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JAMES PROCTOR KNOTT
THE GLORIES OF DULUTH
[Remarks by J. Proctor Knott, Member of Congress, 1867-1883, dean of the law faculty of Centre College, Danville, Ky., since 1894 (born in Washington, now Marion, County, Kentucky, August 29, 1830; ), delivered in the House of Representatives, January 27, 1871, on the St. Croix and Bayfield Railroad Bill.]
MR. SPEAKER:—If I could be actuated by any conceivable inducement to betray the sacred trust reposed in me by those to whose generous confidence I am indebted for the honor of a seat on this floor; if I could be influenced by any possible consideration to become instrumental in giving away, in violation of their known wishes, any portion of their interest in the public domain for the mere promotion of any railroad enterprise whatever, I should certainly feel a strong inclination to give this measure my most earnest and hearty support; for I am assured that its success would materially enhance the pecuniary prosperity of some of the most valued friends I have on earth —friends for whose accommodation I would be willing to make almost any sacrifice not involving my personal honor, or my fidelity as the trustee of an express trust. And that fact of itself would be sufficient to countervail almost any objection I might entertain to the passage of this bill, not inspired by an imperative and inexorable sense of public duty.
But, independent of the seductive influences of private friendship, to which I admit I am, perhaps, as susceptible as any of the gentlemen I see around me, the intrinsic merits of the measure itself are of such an extraordinary character as to commend it most strongly to the favorable consideration of every member of this House—ayself not excepted—notwithstanding my constituents, in whose behalf alone I am acting here, would not be benefited by its passage one particle more than they would be by a project to cultivate an orange grove on the bleakest summit of Greenland's icy mountains. Now, sir, as to those great trunk lines of railway, spanning the continent from ocean to ocean, I confess my mind has never been fully made up. It is true they may afford some trifling advantages to local traffic, and they may even in time become the channels of a more extended commerce. Yet I have never been thoroughly satisfied either of the necessity or expediency of projects promising such meagre results to the great body of our people. But with regard to the transcendent merits of the gigantic enterprise contemplated in this bill I never entertained the shadow of a doubt. Years ago, when I first heard there was somewhere in the vast terra incognita, somewhere in the bleak regions of the great Northwest, a stream of water known to the nomadic inhabitants of the neighborhood as the River St. Croix, I became satisfied that the construction of a railroad from that raging torrent to some point in the civilized world was essential to the happiness and prosperity of the American people, if not absolutely indispensable to the perpetuity of republican institutions on this continent. I felt instinctively that the boundless resources of that prolific region of sand and pine shrubbery would never be fully developed without a railroad constructed and equipped at the expense of the Government—and perhaps not then. I had an abiding presentiment that some day or other the people of this whole country, irrespective of party affiliations, regardless of sectional prejudices, and “without distinction of race, color, or previous condition of servitude,” would rise in their majesty and demand an outlet for the enormous agricultural productions of those vast and fertile pine barrens, drained in the rainy season by the surging waters of the turbid St. Croix. These impressions, derived simply and solely from the “eternal fitness of things,” were not only strengthened by the interesting and eloquent debate on this bill, to which I listened with so much pleasure the other day, but intensified, if possible, as I read over this morning the lively colloquy which took place on that occasion, as I find it reported in last Friday's “Globe.” I will ask the indulgence of the House while I read a few short passages, which are sufficient, in my judgment, to place the merits of the great enterprise contemplated in the measure now under discussion beyond all possible controversy.
The honorable gentleman from Minnesota [Mr. Wilson], who, I believe, is managing this bill, in speaking of the character of the country through which this railroad is to pass, says this:—
“We want to have the timber brought to us as cheaply as possible. Now, if you tie up the lands in this way so that no title can be obtained to them—for no settler will go on these lands, for he cannot make a living—you deprive us of the benefit of that timber.”
Now, sir, I would not have it by any means inferred from this that the gentleman from Minnesota would insinuate that the people out in his section desire this timber merely for the purpose of fencing up their farms so that their stock may not wander off and die of starvation among the bleak hills of the St. Croix. I read it for no such purpose, sir, and make no such comment on it myself. In corroboration of this statement of the gentleman from Minnesota, I find this testimony given by the honorable gentleman from Wisconsin [Mr. Washburn]. Speaking of these same lands he says:–
“Under the bill, as amended by my friend from Minnesota, ninetenths of the land is open to actual settlers at $2.50 per acre; the remaining one-tenth is pine-timbered land that is not fit for settlement, and never will be settled upon; but the timber will be cut off. I admit that it is the most valuable portion of the grant, for most of the grant is not valuable. It is quite valueless; and if you put in this amendment of the gentleman from Indiana you may as well just kill the bill, for no man and no company will take the grant and build the road.”
