No one can deny the overwhelming need of the Haitian refugees who have been affected by the devastating earthquake. May our hearts, prayers and money speedily aid of them.
With that said, it was interesting to note that in 1794, the US Congress was faced with this very same dilemma, as to what exactly the role of the federal government was in instances such as these--specifically with regards to HAITI. The following is from the 1st session of the 3rd Congress when Madison led votes against granting assistance to French refugees from the Haitian revolution in 1794.
Annals of Congress, House of Representatives, 3rd Congress, 1st Session, page 170 (1794-01-10) . The Annals summarize speeches in the third person, with the actual text of Madison's quote as follows:"Mr. Madison wished to relieve the sufferers, but was afraid of establishing a dangerous precedent, which might hereafter be perverted to the countenance of purposes very different from those of charity. He acknowledged, for his own part, that he could not undertake to lay his finger on that article in the Federal Constitution which granted a right of Congress of expending, on objects of benevolence, the money of their constituents."This is the instance which gave rise to Madison's famous quote:
The expense in question was for French refugees from the Haitian Revolution.
"I cannot undertake to lay my finger on that article of the Constitution which granted a right to Congress of expending, on objects of benevolence, the money of their constituents." --James Madison