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for whose benefit it is proposed to make the repeal, and through which the Cumberland road passes, whether they are prepared to vote the burden off their shoulders, at this time, and to ask us, in the next breath, to borrow money to carry on that road for their accommodation ? I hope not ; and, if not, that they will add their vote against the useless expenditure, at this time, of printing these papers.
But, Sir, this is not my only objection to the repeal, even if it should be found to be expedient when the question comes fairly before us, as it must in a short time. The Compromise Act is taking off the duty on salt as rapidly as the interests of commerce and the community will permit. It is now about six cents the bushel, and will be reduced, in the course of the next two years, to two cents the bushel, making the reduction, at the end of the period, compared to what it is at this time, equal to 100 per cent. per annum,
which is sufficiently rapid, one would suppose, to satisfy the warmest friend of repeal ; and certainly as rapid as is consistent with sound commercial principles. I need not tell the most ignorant of the laws of trade, that all sudden transitions are ruinous to the regular and fair trader, as well as injurious to the general interest of the community, and ought to be carefully avoided, even where the change is, in the end, expedient.
There is another decisive objection, not only against the repeal at this time, but the agitation of the subject itself. It is well known that there must be a general revision of the duties on imports at this or the next session, under the Compromise Act, which ceases to operate in 1842. It is vastly important that the adjustment to be made should be such as will place the system of duties on the most equal and permanent basis, looking to the general interest of the country in the broadest light. To do this, we must come to the great work calmly and dispassionately, with the whole subject before us, free from previous sectional agitation or commitment as to the articles in regard to which the several portions of
the Union may be particularly interested. It is thus only that the whole subject may be fairly considered, and satisfactorily adjusted. Every one, who knows any thing of the difficulty of the task, must feel and acknowledge the correctness of these views; and I would now ask, is it fair for any one portion of the Union to ask to be relieved of its burden, in advance of the rest ? Would it not give it an advantage, when the general adjustment comes under consideration ? And is the West disposed to seize on such advantage at this time? Would it be either right or manly in her to ask this concession from the other portions of the Union at this time? We must not deceive ourselves. If salt is to be exempt from duty, some other article must bear an additional tax; and as a Southern man, deeply interested in this question, I would wish to know, when it is taken off salt, on what other article it is to be laid. Is it to be laid on iron, or cotton bagging, or some other articles as objectionable at least as that on salt, objectionable as that is to us? These questions, so deeply interesting to us, can be answered, practically and satisfactorily, only on a general revision, to which time, justice, equity, and fairness, demand that the subject should be postponed. The delay can be no serious injury to any interest, more especially as the duty is going off as fast as it ought, on sound principles.
But it may be said that the information contained in these papers is calculated to throw light on the necessity of repealing the salt duty, and that they ought to be printed, to enable us to act with intelligence when the general subject of revision shall come up. Admit that they are so calculated, I still object to their being printed, even in that view, at this time; because it is plainly an attempt to forestall public opinion, on a single article, said to be particularly oppressive in one portion of the country, in order to give it an advantage over all others, when we come to the general discussion. I am, Sir, against all forestalling as unfair and injurious
whether it be forestalling of public opinion as to the repeal of the salt duty, or the forestalling the article itself, of which the mover so loudly complains. Of the two, the former may prove by far the most exceptional and injurious, if it should contribute to prevent a fair and satisfactory adjustment of the duties.
