Senate Debate On the Restoration of Funds Cut in 1834
February 11, 1835
On motion of Mr. Hendricks the senate proceeded to consider the bill for the continuation and repair of the Cumberland road in the states of Ohio, Indiana and Missouri.
The bill having been read, Mr. Hendricks, moved to amend the first section by adding a provision, that the officer or the army to whom the charge of the disbursements was given, should receive a percentage above his regular pay.
This proposition was opposed by Mr. Clay and Mr. Hill.
Mr Hendricks then said, that he was very indifferent as to this proportion. He made some explanations on the subject of the bill generally, giving a statement of the appropriation made last year, and of the manner in which that sum ($300,000) had been expended. The bill of last year, as it passed the Senate, appropriated $652,000, and it was then stated that if the whole amount was appropriated, there would be no further application to congress. But the house of representatives reduced the appropriation to $300,000, and the present bill appropriated $340,000, being rather less than the estimate of last year. The passage of the bill, in this form, would be sufficient to put the road in that state of repair which would render it unnecessary for any future appropriation by congress.
Mr. Buchanan said that reasons both of a public and personal character would induce him to make some remarks on this bill. The Cumberland road had been a constant subject before congress, ever since he had first taken his seat in the house of representatives, in the session of 1821-2. A bill had passed at that session to keep it in repair, by erecting toll gates upon it under the authority of the general government, on which Mr. Monroe, then the president of the United States had placed his veto, because, in his opinion, congress did not possess the power, under the constitution, to enact such a law. He (Mr. B.) had then carefully examined the message of Mr. Monroe on returning the bill, and had been convinced that we had no power to pass any such act. From that moment he had steadily and uniformly, in every shape and form, opposed the erection of toll gates upon this road, under the authority of the general government. If congress do possess the power to enter the territory of a state— to interfere in their domestic concerns— to erect toll gates upon their roads— to establish a system of police over them, and inflict penalties for its violations, and of consequence to create tribunals before which these offenses may be tried; then every barrier between federal and state authority is at once prostrated. Indeed, this principle would lead to perfect consolidation, so far as an entire jurisdiction over the post roads of the country, for the purpose of levying tolls to keep them in repair, could extend.
In this state of things there was one party in congress, who, although anxious for the preservation of the road, felt themselves bound to vote against all appropriations for its repair, on the principle of thus compelling its friends to consent that tolls for this purpose should be levied under the authority of the states through which it passes. Another party desired that it might be forever kept in repair by appropriations from the national treasury, without the collection of tolls either under state or national authority. And a third class of politicians were determined to push the doctrine of internal improvements to the dangerous extent of establishing the principle that congress not only possessed the power to appropriate money for the construction of roads and canals, but that they were also bound to assume a jurisdiction over them by erecting gates upon them, and demanding toll from the passengers.
In regard to myself, said Mr. B, I have been more misrepresented upon this question than I have ever been on any other. To have been constantly denounced as an enemy to the road, although I have never entertained a single hostile feeling towards it. Jealousy towards this great national work, because it might injure the Pennsylvania turnpike, has always been imputed to me; when, if I know myself, I am incapable of such a feeling towards such an improvement, so beneficial to the citizens of the country generally. For several years I voted for appropriations to repair the road, and I did not cease to do so until I discovered that if this course were continued, the peculiar friends of the road never would consent to the erection of toll gates under state authority.
In this conflict of jarring opinions the necessary appropriations could not be obtained for the repairs of the road. It got into a ruinous state, and became so dilapidated that its entire destruction was threatened. Its friends at length consented that it should be placed under the protection of the states through which it passes. To carry their wishes into effect, Pennsylvania in April 1831, and Maryland in January 1832, passed acts authorizing the erection of toll gates upon it, and agreed to take it under their care, provided it “should be put in a good and complete state of repair” by congress. Virginia some time afterward passed a similar act.
On the 3d of July, 1833, congress approved of these legislative acts, and appropriated $150,000 towards the repair of the road.
Here then was a contract expressly and solemnly made, first, that the road should be put in good and complete repair by congress, and then that it should be surrendered to the states for the purpose of its preservation. In pursuance of this arrangement, the engineer department adopted a plan for its repair. The road was to be Macadamized. There were to be three strata of stone placed upon it, each of three inches in depth. The repairs proceeded upon this principle. On the 2d March, 1833, the sum of $125,000 more was appropriated to continue these repairs. At the last session an estimate was presented to congress by the engineer department, stating that the sum of $653,100 would be required to complete the road; but congress only appropriated $300,000 for this purpose, less than half the necessary sum. The act granting this money also declared, that it was given for the “entire completion of the repairs of the Cumberland road east of the Ohio.”
