.

During his next term, a proposal arose to give an appropriation to the widow of a naval officer. In response, David Crockett made a speech saying among other things, that he would personally contribute money, but that Congress had no mandate that allowed it to give away taxpayer money in such a cause.

That Constitutional understanding is long gone, but we can still learn from this story. Mr. Bunce spoke plainly and politely. He was knowledgeable both about the Constitution and about his representative’s record. We may not have many in Congress today who can accept rebuke, acknowledge wrongdoing, and be faithful to their pledges, but we can be more like Mr. Bunce.

As constituents, as citizens, we need to do a better job of accurately assessing our elected officials. Watching their campaign ads and reading prejudiced accounts (both positive and negative) is not enough. We must vote—too many of us ignore that responsibility, citing excuses ranging from the system being broken and plagued by dishonesty, to not wanting our names on the roll because we will be called for jury duty. The numbers of common-sense, conservative voters would be overwhelming if each one voted. Way too many do not. We must, like Mr. Bunce, let our representatives know what we think. A polite phone call, an email, a letter to them thanking them when they vote in a way that we think is correct, and expressing disappointment when the opposite occurs, does count. I have been trying to do more in this way myself and I invite you to join me.

*I heard about this speech when homeschooling. I was not sure if it was apocryphal or not. As of now, I believe that it is an accurate story.

This Musing is dedicated in memory of Rivka ben Horin, 74, and Yosef Gross, 75, slaughtered in their homes on Kibbutz Nir Oz on October 7, 2023.

And with prayers for the safe return of all those held hostage, and among them Amiram Cooper, 84, one of the founders of Kibbutz Nir Oz. His wife, Nurit, had been held captive as well and was released on October 23.

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