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which the country must mainly rely, not only for sustaining its just weight and influence in the scale of nations, but also for protection.
On the Bill to distribute the proceeds of the Public
Lands, delivered in the Senate, January 23d, 1841.
[In Senate, January 23d, 1841.—On the amendment proposed by Mr. Crittenden to the Pre-emption Bill, to distribute the proceeds of the public lands among the States.]
Mr. Calhoun said, that the proposition of the Senator from Kentucky (Mr. Crittenden), to distribute the proceeds of the sales of the public lands among the several States was no stranger in this Chamber. His colleague (Mr. Clay) had introduced it many years since, when he was in the opposition, and had often pressed its passage as an opposition measure, and once with success, while the treasury was groaning under the weight of a surplus revenue, of which Congress was willing to free it on almost any terms. It was then vetoed by General Jackson, and has had to contend ever since against the resistance of his and the present administration.
But it is now, for the first time, introduced under different auspices, not as an opposition but an administration measure-a measure of the coming administration, if we may judge from indications that can scarcely deceive. It is brought in by a Senator, who, if rumor is to be credited, is selected as a member of the new cabinet (Mr. Crittenden), backed by another in the same condition (Mr. Webster),
supported by a third (Mr. Clay), who, all know, must exercise a controlling influence over this administration. It is, then, fair to presume, that it is not only a measure, but a leading measure, of General Harrison's administration, pushed forward in advance of his inauguration by those who have the right of considering themselves his organs on this floor. Regarded in this light, it acquires a vastly increased importance—so much so as to demand the most serious and deliberate consideration. Under this impression I have carefully re-examined the measure, and have been confirmed in the opinion previously entertained, that it is perfectly unconstitutional, and pregnant with the most disastrous consequences ; and what I now propose is, to present the result of my reflection under each of these views, beginning with the former.
Whether the Government can constitutionally distribute the revenue from the public lands among the States, must depend on the fact whether they belong to them in their united federal character, or individually and separately. If in the former, it is manifest that the Government, as their common agent or trustee, can have no right to distribute among them, for their individual, separate use, a fund derived from property held in their united and federal character, without a special power for that purpose, which is not pretended. A position so clear of itself, and resting on the established principles of law, when applied to individuals holding property in like manner, needs no illustration. If, on the contrary, they belong to the States in their individual and separate character, then the Government would not only have the right, but would be bound to apply the revenue to the separate use of the States. So far is incontrovertible, which presents the question, in which of the two characters are the lands held by the States ?
To give a satisfactory answer to this question, it will be necessary to distinguish between the lands that have been
ceded by the States and those that have been purchased by the Government out of the common funds of the Union.
The principal cessions were made by Virginia and Georgia ; the former, of all the tract of country between the Ohio, the Mississippi, and the lakes, including the States of Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, and Michigan, and the Territory of Wisconsin ; and the latter, of the tract included in Alabama and Mississippi. I shall begin with the cession of Virginia, as it is on that the advocates for distribution mainly rely to establish the right.
I hold in my hand an extract of all that portion of the Virginia deed of cession which has any bearing on the point at issue, taken from the volume lying on the table before me, with the place marked, and to which any one desirous of examining the deed may refer. The cession is “to the United States in Congress assembled, for the benefit of said States.” Every word implies the States in their united, federal character. That is the meaning of the phrase United States. It stands in contradistinction to the States taken separately and individually, and if there could be, by possibility, any doubt on that point, it would be removed by the expression “in Congress assembled ”—an assemblage which constituted the very knot that united them. I regard the execution of such a deed, to the United States so assembled, 80 conclusive, that the cession was to them in their united and aggregate character, in contradistinction to their individual and separate character, and by necessary consequence, that the lands so ceded belonged to them in their former and not in their latter character, that I am at a loss for words to make it clearer. To deny it, would be to deny that there is any truth in language.
But, strong as this is, it is not all. The deed proceeds, and says that all the lands so ceded "shall be considered a common fund for the use and benefit of such of the United States as have become members of the Confeder
ation, or Federal alliance of said States, Virginia inclusive,” -and concludes by saying, "and shall be faithfully and bona fide disposed of for that purpose, and for no other use or purpose whatever.” If it were possible to raise a doubt before, these full, clear, and explicit terms would dispel it. It is impossible for language to be clearer. To be “considered a common fund,” is an expression directly in contradistinction to separate or individual, and is, by necessary implication, as clear a negative of the latter as if it had been positively expressed. This common fund to “be for the use and benefit of such of the United States as have become, or shall become, members of the Confederation or Federal alliance ;” that is, as clear as language can express it, for their common use in their united federal character, Virginia being included as the grantor, out of abundant caution.
[Here Mr. Clay said in an audible voice, there were other words not cited. To which Mr. Calhoun replied :-)
I am glad to hear the Senator say so, as it shows, not only that he regards the expressions cited, standing alone, as clearly establishing what I contended for, but on what he relies to rebut my conclusion. I shall presently show, that the expression to which he refers will utterly fail him. The concluding words are, “shall be faithfully and bonâ fide disposed of for that use, and no other use or purpose whatever.” For that use—that is, the common use of the States, in their capacity of members of the Confederation or Federal alliance—and no other; as positively forbidding to use the fund to be derived from the lands for the separate use of the States, or to be distributed among them for their separate or individual use, as proposed by this amendment, as it is possible for words to do. So far, all doubt would seem to be excluded.
But there are other words to which the Senator refers, and on which the advocates of the measure vainly rely to
establish the right. After asserting that it shall be considered a common fund for the use and benefit of the States that are or shall become members of the Confederation or Federal alliance, Virginia inclusive, it adds, "according to their usual respective proportions in the general charge and expenditure.” Now, I assert, if these words were susceptible of a construction that the fund was intended for the separate and individual use and benefit of the States—which I utterly deny—yet it would be contrary to one of the fundamental rules of construction to give them that meaning. I refer to the well-known rule, that doubtful expressions, in a grant or other instrument, are not to be so construed as to contradict what is clearly and plainly expressed--as would be the case in this instance, if they should be so construed as to mean the separate and individual use and benefit of the States severally. But they are not susceptible of such construction. Whatever ambiguity may be supposed to attach to them, will be readily explained by reference to the history of the times. The cession was made under the old Articles of Confederation, according to which the general or common fund of the Union was raised, not by taxation on individuals, as at present, but by requisition on the States, proportioned among them according to the assessed value of their improved lands.
An account had, of course, to be kept between each State and the common treasury; and these words were inserted simply to direct that the funds from the ceded lands were to be credited to States according to the proportion they had to contribute to the general or common fund respectively, in order, if not enough should be received from the lands, to meet their contribution, they should be debited with the deficit ; and if more than sufficient, credited with the excess in making the next requisition. The expression can have no other meaning; and so far from countenancing the construction, that the common fund from the lands should be applied to the separate use of the States, it