There is not a more important and fundamental principle in legislation, than that the ways and means ought always to face the public engagements; that our appropriations should ever go hand in hand with our promises. To say that the United States should be answerable for twenty-five millions of dollars without knowing whether the ways and means can be provided, and without knowing whether those who are to succeed us will think with us on the subject, would be rash and unjustifiable. Sir, in my opinion, it would be hazarding the public faith in a manner contrary to every idea of prudence.
At first glance and on the surface, this quote wisely and adequately addresses the fiduciary responsibility congressmen have to the American people. However, there is a clue that suggests there may be more to the address than its face value. The clue begins the last sentence: "Sir."
The "Sir" Madison is addressing may be two entities: The Speaker of the House and a faction of congressmen who had other plans for the people's money than Madison thought to be appropriate.
Madison was a Representative for the state of Virginia in the fledgling years of the United States' government, and so was undoubtedly addressing the Speaker of the House of Representatives.
Yet, this by no means eliminates the other possible entity. Anyone who has studied Robert's Rules of Order knows that in business and government settings, one who desires and obtains the floor for the purpose of addressing an issue does so by addressing the ranking member of the body. In the case of congress, he or should would be either the Speaker of the House, or the President of the Senate.
Even though the "Sir" he is addressing formally is the Speaker of the House, his message is just as likely to be addressing members of congress who had designs on the people's money that may not have been prudent or honest.
From this, we can reasonably conclude that, like there are today, there were elected officials who argued for all sorts of ways to spend the people's money without any kind of thought for responsibility to the people.