- The Webster-hayne Debate On the Nature of the Union
- Robert Y. Hayne: Speech of Mr. Hayne , of South Carolina [january 19, 1830]
- Daniel Webster: Speech of Mr. Webster , of Massachusetts [january 20, 1830]
- Speech of Mr. Hayne , of South Carolina [january 25, 1830]
- Speech of Mr. Webster , of Massachusetts [january 26 and 27, 1830]
- Speech of Mr. Hayne , of South Carolina [january 27, 1830]
- Thomas Hart Benton: Speech of Mr. Benton, of Missouri [january 20 and 29, February 1 and 2, 1830]
- John Rowan: Speech of Mr. Rowan , of Kentucky [february 4, 1830]
- William Smith: Speech of Mr. Smith , of South Carolina [february 25, 1830]
- John M. Clayton: Speech of Mr. Clayton , of Delaware [march 4, 1830]
- Speech of Mr. Livingston , of Louisiana [march 9, 1830]
Robert Y. Hayne
Robert Y. Hayne was born in South Carolina in 1791 and educated in Charleston. He studied law and was admitted to the bar in 1812. During the War of 1812, he served as an officer in the Third South Carolina Regiment. A member of the State House of Representatives from 1814 to 1818, Hayne was State Attorney General from 1820 to 1822, when he was elected as a Republican to the United States Senate. He was reelected in 1828. Hayne was aligned with John C. Calhoun as a nationalist in the Republican party in South Carolina, and in winning election to the Senate he defeated William Smith, the leader of the radical states’ rights Jeffersonian Republicans in South Carolina politics. With Calhoun, his opposition to the protective tariff led him to become a radical advocate of state sovereignty. Hayne was a member of the South Carolina convention that passed the Ordinance of Nullification in 1832. He resigned from the Senate and was elected governor from 1832 to 1834. In the nullification crisis, he commanded a force of 25,000 South Carolina volunteers with caution and restraint. Hayne was mayor of Charleston from 1835 to 1837, and he was president of the Louisville, Cincinnati & Charleston Railroad at the time of his death in 1839.
Speech of Mr. Hayne,
of South Carolina
[January 19, 1830]
The following resolution, moved by Mr. Foot, of Connecticut, being under consideration:
“Resolved, That the Committee on Public Lands be instructed to inquire into the expediency of limiting for a certain period the sales of the public lands to such lands only as have heretofore been offered for sale, and are subject to entry at the minimum price. And also whether the O ff ice of Surveyor General may not be abolished without detriment to the public interest.”
Mr. Hayne said that, if the gentlemen who had discussed this proposition had confined themselves strictly to the resolution under consideration, he would have spared the Senate the trouble of listening to the few remarks he now proposed to offer. It has been said, and correctly said, by more than one gentleman, that resolutions of inquiry were usually suffered to pass without opposition. The parliamentary practice in this respect was certainly founded in good sense and sound policy, which regarded such resolutions as intended merely to elicit information, and therefore entitled to favor. But [said Mr. H.] I cannot give my assent to the proposition so broadly laid down by some gentlemen, that, because nobody stands committed by a vote for inquiry, that, therefore, every resolution proposing an inquiry, no matter on what subject, must pass almost as a matter of course, and that, to discuss or oppose such resolutions, is un-parliamentary. The true distinction seems to be this: Where information is desired as the basis of legislation, or where the policy of any measure, or the principles it involves, are really questionable, it was always proper to send the subject to a committee for investigation; but where all the material facts are already known, and there is a fixed and settled opinion in respect to the policy to be pursued, inquiry was unnecessary, and ought to be refused. No one, he thought, could doubt the correctness of the position assumed by the gentleman from Missouri, that no inquiry ought ever to be instituted as to the expediency of doing “a great and acknowledged wrong.” I do not mean, however, to intimate an opinion that such is the character of this resolution. The application of these rules to the case before us will decide my vote, and every Senator can apply them for himself to the decision of the question, whether the inquiry now called for should be granted or refused. With that decision, whatever it may be, I shall be content.