What have been the consequences? Just each as might have been foreseen by every reflecting man. The engineer department had adopted a fixed plan for repairing the road. This plan they had steadily pursued for two years. It was known or ought to have been known by congress. They were progressing gradually to complete the road; when, all of a sudden, without any previous notice, congress changed the plan, by granting less than half the money necessary for its execution. What was then to be done? It became necessary for the engineer to abandon this system, and spread the appropriation over the whole road. He has acted thus, and the result has been, that about sixty three miles of the road, has but one stratum of three inches of stone in depth, instead of three. Is there any gentleman upon this floor who does not know, not only that this is insufficient for a permanent road, but that as soon as the spring opens, it will be cut to pieces by the heavy wagons and carriages. The metal, as it is technically called, will then be all in the mud. If the money now asked be not granted, the fatality which has always attended this road will continue to exist, and the last appropriation of $300,000 will be rendered nearly useless.
But, sir, the states through which the road passes have only agreed to take it off your hands, on the condition that you shall first put it in good and complete repair, and you have accepted these terms? Does any gentleman suppose for a single moment that the state of Pennsylvania will accept this road in its present condition? Is it in good and complete repair, according to the terms of the contract? Your own engineer answers no, and informs you that it will require the sum of $346,186.58 to complete the repairs, according to the plan adopted, and which is considered indispensable. This sum you will be obliged to grant, or you must keep the road in repair by annual appropriations— a course of policy which I presume no senator intends to adopt as a permanent system. There is no other alternative, unless you devote the road itself to destruction. This idea no gentleman can for a moment entertain. Toll gates to be erected by congress are now out of the question.
But it is said that the sum of $300,000 was appropriated at the last session for the entire completion of the repairs of the road, and that no more ought now to be demanded. Is there any force in this argument? In adjusting an account with individuals, where the claimant is an opposing party, it is very proper for congress to declare that the sum granted shall be in full of all demands. Unless under very extraordinary circumstances, I should not vote to reopen such an account, and grant an additional sum. But what are the facts upon the present occasion? Does not this road belong to the United States? Are we not bound by the strongest sense of public duty to keep it in repair? Here there is no opposite party with whom we can drive a bargain. It is our own road, and if we have not appropriated a sufficient sum for its repair, shall we suffer it to go to ruin because we have made a mistake in regard to the amount necessary for that purpose? If the simple declaration of congress that $300,000 was sufficient could have rendered it so, then there might be justice in the reasoning; otherwise it is a mere fallacy. After having granted a certain sum which was found by experience to be wholly insufficient to complete one of our fortifications, what should we say to a gentleman who would gravely contend that as we had declared this sum should accomplish the object, we would rather permit it to go to ruin than appropriate another dollar? The cases are precisely parallel. But this is not all. How can congress acquit themselves from their obligations to Maryland, Pennsylvania and Virginia by such an argument? They have a right to declare that this was not the bargain; that you agreed to repair the road; and cost what it may this object must be accomplished, or they will not accept its surrender.
The commissioners appointed under the act of the legislature of Pennsylvania have pledged themselves to you in the most solemn manner to accept the road, and erect toll gates upon it, as soon as congress shall appropriate the sum deemed necessary by the engineer department to place it in a state of good repair. That sum is granted by this bill. Pass it, and I will undertake to say for Pennsylvania that this perplexing question, which has so often and for so many years agitated congress, will be forever at rest. You will nevermore hear of this road, unless it be that it has been protected and preserved with the fostering care which that state exercises over all interests in which the welfare of her own citizens or those of the U. S. is concerned.
Mr. Preston said he recognized in this bill an old acquaintance. No less than three appropriations had already been made for the repair and completion of the road in question, and now a fourth was asked. Congress not yet being one jot the nearer, than at any former period, of getting rid of the road. At the last session, the senate, for the purpose of purchasing its own peace and quiet, of ridding itself of the matter, made an appropriation of $652,000. The bill being then sent to the house, it made a different estimate from what had been made in the senate, supposing that the road could be finished on the plan proposed, for $300,000. That sum was accordingly appropriated. Thus, the measure having passed both branches of the legislature in that form, it was undoubtedly deemed sufficient to carry the project into effect; and the senate, at least was under the impression that that was the last occasion on which they would be called upon to make an appropriation. Yet, notwithstanding, here was another demand for an equal sum to that which was granted last year. There was a time, according to what had been said by the senator from Pennsylvania, when some hopes might have been entertained that an end would have been put to further legislation in regard to this road. There was a period when congress proposed, as was intimated by the honorable senator, to erect toll gates on this great road, for it was contended then that they had the constitutional power to do so. He (Mr. P.) believed, though he could not speak for the honorable senator, that those gentlemen who, at that time were in congress, and who were now bright and shining lights, believed very differently, though they had voted for that measure: they thought them unconstitutional. Gentlemen now could hardly be brought to entertain such a notion. Your real Simon Pures of the republican democratic old school believed that congress had no such power. If congress possessed the right to establish internal improvements, it had also the power to take out of the treasury funds for the purpose of carrying them into effect. It must give the improvements to the states in the end, for it could not keep them. For himself, he avowed he should feel most happy, if they could give this road away, and so get rid of it. But unfortunately they found themselves in the situation of the man to whom the senator from Tennessee the other day had alluded, who look a quantity of coon skins to market, but could not sell them. He then tried to give them away, and not succeeding, he then endeavored to lose then by dropping them as he despondently sauntered along the road, but as ill luck would have it, some kind man saw them lying on the ground, and immediately called out to him; so that in fact he could neither sell, give away, nor lose them. And this was pretty much the case with the senate in regard to this road. They were now, however, about to make an appropriation in order to shake it off their hands.
