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commencement of Mr. Monroe's administration. During its continuance, of eight years, in consequence of the embarrassments of the treasury, the ten millions were not regularly applied to the payment of the debt, and upon the termination of that administration the treasury stood largely in arrear to the sinking fund. During the subsequent administration of four years, not only were the ten millions faithfully applied during each year, but those arrears were brought up, and all previous deficiencies made good. So that, when the present administration began, a plain, unincum. bered, and well-defined path lay directly before it. Under the measures which have been devised in the short term of fifteen years, the government has paid nearly one hundred millions of principal, and about an equal sum of interest, leaving the small remnant behind, of twenty-four millions. Of that amount, thirteen millions consist of three per cent. stock, created by the act of 1790, which the government does not stand bound to redeem at any prescribed time, but which it may discharge whenever it may suit its own convenience, and when it is discharged it must be done by the payment of dollar for dollar. I cannot think, and I should suppose congress can hardly believe with the secretary of the treasury, that it would be wise to pay off a stock of thirteen millions, entitling its holders to but three per cent., with a capital of thirteen millions, worth an interest of six per cent. In other words, to take from the pockets of the people two dollars, to pay one in the hands of the stockholder.
The moral value of the payment of a national debt consists in the demonstration which it affords of the ability of a country to meet, and its integrity in fulfilling, all its engagements. That the resources of this country, increasing, as it constantly is, in population and wealth, are abundantly sufficient to meet any debt, which it may ever prudently contract, cannot be doubted. And its punctuality and probity, from the period of the assumption, in 1790, of the debt of the revolution, down to the present time, rest upon a solid and incontestable foundation. The danger is not, perhaps, that it will not fairly meet its engagements, but that, from an inordinate avidity, arising from temporary causes, it may bring discredit upon itself by improvident arrangement, which no prudent man, in the management of his private affairs, would ever think of adopting.
Of the residue of that twenty-four millions of debt, after deducting the thirteen millions of three per cent., less than two millions are due, and of right payable within the present year. If to that sum be added the moiety which becomes due on the thirtyfirst of December next, of the four million four hundred and fiftyfour thousand seven hundred and twenty-seven dollars, created by the act of the twenty-sixth of May, 1924, we have but a su
oi about four millions, which the public creditor can lawfully demand, or which the government is bound to pay in the
course of this year. If more is paid, it can only be done by anticipating the period of its payment, and going into the public market to purchase the stock.' Can it be doubted that, if you do so, the vigilant holder of the stock, taking advantage of your anxiety, will demand a greater price than its value? Already we perceive, that the three per cent. have risen to the extraordinary height of ninety-six per cent. The difference between a payment of the inconsiderable portion remaining of the public debt in one, two, or three years, is certainly not so important as to justify a resort to highly disadvantageous terms.
Whoever may be entitled to the credit of the payment of the public debt, I congratulate you, sir, and the country, most cordially, that it is so near at hand. It is so nearly being totally extinguished, that we may now safely inquire whether, without prejudice to any established policy, we may not relieve the consumption of the country, by the repeal or reduction of duties, and curtail considerably the public revenue. In making ihis inquiry, the first question that presents itself is, whether it is expedient to preserve the existing duties in order to accumulate a surplus in the treasury, for the purpose of subsequent distribution among the several states. I think not. If the collection for the purpose of such a surplus is to be made from the pockets of one portion of the people, to be ultimately returned to the same pockets, the process would be attended with the certain loss arising from the charges of collection, and with the loss also of interest while the money is performing the unnecessary circuit, and it would therefore be unwise. If it is to be collected from one portion of the people and given to another, it would be unjust.
If it is to be given to the states in their corporate capacity, to be used by them in their public expenditure, I know of no principle in the constitution that authorizes the federal government to become such a collector for the states, nor of any principle of safety or propriety which admits of the states becoming such recipients of gratuity from the general government.
The public revenue, then, should be regulated and adapted to the proper service of the general government. It should be ample; for a deficit in the public income, always to be deprecated, is sometimes attended, as we know well from history and from what has happened in our own time, with fatal consequences. country so rapidly growing as this is, with such diversified interests, new wants and unexpected calls upon the public treasury must frequently occur. Take some examples from this session. The state of Virginia has presented a claim for an amount but little short of a million, which she presses with an earnestuess demonstrating her conviction of its justice. The state of South Carolina has also a claim for no inconsiderable sum, being upwards of one hundred thousand dollars, which she urges with equal earnestness. The gentleman from Pennsylvania (Mr. Wilkins) has brought forward a
claim arising out of French spoliatiors previous to the convention of 1800, which is perhaps not short of five millions, and to some extent I have no doubt it has a just foundation. In any provision of public revenue, congress ought so to fix it as to adinit of the payment of honest and proper demands, which its justice cannot reject or evade.
