terms. In 1820, they abolished the credit system, and reduced the price to one dollar and twenty-five cents per acre.

In 1833, they recognized a right of pre-emption in favor of actual occupants; and the system, as thus modified, still remains in form upon our statute book. The United States, however, have, at different times, made very different dispositions of portions of the domain. Thus there have been appropriated to the new states and territories, for purposes of internal improvement, for saline reservations, for the establishment of seats of government and public buildings, and for institutions of education, as follows:

Acres. To Ohio

1,847,575 Indiana

2,331,690 Illinois

1,649,024 Missouri

1,793,748 Alabama

1,473,994 Mississippi

1,384,944 Louisiana

1,332,124 Michigan

1,674,598 Arkansas

1,489,220 Wisconsin

217,920 Iowa

46,720 Florida


Besides these appropriations, the Senate will at once recall several acts of Congress, which surrendered, in the whole, seventynine millions of acres for bounties in the Mexican war, bounties in the war of 1812, subsequent gratuities to the soldiers in the same war and in Indian wars, cessions of swamp lands to new states, and for the construction of a railroad from Chicago to Mobile, and other internal improvements, none of which lastnamed cessions have yet been located.

The aggregate of revenues derived from the public domain is one hundred and thirty-five millions three hundred and thirty-nine thousand ninety-three dollars and ninety-three cents, showing an annual average revenue of one and a quarter million of dollars since the system of sales was adopted.

Mr. President, I think the time is near at hand when the United States will find it expedient to review their policy, and to consider the following principles :

First. That lands shall be granted in limited quantities, gratuitously, to actual cultivators only.

Second. That the possessions of such grantees shall be secured against involuntary alienation.

Third. That the United States shall relinquish to the states the administration of the public lands within their limits.

These principles, sir, have no necessary connection. I shall therefore discuss them separately.

First. A gratuitous allotment of lands, in limited quantities, to actual settlers and cultivators only. This principle involves three propositions

1. A limitation of the quantity which shall be granted to any one person ;

2. Occupation and cultivation as conditions of the grant; 3. A gratuitous grant.

First. A limitation of the quantity to be allotted to any one person.

If the public lands were movable merchandize, price would be the principal, if not the only subject of inquiry. On the contrary, it is only the money received by the government on sales that perishes or passes away. The lands remain fixed just where they were before the sale, and they constitute a part of the territory subject to municipal administration as much after sale as before. The possessors of the land sold become soon, if not immediately, citizens, and they will ultimately be a majority of the whole population of the country, supporting the government by their contributions, maintaining it by their arms, and wielding it for their own and the general welfare. To look, then, at this subject merely with reference to the revenue that might be derived from the sale of the lands, would be to commit the fault of that least erected spirit that fell from heaven, whose

“ Looks and thoughts
Were always downward bent, admiring more
The riches of Heaven's pavement, trodden gold,
Thau aught divine, or boly, else enjoyed."

All will admit-all do admit—that the power over the domain should be so exercised as to favor the increase of population, the augmentation of wealth, the cultivation of virtue, and the diffusion of happiness.

I do not say that land in this or any other country ought to be, or ever could be divided and enjoyed equally. I assert no such absurdity. But I do say, with some confidence, that great inequality of landed estates, here or elsewhere, tends to check population, enterprise, and wealth, and to hinder and defeat the highest interests of society. Every state in this Union recognizes this principle, and guards against undue aggregation of estates by restraints upon accumulation, by inhibitions of entails, and by dividing inheritances. A partition of this vast public domain is inevitable. It has been going on ever since the lands were acquired. It is going on now. And it will go on hereafter with increasing rapidity. That partition affords us an opportunity to apply the same beneficent and invigorating policy in a new and benign form, without disturbing any existing estates, or interfering with any vested interests, and without disturbing any established laws or customs.

There is no arbitrary measurement of the portion of land which one possessor can advantageously cultivate. Yet there are, practically, dimensions within which lands are held for that purpose; and when these are exceeded, the surplus is held for purposes of commerce or speculation. Commerce in the public lands, although by no means immoral, nevertheless ought to be regarded with jealousy. It diverts capital from active or productive industry, and prolongs the period before the land purchased can be made fruitful. Mortgages, judgments, and accidents of insolvency and of death, render the title uncertain and confused, and thus exclude the lands from market. Every one has seen in new countries extensive tracts of land upon which the speculator had laid his hand, and thus rendered them useless to himself, useless to the community, and useless or nearly so to the state. The want of some security against inconveniences so prejudicial to the states may now be supplied without producing any embarrassment to individuals or to the government.

