Page images

tempers, soften our affections, and smooth away the asperities of private and every-day life, are among the most efficient reformers of their age, and benefactors of their race. Among these Charles Lamb holds a high, an enviable rank. It is therefore we have wished to commend him to our readers. If we have succeeded in drawing the attention of but one reader to his merits, we shall find our reward, for we shall have thus directed one of Time's way-worn pilgrims to a never-failing spring, yielding pure and wholesome waters, refreshing the soul, strengthening the moral sense, and humanizing the heart.

B. H. B.

[ocr errors]

ART. III. – 1. Report of the Committee on Public

Lands, to whom was referred the Bill to cede the Public Lands to the States, within whose limits they respectively lie, on certain conditions. Made in the

Senate of the United States, May 13, 1840. 2. Speech of Mr. Calhoun, of South Carolina, on the

Prospective Preëmption Bill. Senate of the United

States, Jan. 12, 1841. 3. Remarks of Mr. Calhoun, of South Carolina, on the

Bill to Distribute the proceeds of the Public Lands.

Senate of the United States, Jan. 23, 1841. 4. Speech of Mr. Benton, of Missouri, on the Pro

spective Preëmption Bill. Senate of the United

States, Jan. 26, 1841. 5. Speech of Mr. Wright, of New York, on the Pro

spective Preëmption Bill. Senate of the United

States, Jan. 27, 1841. 6. Speech of Mr. Calhoun, of South Carolina, in Re

ply to the Speeches of Mr. Webster and Mr. Clay, on Mr. Crittenden's Amendment to the Preëmption Bill. Senate of the United States, Jan. 30, 1841.

7. Speech of Richard M. Young, of Illinois, on the

Preëmption Bill, and the Proposition of Mr. Calhoun to dispose of the Public Lands to the New States, on certain conditions. Senate of the United States, Feb. 1, 1841.

The subject of the public lands and their proceeds, brought to our especial notice in the very able Report and Speeches we have enumerated, is one of grave importance, and deserving the serious consideration of every American citizen.

On the decision respecting it, to which Congress shall ultimately come, it is, perhaps, not too much to say, depends the purity, the utility, if not the very existence of the Federal Government.

While we are writing this article, it is rumored that an extra session of Congress is to be called at an early day; if so, the subject before us can hardly fail to be one of the first and weightiest, that will claim its attention. No apology, then, is needed from us to our readers, for devoting, at this time, some considerable space in our pages to its free and full discussion.

The subject itself naturally branches off into two distinct inquiries, each of which needs a separate answer : 1. What disposition shall be made of the public lands lying within the limits of the new States? 2. What disposition shall be made of the proceeds of the sale of the public lands? We shall confine ourselves, for the present, to the second inquiry.

Hitherto, the proceeds of the sale of public lands have gone into the Treasury in like manner as the proceeds of the customs, and been applied indiscriminately with the revenues derived from other sources, to any of the wants of the government. But it is now proposed to discriminate between revenue derived from the sales of land, and revenue derived from other sources; and while the last may, as heretofore, be used to meet the demands on the Treasury, the other must be reserved as a fund for distribution among the several States. In other words, it is proposed to distribute the nett proceeds of the sale of public lands among the several

States, in the ratio of their representation in Congress. This is what is called the policy of Distribution.

In considering this proposed policy of distribution, it is very natural to inquire, if there ever have been, or if there are likely to be, for some time to come, at least, any nett proceeds of the sale of public lands to distribute? The proposition is to distribute nett proceeds, and it can take effect only in case that there are nett proceeds. There can be nett proceeds only on the condition, that the receipts from the sale of the public lands exceed the expenditures of the government on their account.

