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Meeting of Congress.-President's Message.-Public Lands.Mr. Clay proposes Land Bill.-Proceedings in Senate.Proceedings in House.-Bill passes.-Retained by President. -United States Bank.-Public Deposites.-Three per cents. -Bill on France.-Proceedings in Congress.
THE second session of the 22nd congress commenced the 4th day of December, 1832.
Thirty-two members of the senate appeared in their places, and the vice president being absent, and Mr. Tazewell, the president pro tem., having resigned his seat, Mr. Lowrie called the senate to order, and they proceeded to elect a president pro tempore.
On the 5th ballot Hugh L. White of Tennessee, was declared duly elected, and he continued to act as such during the session. In the house 165 members answered to their names, and both branches of congress, being organized, information of that fact was communicated to the president, and the next day his annual message was transmitted to congress. That document will be found in the appendix, page 80.
A satisfactory account was
given of the foreign relations of the country.
The claims against Portugal had been acknowledged, the negotiations with Spain, and Naples for indemnity promised a favourable result.
Chastisement had been inflicted upon the pirates of Sumatra, for an injury committed upon our commerce.
The public finances were in the most prosperous condition, and congress was congratulated upon the near approach of the entire extinction of the national debt. As a consequence of this event the president recommended a reduction of the tariff, to the revenue standard.
He then alluded to the agency of the United States bank in postponing the redemption of the 3 per cents. to October, 1833, and suggested a doubt whether the public deposites were safe in that institution.
He also recommended a reduction of the price of the public lands, so as to prevent their becoming a source of revenue, and an amendment of the constitution so as to limit, and define the power of the general government over internal improvement. The policy of the government in relation to the Indians was applauded, and an extension of the judiciary system to the new western states, was again recommended.
The subject next in importance to nullification which attracted the attention of congress at this session was the public land system. In the last volume of this work, an account was given of the public domain, and of the general system adopted for its management.
Conflicting opinions had prevailed, since the absolute necessity of deriving a revenue from this source had ceased, as to the propriety of persevering in this system.
A party had arisen which sought to bring the whole public domain into market at once, for the purpose of enriching a few speculators at the expense of the public. Others advocated a reduction of the price as an approximation to the same result. Some urged a donation to the states, of the public lands within their respective limits, and various schemes, all indicating an unsettled, and restless state of the public mind, were started for the purpose of prodigally dissipating the great resources at
the command of the federal government in the public domain.
A majority, however, in both branches of congress, were too strongly impressed with the wisdom of the policy hitherto pursued hastily to abandon it, and the land bill introduced by Mr. Clay at the last session, was regarded by them as a means of securing the existing policy from hasty and improper innovations, by enlisting strong and active interests in its support.
This bill proposed that 10 per cent. of the proceeds of the public lands, should be reserved in addition to the 5 per cent. now reserved for internal improvements in the new states, and that the residue should be divided among all the states in proportion to their representation, to be applied under the direction of the state governments to the purposes of education, internal improvement, or colonization.
In consequence of the opposition of the administration, this bill was postponed in the house, after receiving the sanction of the senate, and in his message, the president expressed himself in favour of reducing the price of the public lands, so as to barely reimburse the expenses of their acquisition, and surveying.
This view of the subject was with good reason deemed as intended to subvert the existing land policy, and at an early period of the session, Mr. Clay asked leave to introduce a bill similar to the one which had
passed the senate at the last session. On the 12th of December, he accordingly introduced the bill, which being referred to the committee on public lands, on the 3d of January, Mr. Kane reported from this committee an amendment substituting instead of Mr. Clay's bill, a new bill, reducing the price of public lands to one dollar per acre, and to fifty cents, to actual settlers. Mr. Clay moved, upon the coming in of the report, that it be made the order of the day, for the 7th of January, when the subject was taken up.
Mr. Kane, Mr. Buckner, Mr. Black, Mr. Grundy, Mr. Hill, Mr. Moore and Mr. Benton, spoke in opposition to Mr. Clay's bill, and were replied to by Mr. Clay, Mr. Bibb, Mr. Poindexter and Mr. Ewing.
The opponents of the bill contended that the new states were not on an equality with the old; that they were kept down by one great landholder whose property was not subject to taxation for roads, education, and other public objects; and that while they were subject to these disadvantages, large sums of money were annually drawn from their limits, to be expended in the old states; that the price of the public lands was too high, and that it should be reduced to facilitate the settlement of the west.
It was contended, too, that it was unconstitutional to divide the public revenue among the states, and that such a course would introduce corruption
into our government; that congress had no right to delegate its authority to them, and that the proposition to divide the proceeds of the public lands, was only another mode of wasting the public revenue, and thereby prolonging the system of high protecting duties.
A doubt, too, was suggested, as to the right of the federal government to hold these lands, within states which had been created. Unless the property in the soil belonged to the state government, or its inhabitants, it could have no claim to be independent, and it was thus degraded to a dependant condition, and was merely a colony.
