James K. Polk, 1845-49

"Our First Line of Defense"


In 1846, certain members of the House Committee on Foreign Affairs raised a furor over the alleged misuse of foreign intercourse funds by Daniel Webster while he served as Secretary of State. Portions of these funds, known as Secret Service Funds, were available for unvouchered use on the certificate of the President that their expenditure had been for confidential purposes. A resolution of the House of Representatives requested President James K. Polk to furnish the House with all records of expenditures of these confidential Secret Service Funds during Webster's tenure as Secretary of State under Presidents Harrison and Tyler. In denying the request of the House of Representatives, President Polk wrote:

    "THE EXPERIENCE OF EVERY nation on earth has demonstrated that emergencies may arise in which it becomes absolutely necessary for the public safety or the public good to make expenditures the very object of which would be defeated by publicity. . . . In no nation is the application of such sums ever made public. In time of war or impending danger the situation of the country may make it necessary to employ individuals for the purpose of obtaining information or rendering other important services who could never be prevailed upon to act if they entertained the least apprehension that their names or their agency would in any contingency be divulged. So it may often become necessary to incur an expenditure for an object highly useful to the country; . . . But this object might be altogether defeated by the intrigues of other powers if our purposes were to be made known by the exhibition of the original papers and vouchers to the accounting officers of the Treasury. It would be easy to specify other cases which may occur in the history of a great nation, in its intercourse with other nations, wherein it might become absolutely necessary to incur expenditures for objects which could never be accomplished if it were suspected in advance that the items of expenditure and the agencies employed would be made public."


    President James K. Polk, Message to the House of Representatives,
    20 April 1846

Historical Document
Posted: Mar 19, 2007 01:33 PM
Last Updated: Jul 07, 2008 01:56 PM