I have not risen, however, Mr. President, for the purpose of discussing the propriety of instituting the inquiry recommended by the resolution, but to offer a few remarks on another and much more important question, to which gentlemen have alluded in the course of this debate—I mean the policy which ought to be pursued in relation to the public lands. Every gentleman who has had a seat in Congress for the last two or three years, or even for the last two or three weeks, must be convinced of the great and growing importance of this question. More than half of our time has been taken up with the discussion of propositions connected with the public lands; more than half of our acts embrace provisions growing out of this fruitful source. Day after day the changes are rung on this topic, from the grave inquiry into the right of the new States to the absolute sovereignty and property in the soil, down to the grant of a pre-emption of a few quarter sections to actual settlers. In the language of a great orator in relation to another “vexed question,” we may truly say, “that year after year we have been lashed round the miserable circle of occasional arguments and temporary expedients.” No gentleman can fail to perceive that this is a question no longer to be evaded; it must be met—fairly and fearlessly met. A question that is pressed upon us in so many ways; that intrudes in such a variety of shapes; involving so deeply the feelings and interests of a large portion of the Union; insinuating itself into almost every question of public policy, and tinging the whole course of our legislation, cannot be put aside, or laid asleep. We cannot long avoid it; we must meet and overcome it, or it will overcome us. Let us, then, be prepared to encounter it in a spirit of wisdom and of justice, and endeavor to prepare our own minds and the minds of the people, for a just and enlightened decision. The object of the remarks I am about to offer is merely to call public attention to the question, to throw out a few crude and undigested thoughts, as food for reflection, in order to prepare the public mind for the adoption, at no distant day, of some fixed and settled policy in relation to the public lands. I believe that, out of the Western country, there is no subject in the whole range of our legislation less understood, and in relation to which there exists so many errors, and such unhappy prejudices and misconceptions.
There may be said to be two great parties in this country, who entertain very opposite opinions in relation to the character of the policy which the Government has heretofore pursued, in relation to the public lands, as well as to that which ought, hereafter, to be pursued. I propose, very briefly, to examine these opinions, and to throw out for consideration a few ideas in connexion with them. Adverting first, to the past policy of the Government, we find that one party, embracing a very large portion, perhaps at this time a majority of the people of the United States, in all quarters of the Union, entertain the opinion, that, in the settlement of the new States and the disposition of the public lands, Congress has pursued not only a highly just and liberal course, but one of extraordinary kindness and indulgence. We are regarded as having acted towards the new States in the spirit of parental weakness, granting to froward children, not only every thing that was reasonable and proper, but actually robbing ourselves of our property to gratify their insatiable desires. While the other party, embracing the entire West, insist that we have treated them, from the beginning, not like heirs of the estate, but in the spirit of a hard taskmaster, resolved to promote our selfish interests from the fruit of their labor. Now, sir, it is not my present purpose to investigate all the grounds on which these opposite opinions rest; I shall content myself with noticing one or two particulars, in relation to which it has long appeared to me, that the West have had some cause for complaint. I notice them now, not for the purpose of aggravating the spirit of discontent in relation to this subject, which is known to exist in that quarter—for I do not know that my voice will ever reach them—but to assist in bringing others to what I believe to be a just sense of the past policy of the Government in relation to this matter. In the creation and settlement of the new States, the plan has been invariably pursued, of selling out, from time to time, certain portions of the public lands, for the highest price that could possibly be obtained for them in open market, and, until a few years past, on long credits. In this respect, a marked difference is observable between our policy and that of every other nation that has ever attempted to establish colonies or create new States. Without pausing to examine the course pursued in this respect at earlier periods in the history of the world, I will come directly to the measures adopted in the first settlement of the new world, and will confine my observations entirely to North America. The English, the French, and the Spaniards, have successively planted their colonies here, and have all adopted the same policy, which, from the very beginning of the world, had always been found necessary in the settlement of new countries, viz: A free grant of lands, “without money and without price.” We all know that the British colonies, at their first settlement here, (whether deriving title directly from the crown or the lords proprietors) received grants for considerations merely nominal.
