« PreviousContinue »
At present the general government pays to each State five per cent. upon the public lands within their borders, and the State cannot tax them for five years after they are sold.
By the substitute this is reversed: the State pays a certain percentage to the general government. The receipt of this per-centage by the general government is insured by the titles under the State being dependent for their legality upon its payment.
In few words, it proposes to transfer all the lands within the States to the States in which they lie, on two conditions :
First, that the States shall dispose of them at $1,75 cents, 50 cents, and 25 cents, according as they have been offered for sale, ten, fifteen, twenty, and twenty-five years.
Second, that the States pay to the general government 75 per cent. upon the net amount realized from their sale. This percentage is to be paid quarterly as the lands are disposed of at the State land offices; those remaining unsold at the end of 30 years to belong to the States.
CURTAILS EXECUTIVE PATRONAGE. By its adoption 228 federal offices will be abolished, and their duties imposed upon State officers.
Mr. Calhoun, to whom it was given to detect danger to the constitution before it was visible to most minds, and whose eloquence was but the earnest protest of the future against the present, once said that the greatest instruments of consolidation under our government were the land office, the currency, and the post office.
The constitution, as originally interpreted by its framers, left the great mass of legislation to the States, and restricted the fedcral government to the management of foreign affairs, and a few internal matters. Yet, so disguised under a pride of national greatness has been the tendency to consolidation, that, insensibly, one power after another has been assumed, until the general gove ernment, almost to the exclusion of the State governments, has made itself felt in all the relations of life. Its encroachments have been invisible, but constant.
With the addition of each new State, the relative greatness of the general government has been increased, and that of the individual States diminished. With increased power to reward, its offices have become more valuable.
The popular mind has associated increase of constitutional power with national development. Congress has absorbed nearly all the legislation of the country_its sessions increasing in length, while those of the State legislatures have become less frequent and shorter.
Under the administration of Mr. Jefferson, in 1802, there were but five heads of department: there are now seven. There were then but 3,806 federal officers : there are now in the employment, throughout the country, 35,456.
The adoption of the substitute will abolish 228 of these ; and, with advantage to the particular interests involved, transfer their duties to those of the States.
John Randolph, of Roanoke, speaking on this subject in the Senate of the United States in March, 1826, said:
"I wish that every new State had all the lands within the State, that, in the shape of receiverships and other ways, these States might not be brought under the influence of this ten miles square. In other words, I wish that all the patronage of the land office was in the hands of the individual States, and not in the hands of the general government. I am the friend of State rights, and will cut down the patronage of this general government, which has increased, is increasing, and must be dininished; or we-the States-shall be not only shorn of our beams, sir, but abolished quite."
Mr. Van Buren, in May of the same year, in the Senate, said: The public lands Chad extended the patronage of the government over the States to a great extent;" and "subjected” those in which they were situated “to an unwise and unprofitable dependence on the federal government. No man could render the country a greater service than he who should devise some plan by which the United States might be relieved from the ownership of this prop. erty by some equitable mode.” He would vote for a proposition on such terms.
In 1830, Mr. Hayne, in the Senate, said :
“More than one-half our time has been taken up with the discussion of propositions connected with the public lands, and more than one-half our acts embrace provisions growing out of this fruitful source."
In 1839, Mr. Calhoun said the discussion about their disposition consumed one-third of the time of Congress.
Mr. Speaker Boyd, in answer to an inquiry made by me, under date of May 21, 1854, says:
“I state as my deliberate opinion that during the sixteen years I have served in Congress, at least one-third of the entire tiine of that body has been consumed in the consideration of questions connected in one form or other with our public land system."
The Clerk of this House, Colonel Forney, in a note in reply to an inquiry on the subject, says :
"Fifteen hundred columns of the Congressional Globe and Appendix for the Thirty Second Congress are taken up with debates on public lands; and the expense to the government incurred alone by the time consumed was $143.520. .
