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and its consequent tendency to retrench the disbursements of the Government, would be so strong as not only to curtail useless or improper expenditure, but also the useful and necessary. Such, undoubtedly, would be the consequence, if the process were too long continued; but, in the present irregular and excessive action of the system, when its centripetal force threatens to concentrate all its powers to a single department, the fear that the action of this Government will be too much reduced by the measure under consideration, in the short period to which it is proposed to limit its operation, is without just foundation. On the contrary, if the proposed measure should be applied in the present diseased state of the Government, its effect would be like that of some powerful alterative medicine, operating just long enough to change the present morbid action, but not sufficiently long to superinduce another of an opposite character.”
The measure recommended was not adopted. It was denied, and violently denied, that there would be a surplus, and I left it to time to decide which opinion was correct. A year rolled round, and conclusively decided the point. Instead of overrating, experience proved I had greatly underestimated the surplus, as I felt confident at the time I had. It more than doubled even my calculation. I again revived the measure ; but before it could be acted on, instructions from State legislatures, with intervening elections, turned the majority in the Senate, which had been opposed to the administration, into a minority. I acquiesced, and gave notice that I would not press the measure I had introduced, and would leave the responsibility with the majority, to devise a remedy for what was at last acknowledged to be a great and dangerous evil. All felt that something must be done, and that promptly. In the greatly expanded state of the currency, the enormous surplus had flowed off in the direction of the public lands, and was, by a sort of rotary motion, from the deposit banks to the speculators, and from them to the receivers, and back again to the banks, to perform the same round again, rapidly absorbing every acre of the public lands. No one saw more clearly than the Senator from New-York (Mr. Wright), that an effectual and speedy
remedy was indispensable to prevent an overwhelming catastrophe; and he promptly proposed to vest the surplus in the stocks of the States, to which I moved an amendment to deposit it in their treasuries, as being more equal and appropriate. These were acknowledged to be the only alternatives to leaving it in the deposit banks. Mine succeeded, and the passage of the Deposit Act, which is now unjustly denounced, in a certain quarter, as distribution, and not as deposit, as it really is, followed.
As far as I am concerned, the denunciation is utterly unfounded. I regarded it then, and still do, as simply a deposit—a deposit, to say the least, as constitutional as that in State banks, or State stocks held by speculators and stockjobbers on both sides of the Atlantic, and far more just and appropriate than either. But while I regard it as a deposit, I did then, and now do, believe that it should never be withdrawn but in the event of war, when it would be found a valuable resource.
But had it been in reality a distribution, it would be, in my opinion, if not altogether, in a great measure, justified, under the peculiar circumstances of the case. The surplus was not lawfully collected. Congress has no right to take a cent from the people, but for the just and constitutional wants of the country. To take more, or for other purposes, as in this case, is neither more nor less than robbery--more criminal for being perpetrated by a trustee appointed to guard their interest. It in fact belonged to those from whom it was unjustly plundered ; and if the individuals, and the share of each, could have been ascertained, it ought, on every principle of justice, to have been returned to them. But as that was impossible, the nearest practicable approach to justice was to return it proportionably, as it was, to the States, as a deposit, till wanted, for the use of the people from whom it was unjustly taken, instead of leaving it with the banks, for their use, which had no claims whatever to it, or
vesting it in State stocks, for the benefit of speculators and stockjobbers.
Brief as this narrative is, I trust it is sufficient to show that the advocates of this amendment, can find nothing in my former opinion or course to weaken my resistance to it, or to form the show of a precedent for the extraordinary measure which it proposes. So far from it, the Deposit Act, whether viewed in the causes which led to it, or its object and effect, stands in direct contrast with it.
We stand, Sir, in the midst of a remarkable juncture in our affairs; the most remarkable, in many respects, that has occurred since the foundation of the Government; nor is it probable that a similar one will ever again occur. This Gouernment is now left as free to shape its policy, unembarrassed by existing engagements or past legislation as it was when it first went into operation, and even more so.
The entire system of policy originating in the Federal consolidation school has fallen prostrate. We have now no funded debt, no National Bank, no connection with the banking system, no protective tariff. In a word, the paper system, with all its corrupt and corrupting progeny has, as far as this Government is concerned, vanished, leaving nothing but its bitter fruits behind. The great and solemn question now to be decided is, Shall we again return and repeat the same system of policy with all its disastrous effects before us, and under which the country is now suffering, to be again followed with tenfold aggravation; or, profiting by past experience, seize the precious opportunity to take the only course which can save the constitution and the liberty of the country—that of the old State Rights Republican policy of 1798 ? Such is the question submitted for our decision at this deeply important juncture ; and on that decision hangs the destiny of our country. A few years must determine. Much—very much will depend on the President elect. If he should rest his policy on the broad and solid principles maintained by his
native State, in her purest and proudest days, his name will go down to posterity as one of the distinguished benefactors of the country; but, on the contrary, if he should adopt the policy indicated by the amendment, and advocated by his prominent supporters in this Chamber, and attempt to erect anew the fallen temple of consolidation, his overthrow, or that of his country, must be the inevitable consequence.
reply to the Speeches of Mr. Webster and Mr. Clay, on Mr. Crittenden's amendment to distribute the Revenue from the Public Lands among the States; delivered in the Senate, January 30th, 1841.
MR. CALHOUN said : No one who had attended to this debate could doubt that the cession of Virginia, on which the right to distribute the revenue from the public lands had heretofore been placer, was altogether too narrow to support that measure. The portion of the public domain ceded by her is small in amount, when compared with the whole, and by far the better portion of it had already been disposed of; leaving a residue altogether too inconsiderable to effect the object intended by the distribution. The other, and much the larger portion of the public domain, consisting of Alabama, Mississippi, Florida, and the entire region west of the Mississippi River, was purchased out of the common fund of the Union, and no construction which could be put on the deed of cession from Virginia could possibly apply to it. This was seen and felt by the two leading advocates of this amendment on the other side of the Chamber (Mr. Clay and Mr. Webster), and they accordingly endeavored
to find some other ground on which to place the right, broad enough to support the whole ; and found it, as they supposed, in the provision of the constitution, which gives to Congress the power to dispose of the territories and other property belonging to the United States. In this they both concurred, so far as the revenue derived from the lands was concerned. But the Senator from Massachusetts, with bolder views than his associate, extended the right of distributing, as I understood him, to the entire revenue-comprehending as well that received from taxes as from lands.
[Mr. Webster interposed, and denied that he had said so.]
I stand corrected, and am happy to hear the denial of the gentleman. I had so understood him, and am gratified that he had so restricted the right as to exclude the revenue from taxes. But I cannot be mistaken in asserting that both of the Senators concur in regarding the power conferred in the provision referred to as having no limitation whatever but the discretion of Congress. If such be the true construction, it would, of course, give the right of making the proposed distribution; which presents the question, Has Congress the right of disposing of the public domain, and all the other property belonging to the Union, and the revenue derived therefrom, as it pleases, without any constitutional restrictions whatever ?
Before I proceed to discuss that question, it will be well to ascertain what is the extent and value of the property embraced. The public domain, as has been frequently stated in the course of the debate, embraces more than one thousand millions of acres; and the other property includes the public buildings, dock and navy yards, forts, arsenals, magazines, ships of war, cannon, arms of all descriptions, naval stores, and munitions of war. It is difficult to estimate the value of the whole. The public domain alone, according to the estimate of the gentlemen (not mine), at $1 25 per acre, is