But, Sir, if I had no other objection to the printing of these papers, there is one, growing out of their character, if I understand their contents correctly, which, with me, is decisive. I know nothing of their contents, except as drawn from the statement of the Senator himself. I infer from it that a large portion consists of correspondence and other evidence, calculated to show that the manufacturers of domestic salt, who supply the West with the article, are guilty of the most odious monopoly, fraud, imposition, and oppression, for which reason it is proposed to repeal the duty on the imported article. I confess I do not see how the repeal of the small duty still remaining, and the still smaller that will, after a short period, remain, can have the effect intended ; but, be that as it may, I utterly oppose the principle on which it is proposed to place the repeal, and cannot give it the countenance which the voting for the printing of the papers would give. The principle involved, according to my conception, is precisely the same as that contained in the bill of the Senator from Kentucky, which was condemned by so decided a vote of this body at the last session. What did that bill propose ? That the President should dismiss Federal officers who should interfere in elections. And on what principle was it voted down? That the right of suffrage was a reserved right, left by the constitution under the regulation of the States respectively; and that it belonged to them, and not to us, to say who should and who should not vote, and under what regulations they should vote ; and that it was not for us to supply any supposed defect, or omission, on the part of the States, in the exercise of their power. This was the solid
basis, on which we rested our objection to the bill, and on which it was voted down by so strong a vote. Now, Sir, if we turn to this case, we shall find, if I mistake not, the same principle apply with equal force. The salt works, with their production, and those employed in them, are under the exclusive legislation of the States within which they lie, and are exclusively subject to their regulation, as is the right of suffrage. This no one will deny. If, then, there be monopoly, frand, imposition, or oppression in their management, it belongs clearly to the States, where the works are, to correct the abuse, and not this Government. None will deny this. In fact, the Senator himself acknowledged this, when he asserted that the State was coinpetent to make the acts of which he complains, and which he proposes to establish by these papers, a felony. I now ask what greater right have we to assume in this case that the States have neglected or omitted to do their duty, than in the case of the right of suffrage ; and, on that supposition, to modify our legislation so as to remedy the evil, and punish the supposed delinquents ? Can any one point out any distinction in the two cases ? How, then, could we reconcile our vote at the last session with a vote that would give countenance to the principle proposed to be established by these papers ? ? I protest solemnly against an act that could lead to such an inference. If the duty on salt ought to be repealed on financial principles or considerations of general expediency, let it be repealed. In that case, these papers would not be worth a farthing. But if not—if the repeal is to be placed on the supposed defect, or omission of duty, on the part of the States, a more dangerous and unconstitutional ground could not be assumed. It would make this Government the supervisor of the State Governments. If these papers have any value at all, they ought to be sent to the Legislature of Virginia, now in session, which only is competent to correct the supposed abuses of the salt establishments on the Kanawha and
elsewhere within her limits, and which constitute the main object of their attack. As great as would be the unconstitutionality of ordering them to Richmond, to be laid before the Legislature of Virginia, I would consider it far less so than to make them the basis of our legislation.
With a few remarks on a single point, I shall close what I intend to say. It is proposed, with the repeal of the duty on salt, to repeal the fishing bounties, which, it is alleged, originated in the former. I do not intend to enter into that question ; I leave it to others to decide on their origin. I place my refusal to a repeal of these bounties, at this time, on a wholly different basis. The great navigating, like the planting interest, has felt the heavy hand of your protective system. It has had, like the planting interest, to meet foreign competition abroad, not only without protection, but under the weight of oppressive duties, many of which still remain. 1, for one, whether the fishing bounties are right or wrong in the abstract, will not agree to repeal them till you are prepared to do justice to that great interest. Take off your duties on iron, on hemp, and on lead, which fall so heavily on it, and then I shall be prepared to consider the expediency of repealing those bounties, but not before. Justice and equity are higher considerations than expediency. I stand up for them.
for them. While I insist on justice for the interest I represent, I would be ashamed to stand by and see injustice done to any other ; and in this, I feel assured, I but speak the sentiments of those I represent.
[Mr. Benton here said, he could answer the question put to the Chairman of the Comunittee on Finance (Mr. Wright) with more precision than he had done it. He held in his hand the answer of the Secretary of the Treasury to the question ; for the Secretary had been applied to for information as to the operation of the Salt Bill on the finances. The answer shows it will save money—that it will save the treasury from loss. The bill is to repeal the salt tax and the fishing bounties, and allowances founded upon them. Now, the question is, what is the product