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Nevertheless, the practicability of such a policy, and its harmony with other national interests, are as yet by no means generally admitted. The first objection which it encounters is the economical one, that it would be unwise to GIVE AWAY the public lands. But the property given would remain with the giver after the gift, and would be enhanced in usefulness by the gift. All that we should give away by surrendering the public domain would be the revenue that might be derived from sales. The honorable Senator from Michigan pathetically asks, what new fountain shall be opened to supply the deficiency, if this one be closed ? And has it come to this, sir: that the federal government, charged with only the burdens of national defence, of commerce, and of arbitrament between the states, while absolutely relieved from all responsibilities of municipal and domestic administration, yet enjoying unlimited power of indirect as well as of even direct taxation, cannot sustain itself in a season of profound peace, without consuming the patrimony of the states ? Sir, I answer the Senator's inquiry: The resource to supply the deficiency of a million and a quarter of dollars will be found in retrenchment of the expenses of administration.
A SENATOR. Will this government ever retrench? Does the Senator from New York expect this government to retrench?
Mr. SEWARD. No, sir; not while the revenue remains full. Reduce the revenue a million and a quarter, or even five millions, and you will find the expenses of the government accommodate themselves to the reduction. Raise the revenue to a hundred millions, and you will find the expenses adjust themselves to that standard. Sir, if you are ever to have retrenchment, you must begin with reducing taxation. And where can you begin so well as with the taxation upon the privilege of cultivating the national estate? But, sir, we shall have no such deficiency of revenue to supply. Alarms of an exhausted treasury are continually sounded here, while the revenues received under a system of imposts, which in many respects is most unwise, annually exceed all estimates of administration. Last year, the Secretary of the Treasury predicted a deficiency of sixteen millions of dollars, and yet no deficiency at all occurred. The revenues for the present year are equally prosperous ; and they will never be less prosperous while we are at peace, as I hope we shall always be, for the wealth and industry of the country are constantly increasing and expanding
I know, indeed, that revenue is liable to be affected by fluctuations of trade; but such disturbances are only occasional and temporary.
The Senator from Michigan exaggerates the prodigality of what he calls the giving away of the domain, by stating that it cost seventy-five millions of dollars—equivalent to twenty-two cents per acre, or thirty-two dollars and twenty cents for each farm of one hundred and sixty acres. And from such premises as these he argues that it would cost thirty-five millions of dollars to give away the public lands lying in Wisconsin, Iowa, Michigan, Missouri, and Minnesota. Sir, I do not understand exactly the basis of the Senator's estimate of the cost of the domain, but I can nevertheless safely pronounce his speculations entirely fallacious. If the cost of the revolutionary war, the cost of the long controversy with France which ended in the purchase of Louisiana, the cost of all the Indian wars, and the cost of the late war with Mexico, all of which were in some degree connected with the acquisition of the public domain, should be included in the estimate, the entire cost of the public lands would be seven hundred millions, instead of seventy-five millions of dollars. If, on the other hand, the expense account be credited with all the national benefitsfinancial, commercial, and political—which have been secured, the domain would be discharged from all indebtedness whatever to the treasury.
Sir, the acquisition of the domain, whatever was its cost, is a transaction completed, ended, past. Its value is what it is worth now, not what it cost.
Mr. President, the question of such a disposition of the public lands as I have suggested is entirely misapprehended. It is not whether we shall relinquish a revenue of a million and a quarter. The revenue has ceased, and the fountain from which it flowed is dried up already
We have by various acts, passed within the last ten years, given up seventy-eight millions nine hundred and thirty-two thousand five hundred and thirteen acres, which are now in market and coming into market, and which must be taken off from the hands of states and individuals before our own sales can be renewed. The Secretary of the Treasury assures us that the revenue from the public domain is suspended by this legislation for a period of
Sir, a revenue that is suspended for sixteen years has practically ceased forever. The Senator from Michigan, perplexed with this argument, reviews the treasury estimates, and reduces the period of exhaustion to eight years.
Sir, I say, then, to the Senator, that he has not changed the case. A national revenue that is suspended for eight years has practically ceased forever. But, sir, neither the Senator from Michigan, nor even the Secretary of the Treasury, has estimated the period of exhaustion at its full length. Congress is annually making new appropriations. The Senate has at this session passed an act disposing of ten millions of acres. We all hope that that act will become a law, although its effect would be to add at least five years to the term for which the revenue from the domain is suspended. Let us then apprehend the emergency as it is, and act accordingly. The domain no longer yields, nor will never again yield, a revenue. Since its financial benefits have ceased, let us no longer dispose of it by impulse and caprice, not to say by partiality or favor, but let us so dispose of it as to secure political and social benefits to the whole Union.