What was the situation in which congress stood? Why, it had been compelled to pass appropriations amounting to the enormous sum of $700,000 within a few years past, for the purpose of buying its riddance of the burden, and, after all, an additional sum was now demanded at their hands.
He would be glad to know under what guaranty Pennsylvania would accept the road; whether on their voting an appropriation of $350,000? Had the officers acting under the orders of government, and who were to see this road put in a state of repair, decided or given any opinion as to the actual state of the road? Not the party appropriating the money, not the party under whose superintendence the money was invested in the road, they had no right to decide on it! But, the parties who were now to receive the road when perfected, or in such a state that they would take it. They cared naught about the quantity of money that might be expended in their own jurisdiction! No, not they.
Now, he should like to know whether these enlightened states, who were parties to the transaction, and who must feel some interest on account of the money that was now expended among them, did not desire to have as much money as possible in circulation? Most unquestionably they did. The honorable senator next adverted to the acts of the commissioners on the part of the government, who some time ago had been appointed to examine the road, and stated that dissatisfaction was expressed by the parties interested in it, because those officers did not choose to incur what they deemed unnecessary expenses in the orders which they gave for the proper repair of the same. They had recommended wooden bridges to be erected, and fault was found because stone was not preferred, (thus incurring a very great additional expense). He (Mr. Preston) could have sincerely wished that instead of asking for the appropriation which was then made, they had come boldly forward and requested a larger sum; for he would have then proposed to give them $350,000, and have said, “here, take this money and the road off our hands.”
At present, congress were left entirely in the dark. It was desirable to get rid of it in some way or other. They were placed in an inexplicable difficulty, for turn which way they would, the objections were almost insuperable. Millions had been expended on that road, and it was not to the interest of these states that they should go on and appropriate money year after year, as had heretofore been done.
Mr. P. in conclusion, observed that he wished the honorable gentleman (Mr. Ewing) to say, on his responsibility as a senator, that that should be the last lime he would advocate any appropriation on account of the Cumberland road.
Mr. Ewing rose and said, that the senator from South Carolina seemed to have forgotten the origin of the appropriation, and had overlooked what was in justice due to one of the states of the union. It must be recollected, that when Ohio was admitted into the union, and her constitution was formed, there was inserted in it a clause appropriating two per cent, of the produce of the sales of the. Public lands within her limits, for the making of roads leading to the state; and Ohio, in consideration of this provision, agreed not to tax the lands belonging to the United States for five years. Was that contract fulfilled by expending money on a road, without either maintaining it, or putting it in such condition as would enable the state of Ohio to maintain it? By making a road which was almost impassable, the promise of the United States was kept to the ear, but broken to the hope. That was the state of things at this time, and the reason for asking the appropriation was this: The state of Ohio was originally separated from the eastern states by roads which were almost impassable. The transportation of goods over the mountains by wagons was exceedingly expensive. The roads were almost impassable, and it became necessary for the western states to adopt some means of passing the mountains. The states of Virginia, Maryland and Pennsylvania, being sufferers in a less degree, were interested in this provision of means. At the time when the compact was made by the United Stales with the state of Ohio, it had become absolutely necessary, for the purpose of securing an intercourse with the states on this side the mountains. The first step to effect this was taken by an administration which had never been charged by any one with a disposition to violate the rights of the states. It was taken in 1803, when Mr. Jefferson was the president. What then was due to the state which formed the compact with the United States? It was due not only that the road should be constructed, but that, by the power of congress, it should be maintained, guarded, and kept insufficient repair: otherwise all the expenditures which had been made on the construction of the road would be a mere waste of money. The state of Ohio could not maintain this road; and, unless it was maintained by congress, it would become of no value, and the compact would not be complied with. The road would be dilapidated and destroyed, as well by the people of the other states of the union as by the state of Ohio, as there was great travel upon it by people from all parts of the union.
