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Mr. Webster observed, in reply, that
“The gentleman from South Carolina had mistaken him, if he supposed that it was his wish so to hasten the sales of the public lands, as to throw them into the hands of purchasers who would sell again. His idea only went as far as this : that the price should be fixed so low as not to prevent the settlement of the lands, yet not so low as to allow speculators to purchase. Mr. Webster observed, that he could not at all concur with the gentleman from South Carolina, in wishing to restrain the laboring classes of population in the Eastern States from going to any part of our territory where they could better their condition ; nor did he suppose that such an idea was anywhere entertained. The observations of the gentleman had opened to him new views of policy on this subject, and he thought he now could perceive why some of our States continued to have such bad roads; it must be for the purpose of preventing people from going out of them. The gentleman from South Carolina supposes, that, if our population had been confined to the old thirteen States, the aggregate wealth of the country would have been greater than it now is. But, Sir, it is an error, that the increase of the aggregate of the national wealth is the object chiefly to be pursued by government. The distribution of the national wealth is an object quite as important as its increase. He was not surprised that the old States not increasing in population so fast as was expected, (for he believed nothing like a decrease was pretended,) should be an idea by no means agreeable to gentlemen from those States. We are all reluctant to submit to the loss of relative importance; but this was nothing more than the natural condition of a country densely peopled in one part, and possessing in another a vast tract of unsettled lands. The plan of the gentleman went to reverse the order of nature, vainly expecting to retain men within a small and comparatively unproductive territory, 'who have all the world before them where to choose.' For his own part, he was in favor of letting population take its own course ; he should expe. rience no feeling of mortification if any of his constituents liked better to settle on the Kansas or Arkansas, or elsewhere within our territory; let them go, and be happier if they could. The gentleman says, our aggregate of wealth would have been greater if our population had been restrained within the limits of the old States; but does he not consider population to be wealth? And has not this been increased by the settlement of a new and fertile country ? Such a country presents the most alluring of all prospects to a young and laboring man; it gives him a freehold, it offers to him weight and respectability in society; and above all, it presents to him a prospect of a permanent provision for his chil. dren. Sir, these are inducements which never were resisted, and never
will be ; and, were the whole extent of country filled with population up to the Rocky Mountains, these inducements would carry that population forward to the shores of the Pacific Ocean. Sir, it is in vain to talk ; individuals will seek their own good, and not any artificial aggregate of the national wealth. A young enterprising and hardy agriculturist can conceive of nothing better to him than plenty of good, cheap land."
Sir, with the reading of these extracts I leave the subject. The Senate will bear me witness that I am not accustomed to allude to local opinions, nor to compare or contrast different portions of the country. I have often suffered things to pass without any observation, which I might properly enough have considered as deserving remark. But I have felt it my duty, on this occasion, to vindicate the State I represent from charges and imputations on her public character and conduct, which I know to be undeserved and unfounded. If advanced elsewhere, they might be passed, perhaps, without notice. But whatever is said here is supposed to be entitled to public regard, and to deserve public attention; it derives importance and dignity from the place where it is uttered. As a true representative of the State which has sent me here, it is my duty, and a duty which I shall fulfil, to place her history and her conduct, her honor and her character, in their just and proper light, so often as I think an attack is made upon her, so respectable as to deserve to be repelled.
FIRST SPEECH ON FOOT'S RESOLUTION.*
On the 29th of December, 1829, a resolution was moved by Mr. Foot, one of the Senators from Connecticut, which, after the addition of the last clause by amendment, stood as follows:
" Resolved, That the Committee on Public Lands be instructed to inquire and report the quantity of public lands remaining unsold within each State and Territory. And whether it be expedient to limit for a certain period the sales of the public lands to such lands only as have heretofore been offered for sale and are now subject to entry at the minimum price. And, also, whether the office of Surveyor-General, and some of the land offices, may not be abolished without detriment to the public interest; or whether it be expedient to adopt measures to hasten the sales and extend more rapidly the surveys of the public lands."
On the 18th of January, Mr. Benton of Missouri addressed the Senate on the subject of this resolution. On the 19th, Mr. Hayne of South Carolina spoke at considerable length. After he had concluded, Mr. Webster rose to reply, but gave way on motion of Mr. Benton for an adjournment.
