Page images
PDF
EPUB

Speech in Congress.

Internal Improvements.

President's Position Repudiated.

In this view,

Constitutional argument, or, perhaps, any argument at all, when he sball veto a river or barbor bill. He will consider it a sufficient answer to all Democratic murmurs, to point to Mr. Polk's message, and to the “Democratic platform." This being the case, the question of improvements is verging to a final crisis; and the friends of the policy must now battle, and battle manfully, or surrender all. humble as I am, I wish to review, and contest as well as I may, the general positions of this veto message. When I say general positions, I mean to exclude from consideration so much as relates to the present embarrassed state of the Treasury, in consequence of the Mexican war.

“Those general positions are: That internal improvements ought not to be made by the General Government:

“1. Because they would overwhelm the treasury

“ 2. Because, while their burdens would be general, their benefits would be local and partial, involving an obnoxious inequality ;

"3. Because they would be unconstitutional;

4. Because the States may do enough by the levy and collection of tonnage duties; or, if not,

“5. That the Constitution may be amended.

“Do nothing at all, lest you do something wrong,' is the sum of these positions—is the sum of this message; and this, with the exception of what is said about Constitutionality, applying as forcibly to making improvements by State authority as by the national authority. So that we must abandon the improvements of the country altogether, by any and every authority, or we must resist and repudiate the doctrines of this message. Let us attempt the latter.

“The first position is, that a system of internal improvement would overwhelm the treasury.

“That, in such a system, there is a tendency to undue ex. pansion, is not to be denied. Such tendency is founded in the nature of the subject. A member of Congress will prefer

Speech in Congress.

President's Position Repudiated.

[ocr errors]

voting for a bill which contains an appropriation for bis district, to voting for one which does not; and when a bill shall be expanded till every district shall be provided for, that it will be too greatly expanded is obvious. But is this any more true in Congress than in a State Legislature? If a member of Congress must have an appropriation for his district, so a member of a Legislature must have one for his county; and if one will overwhelm the national treasury, so the other will overwhelm the State treasury. Go where we will, the difficulty is the same. Allow it to drive us from the halls of Congress, and it will just as easily drive us from the State Legislatures. Let us, then, grapple with it, and test its strength. Let us, judging of the future by the past, ascertain whether there may not be, in the discretion of Congress, a sufficient power to limit and restrain this expansive tendency within reasonable and proper bounds. The President bimself values the evidence of the past. He tells us that at a certain point of our history, more than two hundred millions of dollars had been applied for, to make improvements, and this he does to prove that the treasury would be overwhelmed by such a system. Why did he not tell us how much was granted? Would not that have been better evidence ? Let us turn to it, and see what it proves. In the message, the President tells us that during the four succeeding years, embraced by the administration of Presi dent Adams, the power not only to appropriate money, but to apply it, under the direction and authority of the General (overnment, as well to the construction of roads as to the improvement of harbors and rivers, was fully asserted and exercised.'

This, then, was the period of greatest enormity. These, if any, must have been the days of the two hundred millions. And how much do you suppose was really expended for improvements during those four years ? Two hundred millions : One hundred ? Fifty ? Ten ? Five ? No, sir, less than two

Speech in Congress.

Internal Improvements.

The navy,

millions. As shown by authentic documents, the expendi. tures on improvements during 1825, 1826, 1827 and 1828, amounted to $1.879,627 01. These four years were the period of Mr. Adams' administration, nearly, and substantially This fact shows that wben the power to make improvements was 'fully asserted and exercised,' the Congress did keep within reasonable limits; and what has been done it seems to me, can be done again.

