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DEBATE IN THE SENATE - From NILES REGISTER, Feb 20, 1830. [Hayne's 1st Speech, delivered Jan. 19]

    Debate on Mr. Foot's resolution, proposing an inquiry into the expediency of abolishing the office of surveyor general of public lands, and for suspending further surveys until those already in market shall have been disposed of.

{o} {¶} 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, 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 geltlemen, that, because nobody stands committed by a vote of inquiry, therefore every resolution concerning 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 is 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.

{o} {¶} 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 years 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 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 propriety in the soil, down to the grant of a pre-empion 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. Les us, then, Mr. President, be prepared to meet it in a spirit of wisdom and 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 exist so many errors, and such unhappy prejudices and misconceptions.

{o} {¶} 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 public lands, as well as to that which outht, 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 -- granted 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 two opinions rest; I shal content myself with noticing one or two particulars, in relation to which it has long appeared to me that the west has 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 settlements of the new states, Mr. President, the plan has been invariably pursued, of selling out, from time to time, certain portions of the public land for the highest price that could possibly be obtained for them in the 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 ovservations entirely to North America. The English, the French, and the Spaniards, have successively planted their colonies here, and have adopted the same policy, which, from the beginning of the world, had always been found necessary in the settlement of new countries, vis: a free grant of lands "without money and without price." We all know that the British colonists at their first settlement here, (whether deriving title directly from the crown or the lords proprietors), received grants for considerations merely nominal.

{o} {¶} The payment of a "penny," or a "pepper corn," was the stipulated price which our fathers along the whole Atlantic coast, now composed of 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 substatially compiled with by the cutting down of 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, whnich 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 the new countries? Can it be any oather than this -- that it affords the only certain means of building up in a wilderness great and prosperous comunities? Was not that policy founded on the universal belief that the conquest of a new country, the driving out of "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 cultvated 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 of 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.

{o} {¶} Let us consider, for a moment, Mr. President, 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 U. States without any inhabitants but Indians and wild beasts -- a territory which it to be converted into a sovereign and independant state. -- You commence your operations by surveying and selling out a portion of the lands, on long credits, to actual settlers; and, as the population progresses, you go on, year after year, making additional sales on the same terms; and this operation is to be continued, as gentlemen tell us, for fifty or a hundred years at least, if not for all time to come. The inhabitants of this new state, under such a system, must have commenced their operations under a load of debt, the annual payment of which must necessarily drain their country of the whole profits of their labor just so long as this system shall last. This debt is due, not from some citizens of the state to others of the same state -- (in which case the money would remain in the country) -- but it is due from the whole population of the state to the United States, by whom it is regularly drawn out, to be expended abroad. Sir, the amount of this debt, has, in every one of the new states, actually constantly exceeded the ability of the people to pay, as is proved by the fact that you have been compelled, from time to time, in your great liberality, to extend the credits, and in some instance even to remit portions of the debt, in order to protect our land debtors from bankruptcy and total ruin. Now, Mr. President, I will submit the question to any candid man, whether under this system, the people of a new state, so situated, could, by any industry or exertion, ever become rich and prosperous. What has been the consequence, sir? Almost universal poverty -- no money -- hardly a sufficient circulating medium for the ordinary exchanges of society -- paper banks, relief laws, and the innumerable other evils, social, political, and moral, on which it is unnecessary for me to dwell. Sir, under a system by which a drain like this is constantly operating upon the wealth of the whole community, the country may be truly said to be afflicted with a curse which it has been well observed is more grievous to be borne "than the barrenness of the soil, and the inclemency of the seasons.

{o} {¶} " It is said, sir, that we learn from our own misfortunes how to feel for the sufferings of others; and perhaps the present condition of the southern states has served to impress more deeply on my mind the grievious oppression of a system by which the wealth of a country is drained off to be expended elsewhere. In that devoted region, sir, in which my lot has been cast, it is our misfortune to stand in that relation to the federal government, which subjects us to a taxation, which it requires the utmost efforts of our industry to meet.