The payment of “a penny,” or a “pepper corn,” was the stipulated price which our fathers along the whole Atlantic coast, now composing the old thirteen States, paid for their lands, and even when conditions, seemingly more substantial, were annexed to the grants; such for instance as “settlement and cultivation.” These were considered as substantially complied with, by the cutting down a few trees and erecting a log cabin—the work of only a few days. Even these conditions very soon came to be considered as merely nominal, and were never required to be pursued, in order to vest in the grantee the fee simple of the soil. Such was the system under which this country was originally settled, and under which the thirteen colonies flourished and grew up to that early and vigorous manhood, which enabled them in a few years to achieve their independence; and I beg gentlemen to recollect, and note the fact, that, while they paid substantially nothing to the mother country, the whole profits of their industry were suffered to remain in their own hands. Now, what, let us inquire, was the reason which has induced all nations to adopt this system in the settlement of new countries? Can it be any other than this; that it affords the only certain means of building up in a wilderness, great and prosperous communities? Was not that policy founded on the universal belief, that the conquest of a new country, the driving out “the savage beasts and still more savage men,” cutting down and subduing the forest, and encountering all the hardships and privations necessarily incident to the conversion of the wilderness into cultivated fields, was worth the fee simple of the soil? And was it not believed that the mother country found ample remuneration for the value of the land so granted in the additions to her power and the new sources of commerce and of wealth, furnished by prosperous and populous States? Now, sir, I submit to the candid consideration of gentlemen, whether the policy so diametrically opposite to this, which has been invariably pursued by the United States towards the new States in the West has been quite so just and liberal, as we have been accustomed to believe. Certain it is, that the British colonies to the north of us, and the Spanish and French to the south and west, have been fostered and reared up under a very different system. Lands, which had been for fifty or a hundred years open to every settler, without any charge beyond the expense of the survey, were, the moment they fell into the hands of the United States, held up for sale at the highest price that a public auction, at the most favorable seasons, and not unfrequently a spirit of the wildest competition, could produce, with a limitation that they should never be sold below a certain minimum price; thus making it, as it would seem, the cardinal point of our policy, not to settle the country, and facilitate the formation of new States, but to fill our coffers by coining our lands into gold.
Let us now consider for a moment, [said Mr. H.] the effect of these two opposite systems on the condition of a new State. I will take the State of Missouri, by way of example. Here is a large and fertile territory, coming into the possession of the United States without any inhabitants but Indians and wild beasts—a territory which is to be converted into a sovereign and independent State. You commence your operations by surveying and selling out a portion of the lands, on long credits, to actual settlers; and, as the population progresses, you go on, year after year, making additional sales on the same terms; and this operation is to be continued, as gentlemen tell us, for fifty or a hundred years at least, if not for all time to come. The inhabitants of this new State, under such a system, it is most obvious, must have commenced their operations under a load of debt, the annual payment of which must necessarily drain their country of the whole profits of their labor, just so long as this system shall last. This debt is due, not from some citizens of the State to others of the same State, (in which case the money would remain in the country) but it is due from the whole population of the State to the United States, by whom it is regularly drawn out, to be expended abroad. Sir, the amount of this debt has, in every one of the new States, actually constantly exceeded the ability of the people to pay, as is proved by the fact that you have been compelled, from time to time, in your great liberality, to extend the credits, and in some instances even to remit portions of the debt, in order to protect some land debtors from bankruptcy and total ruin. Now, I will submit the question to any candid man, whether, under this system, the people of a new State, so situated, could, by any industry or exertion, ever become rich and prosperous. What has been the consequence, sir? Almost universal poverty; no money; hardly a sufficient circulating medium for the ordinary exchanges of society; paper banks, relief laws, and the other innumerable evils, social, political, and moral, on which it is unnecessary for me to dwell. Sir, under a system by which a drain like this is constantly operating upon the wealth of the whole community, the country may be truly said to be afflicted with a curse which it has been well observed is more grievous to be borne “than the barrenness of the soil, and the inclemency of the seasons.” It is said, sir, that we learn from our own misfortunes how to feel for the sufferings of others; and perhaps the present condition of the Southern States has served to impress more deeply on my own mind, the grievous oppression of a system by which the wealth of a country is drained off to be expended elsewhere. In that devoted region, sir, in which my lot has been cast, it is our misfortune to stand in that relation to the Federal Government, which subjects us to a taxation which it requires the utmost efforts of our industry to meet. Nearly the whole amount of our contributions is expended abroad: we stand towards the United States in the relation of Ireland to England. The fruits of our labor are drawn from us to enrich other and more favored sections of the Union; while, with one of the finest climates and the richest products in the world, furnishing, with one-third of the population, two-thirds of the whole exports of the country, we exhibit the extraordinary, the wonderful, and painful spectacle of a country enriched by the bounty of God, but blasted by the cruel policy of man. The rank grass grows in our streets; our very fields are scathed by the hand of injustice and oppression. Such, sir, though probably in a less degree, must have been the effects of a kindred policy on the fortunes of the West. It is not in the nature of things that it should have been otherwise.
