Page images
PDF

the legislative power of Congress, all the great and most important measures of Government, money being the ordinary and necessary means of carrying them into execution.' I have not been able to consider these declarations in any other point of view, than as a concession that the right of appropriation is not limited by the power to carry into effect the measure for which the money is asked, as was formerly contended.

The views of Mr Monroe upon this subject were not left to inference. During his administration a bill was passed through both Houses of Congress, conferring the jurisdiction and prescribing the mode by which the Federal Government should exercise it, in the case of the Cumberland road. He returned it, with objections to its passage, and, in assigning them, took occasion to say, that, in the early stages of the Government, he had inclined to the construction that it had no right to expend money except in the performance of acts authorized by the other specific grants of power, according to a strict construction of them ; but that, on further reflection and observation, his mind had undergone a change; that his opinion then was, ‘that Congress have an unlimited power to raise money, and that, in its appropriation, they have a discretionary power, restricted only by the duty to appropriate it to purposes of common defence, and of general, not local — national, not State benefit;' and this was avowed to be the governing principle through the residue of his administration. The views of the

last administration are of such recent date as to render a particular reference to them unnecessary. It is well known that the appropriating power, to the utmost extent which had been claimed for it in relation to internal improvements, was fully recognised and exercised by it. This brief reference to known facto will be sufficient to show the difficulty, if not impracticability, of bringing back the operations of the Government to the construction of the Constitution set up in 1798, assuming that to be its true reading, in relation to the power under consideration : thus giving an admonitory proof of the force of implication, and the necessity of guarding the Constitution with sleepless vigilance, against the authority of precedents which have not the sanction of its most plainly defined powers. For, although it is the duty of all to look to that sacred instrument, instead of the statute book; to repudiate, at all times, encroachments upon its spirit, which are too apt to be effected by the conjuncture of peculiar and facilitating circumstances, it is not less true, that the public good and the nature of our political institutions require, that individual differences should yield to a well settled acquiescence of the people and consederated authorities, in particular constructions of the Constitution, on doubtful points. Not to concede this much to the spirit of our institutions, would impair their stability, and defeat the objects of the Constitution itself. The bill before me does not call for a more definite opinion upon the particular circumstances which will warrant appropriations of money by Congress, to aid works of internal improvement: for although the extension of the power to apply money beyond that of carrying into effect the object for which it is appropriated, has, as we have seen, been long claimed and exercised by the Federal Government, yet such grants have always been professedly under the control of the general principle, that the works which might be thus aided, should be ‘of a general, not local— national, not State character.” A disregard of this distinction would of necessity lead to the subversion of the federal system. That even this is an unsafe one, arbitrary in its nature, and liable, consequently, to great abuses, is too obvious to require the confirmation of experience. It is, however, sufficiently definite and imperative to my mind, to forbid my approbation of any bill having the character of the one under consideration. I have given to its provisions all the reflection demanded by a just regard for the interests of those of our fellowcitizens who have desired its passage, and by the respect which is due to a co-ordinate branch of the Government; but I am not able to view it in any other light than as a measure of purely local character; or, if it can be considered national, that no further distinction between the appropriate duties of the General and State Governments need be attempted : for there can be no local interest that may not with equal propriety be denominated

national. It has no connexion with any established system of improvements; is exclusively within the limits of a State, starting at a point on the Ohio river, and running out sixty miles to an interior town; and even as far as the State is interested, conferring partial instead of general advantages. Considering the magnitude and importance of the power, and the embarrassments to which, from the very nature of the thing, its exercise must, necessarily, be subjected, the real friends of internal improvement ought not to be willing to confide it to accident and chance. What is properly national in its character, or otherwise, is an inquiry which is often extremely difficult of solution. The appropriations of one year, for an object which is considered national, may be rendered nugatory, by the resusal of a succeeding Congress to continue the work, on the ground that it is local. No aid can be derived from the intervention of corporations. The question regards the character of the work, not that of those by whom it is to be accomplished. Notwithstanding the union of the Government with the corporation, by whose immediate agency any work of internal improvement is carried on, the inquiry will still remain — is it national, and conducive to the benefit of the whole —or local, and operating only to the advantage of a portion of the Union ? But, although I might not feel it to be my official duty to interpose the Executive veto to the passage of a bill, appropriating

money for the construction of such works as are authorized by the States, and are national in their character, I do not wish to be understood as expressing an opinion, that it is expedient, at this time, for the General Government to embark in a system of this kind; and, anxious that my constituents should be possessed of my views on this, as well as on all other subjects which they have committed to my discretion, I shall state them frankly and briefly. Besides many minor considerations, there are two prominent views of the subject which have made a deep impression upon my mind, which, I think, are well entitled to your serious attention, and will, I hope, be maturely weighed by the people. From the official communication submitted to you, it appears, that, if no adverse and unforescen contingency happensin our foreign relations, and no unusual diversion be made of the funds set apart for the payment of the national debt, we may look with confidence to its entire extinguishment in the short period of four years. The extent to which this pleasing anticipation is dependent upon the policy which may be pursued in relation to measures of the character of the one now under consideration, must be obvious to all, and equally so, that the events of the present session are well calculated to awaken public solicitude upon the subject. By the statement from the Treasury Department, and those from the Clerks of the Senate and House of Representatives, herewith submitted, it appears that the bills