Nearly the whole amount of our contributions is expended abroad -- we stand towards the United States in the relation of Ireland to England. The fruits of our labors are drawn from us to enrich other and more favored sections of the union, while, with one of the finest climates and the richest products in the world, furnishing, with one-third of the population, two-thirds of the whole exports of the country, we exhibit the extraordinary, the wonderful and painful spectacle of a country, enriched by the bounty of God, but blasted by the cruel policy of man. The rank grass grows in our streets; our very fields are scathed by the hand of injustice and oppression. Such, sir, though probably in a less degree, must have been the effects of a kindred policy on the fortunes of the west. It is not in the nature of things that it should have been otherwise.

{o} {¶} Let gentlemen now pause and consider for a moment what would have been the probable effects of an opposite policy. Suppose, sir, a certain portion of the state of Missouri had been originally laid off and sold to actual settlers for the quit rent of "a pepper-corn," or even for a small price to be paid down in cash. Then, sir, all the money that was made in the country, would have remained in the country, and passing from hand to hand, would, like rich and abundant streams, flowing through the land, have adorned and fertilized the whole. Suppose, sir, that all the sales that have been effected had been made by the state, and that the proceeds had gone into the state treasury, to be returned back to the people in some of the various shapes in which a beneficient local government exerts its powers for the improvement of the conditions of the citizens. Who can say how much of wealth and prosperity, how much of improvement in science and arts, how much of individual and social happiness, whould have been diffused throughout the land! I have done, Mr. President, with this topic.

{o} {¶} In coming to the consideration of the next great question -- what ought to be the future policy of the government in relation to the public lands? we find the most opposite and irreconcileable opinions between the two parties which I have before described. On the one side, it is contended that the public land ought to be received as a permanent fund for revenue and future distribution among the states, while, on the other, it is insisted that the whole of these lands of right relong to, and ought to be relinquished to the states in which they lie. I shall proceed to throw out some ideas in relation to the proposed policy, that the public lands ought to be reserved for these purposes. It may be a question, Mr. President, how far it is possible to convert the public lands into a great source of revenue. Certain it is, that all the efforts heretofore made for this puropse have most signally failed. The harshness, if not injustice of the proceeding, puts those upon whom it is to operate upon the alert to contrive methods of evading and counteracting our policy; and hundreds of schemes, in the shape of appropriations of lands for roads, canals, and schools, grants to actual settlers, &c. are resorted to for the purpose of controlling our operations. But sir, let us take it for granted that we shall be able, hereafter, to resist these applications, and to reserve the whole of our lands, for fifty or a hundred years, or for all time to come, to furnish a great fund for permanent revenue, it is desirable that we should do so? Will it promote the welfare of the United States to have at our disposal a permanent treasury, not drawn from the pockets of the people, but to be derived from a source independent of them? Would it be safe to confide such a treasure to the keeping of our national rulers? to expose them to the temptations inseperable from the direction and control of a fund which might be enlarged or diminished almost at pleasure, without imposing burthens upon the people? Sir I may be singular, perhaps I stand alone here in the opinion, but it is one I have long entertained, that one of the greatest safeguards of liberty is a jealous watchfulness, on the part of the people, over the collection and expenditure of the public money -- a watchfulness that can only be secured where the money is drawn by taxation directly from the pockets of the people. Every scheme or contrivance by which rulers are able to procure the command of money, by means unknown to, unseen, or unfelt by, the people, destroys this security.

