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Speech in Congress.
power; but it is insisted that quite as many, as great, and as good, have been for it; and it is shown that, on a full survey of the whole, Chancelor Kent was of opinion that the arguments of the latter were vastly superior. This is but the opinion of a man ; but who was that man? He was one of the ablest and most learned lawyers of his age, or of any other age. It is no disparagement to Mr. Polk, nor, indeed, to any one who devotes much time to politics, to be placed far behind Chancelor Kent as a lawyer. His attitude was most favorable to correct conclusions. He wrote coolly and in retirement. He was struggling to rear a durable monument of fame; and be well knew that truth and thoroughly sound reasoning were the only sure foundations. Can the party opinion of a party President, on a law question, as this purely is, be at all compared or set in opposition to that of such a man, in such an attitude as Chancelor Kent ?
“ This Constitutional question will probably never be better settled than it is, until it shall pass under judicial consideration ; but I do think that no man who is clear on this question of expediency need feel his conscience much pricked upon this.
“Mr. Chairman, the President seems to think that enough may be done in the way of improvements, by means of tonnage duties, under State authority, with the consent of the General Government. Now, I suppose this matter of tonnage duties is well enough in its own sphere. I suppose it may be efficient, and perhaps sufficient, to make slight improvements and repairs in harbors already in use, and not much out of repair. But if I have any correct general idea of it, it must be wholly inefficient for any generally beneficent purposes of improvement. I know very little, or ratber nothing at all, of the practical matter of levying and collecting tonnage duties; but I suppose one of its principles must be, to lay a duty, for the improvement of any particular harbor, upon the tonnng' coming into that harbor. To do otherwise
Speech in Congress.
—to collect money in one harbor to be expended in improvements in another-would be an extremely aggravated forni of that inequality which the President so much deprecates. If I be right in this, how could we make any entirely new improvements by means of tonnage duties? How make road, a canal, or clear a greatly obstructed river ? The ide that we could, involves the same absurdity of the Irish bu 1 about the new boots : 'I shall never git 'em on,' says Patrick, 'till I wear 'em a day or two, and stretch 'em a little.' We shall never make a canal by tonnage duties, until it shall already have been made awhile, so the tonnage can get into it.
“After all, the President concludes that possibly there may be some great objects of improvements which can not be effected by tonnage duties, and which, therefore, may be expedient for the General Government to take in hand. Accordingly, he suggests, in case any such be discovered, the propriety of amending the Constitution. Åmend it for what? If, like Mr. Jefferson, the President thought improvements expedient but not Constitutional, it would be natural enough for him to recommend such an amendment; but hear what he says in this very message :
“In view of these portentous consequences, I can not but think that this course of legislation should be arrested, even were there nothing to forbid it in the fundamental laws of our Union.'
“For what, then, would he have the Constitution amended ? With him it is a proposition to remove one impediment. merely to be met by others, which, in his opinion, can not be, removed—to enable Congress to do what, in his opinion, they ought not to do if they could.”
[Here Mr. Meade, of Virginia, inquired if Mr. L. understood the President to be opposed, on grounds of expediency, to any and every improvement ?
To which Mr. Lincoln answered: “In the very part of his
Internal Improvements. Amending the Constitution
Speech in Congress.
message of which I am now speaking, I understand bim as giving some vague expressions in favor of some possible objects of improvement; but, in doing so, I understand him to be directly in the teeth of his own arguments in other parts of it. Neither the President, nor any one, can possibly
pecify an improvement, which shall not be clearly liable to one or another of the objections he has urged on the score of expediency; I have shown, and might show again, that no work—no object-can be so general, as to dispense its benefits with precise equality; and this inequality is chief among the
portentous consequences' for which he declares that improyments should be arrested. No, sir ; when the President intimates that something in the way of improvements may properly be done by the General Government, he is shrinking from the conclusions to which his own arguments would force him. He feels that the improvements of this broad and goodly land are a mighty interest; and he is unwilling to confess to the people, or perhaps to bimself, that he has built an argument which, when pressed to its conclusion, entirely annihilates this interest.