Let gentlemen now pause and consider for a moment what would have been the probable effects of an opposite policy. Suppose, sir, a certain portion of the State of Missouri had been originally laid off and sold to actual settlers for the quit rent of a “peppercorn” or even for a small price to be paid down in cash. Then, sir, all the money that was made in the country would have remained in the country, and, passing from hand to hand, would, like rich and abundant streams flowing through the land, have adorned and fertilized the whole. Suppose, sir, that all the sales that have been effected had been made by the State, and that the proceeds had gone into the State treasury, to be returned back to the people in some of the various shapes in which a beneficent local government exerts its powers for the improvement of the condition of its citizens. Who can say how much of wealth and prosperity, how much of improvement in science and the arts, how much of individual and social happiness, would have been diffused throughout the land! But I have done with this topic.
In coming to the consideration of the next great question, What ought to be the future policy of the Government in relation to the Public Lands? we find the most opposite and irreconcileable opinions between the two parties which I have before described. On the one side it is contended that the public land ought to be reserved as a permanent fund for revenue, and future distribution among the States, while, on the other, it is insisted that the whole of these lands of right belong to, and ought to be relinquished to, the States in which they lie. I shall proceed to throw out some ideas in relation to the proposed policy, that the public lands ought to be reserved for these purposes. It may be a question, Mr. President, how far it is possible to convert the public lands into a great source of revenue. Certain it is, that all the efforts heretofore made for this purpose have most signally failed. The harshness, if not injustice of the proceeding, puts those upon whom it is to operate upon the alert, to contrive methods of evading and counteracting our policy, and hundreds of schemes, in the shape of appropriations of lands for Roads, Canals, and Schools, grants to actual settlers, &c. are resorted to for the purpose of controlling our operations. But, sir, let us take it for granted that we will be able, hereafter, to resist these applications, and to reserve the whole of your lands, for fifty or for a hundred years, or for all time to come, to furnish a great fund for permanent revenue, is it desirable that we should do so? Will it promote the welfare of the United States to have at our disposal a permanent treasury, not drawn from the pockets of the people, but to be derived from a source independent of them? Would it be safe to confide such a treasure to the keeping of our national rulers? to expose them to the temptations inseparable from the direction and control of a fund which might be enlarged or diminished almost at pleasure, without imposing burthens upon the people? Sir, I may be singular—perhaps I stand alone here in the opinion, but it is one I have long entertained, that one of the greatest safeguards of liberty is a jealous watchfulness on the part of the people, over the collection and expenditure of the public money—a watchfulness that can only be secured where the money is drawn by taxation directly from the pockets of the people. Every scheme or contrivance by which rulers are able to procure the command of money by means unknown to, unseen or unfelt by, the people, destroys this security. Even the revenue system of this country, by which the whole of our pecuniary resources are derived from indirect taxation, from duties upon imports, has done much to weaken the responsibility of our federal rulers to the people, and has made them, in some measure, careless of their rights, and regardless of the high trust committed to their care. Can any man believe, sir, that, if twenty-three millions per annum was now levied by direct taxation, or by an apportionment of the same among the States, instead of being raised by an indirect tax, of the severe effect of which few are aware, that the waste and extravagance, the unauthorized imposition of duties, and appropriations of money for unconstitutional objects, would have been tolerated for a single year? My life upon