Again : THIS SUBSTITUTE NOT ONLY REDUCES THIE PATRONAGE OF THE GENERAL GONERNMENT RESULTING FROM THE ADMINISTRATION 07 TIE PUBLIC LANDS, BUT IT TAKES TIEM OUT OF THE POLI'IICAL ARENA. A QUESTION PURELY OF POLITICAL ECONOMY WILL NO LONG. ER BE MADE ONE OF PARIISAN CONTROVERSY. IT IS NON-INTERVENTION IN THE LOCAL INTERESIS AND POLITICS OF THE STATES.
I desire to discuss this subject upon elevated puinciples, and without appeal to party feelings. But I ask members if the disposition of the public lands has not been an element, on one side or the other, in all our political contests? It was directly connected with the great Hayne and Webster debate; and, after arraying in opposition the old and the new States, and embittering feeling at the North and the South, has ever since affected the regulation of the tariff.
It was closely connected with all the financial measures of Gen. Jackson's administration, mixed itself up with his contest with the United States Bank, and became the suggestion of a charge in the constitution. It has ever been associated with the discussion of the power of Congress to make internal improvements; and now, when one after another of these questions have been settled or passed away, it remains with the subject of slavery to monopolize our time and embarrass legislation.
Is this never to cease? Having assisted to make and unmake Presidents for half a century, is it to continue a fund upon which individual members may draw to supply political capital for their districts? Has not the return of members to this House been made in a greater degree to depend upon the legislation of Congress upon this subject than upon any other? Do not measures, objectionable in principle, ally themselves with grants of land to force representatives to the alternative of a violation of their conviction of constitutional right, or a seeming antagonism to the interests of their constituents ?
I believe, sir, there is a general desire that this should cease. I believe it to be the feeling of the country, that the public lands should be disposed of, once for all-justly and equitably—to prevent improper combinations to reduce the length of our sessions, and enable us to legislate on other matters.
On the eve of Mr. Webster's first visit to Europe he was asked the object of his trip. His reply was, that, in addition to a desire to see the objects of natural interest, to one visiting the Old World, he wanted to get where he could see a man who had never made a bargain. I would not intimate that this expression was in any way associated with, or the result of, his political experience; but I may say, without reflection upon that great man, that the desire was by no means unnatural to any one who had been even a spectator of the legislation of Congress in reference to the public lands.
On this point I will not enlarge. Sixteen years ago, in 1839, •Mr. Calhoun, in speaking of the subject, said:
“I ask not whether it would be wise to continue the old system. No, sir, a far bolder question-will it be practicable ?
"It is easy to see how this would end ; the public domain, the noble inheritance of the people of this Union, would be squandered, or rather gambled away in the contest, and would thus be made at the same time the means of plunder and corruption, and of elevating to power the most profligate and audacious."
Has this prediction been realized ? Let one of many years' experience in this House, and yet in the counsels of the country, answer. Three weeks since, speaking on a bill that has passed this House, Senator Thompson, of Kentucky, said :
“It seems to me, since I have had the honor to come to the national counsels, whether in this or the other bouse of Congress, the public lands have been bandied about eternally as a bribe in the shape of cession and retrocession, in the shape of graduation and of distribution, and of every imaginable project."
Of all the interests of the country, Mr. Chairman, the land cr agricultural should be least affected by, or dependent upon, lege islation. Upon it rest all other branches of national industry, and its value should be controlled by laws uniform and permanent. It is bad enough that the commerce of the country should be influenced by measures purely political; but trade partakes in some sort of the character of an adventure, and readily adapts itself to circumstances. Not so with land. The tiller of the soil may have a knowledge of chemistry, but he knows nothing of political chicanery. He watches the changes in the natural, not in the political elements, and looks to the ground, not to Congress, for his annual profit or the increased value of his land. And yet, if Congress issue twenty millions of land warrants as proposed by the bill of the gentleman from New York, or throw as many acres of land gratuitously, or at greatly reduced prices, upon the market one year, and none the next, the price of every man's farm will be asi variable as your commercial stocks.