{o} {¶} Even the revenue system of this country, by which the whole of our pecuniary resources are derived from indirect taxation -- from duties upon imports -- has done much to weaken the responsibility of our federal rulers to the people, and has made them, in some measure, careless of their rights, and regardless of the high trust committed to their care. Can any man believe sir, that if $23,000,000 per annum were now levied by direct taxation, or by an apportionment of the same among the states, instead of being raised by an indirect tax, of the severe effect of which few are aware, that the waste and extravagance, of the unauthorized imposition of duties, and appropriations of money for unconstitutional objects, would have been tolerated for a single year? My life upon it, sir, they would not. I distrust therefore sir, the policy of creating a great permanent national treasury, whether, to be derived from public lands or from any source. If I had, sir, the powers of a magician, and could, by a wave of my hand, convert this capitol into gold for such a purpose, I would not do it. If I could, by a mere act of my will, put at the disposal of the federal government any amount of treasure which I might think proper to name, I should limit the amount to the means necessary for the legitimate purposes of the government. SIr, an immense national treasury would be a fund for corruption. It would enable congress and the executive to exercise a control over states, as well as over great interests in the country -- nay, even over corporations and individuals, utterly destructive of the purity, and fatal to the duration of our institutions. It would be equally fatal to the sovereignty and independence of the states.

{o} {¶} Sir, I am one of those who believe that the very life of our system is the independence of the states; and that there is no evil more to be deprecated than the consideration of this government. It is only by a strict adherence to the limitations imposed by the constitution on the federal government, that this system works well, and can answer the great ends for which it was instituted. I am opposed, therefore, in any shape, to all unnecessary extension fo the powers or the influence of the legislature or executive of the union of the states; and, most of all, I am opposed to those partial distributions of favors whether by legislation or appropriation, which has a direct and powerful tendency to spread corruption through the land -- to create an abject spirit of dependence -- to sow the seeds of dissolution -- to produce jealousy among the different portions of the union, and, finally, to sap the very foundations of the government itself.

{o} {¶} But, sir, there is another purpose, to which it has been supposed the public lands can be applied still more objectionable. I mean that suggested in a report from the treasury department, under the late administration, of so regulating the disposition of the public lands as to create and preserve in certain quarters of the union a population suitable for conducting great manufacturing establishments. It is supposed, sir, by the advocates of the American system, that the great obstacle to the progress of manufactures in this country is the want of that low and degraded population which infest the cities and towns of Europe, who having no other means of subsistence, will work for the lowest wages, and be satisfied with the smallest possible share of human enjoyment. -- And this difficulty it is proposed to overcome, by so regulating and limiting the sales of the public lands as to prevent the drawing off this portion of the population from the manufacturing states. Sir, it is bad enough that the government should presume to regulate the industry of man -- it is sufficiently monstrous that they should attempt, by arbitrary legislation, artificially to adjust and balance the various pursuits of society, and to "organize the whole labor and capital of the country."

{o} {¶} But what shall we say of the resort to such means for these purposes! What! create a manufactury of paupers in order to enable the rich proprietors of woollen and cotton factories to amass wealth? From the bottom of my soul do I abhor and detest the idea that the powers of the federal government should ever be prostituted for such purpose. Sir, I hope we shall act on a more just and liberal system of policy. The people of America are, and ought to be, for a century to come, essentially an agricultural people; and I can conceive of no policy that can possibly be pursued in relation to the public lands, none that would be more "for the common benefit of all the states," than to use them as the means of furnishing a secure asylum to that class of our fellow citizens, who, in any portion of the country, may find themselves unable to procure a comfortable subsistence by the means immediately within their reach. I would by a just and liberal system, convert into great and flourishing communities that entire class of persons, who would otherwise be paupers in your streets, and outcasts in society, and by so doing, you will but fulfil the great trust which has been confideded to yhour care.

{o} {¶} Sir, there is another scheme in relation to the public lands, which as it addresses itself to the interested and selfish feelings of our nature, will doubtless find many advocates. I mean the distribution of the public lands among the states, according to some ratio hereafter to be settled. Sir, this system of distribution is, in all its shapes, liable to many and powerful objections. -- I will not go into them at this time, because the subject has recently undergone a thorough discussion in the other house, and because, from present in the other house, and because, from present indications, we shall shortly have up the subject here. "Sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof."