Now, in point of fact, the public lands, thus far, have proved a dead loss to the United States. They have expended, on account of these lands, nearly nineteen millions of dollars over and above the gross receipts from their sale. According to Mr. Wright's speech, which may be relied on, for he copies from official records, the whole actual cost of the public lands to the government, up to the 30th of September, 1839, — excluding the expenses of various Indian wars, which have grown out of treaties for their purchase, and the execution of them by the removal of the Indians, — was one hundred thirtyfive millions, fifty-five thousand, two hundred and twenty-five dollars and four cents; while the gross receipts of money for the sale of land up to the same date amounted to only one hundred sixteen millions, one hundred ninety-eight thousand, one hundred and seventy-nine dollars and fifteen cents ; leaving, as will be seen, a balance against the lands in favor of the Treasury of eighteen millions, eight hundred fifty-seven thousand, and forty-five dollars, and eighty-nine cents. This shows, that the government has expended more than it has received. Till this excess of expenditure is reimbursed by the receipts from the sale of the public lands, there can be no nett proceeds. It would seem, then, to be somewhat idle to talk of the distribution of nett proceeds among the several States, at least for the present.

But, waiving this fact, conclusive, in our judgment, it is by no means impertinent to ask, would Congress have a right, in case there were nett proceeds, to distribute them among the several States ?

No man, we presume, whatever the complexion of his politics, will contend, that Congress has a right to lay and collect taxes for the express purpose of distribution. The taxing power of Congress is limited. The constitution merely gives it "power to lay and collect taxes, duties, imposts, and excises, to pay the debts, and provide for the common defence and general welfare of the United States.” Congress may, of course, contract debts, but only for constitutional objects. Consequently, its taxing power is restricted to raising the amount of revenue necessary for discharging the constitutional functions of the government. Every cent of money collected from the people beyond this, in whatever shape, or under whatever pretence it may be taken, is wrongfully, unconstitutionally taken.

Now, if Congress has no right to lay and collect taxes expressly for the purpose of distribution, can it have the right to lay and collect taxes for the purpose of buying land, with a view to selling the land and distributing its proceeds? Why may it not just as well distribute the revenue it has collected, before it has been invested in the land, as after it has returned into the Treasury from the sale of the land ? Where is the difference? We can see none in principle. We conclude, therefore, that if Congress has not, as it unquestionably has not, the right to raise a revenue for distribution, it can have no right to raise a revenue, invest it in land, then sell the land, and distribute the proceeds.

But all the public lands, to which the Indian title is extinguished, that is to say, all the land actually owned by the United States, and from which money can come into the Treasury, have been bought by the United States, and paid for out of the Federal Treasury, and of course out of funds collected from the people by taxation, direct or indirect. These public lands, then, are only the peculiar shape, in which a given amount of the revenue, raised by taxation, now exists. What,




then, is distributing the proceeds of their sale, but distributing revenue itself? What is it, in reality, but taxing the people for the purpose of raising funds to be distributed in largesses among the several States ? Is the distribution of largesses among the several States, among the objects, for which Congress has a constitutional right "to lay and collect taxes, duties, imposts, and excises ? "

If we take the ground, that these public lands are not revenue, then, we deny the right of the Federal Government to purchase them, and vitiate its whole past proceedings in regard to them. The purchase of land, beyond what is necessary for public uses, is not one of the objects, for which Congress has a right to lay and collect taxes. The Federal Government can constitutionally justify its appropriations of the funds of the Treasury to the purchase of these lands, only on the ground, that the funds so appropriated do not cease to be revenue, are not placed beyond the reach of application to the objects, for which Congress has the right to tax the people. These public lands, then, if rightfully held, are nothing but revenue, the form, more or less available, in which the government has, wisely or unwisely, seen proper to invest a portion of its income. This admitted, it follows, as a matter of course, that the same law must govern the disposition of them or their proceeds, that would govern the appropriation of any of the other resources of the Treasury.

Admit, then, that there are, as there are not, nett proceeds; they belong to the same proprietor, to whom belonged the revenues invested, to the proprietor of the funds, with which the lands were purchased. The lands were purchased with the funds of the United States, in their united, federal character. The United States, in this character, furnish the funds, make the investment, transact the whole concern on their own account, are liable for the losses; and are they not, then, alone entitled to the profits? If so, Congress has no right to appropriate the profits to any other objects than those, to which it might have appropriated the taxes, from which these profits are mediately derived.

« PreviousContinue »