which have passed into laws, and those which, in all probability, will pass before the adjournment of Congress, anticipate appropriations which, with the ordinary expenditures for the support of Government, will exceed considerably the amount in the Treasury for the year 1830. Thus, while we are diminishing the revenue by a reduction of the duties on tea, coffee, and cocoa, the appropriations for internal improvement are increasing beyond the available means of the Treasury; and if to this calculation be added the amounts contained in bills which are pending before the two Houses, it may be safely affirmed that ten millions of dollars would not make up the excess over the Treasury receipts, unless the payment of the national debt be postponed, and the means now pledged to that object applied to those enumerated in these bills. Without a well-regulated system of internal improvement, this exhausting mode of appropriation is not likely to be avoided, and the plain consequence must be, either a continuance of the national debt, or a resort to additional taxes. Although many of the States, with a laudable zeal, and under the influence of an enlightened policy, are successfully applying their separate efforts to works of this character, the desire to enlist the aid of the General Government in the construction of such as from their nature ought to devolve upon it, and to which the means of the individual States are inadequate, is both rational and patriotic ; and, if that desiro

is not gratified now, it does not follow that it never will be. The general intelligence and public spirit of the American people furnish a sure guarantee, that, at the proper time, this policy will be made to prevail under circumstances more auspicious to its successful prosecution than those which now exist. But, great as this object undoubtedly is, it is not the only one which demands the fostering care of the Government. The preservation and success of the Republican principle rest with us. To elevate its character, and extend its influence, rank among our most important duties; and the best means to accomplish this desirable end, are those which will rivet the attachment of our citizens to the government of their choice, by the comparative lightness of their public burthens, and by the attraction which the superior success of its operations will present to the admiration and respect of the world. Through the favor of an overruling and indulgent Providence, our country is blessed with general prosperity, and our citizens exempted from the pressure of taxation, which other less favored portions of the human family, are obliged to bear; yet, it is true, that many of the taxes collected from our citizens,through the medium of imposts, have, sor a considerable period, been onerous. In many particulars, these taxes have borne severely upon the laboring and less prosperous classes of the community, being imposed on the necessaries of life, and this, too, in cases where the burthen was not relieved by the

consciousness, that it would ul

timately contribute to make us independent of foreign nations, for articles of prime necessity, by the encouragement of their growth and manufacture at home. They have been cheerfully borne, because they were thought to be necessary to the support of Government, and the payment of the debts unavoidably incurred in the acquisition and maintenance of our national rights and liberties. But have we a right to calculate on the same cheerful acquiescence, when it is known that the necessity for their continuance would cease, were it not for irregular, improvident, and unequal appropriations of the public funds Will not the people demand, as they have a right to do, such a prudent system of expenditure as will pay the debts of the Union, and authorize the reduction of every tax to as low a point as the wise observance of the necessity to protect that portion of our manufactures and labor, whose prosperity is essential to our national safety and independence, will allow 2 When the National debt is paid, the duties upon those articles which we do not raise may be repealed with safety, and still leave, I trust, without oppression to any section of the country, an accumulating surplus fund, which may be beneficially applied to some well digested system of improvement. nder this view, the question, as to the manner in which the Federal Government can, or ought to embark in the construction of roads and canals, and the extent to which it may impose burthens on the people sor these purposes, may be presented on its own merits, free of all disguise, and of every embarrassment, except such as may arise from the Constitution itself. Assuming these suggestions to be correct, will not our constituents require the observance of a course by which they can be effected? Ought they not to require it? With the best disposition to aid, as far as I can conscientiously, in furtherance of works of internal improvement, my opinion is, that the soundest views of national policy at this time, point to such a course. Besides the avoidance of an evil influence upon the local concerns of the country, how solid is the advantage which the Government will reap from it in the elevation of its character' How gratifying the effect of presenting to the world the sublime spectacle of a republic, of more than twelve millions of happy people, in the fiftyfourth year of her existence—after having passed through two protracted wars, the one for the acquisition, and the other for the maintenance of liberty—free from debt, and with all her immense resources unsettered ' What a salutary influence would not such an exhibition exercise upon the cause of liberal principles and free government throughout the world ! Would we not ourselves find, in its effect, an additional guarantee, that our political institutions will be transmitted to the most remote posterity without decay ? A course of policy destined to witness events like these cannot be benefited by a legislation, which tolerates a scramble for appropriations that

have no relation to any general system of improvement, and whose good effects must of necessity be very limited. In the best view of these appropriations, the abuses to which they lead far exceed the good which they are capable of promoting. They may be resorted to as artful expedients to shift upon the Government the losses of unsuccessful private speculation, and thus, by ministering to personal ambition and self-aggrandizement, tend to sap the foundations of public virtue, and taint the administration of the Government with a demoralizing influence. In the other view of the subject, and the only remaining one which it is my intention to present at this time, is involved the expediency of embarking in a system of internal improvement without a previous amendment of the Constitution, explaining and defining the precise powers of the Federal Government over it. Assuming the right to appropriate money to aid in the construction of national works, to be warranted by the cotemporaneous and continued exposition of the Constitution, its insufficiency for the successful prosecution of them must be admitted by all candid minds. If we look to usage to define the extent of the right, that will be found so varient, and embracing so much that has been overruled, as to involve the whole subject in great uncertainty, and to render the execution of our respective duties in relation to it, replete with difficulty and embarrassment. It is in regard to such works, and the acquisition of additional terri

« PreviousContinue »