This national road had been made under such circumstances, and had proceeded under the circumstances he had named. The gentleman from South Carolina said, that there had been much money expended upon it. Well, and so there had been. It was not to be supposed that a road over the mountains could be kept up without expense. Was it expected that the people of the country through which it passed should maintain it? If it was a thickly peopled country, thriving in commercial pursuits, and cultivating a rich soil, it might be so. It contained merely a gore (sic) of the states of Pennsylvania and Maryland, But neither of the states should be required to maintain this road themselves. It should be kept up in another manner. It ought to be maintained by tolls in the states where they are to be required to keep it up. The states were willing to take the road when it was in a state of repair, and it was right that the United States should put it in that perfect state of repair. The states would not be willing to take it, after it had been dilapidated and destroyed by the travel of the citizens from every quarter. It must be a road. It had been said that the states might cavil about different parts of the road, and might not be in favor of the road running to other states.
A great part of this road had been given to and accepted by the state of Ohio; and so far front laying heavy tolls, she had expended annually a considerable amount to keep down the tolls. The road was a favorite with the people of that state. Last year, according to an account of the auditor of the state, there had been an expenditure of 20,000 dollars on the road. It could not be doubled then, that the state of Ohio would keep the road in repair, if she accepted the surrender of it.
In reference to the estimate made for the repair of the road, the gentleman from South Carolina (Mr. Preston) would recollect that the estimate, and the sum asked for the last year, was 650,000 dollars. The advocate of the road had then said that this sum would be sufficient, and that they should ask no more if that sum were given. The question now stood precisely in the same light. If the money were appropriated and expended on the road, every assurance had been given that the road would be taken by the states, and that congress would be called on no further. Such assurances had been given in every form, and he should think it his duty to rise, day after day, and assert the rights of the state of Ohio, until the road should be made perfect, and the state should have accepted its surrender.
Mr. Buchanan said that he had but a few words to say. He did not know to whom the gentleman from South Carolina (Mr. Preston) alluded in the first part of his remarks; certainly it could not be to him, (Mr. B). Whether the senator had, since the year 1831, seen any new lights himself, he did not know. But for himself, since the session of 1802-3, he (Mr. Buchanan) had been uniformly consistent, in season, and almost out of season, in endeavoring to destroy, and so far as his humble influence went, to explode for ever the dangerous doctrine in regard to the establishment of toll-gate throughout the union, under the authority of congress.
[Here Mr. Preston made a remark in an under tone, the purport of which did not reach the gallery].
Mr. B. continued, he had, with others, opposed appropriations for the repair of this very road, in order that the friends of it might be compelled to go to the states for the purpose of having toll gates erected under their authority.
But he did not think the honorable senator had read the document with his accustomed care. What was asked now? He put it to that gentleman whether the state of South Carolina, occupying the high station she had always done, and which he trusted Pennsylvania always had done, and ever would do, whether, under similar circumstances, she would take the road under her charge, and undertake for ever to keep it in repair, when it was now in such a condition that it must go to ruin in the course of a year, unless an appropriation were made. That was the opinion of all the engineers on the subject. The fact was, and if the gentleman had examined the documents he would have discovered it, that on more than sixty miles of the road there were but three inches of metal in depth. Now, it did not require much sagacity to perceive, that upon the opening of the spring, when heavy wagons and other vehicles passed over this part of the road, they must get into the mud; and the stones and other ingredients of which it was composed must become so mixed up together as to render it almost impassable. In less than six months, this would be the case, should no appropriation be made, at this session, to complete the repairs; But Pennsylvania had relied on the estimate of the engineer department; she did so still. And could she be asked to take the road, when the officers of this government had declared that it was not in repair, and could not be put in repair without an additional appropriation? Would the gentleman ask Pennsylvania to do so? Did he not always do unto others as he would wish to he done by? Would he ask her to incur an obligation of that kind, when she could not discharge the duties arising out of the obligation? Why $600 and odd thousand, were asked for at the last season. If that sum had been granted then, the senate would never more have heard of the road. The mere balance of the sum contained in the bill that had passed the senate at the last session, and which was reduced by the house of representatives; to $300,000, was all that was now asked for. And, so far as he could give the gentleman a pledge, in his place on that floor, he would promise that the sum which the engineers had demanded as necessary to put the road in repair, if granted, should be the last he would ever ask for, being determined never to vote again for another dollar on that account.
[Here Mr. U. read an extract from the memorial of the commissioners appointed under an act of the legislative of Pennsylvania to accept a surrender of the Cumberland road, and erect toll gates upon it, in which they pledge themselves that so soon as congress shall make the appropriation for the completion of the road, (not after the appropriation shall be expended, said Mr. B.) according to the estimate of the department, toll gales shall be erected without delay.]
