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But, sir, to return to the remarks of the honorable member from South Carolina. He says that Congress has sold these lands, and put the money into the treasury, while other governments, acting in a more liberal spirit, gave away their lands; and that we ought, also, to have given ours away. I shall not stop to state an account between our revenues derived from land, and our expenditures in Indian treaties and Indian wars. But, I must refer the honorable gentleman to the origin of our own title to the soil of these territories, and remind him that we received them on conditions, and under trusts, which would have been violated by giving the soil away. For compliance with those conditions, and the just execution of those trusts, the public faith was solemnly pledged. The public lands of the United States have been derived from four principal sources. First, cessions made to the United States by individual states, on the recommendation or request of the old Congress. Second. The compact with Georgia, in 1802. Third. The purchase of Louisiana in 1803. Fourth. The purchase of Florida, in 1819. Of the first class, the most important was the cession by Virginia, of all her right and title, as well of soil as jurisdiction, to all the territory within the limits of her charter, lying to the northwest of the river Ohio. It may not be ill timed to recur to the causes and occasions of this and the other similar grants.
When the war of the revolution broke out, a great difference existed in different states, in the proportion between people and territory. The northern and eastern states, with very small surfaces, contained comparatively a thick population, and there was generally within their limits, no great quantity of waste lands belonging to the government, or the crown of England. On the contrary, there were in the southern states, in Virginia and in Georgia for example, extensive public domains, wholly unsettled, and belonging to the crown. As these possessions would necessarily fall from the crown, in the event of a prosperous issue of the war, it was insisted that they ought to devolve on the United States, for the good of the whole. The war, it was argued, was undertaken and carried on at the common expense of all the colonies; its benefits, if successful, ought also to be common; and the property of the common enemy, when vanquished, ought to be regarded as the general acquisition of all. While yet the war was raging, it was contended that Congress ought to have the power to dispose of vacant and unpatented lands, commonly called crown lands, for defraying the expenses of the war, and for other public and general purposes. “Reason and Justice," said the Assembly of New Jersey, in 1778, “must decide, that the property which existed in the crown of Great Britain, previous to the present revolution, ought now to belong to the Congress, in trust for the use and benefit of the United States. They have fought and bled for it, in proportion to their respective abilities, and therefore the reward ought not to be predilectionally distributed. Shall such states as are shut out, by situation, from availing themselves of the least advantage from this quarter, be left to sink under an enormous debt, whilst others are enabled, in a short period, to replace all their expenditures from the hard earnings of the whole confederacy?"
Moved by these considerations, and these addresses made it, Congress took up the subject, and in September, 1780, recommended to the several states in the union, having claims to western territory, to make liberal cessions of a portion thereof to the United States; and on the 10th of October, 1780, Congress resolved, that any lands, so ceded in pursuance of their preceding recommendation, should be disposed of for the common benefit of the United States; should be settled and formed into distinct republican states, to become members of the Federal union, with the same rights of sovereignty, freedom and independence as the other states; and that the lands should be granted, or settled, at such times, and under such regulations, as should be agreed on by Congress. Again in September 1783, Congress passed another resolution, expressing the conditions on which cessions from states should be received; and in October following, Virginia made her cession, reciting the resolution, or act, of September preceding, and then transferring her title to her northwestern territory to the United States, upon the express condition, that the lands, so ceded, should be considered as a common fund for the use and benefit of such of the United States as had become or should become members of the confederation, Virginia inclusive, and should be faithfully and bona fide disposed of for that purpose, and for no other use or purpose whatever. The grants from other states were on similar conditions. Massachusetts and Connecticut both had claims to western lands, and both relinquished them to the United States in the same manner. These grants were all made on three substantial conditions or trusts. First, that the ceded territories should be formed into states, and admitted in due time into the union, with all the rights belonging to other states. Second, that the lands should form a common fund to be disposed of for the general benefit of all the states. Third, that they should be sold and settled, at such time and in such manner as Congress should direct.
