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were not parties to any compact. Nor can I regard it as eminently expedient, either, to pursue such a course. On the contrary, I am disposed to think that, as an abstract question of policy and statesmanship, the best way of supplying the exist. ing deficiency in the Treasury would be to suspend the operation of the compromise act, and lay duties on a few only of the leading articles of import, instead of deranging the operations of the whole business community by a sudden imposition of twenty per cent. ad valorem on every article of commerce which is now free, and that as a temporary expedient. But this I well know is out of the question. I allude to the subject only for illustration. The act will be carried out. Duties to the amount of five millions will be taken off, and new duties to the amount of twelve millions will be imposed. And this will be done, as I have said, on some grounds of compact, understanding, or expediency
Well, Sir, and are there no such grounds for the measure we are now discussing? Is there no compact in the case, no expediency, no equity ?
I will not go into an elaborate history of the public lands of the United States to show my understanding of the terms on which the original cession of a large portion of them was made by the States. That history is familiar to the House and to the country. Those terms have been argued again and again, not only in these halls, but in the halls of every Legislature throughout the country. I shall content myself with saying in the most general terms, on this head, that, while I cannot go the length of declaring, that the appropriation of the proceeds of the public lands to the ordinary purposes of government would be an absolute violation of the compact, I have yet no hesitation in affirming that, in my humble judgment, a distribution of those proceeds among the States would be far more in accordance both with the letter and the spirit of that compact.
I am willing to admit, however, that, as to the intention and contemplation of the States at the time these cessions were made, I think very little can be safely or certainly argued. The contemplation of the States could not have reached to a day like this. High as were the hopes, sanguine as were the expectations, of our fathers at that time, as to the glorious results of the liberty they had achieved and the institutions they had established, it never could have entered into their hearts to conceive of a condition of the country, in which the public debt being all paid off, such countless acres of territory should remain as the rich and unencumbered inheritance of their children. These cessions certainly were made with no regard to such a state of things. They were made with a view to the present, and not to the future. They were made to allay the jealousies and settle. the contentions to which the exclusive claims of certain separate States had given rise, and to defray the expenses which their common independence had cost.
The argument in favor of this measure, from the terms of cession, however, covers only the lands which were ceded. I am aware it is sometimes contended that the lands subsequently purchased may be considered as having been purchased with the proceeds of those ceded, and may thus be made subject to the same principle of disposition. But I prefer, for myself, to rely on considerations which are directly and equally applicable to the whole domain.
I come, then, to some explanation of those considerations of eminent expediency, which in my judgment, should induce us to exercise the discretionary authority we unquestionably possess over the proceeds of the public lands in the manner pointed out by the bill ; — namely, by distributing them among the States, instead of retaining them to eke out the scanty contents of our own Treasury.
And I have no hesitation in saying, Mr. Chairman, that I find these considerations exclusively in the situation of some of the States of this Union. There is no feature in the condition of the country, lamentable as that condition is in so many respects, which is calculated to excite such serious apprehension for its prosperity and its honor, as the deep indebtedness of so many of the States. Sir, we may not assume their debts, directly or indirectly. We have no constitutional power to do so. But we may do something, and by this bill we should do something, to aid, encourage, and sustain them in their efforts to relieve themselves. And whatever we can do constitutionally, we are
bound to do by every consideration of expediency and of equity, of interest and of honor.
Who is there that desires, or is willing if he can help it, to see the sovereign States of this Union, or any number of them, dishonored before the world, their character lost, their credit ruined, their faith a by-word among the nations? If there be any such man here or elsewhere, he is no true friend to his country's honor. For, Sir, the honor of each individual State in this Union is bound up in the same bundle of life with that of every other, and they constitute together the honor of the nation. It is in vain to say that, if we can only pay our own way, and keep our own head above water, our character is safe. The people of the United States are one people. They rule alike, in State and in nation. They cannot keep their faith and break their faith. They cannot maintain two characters, nor can a stain upon the character of any portion of them fail to cast a reflected stain upon the character of all the rest.