On the 20th, Mr. Webster spoke as follows:
Nothing has been farther from my intention than to take any part in the discussion of this resolution. It proposes only an inquiry on a subject of much importance, and one in regard to which it might strike the mind of the mover and of other gentlemen that inquiry and investigation would be useful. Although I am one of those who do not perceive any particular utility in instituting the inquiry, I have, nevertheless, not seen that harm would be likely to result from adopting the resolution. Indeed, it gives no new powers, and hardly imposes any new duty on
* Delivered in the Senate of the United States, on the 20th of January, 1830.
the committee. All that the resolution proposes should be done, the committee is quite competent, without the resolution, to do by virtue of its ordinary powers. But, Sir, although I have felt quite indifferent about the passing of the resolution, yet opinions were expressed yesterday on the general subject of the public lands, and on some other subjects, by the gentleman from South Carolina, so widely different from my own, that I am not willing to let the occasion pass without some reply. If I deemed the resolution as originally proposed hardly necessary, still less do I think it either necessary or expedient to adopt it, since a second branch has been added to it to-day. By this second branch, the committee is to be instructed to inquire whether it be expedient to adopt measures to hasten the sales, and extend more rapidly the surveys of the public lands.
Now it appears, Mr. President, that, in forty years, we have sold no more than about twenty millions of acres of public lands. The annual sales do not now exceed, and never have exceeded, one million of acres. A million a year is, according to our experience, as much as the increase of population can bring into settlement. And it appears, also, that we have, at this moment, surveyed and in the market, ready for sale, two hundred and ten millions of acres, or thereabouts. All this vast mass, at this moment, lies on our hands for mere want of purchasers. Can any man, looking to the real interests of the country and the people, seriously think of inquiring whether we ought not to hasten the public surveys still faster, and to bring, still more and more rapidly, other vast quantities into the market? The truth is, that, rapidly as population has increased, the surveys have, nevertheless, outrun our wants. There are more lands than purchasers. They are now sold at low prices, and taken up as fast as the increase of people furnishes hands to take them up. It is obvious, that no artificial regulation, no forcing of sales, no giving away of the lands even, can produce any great and sudden augmentation of population. The ratio of increase, though great, has its bounds. Hands for labor are multiplied only at a certain rate. The lands cannot be settled but by settlers, nor faster than settlers can be found. A system, if now adopted, of forcing sales, at whatever prices, may have the effect of throwing large quantities into the hands of individuals, who would in this way, in time, become themselves com.
petitors with the government in the sale of land. My own opinion has uniformly been, that the public lands should be offered freely, and at low prices; so as to encourage settlement and cultivation as rapidly as the increasing population of the country is competent to extend settlement and cultivation. ery actual settler should be able to buy good land, at a cheap rate; but, on the other hand, speculation by individuals on a large scale should not be encouraged, nor should the value of all lands, sold and unsold, be reduced to nothing, by throwing new and vast quantities into the market at prices merely nominal.
I now proceed, Sir, to some of the opinions expressed by the gentleman from South Carolina. Two or three topics were touched by him, in regard to which he expressed sentiments in which I do not at all concur.
In the first place, Sir, the honorable gentleman spoke of the whole course and policy of the government towards those who have purchased and settled the public lands, and seemed to think this policy wrong. He held it to have been, from the first, hard and rigorous; he was of opinion, that the United States had acted towards those who had subdued the Western wilderness in the spirit of a step-mother; that the public domain had been improperly regarded as a source of revenue; and that we had rigidly compelled payment for that which ought to have been given away. He said we ought to have imitated the example of other governments, which had acted on a much more liberal system than ours, in planting colonies. He dwelt, particularly, upon the settlement of America by colonies from Europe; and reminded us, that their governments had not exacted from those colonies payment for the soil. In reference to them, he said, it had been thought that the conquest of the wilderness was itself an equivalent for the soil, and he lamented that we had not followed that example, and pursued the same liberal course towards our own emigrants to the West.
Now, Sir, I deny, altogether, that there has been any thing harsh or severe in the policy of the government towards the new States of the West. On the contrary, I maintain that it has uniformly pursued towards those States a liberal and enlightened system, such as its own duty allowed and required, and such as their interest and welfare demanded. The government