It is objected that the domain is pledged to public creditors. The debt charged upon the domain is $27,935,350—a debt which is rapidly diminishing, and, if we practice economy, will have disappeared, by the appliance of revenues from customs alone, long before the public domain will yield a dollar, for even the payment of the interest on it. But if it be necessary to hold the public domain liable for the debt, we may properly set apart sufficient lands for that purpose, and let the residue be disposed of as other interests require.
The Senator from Michigan resisted the policy proposed, on the ground that it would reduce the value of real estate in the new states. It has been urged that that inconvenience would also reach the old states. The inconvenience, Mr. President, if it should occur at all, would be merely temporary. The reclaiming of the domain would go on more rapidly; and we all know that cultivated as well as vacant lands rise in value just as rapidly as new lands lying amongst or adjacent to them are improved. What would be lost in the first instance, would be abundantly regained afterward.
There is, however, Mr. President, one objection of a more serious nature than any I have yet considered. I hear it said on all sides, that the domain ought to be disposed of for great and beneficent objects-objects beneficial to the old as well as to the new states. Sir, I have always favored such a policy; and it is upon that ground that I have cheerfully voted hitherto, as I shall continue to vote hereafter, for appropriations upon that principle, . so long as Congress shall continue to adhere even in form to the ancient system. It is upon this ground that I shall support the bill now under consideration, which proposes to bestow upon the state of Louisiana the public lands within her limits, to enable her to improve the navigation of the Mississippi-a policy that I brought before the Senate at the last session—a measure of great urgency, and of conceded national importance. I have had, moreover, a hope that this great resource might be applied to the establishment of a system for the gradual but certain removal of slavery, by a scheme of compensating emancipation. I have thought that the slaveholding states might wisely propose such a system, and that the free states ought to accede to it. But, sir, it is manifest that if the old states could not agree upon such a system, or even upon any other system of partition of the public domain among the states, or of distribution of its proceeds, while they held unquestioned the political power of government, they cannot now hope to agree upon and secure the adoption of such a system, when that power is actually passing over from them to the new states. The new states will control the decision of this great question. We may, nevertheless, by yielding to what is inevitable, modify the policy to be adopted.
I submitted, Mr. President, a second principle, to wit: that the public lands, so to be granted to actual settlers, ought to be secured to them against involuntary alienation.
I respect all lawful contracts, and I would not unnecessarily interfere with even rigorous remedies which existed when such contracts were made. But it is wise as it is just and humane, to alleviate prospectively the relations between debtor and creditor. Within the last twenty years, imprisonment for debt, a system which had prevailed for more than two thousand years before, has been safely abolished by every state in this Union, and I believe by every commercial nation in Europe. New York, the most commercial state, has with equal safety abolished the rigorous remedy of distress for rent, and has exempted certain portions of estates from liability to sale for debts contracted after such laws
were passed. Other er nave adopted the policy of protecting the homestead fro, wmpulsory sale. A home is the first necessity of every family; it is indispensable to the education and qualification of citizens. Cannot society justly withdraw it from the . hazards of commercial contracts, and from exposure to the accidents of disease and death? We bestow pensions upon decayed soldiers who have faithfully served their country in her wars; we protect such annuities against involuntary assignment; and the policy is as wise as it is generous.
But he who reclaims an acre of land from the sterility of nature, and brings it into a productive condition, confers a greater benefit upon the state than valor has often the power to bestow. Sir, all that is movable in property may be used as a security for credits—and that security is adequate to supply all the wants of commerce. The home of the farmer, the asylum of the children of the republic, may be safely reserved and protected.
There remains, Mr. President, a third principle, which I think demands the consideration of Congress, which is : That the administration of the public lands within the states should be relinquished to them.
It has been sufficiently shown, that the United States can no longer derive any financial benefit from the domain. They can at best only hope to devote it to purposes of internal improvement and education. Experience has taught us nothing, if it has not shown that the action of Congress upon those interests is less judicious and beneficent than the action of the several states. Of all the railroads, canals, and other works of internal improvement -of all the universities, colleges, and schools, in the country, the
almost exclusively, the projectors, founders, and patrons. To maintain that the United States can select such objects, and apply the public lands to the attainment of them, more wisely than the states could do, is to controvert the principle of our Constitution, which assigns domestic interests and affairs to local administration. Sir, we have only a temporary jurisdiction and a temporary estate in the domain-both of which are of brief duration, and comparatively valueless. The reversion of both belongs to the states, and is infinitely important to them. It is not until that reversion has taken place that the domain really begins to contribute to the wealth and strength of the whole republic.
Nor am I greatly embarrassed by the objection that the new