Phil Robertson Dishonestly Claims Founding Fathers Opposed Federal Disaster Relief

Duck Dynasty’s Phil Robertson, in an interview with a West Virginia radio station, said “it’s my studied opinion, just from observing, our founders basically said, ‘When disasters come your way, it’s unfortunate, they do happen, but you can’t expect the United States government to start pouring in and coming down there.’”

Listen courtesy of Right Wing Watch:

Here’s my view of disasters, whether it be hurricanes, tornadoes, it just rains a lot. Everyone needs to take a deep breath and say—You know, I’ve noticed something. We bellyache when it doesn’t rain because we can’t grow anything and ‘It’s a drought, it’s a drought!’ We all bellyache and then cry out. Well, when it rains, starts raining and it rains too much so you have a flood, ‘It’s a flood, it’s a flood!’ and everyone gets all bent out of shape whether it doesn’t rain or if it does rain.
 
So everybody is saying, running around on planet earth, seemingly saying in America at least, if it just rained just right all the time we would be happy. Here’s the deal: When it rains a lot, it’s going to flood. And if it doesn’t rain too much you have a drought. Both of them are bones to be chewed.
 
But it’s my studied opinion, just from observing, our founders basically said, ‘When disasters come your way, it’s unfortunate, they do happen, but you can’t expect the United States government to start pouring in and coming down there.’

Unfortunately for Religious Right patriarch Robertson, he neither studied nor observed very carefully. In fact, federal disaster relief dates to the very earliest days of our republic. Many of our Founding Fathers were still alive or in office in 1803, and Thomas Jefferson was serving his second term as president when the first federal disaster relief bill was passed (and James Madison his Secretary of State), the Congressional Act of 1803, “A Bill For the relief of the sufferers by fire, in the town of Portsmouth.”

In that fire, it is reported, 114 buildings were destroyed and damages totaled $200,000. Some $45,000 in donations were collected and distributed, showing a clear need for federal assistance and the inability of people to “come together” and fix it themselves.

The Congressional Act of 1803 read:

“Be it enacted, by the Senate and House of Representatives of the United States of America, in Congress Assembled, that the secretary of the treasury be, and he hereby is authorized and directed to cause to be suspended for months, the collection of bonds due to the United States by merchants of Portsmouth, in New Hampshire, who have suffered by the late conflagration of that town.”

It wasn’t exactly what people in disaster areas expect today, but it is what small government can provide. And it is more than Republicans like Phil Robertson think folks should get from the government they elect to look out for their interests, and to help them when nobody else can.