Mr. B. resumed. That road would be accepted immediately on the passage of this act, because it provided for the sum estimated by the department, and the commissioners deemed it sufficient, and were willing to act on that belief. Supposing the gentleman had given his agent $1,000, to repair his house, and it was afterwards found insufficient, and that unless more money were expended on the building, it must fall into ruins, would he be willing to suffer the loss, rather than lay out more money in repairs? And that was precisely the case here. Well, then, they must repair the road now, or let it go to ruin, which he supposed no one contemplated, or they must be prepared to grant more money at the next session.
Mr. Preston rose to say a single word. It had been said, that, because congress had considered it a duly to make this road, there was an obligation involved to keep it up; and gentlemen thought they had a right to stand up in open daylight, and assert that the general government owed the duty to the states to maintain the road which they had thought it right to make. It appeared as if all the rules of private life were to be reversed in the affairs of government. He was astounded at the course which gentlemen seemed disposed to take. Because we had expended seven or eight millions on this road, were we therefore bound to keep it up? If we made a present of this road to the states, were we to be still bound to keep it in repair? If you gave a horse to the state of Ohio, was it due to your reputation, that you most feed him, and saddle and bridle him for the use of the state? As he understood the matter, the contract made with the states was to make the road, not to keep it up. The gentleman from Pennsylvania, in illustrating his own views, had put the question— if I employ an agent to build a house, and, after he has expended the amount allowed him, the house should be falling down, would I not advance more money to preserve it? The case was not parallel. This road was not our road. It was the road of Pennsylvania. It was not that we enjoyed any benefit from the road, but Pennsylvania. We had authorized the state of Pennsylvania to collect tolls on the road for the purpose of keeping it up, and had thus put into her hands the means for keeping it up. Gentlemen were therefore mistaken in supposing that congress had imposed burdens on the states without giving them the means to sustain them. Because the people of all the states traveled on this road, it was not rendered incumbent on the United States to keep it up. If there was such an amount of travel as had been described, the toll-gates were erected for the purpose of keeping up the intercourse through a region of country where mountains had been leveled, and villages had sprung up in the wilderness. The road was now in a situation to be traveled, and the toll-gates exacted a tax from the traveler. If the travel was sufficient, instead of being called on to expend money on the road, the states might derive profit from it. And in parts where there was less travel, the states had exhibited a willingness to make the necessary expenditures, until the travel shall be sufficient. Yet gentlemen had said this road was to be a burden on the states in perpetuity. He had no desire to impute to the senator from Pennsylvania that he had entertained at any time different opinions concerning this road from those which he had now expressed. He believed that government had no right to make appropriations for the purpose of keeping up this road. But there were gentlemen with whom the senator from Pennsylvania acted, who entertained different views from that senator, as to the right of the government to collect tolls. He did not mean to impugn the power of the states to establish gates for that purpose, under the authority of the general government.
He was aware that the road would go to ruin, without repair, not so much from the travel upon it, as from the accidents to which it was liable. The slight expenditure which the states would be required to make upon it, would be amply compensated. The road must be repaired, and whether the mode proposed was advantageous or disadvantageous, the great advantages derived from it by the states should induce them to undertake it. This eternal recurrence of claims on the general government seemed to him to show that gentlemen, having once tasted of the sweets of treasury patronage, could not be driven from the feast, and that they had determined to come, year after year, until they had exhausted the patience of the general government. As to the road west of Ohio, it should go on with his acquiescence. He was desirous to move to amend the bill, by striking out the second and third sections, in order to test the feeling of the senate.
Mr. Webster said, that no doubt it was formally considered the policy of congress to erect toll gates, and he should probably have followed the senator from South Carolina in his train of reasoning, and even to the result to which he had come, did he not feel himself restrained, by constitutional scruples, not to acquiesce in his argument. But entertaining originally, no doubt upon the subject, he (Mr. W.) look a somewhat different view of the whole matter as presented by the honorable senator. He thought it more general and local in its character than the gentleman from S. Carolina seemed to think it was. They all knew that, originally, the ground assumed as rendering it proper for congress to construct this road was, that the new states should be benefited by it, the government of the United States being possessed of such vast public domain. The object, then, of this road was to open access to those states, in order that the public lands might be brought into market. He, (Mr. Webster) did not consider it a road in which Pennsylvania, Maryland or Virginia, had a particular interest. There was no reason to suppose that if Pennsylvania were to make a road through her territory for 200 or 300 miles, she would fix upon that route in particular. The same remark would apply to Maryland and Virginia. The object was more general— it was a national object. Well, whatever the object was, it was a great public work which had been prosecuted for many years; and he agreed that, either through misfortune or mismanagement, or some other cause, it had been a most extraordinary expensive undertaking. But still, in the actual position of things, he confessed he saw no better mode of legislation for congress to adopt than to follow up the course indicated in the bill of last year.
