Front Page Titles (by Subject) 1840: GALLATIN TO WM. WOODBRIDGE, Governor of Michigan. - The Writings of Albert Gallatin, vol. 2
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1840: GALLATIN TO WM. WOODBRIDGE, Governor of Michigan. - Albert Gallatin, The Writings of Albert Gallatin, vol. 2 
The Writings of Albert Gallatin, ed. Henry Adams (Philadelphia: J.B. Lippincott, 1879). 3 vols.
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GALLATIN TO WM. WOODBRIDGE, Governor of Michigan.
New York, 19th September, 1840.
Your letter of 25th May has been duly received. My age and infirmities do not permit me to write long letters, still less to enter into discussions of important public questions. Yet on that which you proposed I never entertained or now have any doubt. The title of the United States to the lands within the new Western States is derived either from treaties with foreign nations or from cessions of some of the thirteen original States. The United States never had any claim to lands in Vermont and Kentucky, because both those States were entirely within the chartered and acknowledged bounds of old States, Kentucky within those of Virginia, and Vermont within those of New York and New Hampshire; and Virginia, New York, and New Hampshire ceded their rights respectively to the people of Kentucky and of Vermont, and not to the United States. All the lands south of the Lakes, east of the Mississippi, west of Pennsylvania, and north of the Ohio were, prior to the war of independence, claimed by the Crown. Almost if not the whole was claimed by Virginia as lying within its chartered bounds, and portions were, on the same principle, also claimed by Massachusetts, Connecticut, and New York. By virtue of cessions from those several States and of the treaty of peace of 1783 with Great Britain, every possible claim (save that of the aborigines and a few previous French grants to the inhabitants of Detroit, Vincennes, and Kaskaskia) to those lands was released to the confederated thirteen United States, whose title to the same was indisputable and questioned by none.
By the ordinance of 1787 it is declared that certain articles shall be considered as articles of compact between the original States and the people and States in the said territory, and forever remain unalterable, unless by common consent, to wit: and the fourth article contains the following provisions:
The Legislatures of those districts, or new States, shall never interfere with the primary disposal of the soil by the United States in Congress assembled, nor with any regulations Congress may find necessary for securing the title in such soil to the bona fide purchasers. No tax shall be imposed on lands the property of the United States, and in no case shall non-resident proprietors be taxed higher than residents.
I have always considered those provisions as just in themselves and binding on the parties.
It is true that, generally speaking, the right of sovereignty embraces that of the unappropriated soil. But that right may, like all others, be limited by contract. To declare war, to make peace, to coin money, are attributes of sovereignty universally acknowledged. Yet they have been yielded to the general or common government by the several independent sovereign States of America. The Western States have all been admitted in the Union subsequent to the adoption of the Constitution, which provides that “the Congress shall have power to dispose of, and make all needful rules and regulations respecting the territory or other property belonging to the United States, &c.”
I do not recollect ever to have heard it suggested that the new States had or claimed a right to the soil by virtue of their sovereignty till after my return from Europe, in the year 1823; and I was quite astonished when, for the first time, I heard the claim asserted in a speech of Mr. Hendricks, of Indiana.
I certainly never had entertained such an idea; and I presume that any report which may have reached you has grown out of some confused notion respecting a letter written by me as Secretary of the Treasury to Mr. Giles, chairman of the committee on the admission of the North-West Territory into the Union; of which I enclose a copy.
Congress very properly reduced the term of exemption from taxation from ten to five years; and now that the idea of a quid pro quo has been set aside, and that the lands are sold for cash, I see no reason why the lands once sold should be at all exempted from taxation. But it is a matter of regret that the ten per cent. intended for the national road should have been reduced.
Whether, now that the public debt has been paid, there may not be considerations in favor of a less rigid line of policy, is another question. Michigan has certainly a right to be treated as favorably as any other of the Western States. Every arrangement, however, should be by mutual consent, and with a due regard for the rights of the people of every part of the Union. For my part, I wish that the public lands, now that the resources of the Union are sufficient to meet any exigency, might be so disposed of as to become in fact (as was the case under the colonial system) the patrimony of the poorer classes of society throughout the Union.
I have the honor to be, with great respect, sir, your obedient servant.
I never had any conversation with Mr. Griswold, and do not recollect any with Mr. Randolph, on the subject.
GALLATIN TO BENJ. C. HOWARD.
New York, 5th November, 1840.
I have this moment received your favor of 3d of this month, and enclose by mail a copy of my argument on the North-Eastern boundary. . . .
As I did devote near two years of my time to that subject, I certainly ought to understand it; but in a popular lecture you should try to simplify it. The four questions, stated both in the Preface and at the beginning of No. 11 of the Appendix, are the only questions at issue between the two governments; and the recapitulation was intended as the substance of the argument.
You may find it more easy to simplify than to add something new, as I am perfectly satisfied that I have taken the true ground, from which both Mr. Edward Livingston and Mr. Louis McLane had, when Secretary of State, sadly departed, simply because they did not take the trouble to examine the subject.
There is, however, a portion which I have only sketched, and on which you could add something more pointed at least than what I have said,—I mean a full reply to the report of Messrs. Featherstonhaugh and Mudge. That document I was obliged to treat much more tenderly than it did deserve, on account of its having been laid before Parliament by Lord Palmerston, whom I did not wish to irritate in a work of which I have sent copies to every British statesman I knew, and in which I appeal to the justice of that government. For if it persists in refusing it, where is our remedy? Detesting a recourse to war, unless it is actually made or forced upon us, I know of no other way than to appeal to public opinion both in England and in other foreign countries. This has been too much neglected by our government, and induced me, notwithstanding my age and love of repose, to make this publication.
With that object in view, I think it necessary that the report of Messrs. F. and M., which, in the absence of other documents and sustained by an apparatus of scientific observations, has produced an unfavorable effect in England, should be more fully exposed and castigated than has been done [by] me; for I have only indicated its principal errors, as I have mildly designated that tissue of folly, mendacity, and effrontery. I wish, therefore, that you could obtain a copy of it from Washington, which would enable you, after giving a short and popular outline of the question, to exhibit that arrant piece of quackery in its true colors. There is room for sarcasm as well as for argument; and I think your lecture would have more originality, be more entertaining, and, what is of greater importance, be more useful. Excuse these suggestions, and, after all, follow your own view of the subject.
I remain, respectfully, dear sir, your obedient servant.