Now, sir, it is plain that Congress never has been, and is not now, at liberty to disregard these solemn conditions. For the fulfilment of all these trusts, the public faith was, and is, fully pledged. How, then, would it have been possible for Congress, if it had been so disposed, to give away these public lands? How could they have followed the example of other governments, if there had been such, and considered the conquest of the wilderness an equivalent compensation for the soil?—The states had looked to this territory, perhaps too sanguinely, as a fund out of which means were to come to defray the expenses of the war. It had been received as a fund; as a fund Congress had bound itself to apply it. To have given it away, would have defeated all the objects which Congress, and particular states, had had in view, in asking and obtaining the cession, and would have plainly violated the conditions, which the ceding states attached to their own grants.
The gentleman admits, that the lands cannot be given away until the national debt is paid; because, to a part of that debt they stand pledged. But this is not the original pledge. There is, so to speak, an earlier mortgage. Before the debt was funded, at the moment of the cession of the lands, and by the very terms of that cession, every state in the union obtained an interest in them, as in a common fund. Congress has uniformly adhered to this condition. It has proceeded to sell the lands, and to realize as much from them, as was compatible with the other trusts created by the same deeds of cession. One of these deeds of trust, as I have already said, was, that the lands should be sold and settled, at such time or manner as Congress shall direct. The government has always felt itself bound, in regard to sale and settlement, to exercise its own best judgment, and not to transfer the discretion to others. It has not felt itself at liberty to dispose of the soil, therefore, in large masses, to individuals, thus leaving to them the time and manner of settlement. It had stipulated to use its own judgment. If, for instance, in order to rid itself of the trouble of forming a system for the sale of those lands, and going into detail, it had sold the whole of what is now Ohio, in one mass, to individuals, or companies, it would clearly have departed from its just obligations. And who can now tell, or conjecture, how great would have been the evil of such a course? Who can say, what mischiefs would have ensued, if Congress had thrown these territories into the hands of private speculation? Or who, on the other hand, can now foresee, what the event would be, should the government depart from the same wise course hereafter; and, not content with such constant absorption of the public lands as the natural growth of our population may accomplish, should force great portions of them, at nominal or very low prices, into private hands, to be sold and settled, as and when such holders might think would be most for their own interests? Hitherto, sir, I maintain, Congress has acted wisely, and done its duty on this subject. I hope it will continue to do it.-Departing from the original idea, so soon as it was found practicable and convenient, of selling by townships, Congress has disposed of the soil in smaller and still smaller portions, till, at length, it sells in parcels of no more than eighty acres; thus putting it into the power of every man in the country, however poor, but who has health and strength, to become a freeholder if he desires, not of barren acres, but of rich and fertile soil. The government has performed all the conditions of the grant.-While it has regarded the public lands as a common fund, and has sought to make what reasonably could be made of them, as a source of revenue, it has also applied its best wisdom to sell and settle them, as fast and as happily as possible; and whensoever numbers would warrant it, each territory has been successively admitted into the union, with all the rights of an independent state.
Is there then, sir, I ask, any well founded charge of hard dealing; any just accusation for negligence, indifference, or parsimony, which is capable of being sustained against the government of the country, in its conduct, towards the new states? Sir, I think there is not.
But there was another observation of the honorable member, which, I confess, did not a little surprise me. As a reason for wishing to get rid of the public lands as soon as we could, and as we might, the honorable gentleman said, he wanted no permanent sources of income. He wished to see the time when the government should not possess a shilling of permanent revenue. If he could speak a magical word, and by that word convert the whole capitol 'into gold, the word should not be spoken. The administration of a fixed revenue, he said, only consolidates the government, and corrupts the people! Sir, I confess I heard these sentiments uttered on this floor, not without deep regret and pain.
I am aware that these, and similar opinions, are espoused by certain persons out of the capitol, and out of this government; but I did not expect so soon to find them here. Consolidation!—that perpetual cry, both of terror and delusion-Consolidation! Sir, when gentlemen speak of the effects of a common fund, belonging to all the states, as having a tendency to consolidation, what do they mean? Do they mean, or can they mean, anything more than that the union of the states will be strengthened, by whatever continues or furnishes inducements to the people of the states to hold together? If they mean merely this, then, no doubt, the public lands as well as everything else in which we have a common interest, tends to consolidation; and to this species of consolidation every true American ought to be attached; it is neither more nor less than strengthening the union itself. This is the sense in which the framers of the constitution use the word consolidation; and in which sense I adopt and cherish it. They tell us, in the letter submitting the constitution to the consideration of the country, that “In all our deliberations on this subject, we kept steadily in our view that which appears to us the greatest interest of every true American, the consolidation of our union, in which is involved our prosperity, felicity, safety, perhaps our national existence. This important consideration, seriously and deeply impressed on our minds, led each state in the convention to be less rigid on points of inferior magoitude, than might have been otherwise expected.”