Those who supported the bill asserted that though it was true that the government owned a great part of the land, still it had made liberal appropriations for internal improvements and education, and now proposed to inincrease them; that it had protected the settlers, and defrayed the expenses of their government, while territories, out of the public treasury,: that the land was sold upon liberal terms, and that the west was settled so fast, that the political institutions of the country could hardly keep pace with its growth. That the proposition to divide the proceeds was not new; and that it could scarcely be deemed unconstitutional by those who had proposed to divide the whole surplus revenue in the same manner; that there was no danger of corrupting the states by a pro rata distribution of any branch of the revenue, and that the objects to
be promoted were of the utmost importance to the public welfare. Various efforts were made to postpone taking the question, so that it was not until the 24th of January, that the vote on the substitute was taken, when the substitute was rejected, ayes 17, nays 26.
Mr. Benton then moved that each of the new states should have a grant of land equal to what had been granted to Ohio; but the amendment was negatived, ayes 12, nays 26.
Mr. Benton now moved to deduct the expenses of the public lands, before dividing the proceeds; but the senate rejected it, ayes 14, nays 24. Mr Forsyth then moved to strike out colonization, as one of the objects to which the proceeds were to be applied; which was negatived, ayes 18, nays 21.
An amendment moved by Mr. Mangum, to strike out all restrictions on the application of the funds, shared the same fate; ayes 16, nays 23.
An attempt was made, the next day, January 25, to reconsider the vote as to colonization; but the senate refused, ayes 18, nays 27. Efforts to recommit and postpone were equally unsuccessful, and the bill was passed, ayes 24, nays 20. The bill was then sent to the house for concurrence. In that body, resolutions were offered at an early day, (Dec. 11) one by Mr. Boon, and also one by Mr. Clay of Alabama, to inquire into the expediency of reducing the price of all the lands which had been subject to private entry for five
years, and to surrender the refuse lands to the states after a given period, and the other by Mr. Mardis, for granting to actual settlers the right of preemption.
These resolutions were postponed to the 16th of December, and when taken up for consideration, a discussion commenced upon the general merits of the land policy of the government, which was only terminated by a motion to lay the resolutions upon the table.
The bill from the senate was not taken up until the 1st of March.
Two motions were then made in the committee of the whole house, to amend the bill, by Mr. Duncan, to reduce the minimum price to one dollar, and to set apart 20 per cent. instead of 12}, of the proceeds for the new states, which were negatived without a count.
Mr. Wickliffe then moved to strike out the objects to which the funds were to be applied, and to postpone the distribution until the public debt was paid, which amendments were carried. Mr. Clay, of Alabama,then moved to strike out the whole bill, and to substitute one reducing the price of the public lands, which, after a warm debate, was rejected without a division; as was a motion of Mr. Mason's, to deduct the expenses attending the management of the public lands before distribution.
The bill was then reported to the house, and the amendment of Mr. Wickliffe, which left the application of the funds to the
discretion of the states, was concurred in, and the other, referring to the public debt, was rejected. The other amendments were cut off by the previous question, and the bill was passed, ayes 96, nays 40, and sent back to the senate.
In that body, Mr. Chambers declared himself much dissatisfied with the amendment, but it was concurred in, ayes 23, nays 5.
These votes indicated that two thirds of both houses were in favour of the policy advocated by Mr. Clay, and if the president had returned the bill with his objections, it was understood. that it would have become a law, notwithstanding the veto. This opportunity, however, was not given to them, as the president retained the law until after the adjournment, and thus prevented congress from expressing its opinion upon his objections. The bill was thus defeated by the executive, who in this manner assumed an absolute, instead of the qualified veto upon the acts of the legislature, which was confided to him by the constitution.
Among the subjects recommended in the annual message to the attention of congress, was the propriety of removing the public moneys from the United States bank.
In incorporating this institution, it was provided in the act of incorporation, that the bank should act as the fiscal agent of the government in receiving, and disbursing the public funds, and
also in transferring them from one place to another, without charge. It was also provided that the public moneys should be deposited in the United States bank, unless the secretary of the treasury should otherwise direct; and in that case, the secretary was required to give his reasons to congress immediately upon its meeting.
For its exclusive privileges, of which this was one of the most important, the bank agreed to pay, and did pay, a bonus of $1,500,000 to the United States government.
The deposit of the public moneys, therefore, was in pursuance of a contract, and the power of removal vested in the secretary, was obviously intended to enable him to secure the government from loss, should any event render the bank insecure as a place of deposit, or if the bank should prove itself unfaithful as a fiscal agent. After the act renewing the charter of the bank had been vetoed, the policy and constitutionality of creating such an institution by congress, became more pointedly the subjects of political discussion, and the administration and its supporters were finally arrayed in deadly hostility against the bank.
A striking proof of this feeling was given in the annual message, in the recommendation of the president to remove the public deposits, and a further indication was manifested when the secretary of the treasury, who had hitherto advocated its re