He understood that the present bill had assumed two distinct objects. The one was to make a road beyond the Ohio river, to lead lo the Mississippi, or indefinitely west. That purpose in the present bill did not seem to him to be exactly appropriate. The other object, and that the main one, was, to appropriate $350,000 for the repair of that part of the road which lay on this side of the Ohio; and the object of that repair was said to be to place the road in such a condition as that the public authorities of those states interested in it would accept the same as belonging to themselves, and come under the contract to keep it in repair. Now, he supposed that every body who agreed or disagreed in respect to the original policy of the government in making that road, would admit, although it had been constructed at a great expense, that it was prudent and proper that the government should be charged with the duly of preserving the road. He agreed with the policy adopted by congress, and also with the sentiments expressed by the senator from Pennsylvania, near him, (Mr. Buchanan), in that respect, and especially in this, that it was the true course for congress to pursue, to put the road in the most complete repair, and then transfer it to the respective states in which it lies. Arrangements had been entered into between the government and the states respectively. What were they? They were, that if the government of the United States would put the road in repair, the states would take it and stipulate to keep it in that condition, and that was for the use of all the citizens of the United States. And he understood it as a part of the stipulation between the government and the states, (the gentleman would correct him if he was wrong), that they should expend every cent that might be received at the various toll gates upon it.
Now, that road was no gift to those states, In particular; they derived no more benefit than if he, (Mr. W.) traveled west, and his friend from Pennsylvania, (Mr. Buchanan) traveled east. They undertook to collect the revenue of the road, and to apply it to the purpose of repairing it. Every one must see how very inconvenient it was for congress to possess such a road, he understood that there had been the most wasteful extravagance, in consequence of having suffered the road to be from year to year out of repair. If, however, it had been in the possession of the local authorities of the respective states, they would have been enabled at a small expense, to have kept the road in repair. At the last session, it would be recollected, that the estimate of the engineer department, relative to this road, was laid before the senate. $650,000 was stated as the sum requisite to put it in a state of compete repair. The senate thought then that it would be judicious to make that appropriation, and thereby get rid of the burden at once. The house, however, thought differently, and appropriated only $300,000. No one supposed that that was enough to put the road in a state of repair. No one contended that the sum was sufficient to carry into effect the plan of completion proposed by the officers of the government.
This bill then, as he understood it, was to appropriate that portion of the original sum, which had been stricken from the bill of last session, to the completion of this road. He trusted that this would be granted; it was the part of prudence to accede the demand, and thereby get rid of the road by putting it in such a condition that it would be accepted by the states.
Mr. Clay remarked, that he would not have said a word then, but for the introduction in this discussion of collateral matters not immediately connected with it. He meant to vote for the appropriation contained in the bill, and he should do it with pleasure, because, under all the circumstances of the case he felt himself called upon by a sense of imperative necessity to yield his assent to the appropriation. The road would be abandoned, and all the expediences which had heretofore been made upon it, would have been entirely thrown away, unless they now succeeded in obtaining an appropriation to put the road in a state of repair. Now, he did nut concur with the gentleman, (Mr. Ewing), that Ohio could, as a matter of strict right, demand of the government to keep this road in repair. And why so? Because, by the terms of the compact, under the operation of which the road was made, there a restricted and defined fund set apart in order to accomplish that object. And that fund measured the obligation of the government. It had been, however, long since exhausted. There wan no obligation, then, on the part of the government, to keep the road in repair. But he was free to admit that consideration of policy would prompt it to adopt that course, in order that an opportunity should be presented to the states to take it into their own hands.
The honorable senator from Pennsylvania felicitated himself on having, at a very early epoch, discovered the unconstitutionality of the general government erecting toll gates upon this road, and he voted against the first measure to carry that object into execution. He (Mr. Clay) must say, that, for himself, he thought the general government had a right to adopt that course which it deemed necessary for the preservation of a road which was made under its own authority. And as a legitimate consequence from the power of making a road, was derived the power of making an improvement on it. That was established; and, on that point he was sure the honorable gentleman did not differ from those who were in favor of establishing toll gates at the period to which he had alluded. He (Mr. C.) would repeat, that, if the power to make a road were conceded, it followed, as a legitimate consequence from that power, that the general government had a right to preserve it. And, if the right to do so, there was no mode of preservation more fitting and suitable than that which resulted from a moderate toll for keeping up the road, and thus continuing it for all lime to come.