This, sir, is Gen. Washington's consolidation. This is the true constitutional consolidation. I wish to see no new powers drawn to the general government; but I confess I rejoice in whatever tends to strengthen the bond that unites us, and encourages the hope that our union may be perpetual. And, therefore, I cannot but feel regret at the expression of such opinions as the gentleman has avowed; because I think their obvious tendency is to weaken the bond of our connexion. I know that there are some persons in the part of the country from which the honorable member comes, who habitually speak of the union in terms of indifference, or even of disparagement. The honorable member himself is not, I trust, and can never be, one of these. They significantly declare, that it is time to calculate the value of the union; and their aim seems to be to enumerate, and to magnify all the evils, real and imaginary, which the government under the union produces.
The tendency of all these ideas and sentiments is obviously to bring the union into discussion, as a mere question of present and temporary expediency-nothing more than a mere matter of profit and loss. The union is to be preserved, while it suits local and temporary purposes to preserve it; and to be sundered whenever it shall be found to thwart such purposes. Union, of itself, is considered by the disciples of this school as hardly a good. It is only regarded as a possible means of good; or, on the other hand, as a possible means of evil. They cherish no deep and fixed regard for it, flowing from a thorough conviction of its absolute and vital necessity to our welfare. Sir, I deprecate and deplore this tone of thinking and acting. I deem far' otherwise of the union of the states; and so did the framers of the constitution themselves. What they said I believe; fully and sincerely believe, that the union of the states is essential to the prosperity and safety of the states. I am a unionist, and in this sense, a national republican. I would strengthen the ties that hold us together. Far, indeed, in my wishes, very far distant be the day,when our associated and fraternal stripes shall be severed asunder, and when that happy constellation under which we have risen to so much renown, shall be broken up, and be seen sinking, star after star, into obscurity and night !
Among other things, the honorable member spoke of the public debt. To that he holds the public lands pledged, and has expressed his usual earnestness for its total discharge. Sir, I have always voted for every measure for reducing the debt, since I have been in Congress. I wished it paid because it is a debt; and, so far, is a charge upon the industry of the country, and the finances of the government. But, sir, I have observed, that, whenever the subject of the public debt is introduced into the Senate, a morbid sort of fervor is manifested in regard to it, which I have been sometimes at a loss to understand. The debt is not now large, and is in a course of most rapid reduction. A very few years will see it extinguished.--Now I am not entirely able to persuade myself that it is not certain supposed incidental tendencies and effects of this debt, rather than its pressure and charge as a debt, that cause so much anxiety to get rid of it. Possibly it may be regarded as in some degree a tie, holding the different parts of the country together, by considerations of mutual interest. If this be one of its effects, the effect itself is, in my opinion, not to be lamented. Let me not be misunderstood. I would not continue the debt for the sake of any collateral or consequential advantage, such as I have mentioned. I only mean to say, that that consequence itself is not one that I regret. At the same time; that if there are others who would, or who do regret it, I differ from them.
As I have already remarked, sir, it was one among the reasons assigned by the honorable member for his wish to be rid of the public lands altogether, that the public disposition of them, and the revenues derived from them, tend to corrupt the people. This, sir, I confess, passes my comprehension. These lands are sold at public auction, or taken up at fixed prices, to form farms and freeholds. Whom does this corrupt? According to the system of sales, a fixed proportion is everywhere reserved, as a fund for education. Does education corrupt? Is the schoolmaster a corrupter of youth? the spelling book, does it break down the morals of the rising generation? and the Holy Scriptures, are they fountains of corruption? Or if, in the exercise of a provident liberality, in regard to its own property as a great landed proprietor, and to high purposes of utility towards others, the government gives portions of these lands to the making of a canal, or the opening of a road, in the country where the lands themselves are situated, what alarming and overwhelming corruption follows from all this? Can there be nothing pure in gorernment, except the exercise of mere control? Can nothing be done