“I have already said that no one who is satisfied of the expediency of making improvements need be much uneasy in his conscience about its Constitutionality. I wish now to submit a few remarks on the general proposition of amending the Constitution. As a General rule, I think we would do much better to let it alone. No slight occasion should tempt us. to touch it. Better not take the first step, which may lead to a habit of altering it. Better rather habituate ourselves to think of it as unalterable. It can scarcely be made better than it is. New provisions would introduce new difficulties, and thus create and increase appetite for further change. No, sir; let it stand as it is. New hands have never touched it. The men who made it have done their work, and have passed away. Who shall improve on what they did ?
Speech in Congress.
“Mr. Chairman, for the purpose of reviewing this message · in the least possible time, as well as for the sake of distinctness, I have analyzed its arguments as well as I could, and reduced them to the propositions I have stated. I bave now examined them in detail. I wish to detain the committee only a little wbile longer, with some general remarks on the subject of improvements. That the subject is a difficult one, can not be denied. Still, it is no more difficult in Congress than in the State legislatures, in the counties or in the smallest municipal districts which everywhere exist. All can recur to instances of this difficulty in the case of county roads, bridges, and the like. One man is offended because a road passes over his land; and another is offended because it does not pass over his; one is dissatisfied because the bridge, for which he is taxed, crosses the river on a different road from that which leads from his house to town; another can not bear that the county should get in debt for these same roads and bridges; wbile not a few struggle hard to bave roads located over their lands, and then stoutly refuse to let them be opened, until they are first paid the damages. Even between the different wards and streets of towns and cities, we find this same wrangling and difficulty. Now, these are no other than the very difficulties against which, and out of which, the President constructs his objections of 'inequalty,'
speculation,' and 'crushing the Treasury.' There is but a single alternative about them—they are sufficient, or they are not. If sufficient, they are sufficient out of Congress as well as in it, and there is the end. We must reject them as insufficient, or lie down and do nothing by any authority. Then, difficulty though there be, let us meet and overcome it.
'Attempt the end, and never stand to doubt;
Nothing so hard, but search will find it out.' "Determine that the thing can and shall be done, and then we shall find the way. The tendency to undue expan
Speech in Congress.
Value of Statistics.
sion is unquestionably the chief difficulty. How to do something, and still not to do too much, is the desideratum. Let each contribute his mite in the way of suggestion. The late Silas Wright, in a letter to the Chicago Convention, contributed his, which was worth something; and I now contribute mine, which may be worth nothing. At all events, it will mislead nobody, and therefore will do no barm. I would not borrow money. I am against an overwhelming, crushing system. Suppose that at each session, Congress shall first determine how much money can, for that year, be spared for improvements; then apportion that sum to the most important objects. So far all is easy ; but how shall we determine wbich are the most important ? On this question comes the collision of interests. I shall be slow to acknowledge that your harbor or your river is more important than mine, and vice versa. To clear this difficulty, let us have that same statistical information which the gentleman from Ohio [Mr. Vinton] suggested at the beginning of this session. In that information we shall have a stern, unbending basis of factsa basis in nowise subject to wbim, caprice, or local interest. The pre-limited amount of means will save us from doing too much, and the statistics will save us from doing what we do in wrong places. Adopt and adhere to this course, and, it seems to me, the difficulty is cleared.
“ One of the gentlemen from South Carolina (Mr. Rhett) very much deprecates these statistics. He particularly ob
jects, as I understand him, to counting all the pigs and chickens in the land. I do not perceive much force in the objection. It is true, that if every thing be enumerated, a portion of such statistics may not be very useful to this object. Such products of the country as are to be consumed where they are produced, need no roads and rivers, no means of transportation, and have no very proper connection with this subject. The surplus, that which is produced in one place to be consumed in another ; the capacity of each locality