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to the loss of liberty, and even to that in its consequences, disunion. We are great, and rapidly, I was about to say, fearfully growing. This is our pride and our danger, our weakness and our strength. Little does he deserve to be intrusted with the liberties of this people, who does not raise his mind to these truths. We are under the most imperious obligation to counteract every tendency to disunion. The strongest of all cements is, undoubtedly, the wisdom, justice, and, above all, the moderation of this House; yet the greatest subject on which we are now deliberating, in this respect, deserves the most serious consideration. Whatever impedes the intercourse of the extremes with this, the centre of the republic, weakens the union. The more enlarged the sphere of commercial circulation, the more extended that of social intercourse; the more strongly we are bound together, the more inseparable are our destinies. Those who understand the human heart best, know how powerfully distance tends to break the sympathies of our nature. Nothing, not even dissimilarity of language, tends more to enstrange man from man. Let us then bind the republic together with a perfect system of roads and canals. Let us conquer space. It is thus the most distant part of the republic will be brought within a few days' travel of the centre; it is thus that a citizen of the west will read the news of Boston still moist from the press.
The mail and the press are the nerves of the body politic. By them the slightest impression made on the most remote part, is communicated to the whole system; and the more perfect the means of transportation, the more rapid and true the vibration. To aid us in this great work, to maintain the integrity of this republic, we inhabit a country presenting the most admirable advantages. Belted around, as it is, by lakes and oceans, intersected in every direction by bays and rivers, the hand of industry and art is tempted to improvement. So situated, blessed with a form of government at once combining liberty and strength, we may reasonably raise our eyes to a most splendid future, if we only act in a manner worthy of our advantages. If, however, neglecting them, we permit a low, sordid, selfish and sectional spirit to take possession of this House, this happy scene will vanish. We will divide, and, in its consequences, will follow misery and despotism.
To legislate for our country requires not only the most enlarged views, but a species of self-devotion, not exacted in any other. In a country so extensive, and so various in its interests, what is necessary for the common good, may apparently be opposed to the interest of particular sections. It must be submitted to as the condition of our greatness. But were we a small republic, were we confined to the ten miles square, the selfish instincts of our nature might, in most cases, be relied on, in the management of public affairs.
Such, then, being the obvious advantages of internal improvements, why should the House hesitate to commence the system? I understand there are, with some members, constitutional objections. The power of Congress is objected to; first, that they have none to cut a road or canal through a state, without its consent; and next, that the public moneys can only be appropriated to effect the particular powers enumerated in the constitution. The first of these objections, it is plain, does not apply to this bill. No particular road or canal is proposed to be cut through any state. The bill simply appropriates money to the general purpose of improving the means of communication. When a bill is introduced to apply the money to a particular object in any state, then, and not till then, will the question be fairly before us. I shall give no opinion on this point. In fact, I scarcely think it worth the discussion, since the good sense of the states may be relied on. They will
, in all cases, readily yield their assent. The fear is in a different direction; in too great a solicitude to obtain an undue share to be expended within their respective limits. In fact, I un
derstand that this is not the objection insisted on. It is mainly urged, that Congress can only apply the public money in execution of the enumerated powers. I am no advocate for refined arguments on the constitution. The instrument was not intended as a thesis for the logician to exercise his ingenuity on.
It ought to be construed with plain, good sense; and what can be more express, than the constitution, on this very point? The first power delegated to Congress, is comprized in these words: “to lay and collect taxes, duties, imposts and excises; to pay the debts and provide for the common defence and general welfare of the United States; but all duties, imposts and excises shall be uniform throughout the United States. First, the
power is given to lay taxes; next, the objects are enumerated to which the money accruing from the exercise of this power, may be applied—to pay debts, provide for the defence and promote the general welfare; and last, the rule for laying the taxes is prescribed—that all duties, imposts and excises shall be uniform. If the framers had intended to limit the use of the money to the powers afterwards enumerated and defined, nothing could be more easy than to have expressed it plainly. I know it is the opinion of some, that the words “ to pay the debts, and provide for the common defence and general welfare,” which I have just cited, were not intended to be referred to the
power of laying taxes, contained in the first part of the section, but that they are to be understood as distinct and independent powers, granted in general terms; and are qualified, by a more detailed enumeration of powers, in the subsequent part of the constitution. If such were, in fact, the meaning, surely nothing can be conceived more bungling and awkward than the manner in which the framers have communicated their intention. If it were their intention to make a summary of the
powers of Congress, in general terms, which were afterwards to be particularly defined and enumerated, they should have told us so plainly and distinctly; and if the words “ to pay the debts and provide
for the common defence and general welfare,” were intended for this summary, they should have headed the list of our powers, and it should have been stated, that to effect these general objects, the following speeific powers were granted. I will ask the members to read the section with attention, and it will, I conceive, plainly appear, that such could not have been the intention. The whole section seems to me to be about taxes. It plainly commences and ends with it, and nothing could be more strained than to suppose the intermediate words “ to pay the debts and provide for the common defence and general welfare," are to be taken as independent and distinct powers. Forced, however, as such a construction is, I might admit it
, and urge that the words do constitute a part of the enumerated powers. The constitution gives to Congress the power to establish post-offices and postroads. I know the interpretation, which is usually given to the words, confines our power to that of designating only the post-roads; but it seems to me that the word “ establish” comprehends something more.
But suppose the constitution to be silent, why should we be confined, in the application of money, to the enumerated powers? There is nothing in the reason of the thing, that I can perceive, why it should be so restricted; and the habitual and uniform practice of the government coincides with my opinion. Our laws are full of instances of money appropriated without any reference to the enumerated powers. We granted, by a unanimous vote, or nearly so, fifty thousand dollars to the distressed inhabitants of Caraccas, and a very large sum, at two different times, to the St. Domingo refugees. If we are restricted in the use of our money to the enumerated powers, on what principle can the purchase of Louisiana be justified ? To pass over many other instances, the identical power, which is now the subject of discussion, has, in several instances, been exercised. To look no further back, at the last session a considerable sum was granted to complete the Cumberland road. In reply to
this uniform course of legislation, I expect it will be said, that our constitution was founded on positive and written principles, and not on precedents. I do not deny the position; but I introduce these instances to prove the uniform sense of Congress and the country, (for they have not been objected to,) as to our powers; and surely they furnish better evidence of the true interpretation of the constitution than the most refined and subtle arguments.
Let it not be urged, that the construction for which I contend gives a dangerous extent to the powers of Congress. In this point of view, I conceive it to be more safe than the opposite. By giving a reasonable extent to the money power, it exempts from the necessity of giving a strained and forced construction to the other enumerated powers: for instance, if the public money could be applied to the purchase of Louisiana, as I contend, then there was no constitutional difficulty in that purchase; but if it could not, then are we compelled either to deny that we had the power to purchase, or to strain some of the enumerated powers, to prove our right. It has, for instance, been said, that we have the right to purchase, under the power to admit new states; a construction, I will venture to say, far more forced than the one for which I contend. Such are my views on our right to pass this bill
. I believe that the passage of the bill will not be much endangered by a doubt of the power; as I conceive on that point there are not many who are opposed. The mode is principally objected to. A system it is contended ought to be presented before the money propriated. I think differently. To set apart the fund, appears to me to be naturally the first act; at least, I take it to be the only practicable course. A bill filled with details would have but a faint prospect of passing. The enemies to any possible system in detail, and those who are opposed in principle, would unite and defeat it. Though I am unwilling to incorporate such details in the bill, yet I am not adverse to presenting my views on that point.