Doubtless, the conduct of many of the States has been rash and reckless in incurring so great liabilities. But who stimulated that rashness? who spurred on that recklessness? It is not my desire to mingle party criminations in this debate, but I cannot help thinking that it is the duty of those who are now in power to remember, in this connection, that these wild investments of State credit in banks and internal improvements were among the most direct and undoubted consequences of that mad spirit of speculation which the wanton experiments of our predecessors originally engendered, - a spirit whose ravages upon the prosperity and welfare of the country it is our high and special commission from the people to repair.
But there is another consideration connected with the origin of these debts which we ought even less to lose sight of. By far the greater part of the liabilities under which so many of the States are now oppressed, were incurred for a national object. Let not gentlemen start when I pronounce internal improve ments a national object. I am not going to argue the constitutionality or expediency of undertaking such works by national authority. What I mean to say, and all I mean to say, is, that they exert a most powerful and momentous influence on the national prosperity and the national permanency. What is there so eminently calculated to bind together this blessed Union of ours in the bonds of mutual friendship and mutual interest, mutual confidence and kindness, as the railroad system? How does it enable us to laugh to scorn the prophecies of dissolution and separation, which are so often founded on our extent of territory? What capacities, of almost indefinite reach, has it not given to our republican machinery? What new elements of democracy has it not introduced into the action of that machinery? James Madison, in the Federalist, pronounced the necessary limits of a democracy to be those within which the whole people could meet together conveniently to consult on their own affairs, - and the necessary limits of a republic, those within which the representatives of the people could assemble, as often as it was needful, to attend to the business of their constitutents. Sir, railroads are to distance, what representation is to numbers. From what corner of the continent of North America might not the representatives of the people easily and often come together by the agency of this railroad system? Nay, has not the same miraculous agency exhibited the people themselves, during the last year, taking their own business into their own hands, and coming together from places hundreds, and I had almost said thousands, of miles apart, to consult on their common fortunes ?
Our fathers, Mr. Chairman, without distinction of party, considered internal improvements, even before railroads were known, as national objects. They differed as to the constitutional power of constructing them. But even those who maintained that such a power did not exist, were of opinion that it ought to exist. Hear what Thomas Jefferson himself said on this subject, in his last message of his last term, when he was parting from public life forever, and had no longer any ambitious objects to subserve,-a passage to which I beg the attention of the Committee, as proving not only that Jefferson was in favor of internal improvements at that period of his life, but of accumulating even a surplus revenue to pay for them :
« The probable accumulation of the surpluses of revenue beyond what can be applied to the payment of the public debt, whenever the freedom and safety of our commerce shall be restored, merits the consideration of Congress. Shall it lie unproductive in the public vaults ? Shall the revenue be reduced? Or, shall it not rather be appropriated to the improvement of roads, canals, rivers, education, and other great foundations of prosperity and union, under the powers which Congress may already possess, or such amendment of the Constitution as may be approved by the States ?”
This was the language of Mr. Jefferson in 1808. He may have changed his opinions at a later day, but these were the opinions which he expressed in his last official declaration to the country. The same sentiments may be found even more fully developed in one of his previous messages. The same sentiments were more than once expressed by Mr. Monroe. And we all know what were the opinions of my honored colleague in front of me (Mr. J. Q. Adams.) Had his views been sustained by the country, it may be safely said that the States would have had far less occasion to involve themselves in debt for works of this sort. But, Sir, the day for any regret on that score is past. I only desired to remind the Committee that it was mainly for these objects of internal improvement, — thus by the united testimony of our fathers, and thus tenfold more by our own experience of agencies invented since they went down to their graves, objects of national concern, – that it was for these that the great burden of State liabilities had been contracted. Unquestionably the States have prosecuted these works too extensively. Unquestionably many of the works they have constructed are greatly in advance of the public wants. Led away, in part, by the seductive influence of government experiments, they were hurried along still more by the admiration and excitement which the extraordinary inventions of our day could not but occasion. They caught something of the impetus of the marvellous enginery they were constructing. They did not learn soon enough the use of the brakes, or were too much excited to hold them hard enough down; and they have thus been borne along to the very brink of their own ruin. But it was in a noble cause, and one which, though it has involved them in embarrassments, has contributed incalculably to the prosperity and permanency of the Union.
And here, Mr. Chairman, I must be allowed to allude to an imputation upon the Northern and Eastern members of this