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periods to small masses of constituents, how much greater danger of abuse is to be apprehended in the General Government, whose revenues are raised by indirect taxation and whose functionaries are responsible to the people in larger masses and for longer terms.
Regarding only objects of improvement of the nature of those embraced in this bill, how inexhaustible we shall find them. Let the imagination run along our coast from the river St. Croix to the Rio Grande and trace every river emptying into the Atlantic and Gulf of Mexico to its source; let it coast along our lakes and ascend all their tributaries; let it pass to Oregon and explore all its bays, inlets, and streams; and then let it raise the curtain of the future and contemplate the extent of this Republic and the objects of improvement it will embrace as it advances to its high destiny, and the mind will be startled at the immensity and danger of the power which the principle of this bill involves.
Already our Confederacy consists of twenty-nine States. Other States may at no distant period be expected to be formed on the west of our present settlements. We own an extensive country in Oregon, stretching many hundreds of miles from east to west and seven degrees of latitude from south to north. By the admission of Texas into the Union we have recently added many hundreds of miles to our seacoast. In all this vast country, bordering on the Atlantic and Pacific, there are many thousands of bays, inlets, and rivers equally entitled to appropriations for their improvement with the objects embraced in this bill.
We have seen in our States that the interests of individuals or neighborhoods, combining against the general interest, have involved their governments in debts and bankruptcy; and when the system prevailed in the General Government, and was checked by President Jackson, it had begun to be considered the highest merit in a member of Congress to be able to procure appropriations of public mortey to be expended within his district or State, whatever might be the object. We should be blind to the experience of the past if we did not see abundant evidences that if this system of expenditure is to be indulged in combinations of individual and local interests will be found strong enough to control legislation, absorb the revenues of the country, and plunge the Government into a hopeless indebtedness.
What is denominated a harbor by this system does not necessarily mean a bay, inlet, or arm of the sea on the ocean or on our lake shores, on the margin of which may exist a commercial city or town engaged in foreign or domestic trade, but is made to embrace waters where there is not only no such city or town, but no commerce of any kind. By it a bay or sheet of shoal water is called a harbor, and appropriations demanded from Congress to deepen it with a view to draw commerce to it or to enable individuals to build up a town or city on its margin upon speculation and for their own private advantage.
What is denominated a river which may be improved in the system
is equally undefined in its meaning. It may be the Mississippi or it may be the smallest and most obscure and unimportant stream bearing the name of river which is to be found in any State in the Union.
Such a system is subject, moreover, to be pervenied to the accomplish. ment of the worst of political purposes. During the few years it was in full operation, and which immediately preceded the veto of President Jackson of the Maysville road bill, instances were numerous of public men seeking to gain popular favor by holding out to the people interested in particular localities the promise of large disbursements of pub
Numerous reconnoissances and surveys were made during that period for roads and canals through many parts of the Union, and the people in the vicinity of each were led to believe that their property would be enhanced in value and they themselves be enriched by the large expenditures which they were promised by the advocates of the system should be made from the Federal Treasury in their neighborhood. Whole sections or the country were thus sought to be influenced, and the system was fast becoming one not only of profuse and wasteful expenditure, but a potent political engine.
If the power to improve a harbor be admitted, it is not easy to perceive how the power to deepen every inlet on the ocean or the lakes and make harbors where there are none can be denied. If the power to clear out or deepen the channel of rivers near their mouths be admitted, it is not easy to perceive how the power to improve them to their fountain head and make them navigable to their sources can be denied. Where shall the exercise of the power, if it be assumed, stop? Has Congress the power when an inlet is deep enough to admit a schooner to deepen it still more, so that it will admit ships of heavy burden, and has it not the power when an inlet will admit a boat to make it deep enough to admit a schooner? May it improve rivers deep enough already to float ships and steamboats, and has it no power to improve those which are navigable only for flatboats and barges? May the General Government exercise power and jurisdiction over the soil of a State consisting of rocks and sand bars in the beds of its rivers, and may it not excavate a canal around its waterfalls or across its lands for precisely the same object?
Giving to the subject the most serious and candid consideration of which my mind is capable, I can not perceive any intermediate grounds. The power to improve harbors and rivers for purposes of navigation, by deepening or clearing out, by dams and sluices, by locking or canalling, must be admitted without any other limitation than the discretion of Congress, or it must be denied altogether. If it be admitted, how broad and how susceptible of enormous abuses is the power thus vested in the General Government! There is not an inlet of the ocean or the Lakes, not a river, creek, or streamlet within the States, which is not brought for this purpose within the power and jurisdiction of the General Government.
Speculation, disguised under the cloak of public good, will call on Congress to deepen shallow inlets, that it may build up new cities on their shores, or to make streams navigable which nature has closed by bars and rapids, that it may sell at a profit its lands upon their banks. To enrich neighborhoods by spending within them the moneys of the nation will be the aim and boast of those who prize their local interests above the good of the nation, and millions upon millions will be abstracted by tariffs and taxes from the earnings of the whole people to foster speculation and subserve the objects of private ambition.
Such a system could not be administered with any approach to equality among the several States and sections of the Union. There is no equality among them in the objects of expenditure, and if the funds were distributed according to the merits of those objects some would be enriched at the expense of their neighbors. But a greater practical evil would be found in the art and industry by which appropriations would be sought and obtained. The most artful and industrious would be the most successful. The true interests of the country would be lost sight of in an annual scramble for the contents of the Treasury, and the Member of Congress who could procure the largest appropriations to be expended in his district would claim the reward of victory from his enriched constituents. The necessary consequence would be sectional discontents and heartburnings, increased taxation, and a national debt never to be extinguished.