The opinion held by the honorable senator, at the period to which be had adverted, was not the general opinion. He would welt remember that the power which he (Mr. Clay) contended did exist, was sustained in the other branch of the legislature by large majorities. And, in that senate, if he was not mistaken, there were but nine dissentients from the existence of it. If his recollection deceived him not, he had the pleasure of concurring with the distinguished individual who now presided over the deliberations of that body. He thought that he, (the Vice President), in common with the majority of the senate and house of representatives, coincided in the belief, that a road, constructed under the order of the general government, ought to be preserved by the authority which brought it into being. Now, that was his (Mr. Clay’s) opinion still. He was not one of those who, on this or any other great national subject, had changed his opinion in consequence of being wrought upon by various conflicting circumstances.
With regard to the general power of making internal improvements, as far as it existed in the opinions he had frequently expressed in both houses, his opinion was unaltered. But with respect to the expediency of exercising that power, at any period, it must depend upon the circumstances of the times. And, in his opinion, the power was to be found in the constitution. This belief he had always entertained, and it remained unshaken. He could not coincide in the opinion expressed by the honorable senator from Pennsylvania and the honorable senator from Massachusetts, in regard to the disposition that was to be made of this road.
What, he would ask, had been stated on all hands? That the Cumberland road was a great national object in which all the people of the United Slates were interested and concerned: that we are interested in our corporate capacity, on account of the stake we possessed in the public domain, and that we were consequently benefited by that road: that the people of the west were interested in it as a common thoroughfare to all places from one side of the country to the other. Now, what was the principle of the arrangement that bad been entered into. It was this common object, this national object, this object in which the people of this country were interested; its care, its preservation, was to be confided to different states, having no special interest or motive in its preservation; and therefore not responsible for the consequences that might remit. The people of Kentucky and Indiana, and of the states west of those states, as well as the people living on the eastern side of the mountains, were all interested in the use and occupation of this road, which, instead of being retained and kept under the control of that common government in which all had a share, their interest in it was to be confided to the local jurisdictions through which the road passed, and thus the states, generally, were to depend upon the manner in which they should perform their duties— upon those having no sympathy with them— having no regard for their interest, but left to do as they chose in regard to the preservation of this road.
He would say that the principle was fundamentally wrong. He protested against it: had done from the first, and did so again now. It was a great national object, and they might as well give the care of the mint to Pennsylvania; the protection of the breakwater, or of the public vessels in New York, Baltimore and Philadelphia, to the respective legislatures of the states in which that property was situated, as give the care of a great national road in which the whole people of the United States were concerned, to the care of a few states which were acknowledged to have no particular interest in it— states having so little interest in that great work that they would not repair it when offered to their hands.
But, he said, he would vote for this appropriation; lie was compelled to vote for it by the force of circumstances over which he had no control. He had seen, in reference to internal improvements, and other measures of a national character, not individuals merely, but whole masses— entire communities — prostrating their own settled opinions, to which they had conformed for half a century— wheel to the right or the left— march this way or that, according as they saw high authority for it. And he saw that there was no way of preserving this great object, which afforded such vast facilities to the western states— no other mode of preserving it, but by a reluctant acquiescence in a course of policy which all, at least, had not contributed to produce, but which was formed to operate on the country, and from which there lay no appeal.
Mr. C. in conclusion, again reiterated that he should vote for the appropriation in this bill, although very reluctantly, and with the protest, that the road in question, being the common property of the whole nation, and under the guardianship of the general government, ought not to be treacherously parted from by it, and put into the hands of the local governments who fell no interest in the matter.
Mr. Wright rose and said it was not his purpose to debate the question: but he had merely risen to suggest an amendment, in order to make the acceptance of the road by the states a condition of the payment of the appropriation. It was the object of all to get rid of the road, and to discharge the general government from all further responsibility concerning it by the present appropriation. He thought this was the object last year, and it was avowed to be so now. Was there, at present, any certainty that the road would be accepted by the states? Might not the same reply as before be made, that the road was not in repair? Was it therefore, unreasonable to ask the friends of the bill, who say that the states will now be satisfied, to agree to such an amendment as he had suggested?
Mr. Hill said that the bill before the senate was the same as that passed last session. He thought that not a dollar should then have been appropriated. He could not vote for the bill, so as to put the general government at the mercy of the states. If the states were to require of congress in pave the road with gold, precisely the same reasons might be brought forward in support of the requisition as are adduced now.
Mr. Buchanan said he did not rise for the purpose of again adverting to the merits of the proposed appropriation; but merely to make a few remarks in reply to the senator from Kentucky (Mr. Clay). He (Mr. B.) had got between two fires — from what he considered opposite extremes. Whilst the gentleman from South Carolina (Mr. Preston) thought he went too far in favor of internal improvements, the gentleman from Kentucky (Mr. Clay) blamed him for not going far enough. On this subject they were the two extremes, and he should adopt for the rule of his conduct the maxim “in medio tutissimus ibis.” (Ed. “You will travel safest in a middle course.”) The true course, in his opinion, was midway between them.
