April 29, 1812: First Foreign Aid Bill


On April 29, 1812, the American House of Representatives debated a resolution to purchase barrels of flour to aid the victims of the earthquake of Caracas, Venezuela.  The resolution  passes and will become the first foreign aid bill of the United States. Venezuela had suffered a powerful earthquake on March 26, 1812 measuring about 7.7 in magnitude. The earthquake caused extensive damage in Caracas, La Guaira, Barquisimeto, San Felipe, and Mérida with an estimated 15,000 to 20,000 dead.

The resolution for the aid was moved by Nathaniel Macon of North Carolina. The only contentious point was raised by John Randolph of Virginia, who wanted to amend the resolution to authorize all vessels with cargo to be allowed to go to Venezuela. John Calhoun of South Carolina opposed this amendment. Calhoun said he regretted that the  resolution "to aid  the cause of humanity could not be allowed to pass without the inter-mixture of party feeling."  He also opposed the amendment as it would virtually repeal the Embargo Act that had been passed. Randolph's amendment was defeated 74 to 30. The resolution was then amended to change "barrels of flour" to "provisions" so that corn or flour could also be sent. The resolution then passed unanimously by the House of Representatives.

The House did not support a simultaneous proposal to send relief to the island of Tenerife of the Canary Islands where a locusts were causing a famine. That part of the resolution was defeated.   

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