I simply pause here to ask some gentleman better versed in the science of mathematics than I am to tell me if the timbered lands are in fact the most valuable portion of that section of the country, and they would be entirely valueless without the timber that is on them, what the remainder of the land is worth which has no timber on it at all. But further on I find a most entertaining and instructive interchange of views between the gentleman from Arkansas [Mr. Rogers], the gentleman from Wisconsin [Mr. Washburn], and the gentleman from Maine [Mr. Peters], upon the subject of pine lands generally, which I will tax the patience of the House to read:—
Mr. Rogers—Will the gentleman allow me to ask him a question? Mr. Washburn, of Wisconsin—Certainly. Mr. Rogers—Are these pine lands entirely worthless except for timber? Mr. Washburn, of Wisconsin–They are generally worthless for any other purpose. I am perfectly familiar with that subject. These lands are not valuable for purposes of settlement. Mr. Farnsworth—They will be after the timber is taken off. Mr. Washburn, of Wisconsin–No, sir. Mr. Rogers—I want to know the character of these pine lands. Mr. Washburn, of Wisconsin–They are generally sandy, barren lands. My friend from the Green Bay district [Mr. Sawyer] is himself perfectly familiar with this question, and he will bear me out in what I say, that these pine-timber lands are not adapted to settlement. Mr. Rogers—The pine lands to which I am accustomed are generally very good. What I want to know is, what is the difference between our pine lands and your pine lands. Mr. Washburn, of Wisconsin–The pine timber of Wisconsin generally grows upon barren, sandy land. The gentleman from Maine [Mr. Peters], who is familiar with pine lands, will, I have no doubt, say that pine timber grows generally upon the most barren lands. Mr. Peters—As a general thing, pine lands are not worth much for cultivation.
And further on I find this pregnant question, the joint production of the two gentlemen from Wisconsin:
Mr. Paine—Does my friend from Indiana suppose that in any event settlers will occupy and cultivate these pine lands? Mr. Washburn, of Wisconsin–Particularly without a railroad?
Yes, sir, “particularly without a railroad.” It will be asked after awhile, I am afraid, if settlers will go anywhere unless the Government builds a railroad for them to go On.
I desire to call attention to only one more statement, which I think sufficient to settle the question. It is one made by the gentleman from Wisconsin [Mr. Paine], who says:—
“These lands will be abandoned for the present. It may be that at some remote period there will spring up in that region a new kind of agriculture which will cause a demand for these particular lands; and they may then come into use and be valuable for agricultural purposes. But I know, and I cannot help thinking that my friend from Indiana understands that for the present, and for many years to come, these pine lands can have no possible value other than that arising from the pine timber which stands on them.”
Now, sir, who, after listening to this emphatic and unequivocal testimony of these intelligent, competent, and able-bodied witnesses, who that is not as incredulous as St. Thomas himself will doubt for a moment that the Goshen of America is to be found in the sandy valleys and upon the pine-clad hills of the St. Croix 2 Who will have the hardihood to rise in his seat on this floor and assert that, excepting the pine bushes, the entire region would not produce vegetation enough in ten years to fatten a grasshopper? Where is the patriot who is willing that his country shall incur the peril of remaining another day without the amplest railroad connection with such an inexhaustible mine of agricultural wealth? Who will answer for the consequences of abandoning a great and warlike people, in possession of a country like that, to brood over the indifference and neglect of their Government? How long would it be before they would take to studying the Declaration of Independence and hatching out the damnable heresy of Secession? How long before the grim demon of civil discord would rear again his horrid head in our midst, “gnash loud his iron fangs and shake his crest of bristling bayonets”?
Then, sir, think of the long and painful process of recon. struction that must follow, with its concomitant amendments to the Constitution: the seventeenth, eighteenth, and nineteenth articles. The sixteenth, it is of course understood, is to be appropriated to those blushing damsels who are, day after day, beseeching us to let them vote, hold office, drink cocktails, ride a-straddle, and do everything else the men do. But above all, sir, let m