it, sir, they would not. I distrust, therefore, sir, the policy of creating a great permanent national treasury, whether to be derived from public lands or from any other source. If I had, sir, the powers of a magician, and could, by a wave of my hand, convert this capital into gold for such a purpose, I would not do it. If I could, by a mere act of my will, put at the disposal of the Federal Government any amount of treasure which I might think proper to name, I should limit the amount to the means necessary for the legitimate purposes of the Government. Sir, an immense national treasury would be a fund for corruption. It would enable Congress and the Executive to exercise a control over States, as well as over great interests in the country, nay, even over corporations and individuals—utterly destructive of the purity, and fatal to the duration of our institutions. It would be equally fatal to the sovereignty and independence of the States. Sir, I am one of those who believe that the very life of our system is the independence of the States, and that there is no evil more to be deprecated than the consolidation of this Government. It is only by a strict adherence to the limitations imposed by the constitution on the Federal Government, that this system works well, and can answer the great ends for which it was instituted. I am opposed, therefore, in any shape, to all unnecessary extension of the powers, or the influence of the Legislature or Executive of the Union over the States, or the people of the States; and, most of all, I am opposed to those partial distributions of favors, whether by legislation or appropriation, which has a direct and powerful tendency to spread corruption through the land; to create an abject spirit of dependence; to sow the seeds of dissolution; to produce jealousy among the different portions of the Union, and finally to sap the very foundations of the Government itself.
But, sir, there is another purpose to which it has been supposed the public lands can be applied, still more objectionable. I mean that suggested in a report from the Treasury Department, under the late administration, of so regulating the disposition of the public lands as to create and preserve, in certain quarters of the Union, a population suitable for conducting great manufacturing establishments. It is supposed, sir, by the advocates of the American System, that the great obstacle to the progress of manufactures in this country is the want of that low and degraded population which infest the cities and towns of Europe, who, having no other means of subsistence, will work for the lowest wages, and be satisfied with the smallest possible share of human enjoyment. And this difficulty it is proposed to overcome, by so regulating and limiting the sales of the public lands, as to prevent the drawing off this portion of the population from the manufacturing States. Sir, it is bad enough that Government should presume to regulate the industry of man; it is sufficiently monstrous that they should attempt, by arbitrary legislation, artificially to adjust and balance the various pursuits of society, and to “organize the whole labor and capital of the country.” But what shall we say of the resort to such means for these purposes! What! create a manufactory of paupers, in order to enable the rich proprietors of woollen and cotton factories to amass wealth? From the bottom of my soul do I abhor and detest the idea, that the powers of the Federal Government should ever be prostituted for such purpose. Sir, I hope we shall act on a more just and liberal system of policy. The people of America are, and ought to be for a century to come, essentially an agricultural people; and I can conceive of no policy that can possibly be pursued in relation to the public lands, none that would be more “for the common benefit of all the States,” than to use them as the means of furnishing a secure asylum to that class of our fellow-citizens, who in any portion of the country may find themselves unable to procure a comfortable subsistence by the means immediately within their reach. I would by a just and liberal system convert into great and flourishing communities, that entire class of persons, who would otherwise be paupers in your streets, and outcasts in society, and by so doing you will but fulfil the great trust which has been confided to your care.