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. This conclusion is forti. fied by the fact that the Constitution itself indicates a process by which harbors and rivers within the States may be improved-a process not susceptible of the abuses necessarily to flow from the assumption of the power to improve them by the General Government, just in its operation, and actually practiced upou, without complaint or interruption, during more than thirty years from the organization of the present Government.
The Constitution provides that “no State shall, without the consent of Congress, lay any duty of tonnage.” With the consent” of Congress, such duties may be levied, collected, and expended by the States. We are not left in the dark as to the objects of this reservation of power to the States. The subject was fully considered by the Convention that framed the Constitution. It appears in Mr. Madison's report of the proceedings of that body that one object of the reservation was that the States should not be restrained from laying duties of tonnage for the purpose of clearing harbors. Other objects were named in the debates, and among them the support of seamen. Mr. Madison, treating on this subject in the Federalist, declares that
The restraint on the power of the States over imports and exports is enforced by all the arguments which prove the necessity-of submitting the regulation of trade to
the Federal councils. It is needless, therefore, to remark further on this head than that the manner in which the restraint is qualified seems well calculated at once to secure to the States a reasonable discretion in providing for the conveniency of their imports and exports, and to the United States a reasonable check against the abuse of this discretion.
The States may lay tonnage duties for clearing harbors, improving rivers, or for other purposes, but are restrained from abusing the power, because before such duties can take effect the "consent” of Congress must be obtained. Here is a safe provision for the improvement of harbors and rivers in the reserved powers of the States and in the aid they may derive from duties of tonnage levied with the consent of Congress. Its safeguards are, that both the State legislatures and Congress have to concur in the act of raising the funds; that they are in every instance to be levied upon the commerce of those ports which are to profit by the proposed improvement; that no question of conflicting power or jurisdiction is involved; that the expenditure, being in the hands of those who are to pay the money and be immediately benefited, will be more carefully managed and more productive of good than if the funds were drawn from the National Treasury and disbursed by the officers of the General Government; that such a system will carry with it no enlargement of Federal power and patronage, and leave the States to be the sole judges of their own wants and interests, with only a conservative negative in Congress upon any abuse of the power which the States may attempt.
Under this wise system the improvement of harbors and rivers was commenced, or rather continued, from the organization of the Government under the present Constitution. Many acts were passed by the several States levying duties of tonnage, and many were passed by Congress giving their consent to those acts. Such acts have been passed by Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Pennsylvania, Maryland, Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, and Georgia, and have been sanctioned by the consent of Congress. Without enumerating them all, it may be instructive to refer to some of them, as illustrative of the mode of improving harbors and rivers in the early periods of our Government, as to the constitutionality of which there can be no doubt.
In January, 1790, the State of Rhode Island passed a law levying a tonnage duty on vessels arriving in the port of Providence, "for the purpose of clearing and deepening the channel of Providence River and making the same more navigable."
On the 2d of February, 1798, the State of Massachusetts passed a law levying a tonnage duty on all vessels, whether employed in the foreign or coasting trade, which might enter into the Kennebunk River, for the improvement of the same by "rendering the passage in and out of said river less difficult and dangerous."
On the ist of April, 1805, the State of Pennsylvania passed a law levying a tonnage duty on vessels, to remove the obstructions to the navigation of the river Delaware below the city of Philadelphia."
On the 23d of January, 1804, the State of Virginia passed a law levying a tonnage duty on vessels, "for improving the navigation of James River."
On the 22d of February, 1826, the State of Virginia passed a law levying a tonnage duty on vessels, "for improving the navigation of James River from Warwick to Rocketts Landing.'
On the 8th of December, 1824, the State of Virginia passed a law levy. ing a tonnage duty on vessels, "for improving the navigation of Appomattox River from Pocahontas Bridge to Broadway.”
In November, 1821, the State of North Carolina passed a law levying a tonnage duty on vessels, "for the purpose of opening an inlet at the lower end of Albemarle Sound, near a place called Nags Head, and improving the navigation of said sound, with its branches;' and in November, 1828, an amendatory law was passed.
On the 21st of December, 1804, the State of South Carolina passed a law levying a tonnage duty, for the purpose of "building a marine hospital in the vicinity of Charleston," and on the 17th of December, 1816, another law was passed by the legislature of that State for the "maintenance of a marine hospital."
On the roth of February, 1787, the State of Georgia passed a law levying a tonnage duty on all vessels entering into the port of Savannah, for the purpose of "clearing" the Savannah River of “wrecks and other obstructions to the navigation.
On the 12th of December, 1804, the State of Georgia passed a law levying a tonnage duty on vessels, “to be applied to the payment of the fees of the harbor master and health officer of the ports of Savannah and St. Marys."
In April, 1783, the State of Maryland passed a law laying a tonnage duty on vessels, for the improvement of the “basin” and “harbor" of Baltimore and the "river Patapsco."
On the 26th of December, 1791, the State of Maryland passed a law levying a tonnage duty on vessels, for the improvement of the “harbor and port of Baltimore.”
On the 28th of December, 1793, the State of Maryland passed a law authorizing the appointment of a health officer for the port of Baltimore, and laying a tonnage duty on vessels to defray the expenses.
Congress has passed many acts giving its “consent" to these and other State laws, the first of which is dated in 1790 and the last in 1843. By the latter act the "consent" of Congress was given to the law of the legislature of the State of Maryland laying a tonnage duty on vessels for the improvement of the harbor of Baltimore, and continuing it in force until the 1st day of June, 1850. I transmit herewith copies of such of the acts of the legislatures of the States on the subject, and also the acts of Congress giving its “consent" thereto, as have been collated.
That the power was constitutionally and rightfully exercised in these cases does not admit of a doubt