Secondly. The same policy seems to commend the principle of insisting on permanent occupation and cultivation as conditions of a grant of any portion of the public domain. It ought to be kept open and available to those who seek it for cultivation. It ought therefore to be kept free from absent owners, who, while they would exclude settlers, would leave it entirely unproductive, and who would pay to the state either nothing, or at

inost a tax that would poorly compensate for stamping sterility upon the soil.

The same principle that dictated the abandonment of the credit system in 1820, seems to prescribe now a limitation of the sales to actual settlers. Nor would the revenue derived from sales be affected by such a measure. The price of the land is fixed and uniform. If more lands are sold at one time under the present system than would be sold with such a limitation, a rest must follow, until the excess of land sold above the actual supply of the market shall be taken off at a profit or loss from the hand of the speculator. The commercial revulsion of 1837, aggravated by wild and reckless speculations in the domain, gave us instructions on this subject which ought not to be neglected.

The Senator from Michigan, (Mr. FELCH,] who has discussed this subject with very great ability, dwells upon the difficulty of prescribing the evidence of occupancy and cultivation. But this difficulty would soon be removed if the system should be changed. A title might be withheld until improvements should be made sufficient to prevent a voluntary forfeiture.

Thirdly. The question of making the grants of public lands gratuitously is one of more difficulty. By gratuitous grants, I mean those which would be practically so, and that the lands thus disposed of should be charged with the costs of the grant.

The demand of one dollar and twenty-five cents per acre, or of two hundred dollars on a farm of one hundred and sixty acres, although it is not unjust, and although it may be necessary, is nevertheless, in its practical operation, a tax upon the privilege of cultivating the domain. But the first and fundamental interest of the republic is the cultivation of its soil. That cultivation is the sole fountain of the capital or wealth which supplies every channel of industry. The more it is taxed, the less freely it will flow. It is true, indeed, that, notwithstanding this tax, labor seeks the soil within the new states and territories, and that society advances there with a rapidity unparalleled. But it is equally true that the tax prevents the immigration of a very large mass of persons who are destitute of employment in the eastern states, while it rejects even a greater mass of cultivators in Europe. We are competitors with the European states in agriculture and in manufactures. They have the advantages of cheaper labor and greater capital. We ought therefore to invite here the labor necessary to

augment our productions, and the industry and skill required to prepare them for internal and foreign commerce. Can it be doubtful for a moment that it is our policy to bring the manufacturer to our own shores, and to invite the farmer to supply the wants of the artisan from our own unproductive lands ?

Commercial supremacy demands just such an agricultural basis as the fertile and extensive regions of the United States, when inhabited, will supply. Political supremacy follows commercial ascendency. It was by reason of the want of just such an agricultural basis, that Venice, Portugal, and Holland, successively lost commerce and empire. It was for the purpose of securing just such a basis, that France, England, and Spain, seized so eagerly and held so tenaciously the large portions of this continent which they respectively occupied. It was for the purpose of supplying the loss of this basis, that England has, within the last seventy years, extended her conquests over a large portion of India.

We now possess this basis, and all that we need is to develop its capabilities as fully and as rapidly as possible.

possible. Nor ought we to overlook another great political interest. Mutual jealousies delayed a long time the establishment of the Union of these states, and have ever since threatened its dissolution. It is apparent that the ultimate security for its continuance is found in the power of the states established, and hereafter to be established, on the public domain. Those new and vigorous communities continually impart new life to the entire commonwealth, while the absolute importance of free access to the ocean will secure their loyalty, even if the fidelity of the Atlantic states shall fail. Such as these, sir, may have been some of the considerations that induced Andrew Jackson so long ago to declare his opinion, that the time was not distant when the public domain ought to cease to be regarded as a source of revenue. Such considerations may have had some influence with the late distinguished Senator from South Carolina, [J. C. Calhoun,] to propose a release of the public domain to the states, on their paying a small per centum of revenue to the United States; and we are at liberty to suppose that a course of reasoning not entirely unlike this, brought that eminent statesman, who is now Secretary of State, [DANIEL WEBSTER] to propose here, a year ago, a gratuitous appropriation of the public domain to actual settlers.

« ForrigeFortsett »