Sir, there is another scheme in relation to the public lands, which, as it addresses itself to the interested and selfish feelings of our nature, will doubtless find many advocates. I mean the distribution of the public lands among the States, according to some ratio hereafter to be settled. Sir, this system of distribution is, in all its shapes, liable to many and powerful objections. I will not go into them at this time, because the subject has recently undergone a thorough discussion in the other House, and because, from present indications, we shall shortly have up the subject here. “Sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof.” I come now to the claims set up by the West to these lands. The first is, that they have a full and perfect legal and constitutional right to all the lands within their respective limits. This claim was set up for the first time only a few years ago, and has been advocated on this floor by the gentlemen from Alabama and Indiana, with great zeal and ability. Without having paid much attention to this point, it has appeared to me that this claim is untenable. I shall not stop to enter into the argument further than to say, that, by the very terms of the grants under which the United States have acquired these lands, the absolute property in the soil is vested in them, and must, it would seem, continue so until the lands shall be sold or otherwise disposed of. I can easily conceive that it may be extremely inconvenient, nay, highly injurious to a State, to have immense bodies of land within her chartered limits, locked up from sale and settlement, withdrawn from the power of taxation, and contributing in no respect to her wealth or prosperity. But though this state of things may present strong claims on the Federal Government for the adoption of a liberal policy towards the new States, it cannot affect the question of legal or constitutional right. Believing that this claim, on the part of the West, will never be recognized by the Federal Government, I must regret that it has been urged, as I think it will have no other effect than to create a prejudice against the claims of the new States.
But, sir, there has been another much more fruitful source of prejudice. I mean the demands constantly made from the West, for partial appropriations of the public lands for local objects. I am astonished that gentlemen from the Western country have not perceived the tendency of such a course to rivet upon them for ever the system which they consider so fatal to their interests. We have been told, sir, in the course of this debate, of the painful and degrading office which the gentlemen from that quarter are compelled to perform, in coming here, year after year, in the character of petitioners for these petty favors. The gentleman from Missouri tells us, “if they were not goaded on by their necessities, they would never consent to be beggars at our doors.” Sir, their course in this respect, let me say to those gentlemen, is greatly injurious to the West. While they shall continue to ask and gratefully to receive these petty and partial appropriations, they will be kept for ever in a state of dependence. Never will the Federal Government, or rather those who control its operations, consent to emancipate the West, by adopting a wise and just policy, looking to any final disposition of the public lands, while the people of the West can be kept in subjection and dependence, by occasional donations of those lands; and never will the Western States themselves assume their just and equal station among their sisters of the Union, while they are constantly looking up to Congress for favors and gratuities.
What, then, [asked Mr. H.] is our true policy on this important subject? I do not profess to have formed any fixed or settled opinions in relation to it. The time has not yet arrived when that question must be decided; and I must reserve for further lights, and more mature reflection, the formation of a final judgment. The public debt must be first paid. For this, these lands have been solemnly pledged to the public creditors. This done, which, if there be no interference with the Sinking Fund, will be effected in three or four years, the question will then be fairly open, to be disposed of as Congress and the country may think just and proper. Without attempting to indicate precisely what our policy ought then to be, I will, in the same spirit which has induced me to throw out the desultory thoughts which I have now presented to the Senate, suggest for consideration, whether it will not be sound policy, and true wisdom, to adopt a system of measures looking to the final relinquishment of these lands on the part of the United States, to the States in which they lie, on such terms and conditions as may fully indemnify us for the cost of the original purchase, and all the trouble and expense to which we may have been put on their account. Giving up the plan of using these lands forever as a fund either for revenue or distribution, ceasing to hug them as a great treasure, renouncing the idea of administering them with a view to regulate and control the industry and population of the States, or of keeping in subjection and dependence the States, or the people of any portion of the Union, the task will be comparatively easy of striking out a plan for the final adjustment of the land question on just and equitable principles. Perhaps, sir, the lands ought not to be entirely relinquished to any State until she shall have made considerable advances in population and settlement. Ohio has probably already reached that condition. The relinquishment may be made by a sale to the State, at a fixed price, which I will not say should be nominal; but certainly I should not be disposed to fix the amount so high as to keep the States for any length of time in debt to the United States. In short, our whole policy in relation to the public lands may perhaps be summed up in the declaration with which I set out, that they ought not to be kept and retained forever as a great treasure, but that they should be administered chiefly with a view to the creation, within reasonable periods, of great and flourishing communities, to be formed into free and independent States; to be invested in due season with the control of all the lands within their respective limits.