Sir, if you have the power, you have no moral right thus to subject the staid and sober interests of the home-staying, hardworking farmers of the country to the fluctuations of your commercial, or the tidal movements of your political sea.
Again: TIIE SUBSTITUTE NOT ONLY TAKES THE PUBLIC LANDS OUT OF THE POLITICAL ARENA, BUT FREES THE LAND STATES FROM A LIUMILIATING VASSALAGE. They have risen up out of the wilderness under a pledge given at the origin of the government, that they should be received into the Union with equal rights with the other States; and yet, they are now fettered by a system inflicting upon them all the evils of absenteeism.
The lands of the sovereign of England may be taxed in the shire in which they lie, while those of the general government within the States are exempted and held for years at prices abo're their value, causing emigration to seek other localities. They, in fact, act upon the surface of the new States like the immense corporations of Mortmain, which it cost England a revolution to get rid of.
By a calculation made by Mr. Sumner,) in the Senate of the United States, in 1849, the land States, from a forbearance to tax the lands of the general government, after survey, have lost $72,000,000. How long will the idea of a paternity of the old over the new States, prevent a practical conviction in the popular mind of their entire equality ?
Dispose of the public lands within the States to the States in which they lie, under the terms of this bill, and you at once get rid of the embarrassing questions which constantly force the States to protest or memorialize against a proprietorship within their borders, which, although it extend to half their limits, they can neither tax nor raise contributions from, for the general good, and which forces you to dole out to them the small pittance of 5 per cent. upon their sales.
But, MR. CHAIRMAN, I HAVE OTHER ARGUMENTS IN FAVOR OF THIS BILL, LESS GENERAL IN THEIR CHARACTER, BUT NOT LESS IMPORTANT, AND WHOSE PRACTICAL FORCE MUST STRIKE EVERY ONE WHO HAS OBSERVED THE PROGRESS OF LEGISLATION IN THIS HOUSE.
If the numerous causes which have attended, within the last twenty years, the unexampled development of this country, could be analyzed, perhaps to no one would be ascribed so much impor tunce as that of railroads. North, South, East, and West, in ali portions of the country, and by all classes, their advantages are appreciated. Your Atlantic cities have dug through mountains to extend them to the West; and stretching them along your rivers and across your richest agricultural regions, the humblest proprietor has not hesitated to contribute, and has reaped a return in the greatly enhanced value of his land. So certain is this increased value of real estate along their line, that whole communities and States, looking to it as a result, have laid general taxes for their creation. In fact, it is now almost an acknowledged truth of political economy, and taxation for no other purpose is so popular.
Under these circumstances is there anything extravagant in the expectation on the part of the States that the general government should contribute, like every other proprietor within their limits, to the construction of railroads enhancing greatly the value of the public domain? The 5 per cent. upon the sales of the public lands within the States is 110w given them as a return, and in some sors acknowledgment of the benefit the lands of the government derive from the construction of ordinary roads. Is there anything so unreasonable in the call of the States upon the general government to make a similar return for the enhanced value of its land - the result of local taxation, that the humblest proprietor is made to pay—to justify the advocates of railroad grants before this House being regarded as speculators upon the public treasury, or to explain the repugnance with which some members listen even to the suggestion of such grants ?
Sir, this repugnance springs from the vice in the organization of our land system, of which I have spoken. It is neither insensibility to the justice of this claim, por a belief in the want of constitutional power, that creates this opposition with many, but an inability to decide upon interests purely local, and whose expedi. ency must depend upon circumstances and facts peculiarly liable to perversion.
THE BILL I PROPOSE TRANSFERS THE DECISION OF THESE GRANTS TO THE LEGISLATURES OF THE STATES. If the railroads seeking them deserve encouragement, and the alternate sections reserved will compensate in value for those granted, it will be best known to the legislatures of the States in which the lands lie, and through which the roads pass. The States lose nothing; deserving rail