Mr. B. said, that if the present were a proper occasion to enter into the argument, he thought he could prove most conclusively, that there was a vast difference between the power of simply appropriating money for the construction of roads, and that of exercising jurisdiction over them after they were completed. The one was the mere application of the funds of the government to accomplish a particular object; whilst the other invaded the jurisdiction of the states, and entered upon their soil, for the purpose of erecting toll gales upon these roads and levying toll from passengers. To carry this power into effect it would be necessary to establish officers along these roads under the authority of the United States. He considered the assumption of jurisdiction over the soil a much higher power, than the mere appropriation of money. What, he asked, would be the argument to establish this jurisdiction? Congress possess the power to appropriate money for the construction of post roads: and therefore it follows that they may take these roads under their own jurisdiction for the purpose of preserving them, may erect toll gates upon them, and enact the laws necessary to carry these powers into execution. An incidental power cannot transcend its principal— the stream cannot rise higher than its fountain— and even admitting the power of congress to make internal improvements, he utterly denied the power of erecting toll gates upon them, and thus exercising jurisdiction over them.
He would merely observe, in relation to a remark of the gentleman (Mr. Clay) that if whole masses- whole communities had changed their opinions in regard to particular subjects, for himself he could say he was not among the number of those who had thus changed. But if this were the proper time to enter into such a discussion, he thought he could show that sufficient reasons existed to justify the change of whole communities on the important question to which the gentleman had evidently alluded.
Mr. B. said he made these remarks with the most perfect respect for that gentleman- Towards him he had never entertained any other feeling. He (Mr. B.) had said thus much in his own defense, he could not sit and listen in silent acquiescence to the observation which had been made by that gentleman, in the course of his remarks.
Mr. Clay made a few remarks, in reply to the senator from Pennsylvania, complementing him on the ingenuity which he had displayed in stating the question under discussion, and on the complacency with which he regarded his own infallibility in taking a position between the two extremes. Mr. C. then proceeded to show that the senator from Pennsylvania had strained a point for the purpose of bringing up a constitutional discussion, and had charged on the friends of the bill a desire to interfere with the jurisdiction of the states when no such thing was ever dreamed of. The senator admitted the power to create a national road, but contended the moment the road was made, there was no power in the government to preserve it in a state of efficiency for the purposes for which it was created. This reasoning Mr. C. denounced as preposterous.
The senator from Pennsylvania had disclaimed any intention to be personal in his remarks. He (Mr. C.) had stated that whole masses, communities had changed. This he had stated as a great historical fact, and he had said nothing further. The gentleman from Pennsylvania said he could have given sufficient reasons for these changes. I am sorry (said Mr. C.) that he did not give the philosophical-political explanation of the changes, and expose the remarkable causes of this singular political phenomenon.
Mr. Wright said he should vote against striking out the second and third sections of the bill, because he hoped that the bill would be so amended as to render it certain that the road should hereafter be kept up at the expense of the states. Unless the bill was amended, he should give his vote against it.
Mr. King, of Alabama, said that he should vote for the bill, and against striking out the sections. The time had gone by, and therefore it was too late to discuss now whether or not congress possessed the power either to construct or repair the road. He could not, however, agree with the gentleman from Ohio (Mr. Ewing} that congress were absolutely bound by every earthly obligation to go beyond the expense of putting the road in a state of repair. He knew not what change might have taken place in the opinions of honorable gentlemen in reference to the right of the general government to establish toll gates on the Cumberland road; for himself he could only say that he never entertained the opinion that the power did exist, and his sentiments therefore, were unchanged on that subject. The expenditure on the road in question had been most enormous, and there was very little hope that it would be less, or that the government would get rid of it at all unless some provision were inserted in the bill making the prior surrender of the road to the states, the condition of the payment of the money. He had examined the report of the commissioners relative to the road, and could not discover in it any pledge whatever that the respective states who were parties to the road would take it off the hands of the Government, if an appropriation should now be made. In order that gentlemen might be relieved from any difficulty on this point, he had prepared an amendment which he thought would be approved of, and have the desired effect. He was glad to hear the senator from Pennsylvania say it was the intention of his slate to receive the road, if the appropriation now asked for should he made. If, however, the states did not then choose to take it, the senate would be hereafter stopped from making any further appropriation. It was his determination, at least, not to vote for another.
Mr. K. then offered his amendment, which was in effect a provision that the acceptance of the road by the several states should be received, previous to the payment of the amount of the appropriation out of the treasury. Mr. Hendricks accepted the amendment.
The bill was then ordered to a third reading. Ayes 33, Neas 9
I invite you to share your family, business and town histories, information, photographs, references and observations. Your contributions will enhance our collective knowledge of a most important part of America's past.