Open main menu

Page:Register of debates in congress, v6.djvu/39

This page needs to be proofread.
31
OF DEBATES IN CONGRESS

Jan. 19, 1830.]
[Senate.
Mr. Foot's Resolution.

cumstances. The State whose interests I advocate and partly represent, has suffered too much from the delay in the sale of the public lands already, not to render this proposition of restraining them still further, a fatal one to her interest, with a population of one hundred and sixty thousand inhabitants, to bear all the charges of Government: her increase has been checked for twenty-five years: during which, according to the natural course of things, that population ought to have been at least doubled. The lands of the United States, amounting to thirty-one milCons, are not only exempt irom taxes, but the inhabitants are forced, if they wish to keep up a communication between themselves in some of the settlements, and to protect their property from inundations, to make roads, bridges, and embankments, on the public lands. A law to restrict the sales of public lands to those already surveyed, would be equivalent to a law to stop them altogether: for although, of the thirty-one millions of acres owned by the United States, two millions seven hundred thousand hare been surveyed, yet not a tenth part of that quantity has been sold, and of what remains, not a tenth part will ever sell; it is morass or pino barren. Therefore, a law to stop the surveys would be equivalent to a law to put a stop to the further increase of the State, and entailing upon its present inhabitants and their descendants, the burthen of all the taxes and all the services required for defending and improving the lands of the United States. There are two views in which the subject may be considered; that in which the pecuniary interest of the United States is alone considered—the other, that in which the infinitely more important political interest of the new States is concerned.

In the first view, considering the United States simply as a great landholder, what are its interests' To sell as speedily and for as good a price as they can; but the greater choice you give to settlers, the more speedily it is evident; that yon can sell; and the better land you throw into the market, as evidentlythe better price you can command. This can only be done by continuing your surveys. The political view of the question is one that would require an investigation not now necessary to be gone into. The strength of the Union depends on the population, wealth, resources, and industry, of the States, its component parts. Whatever cramps them, restrains the general welfare, and reduces its strength. The money to be drawn from the sale of the lands is but a feather in the scale of great national policy; and if the population of the States would be increased by disposing of them, even for nominal price, we ought not to hesitate. In another point of view, the surveys are highly important. They give us an accurate knowledge, not only of the situation, but the quality and value of our land. Its facilities for improvement by roads, canals, and proximity to market; and even if the sales were stopped, the surveys ought to go on. What great landed proprietor who does not begin by this operation? And shall the greatest of all landholders, from a fear of expense, neglect it? These are some of the advantages resulting from a perseverance in the judicious plan which has been adopted in relation to our public lands. These are some of the injurious effects which would result from abandoning it. Whatare the benefits expected from a change? I have not heard a single one suggested. My votewill be governed by these considerations.

Mr. SPRAGUE suggested the propriety of combining both the propositions before the Senate in one resolution. He said he was willing to vote for an inquiry, whether the surveys of the public lands ought, on the one hand, to be stopped, or on the other hand, whether they ought to be extended. If the gentleman would consent to adopt both propositions, he [Mr. S.] said he would support the resolution. Both objects contended for by gentlemen would be thus attained. He would therefore suggest a modification of the resolution, in the following form:

Resolved, That the Committee on the Public Lands be instructed to inquire 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 subject to entry at the minimum price. And also whether the office of Surveyor General 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.

Mr. S. said, if the gentleman from Connecticut, [Mr. Foot] and the gentleman from New Hampshire, [Mr. Woodbdht] would consent to this modification, he would now, if in order, move Has an amendment. If it was not now in order, he said he would make the motion at another time.

The PRESIDENT said the motion was not in order.

Mr. FOOT made a few observations in reply to Mr. Bkxtox and Mr. Woodbcrt. He repelled the imputation that it was through any hostile motives to the West he proposed the resolution. He said the question here involved was one of great and increasing importance and interest, and added, that if the resolution and amendment, in the modified form, were adopted, he'should move to add to the whole, the words "propriety of making donations to actual settlers."

On the motion of Mr. SMITH, of Maryland, a division of the question was ordered.

Mr. HAYNE said that, if the gentlemen who had discussed this proposition had confined themselves strictly to the resolution under consideration, he would have spared the Senate the trouble of listening to the few remarks he now proposed to offer. It has been said, and correctly said, by more than one gentleman, that resolutions of inquiry were usually suffered to pass without opposition. The parliamentary practice in this respect was certainly founded in good sense and sound policy, which regarded such resolutions as intended merely to elicit information, and therefore entitled to favor. But [said Mr. H.] I cannot give my assent to the proposition so broadly laid down by some gentlemen, that, because nobody stands committed by a vote for inquiry, that, therefore, every resolution proposing an inquiry, no matter on what subject, must pass almost as a matter of course, and that, to discuss or oppose such resolutions, is unparliamentary. The true distinction seems to be this: Where information is desired as the basis of legislation, or where the policy of any measure, or the principles it involves, are really questionable, it was always proper to send the subject to a committee for investigation; but where all the material facts are already known, and there is a fixed and settled opinion in respect to the policy to be pursued, inquiry was unnecessary, and ought to be refused. No one, he thought, could doubt the correctness of the position assumed by the gentleman from Missouri, that no inquiry ought ever to be instituted as to the expediency of doing “a great and acknowledged wrong.” I do not mean, however, to intimate an opinion that such is the character of this resolution. The application of these rules to the case before us will decide my vote, and every Senator can apply them for himself to the decision of the question, whether the inquiry now called for should be granted or refused. With that decision, whatever it may be, I shall be content.

I have not risen, however, Mr. President, for the purpose of discussing the propriety of instituting the inquiry recommended by the resolution, but to offer a few remarks on another and much more important question, to which gentlemen have alluded in the course of this debate—I mean the policy which ought to be pursued in relation to the public lands. Every gentleman who has had a seat in Congress for the last two or three years, or even for the last two or three weeks, must be convinced of the great and growing importance of this question. More than half of our time has been taken up with the discussion of