"Now for the second position of the message, namely, that the burdens of improvements would be general, while their benefits would be local and partial, involving an obnoxious inequality. That there is some degree of truth in this position I shall not deny. No commercial object of Government patronage can be so exclusively general, as not to be of some peculiar local advantage; but on the other hand, nothing is so local as not to be of some general advantage. as I understand it, was established, and is maintained, at a great annual expense, partly to be ready for war, when war shall come, but partly also, and perhaps chiefly, for the protection of our commerce on the high seas. This latter object is, for all I can see, in principle, the same as internal improvements. The driving a pirate from the track of commerce on the broad ocean, and the removing a snag from its more Larrow path in the Mississippi river, can not, I think, be distinguished in principle. Each is done to save life and property, and for nothing else. The navy, then, is the most general in its benefits of all this class of objects; and yet even the navy is of some peculiar advantage to Charleston, Baltimore, Philadelphia, New York and Boston, beyond what it is to the interior towns of Illinois. The next most general object I can think of, would be improvements on the Mississippi river and its tributaries. Tbey touch thirteen of our States—Pennsylvania, Virginia, Kentucky, Tennessee, Mis sissippi, Louisiana, Arkansas, Missouri, Illinois, Indiana, Ohio, Wisconsin, and Iowa. Now, I suppose it will not be

Speech in Congress.

Internal Improvements.

Compensation in Inequalites

denied, that these thirteen States are a little more interested in improvements on that great river than are the remaining seventeen. These instances of the navy, and the Mississippi river show clearly that there is something of local advantage in the most general objects. But the converse is also true. Nothing is so local as not to be of some general benefit. Take, for instance, the Illinois and Michigan canal. Considered apart from its effects, it is perfectly local. Every inch of it is within the State of Illinois. That canal was first opened for business last April. In a very few days we were all gratified to learn, among other things, that sugar bad been carried from New Orleans, through the canal, to Buffalo, in New York. This sugar took this route, doubtless, because it was cheaper than the old route. Supposing the benefit in the reduction of the cost of carriage to be shared between seller and buyer, the result is, that the New Orleans merchant sold his sugar a little dearer, and the people of Buffalo sweetened their coffee a little cheaper than before; a benefit resulting from the canal, not to Illinois, where the canal is, but to Louisiana and New York, where the canal is not. In other transactions Illinois will, of course, have her share, and perhaps the larger share too, in the benefits of the canal ; but the instance of the sugar clearly shows that the benefits of an improvement are by no means confined to the particular locality of the improvement itself.

The just conclusion from all this is, that if the nation refuse to make improvements of the more general kind, because their benefits may be somewhat local, a State may, for the same reason, refuse to make an improvement of a local kind, because its benefits may be somewhat general. A State may well say to the Nation : ' If you will do nothing for me, I will do nothing for you.' Thus it is seen, that if this argument of inequality' is sufficient anywhere, it is sufficient everywhere, and puts an end to improvements altogether. I hope and believe, that if both the Nation and the States

Speech in Congress.

Internal Improvements.

Coal better than Abstractions.

would, in faith, in their respective spheres, do what they could in the way of improvements, what of inequality might be produced in one place might be compensated in another, and that the sum of the whole might not be very unequal. But suppose, after all, there should be some degree of inequality : inequality is certainly never to be embraced for its own sake; but is every good thing to be discarded which may be inseparably connected with some degree of it? If so, we must discard all government. This Capitol is built at the public expense, for the public benefit; but does any one doubt that it is of some peculiar local advantage to the property holders and business people of Washington ? Shall we remove it for this reason ? And if so, where shall we set it down, and be free from the difficulty ? To make sure of our object shall we locate it nowhere, and leave Congress hereafter to hold its sessions as the loafer lodged, 'in spots about ?' I make no special allusion to the present President when I say, there are few stronger cases in this world of burden to the many, and benefit to the few'—of inequality' -than the Presidency itself is by some thought to be. An honest laborer digs coal at about seventy cents a day, while the President digs abstractions at about seventy dollars a day. The coal is clearly worth more than the abstractions, and yet what a monstrous inequality in the prices! Does the President, for this reason, propose to abolish the Presidency? He does not, and he ought not. The true rule, in determining to embrace or reject any thing, is not whether it have any evil in it, but whether it have more of evil than of good. There are few things wholly evil or wholly good. almost every thing, especially of government policy, is an inseparable compound of the two; so that our best judgment of the preponderance between them is continually demanded. On this principle, the President, his friends, and the world generally, act on most subjects. Why not apply it, then,

« PreviousContinue »