{o} {¶} I come now to the claims set up by the west to these lands. The first is, that they have a full and perfect legal and constitutional right to all the lands within their respective limits. This claim was set up for the first time only a few years ago, and has been advocated on this floor by the gentlemen from Alabama and Indiana with great zeal and ability. Without having paid much attention to this point, it has appeared to me that this claim is untenable.

I shall not stop to enter into the argument further than to say, that by the very terms of the grants under which the United States have acquired these lands, the absolute property in the soil is vested in them, and must, it would seem, continue so until the lands shall be sold or otherwise disposed of. I can easily conceive that it may be extremely inconvenient, nay highly injurious to a state, to have immense bodies of land within her chartered limits, locked up from sale and settlement, withdrawn from the power of taxation and contributing in no respect to her wealth and prosperity. But tho' this state of things may present strong claims on the federal government for the adoption of a liberal policy towards the new states, it cannot affect the question of legal or constitutional right. Believing that this claim, on the part of the west, will never be recognised by the federal government, I must regret that it has been urged, as I think it will have no other effect than to create a prejudice against the claims of the new states.

{o} {¶} But, sir, there has been another much more fruitful source of prejudice. I mean the demands constantly made from the west for partial appropriations of the public lands for local objects. I am astonished that gentlemen from the western country have not perceived the tendency of such a course to rivet on them for ever the system which they consider so fatal to their interests. We have been told, in the course of this debate, of the painful and degrading office which the gentlemen from that quarter are compelled to perform in coming here year after year, in the character of petitioners for these, petty favors. The gentleman from Missouri tells us, "if they were not goaded on by their necessities, they would never consent to be beggars at our doors." Sir, their course in this respect, let me say to those gentlemen, it greatly injurious to the west. While they shall continue to ask and gratefully to receive these petty and partial appropriations, they will be kept for ever in a state of dependence. Never will the federal government, or rather those who control its operations, consent to emancipate the west by adopting a wise and just policy, looking to any final disposition of the public lands, while the people of the west can be kept in subjection and dependence by occasional donations of these lands; and never will the western states themselves assume their just and equal station among their sisters of the union, while they are constantly looking to congress for favors and gratuities.

{o} {¶} What, then, Mr. President, is our true policy on this important subject? I do not profess to have formed any fixed or settled opinions, in relation to it. The time has not yet arrived when that question must be decided; and I must reserve for further lights, and more mature reflection, the formation of a final judgment. The public debt must be first paid. For this, these lands have been solemnly pledged to the public creditors. This done, which, if there be no interference with the sinking fund, will be effected in three or four years, the question will then be fairly open, to be disposed of as congress and the country may think just and proper. Without attempting to indicate precisely what our policy ought then to be, I will, in the same spirit which has induced me to throw out the desultory thoughts which I have not presented to the senate, sugest for consideration, whether it will not be sound policy and true wisdom, to adopt a system of measures looking to the final relinquishment of these lands, on the part of the United States, to the states in which they lie, on such terms and conditions as may fully indemnify us for the cost of the original purchase, and all the trouble and expense to which we may have been put on their account. Giving up the plan of using these lands for ever as a fund either for revenue or distribution -- ceasing to hug them as a great treasure -- renouncing the idea of administering them with a view to regulate and control the industry and population of the states, or of keeping in subjection and dependence the states, or the people of any portion of the union, the task will be comparatively easy of striking out a plan for the final adjustment of the land question on just and equitable principles. Perhaps, sir, the lands ought not to be entirely relinquished to any state until she shall have made considerable advances in population and settlement. Ohio has probably already reached that condition? The relinquishment may be made by a sale to the state at a fixed price, which I will not say should be nominal; but certainly I should not be disposed to fix the amount so high as to keep the states for any length of time in the debt of the United States.

{o} {¶} In short, Mr. President, our whole policy in relation to the public lands may perhaps be summed up in the declaration with which I set out, that they ought not to be kept and retained for ever as a great treasure, but that they should be administered chiefly with a view to the creation, within reasonable periods, of great and flourishing communities, to be formed into free and independent states -- to be invested in due season with the control of all the lands within their respective limits.

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