Page:Register of debates in congress, v6.djvu/40

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

propositions connected with the public lands; more than half of our acts embrace provisions growing out of this fruitful source. Day after day the changes are rung on this topic, from the grave inquiry into the right of the new States to the absolute sovereignty and property in the soil, down to the grant of a pre-emption of a few quarter sections to actual settlers. In the language of a great orator in relation to another “vexed question,” we may truly say, “that year after year we have been lashed round the miserable circle of occasional arguments and temporary expedients.” No gentleman can fail to perceive that this is a question no longer to be evaded; it must be met—fairly and fearlessly met. A question that is pressed upon us in so many ways; that intrudes in such a variety of shapes; involving so deeply the feelings and interests of a large portion of the Union; insinuating itself into almost every question of public policy, and tinging the whole course of our legislation, cannot be put aside, or laid asleep. We cannot long avoid it; we must meet and overcome it, or it will overcome us. Let us, then, be prepared to encounter it in a spirit of wisdom and of justice, and endeavor to prepare our own minds and the minds of the people, for a just and enlightened decision. The object of the remarks I am about to offer is merely to call public attention to the question, to throw out a few crude and undigested thoughts, as food for reflection, in order to prepare the public mind for the adoption, at no distant day, of some fixed and settled policy in relation to the public lands. I believe that, out of the Western country, there is no subject in the whole range of our legislation less understood, and in relation to which there exists so many errors, and such unhappy prejudices and misconceptions.

There may be said to be two great parties in this country, who entertain very opposite opinions in relation to the character of the policy which the Government has heretofore pursued, in relation to the public lands, as well as to that which ought, hereafter, to be pursued. I propose, very briefly, to examine these opinions, and to throw out for consideration a few ideas in connexion with them. Adverting first, to the past policy of the Government, we find that one party, embracing a very large portion, perhaps at this time a majority of the people of the United States, in all quarters of the Union, entertain the opinion, that, in the settlement of the new States and the disposition of the public lands, Congress has pursued not only a highly just and liberal course, but one of extraordinary kindness and indulgence. We are regarded as having acted towards the new States in the spirit of parental weakness, granting to froward children, not only every thing that was reasonable and proper, but actually robbing ourselves of our property to gratify their insatiable desires. While the other party, embracing the entire West, insist that we have treated them, from the beginning, not like heirs of the estate, but in the spirit of a hard taskmaster, resolved to promote our selfish interests from the fruit of their labor. Now, sir, it is not my present purpose to investigate all the grounds on which these opposite opinions rest; I shall content myself with noticing one or two particulars, in relation to which it has long appeared to me, that the West have had some cause for complaint. I notice them now, not for the purpose of aggravating the spirit of discontent in relation to this subject, which is known to exist in that quarter—for I do not know that my voice will ever reach them—but to assist in bringing others to what I believe to be a just sense of the past policy of the Government in relation to this matter. In the creation and settlement of the new States, the plan has been invariably pursued, of selling out, from time to time, certain portions of the public lands, for the highest price that could possibly be obtained for them in open market, and, until a few years past, on long credits. In this respect, a marked difference is observable between our policy and that of every other nation that has ever attempted to establish colonies or create new States. Without pausing to examine the course pursued in this respect at earlier periods in the history of the world, I will come directly to the measures adopted in the first settlement of the new world, and will confine my observations entirely to North America. The English, the French, and the Spaniards, have successively planted their colonies here, and have all adopted the same policy, which, from the very beginning of the world, had always been found necessary in the settlement of new countries, viz: A free grant of lands, “without money and without price.” We all know that the British colonies, at their first settlement here, (whether deriving title directly from the crown or the lords proprietors) received grants for considerations merely nominal.

The payment of “a penny,” or a “pepper corn,” was the stipulated price which our fathers along the whole Atlantic coast, now composing the old thirteen States, paid for their lands, and even when conditions, seemingly more substantial, were annexed to the grants; such for instance as “settlement and cultivation.” These were considered as substantially complied with, by the cutting down a few trees and erecting a log cabin—the work of only a few days. Even these conditions very soon came to be considered as merely nominal, and were never required to be pursued, in order to vest in the grantee the fee simple of the soil. Such was the system under which this country was originally settled, and under which the thirteen colonies flourished and grew up to that early and vigorous manhood, which enabled them in a few years to achieve their independence; and I beg gentlemen to recollect, and note the fact, that, while they paid substantially nothing to the mother country, the whole profits of their industry were suffered to remain in their own hands. Now, what, let us inquire, was the reason which has induced all nations to adopt this system in the settlement of new countries? Can it be any other than this; that it affords the only certain means of building up in a wilderness, great and prosperous communities? Was not that policy founded on the universal belief, that the conquest of a new country, the driving out “the savage beasts and still more savage men,” cutting down and subduing the forest, and encountering all the hardships and privations necessarily incident to the conversion of the wilderness into cultivated fields, was worth the fee simple of the soil? And was it not believed that the mother country found ample remuneration for the value of the land so granted in the additions to her power and the new sources of commerce and of wealth, furnished by prosperous and populous States? Now, sir, I submit to the candid consideration of gentlemen, whether the policy so diametrically opposite to this, which has been invariably pursued by the United States towards the new States in the West has been quite so just and liberal, as we have been accustomed to believe. Certain it is, that the British colonies to the north of us, and the Spanish and French to the south and west, have been fostered and reared up under a very different system. Lands, which had been for fifty or a hundred years open to every settler, without any charge beyond the expense of the survey, were, the moment they fell into the hands of the United States, held up for sale at the highest price that a public auction, at the most favorable seasons, and not unfrequently a spirit of the wildest competition, could produce, with a limitation that they should never be sold below a certain minimum price; thus making it, as it would seem, the cardinal point of our policy, not to settle the country, and facilitate the formation of new States, but to fill our coffers by coining our lands into gold.

Let us now consider for a moment, [said Mr. H.] the effect of these two opposite systems on the condition of a new State. I will take the State of Missouri, by way of example. Here is a large and fertile territory, coming into the possession of the United States without any inha-