I hope, too, that either in the adjustment of the public revenue, or what would be preferable, in the appropriation of the proceeds of the public lands, effectual and permanent provision will be made for such internal improvements as may be sanctioned by congress. This is due to the American people, and emphatically due to the western people. Sir, temporary causes inay exact a reluctant acquiescence from the people of the west in the suspension of appropriations to objects of internal improvement, but as certain as you preside in that chair, or as the sun performs ils diurnal revolution, they will not be satisfied with an abandonment of the policy. They will come here and tell you, not in a tone of menace or supplication, but in the language of conscious right, that they must share with you in the benefits, as they divide with you the burdens and the perils, of a common government. They will say that they have no direct interest in the expenditures for the navy, the fortifications, nor even the army, those greatest absorbents of the public treasure. That they are not indifferent, indeed, to the safety and prosperity of any part of our common country. On the contrary, that every portion of the republic is indirectly, at least, interested in the welfare of the whole, and that they ever sympathize in the distresses and rejoice in the happiness of the most distant quarter of the union. And to demonstrate that they are not careless or indifferent to interests not direcily their own, they may proudly and triumphantly appeal to the gallarit part which they bore in the late war, and point 10 the bloody fields on which some of their most patriotic sons nobly fell fighting in the common cause. But they will also say, that these paternal and just sentiments ought to be reciprocated by their Atlantic brethren. That these ought not to be indifferent to the welfare of the west, and that they have the same collateral or indirect interest in its success and advancement that the west has in theirs. That it does not ask internal improvements to be confined exclusively to itself
, but that it may receive, in coinmon with the rest of the union, a practical benefit in the only form compatible with its interior condition.
The appropriation of the proceeds of the public lands, or a considerable portion of them, to that object, would be a most natural and suitable disposition. And I do hope, sir, that that great resource will be cherished and dedicated to some national purpose, worthy of the republic. Uiterly opposed as I trust congress will show itself to be, to all the mad and wild schemes - and to that latest, but maddest and wildest of all, recommended by the
secretary of the treasury - for squandering the public domain, I hope it will be preserved for the present generation and for posterity, as it has been received from our ancestors, a rich and bountiful inheritance. In these halcyon days of peace and plenty and an overflowing treasury, we appear to embarrass ourselves in devising visionary schemes for casting away the bounties with which the goodness of Providence has blessed us.
But, sir, the storm of war will come when we know not, the day of trial and difficulty will assuredly corne, and now is the time, by a prudent forecast, to husband our resources, and this, the greatest of them all. Let them not be hoarded and hugged with a miser's embrace, but liberally used. Let the public lands be administered in a generous spirit; and especially towards the states within which they are situated. Let the proceeds of the sales of the public lands be applied in a season of peace to some great object and when war does come, by suspending that application of them during its continuance, you will be at once put in possession of means for its vigorous prosecution. More than twenty-five years ago, when first I took a seat in this body, I was told by the fathers of the government, that if we had any thing perfect in our institutions, it was the system for disposing of the public lands, and I was cautioned against rash innovations in it. Subsequent experience fully satisfied me of the wisdom of their counsels, and that all vital changes in it ought to be resisted.
Although it may be impracticable to say what the exact amount of the public revenue should be for the future, and what would be the precise produce of any given system of imports, we may safely assume thai the revenue may now be reduced, and considerably reduced. This reduction may be effected in various ways and on different principles. Only three modes shall now be noticed.
First, to reduce duties on all articles in ihe same ratio, without regard to the principle of protection.
Second, to retain them on the unprotected articles, and augment them on the protected articles. And,
Third, to abolish and reduce the duties on unprotected articles, retaining and enforcing the faithful collection of those on the protected articles.
To the first mode there are insuperable objections. It would lead inevitably to the destruction of our home manufactures. It would establish a sort of bed of Procrustes, by which the duties on all articles should be blindly measured, without respect to their nature or the extent of their consumption. And it would be derogatory to every principle of theory or practice on which the government has hiiherto proceeded.
The second would be still more objectionable to the foes of the tariff than either of the others. But it cannot be controverted, that, by augmenting considerably the duties on the protected class, so as to carry them to the point, or near to the confines, of absolute prohibition, the object in view, of effecting the necessary reduction of the public revenue, may be accomplished without touching the duties on the unprotected class. The consequence of such an augmentation would be, a great diininution in the importation of the foregoing article, and of course in the duties upon it. But against entire probibition, except perhaps in a few instances, I have been always and still am opposed. By leaving the door open the foreign rival article, the benefit is secured of a salutary competition. If it be hermetically closed, the danger is incurred of monopoly.
The third mode is the most equitable and reasonable, and it presents an undebatable ground, on which I had hoped we all could safely tread without difficulty. It exacts no sacrifice of principle from the opponent of the American system, it comprehends none on the part of its friends. The measure before you embraces this mode. It is simple, and free from all complexity. It divides the whole subject of imports according to its nature. It settles at once what ought not to be disputed, and leaves to be settled hereafter, if necessary, what may be controverted.
A certain part of the south has bitherto complained, that it pays a disproportionate amount of the imports. If the complaint be well founded, by the adoption of this measure it will be relieved at once, as will be hereafier shown, from at least a fourth of its burdens. The measure is in conformity with the uniform practice of the government from its commencement, and with the professions of all the eminent politicians of the souih until of late. It assumes the right of the government, in the assessment of duties, to discriminate between those articles which sound policy requires it to foster and those which it need not encourage.
This has been the invariable principle on which the government has proceeded, from the act of congress of the fourth of July, 1789, down to the present time. And has it not been admitted by almost every prominent southern politician? Has it not even been acknowledged by the fathers of the free-trade church, in their late address promulgated from Philadelphia to the people of the United States? If we never had a system of foreign imports, and were now called upon for the first time to originate one, should we not discriminate between the objects of our own industry and those produced by foreigners? And is there any difference in its application between the modification of an existing system and the origination of a new one? If the gentlemen of the south, opposed to the tariff, were to obtain complete possession of the powers of government, would they hazard their exercise on any other principle? If it be said that some of the articles that would by this measure be liberated from duties, are luxuries, the remark is equally true of some of the articles remaining subject to duties. In the present advanced stage