Chester A. Arthur photo

Special Message

April 17, 1882

To the Senate and House of Representatives:

I transmit herewith a letter, dated the 29th ultimo, from the Secretary of War, inclosing copy of a communication from the Mississippi River Commission, in which the commission recommends that an appropriation may be made of $1,010,000 for "closing existing gaps in levees," in addition to the like sum for which an estimate has already been submitted.

The subject is one of such importance that I deem it proper to recommend early and favorable consideration of the recommendations of the commission. Having possession of and jurisdiction over the river, Congress, with a view of improving its navigation and protecting the people of the valley from floods, has for years caused surveys of the river to be made for the purpose of acquiring knowledge of the laws that control it and of its phenomena. By act approved June 28, 1879, the Mississippi River Commission was created, composed of able engineers. Section 4 of the act provides that--

It shall be the duty of said commission to take into consideration and mature such plan or plans and estimates as will correct, permanently locate, and deepen the channel and protect the banks of the Mississippi River; improve and give safety and ease to the navigation thereof; prevent destructive floods; promote and facilitate commerce, trade, and the postal service.

The constitutionality of a law making appropriations in aid of these objects can not be questioned. While the report of the commission submitted and the plans proposed for the river's improvement seem justified as well on scientific principles as by experience and the approval of the people most interested, I desire to leave it to the judgment of Congress to decide upon the best plan for the permanent and complete improvement of the navigation of the river and for the protection of the valley.

The immense losses and widespread suffering of the people dwelling near the river induce me to urge upon Congress the propriety of not only making an appropriation to close the gaps in the levees occasioned by the recent floods, as recommended by the commission, but that Congress should inaugurate measures for the permanent improvement of the navigation of the river and security of the valley. It may be that such a system of improvement would as it progressed require the appropriation of twenty or thirty millions of dollars. Even such an expenditure, extending, as it must, over several years, can not be regarded as extravagant in view of the immense interest involved. The safe and convenient navigation of the Mississippi is a matter of concern to all sections of the country, but to the Northwest, with its immense harvests, needing cheap transportation to the sea, and to the inhabitants of the river valley, whose lives and property depend upon the proper construction of the safeguards which protect them from the floods, it is of vital importance that a well-matured and comprehensive plan for improvement should be put into operation with as little delay as possible. The cotton product of the region subject to the devastating floods is a source of wealth to the nation and of great importance to keeping the balances of trade in our favor.

It may not be inopportune to mention that this Government has imposed and collected some $70,000,000 by a tax on cotton, in the production of which the population of the Lower Mississippi is largely engaged, and it does not seem inequitable to return a portion of this tax to those who contributed it, particularly as such an action will also result in an important gain to the country at large, and especially so to the great and rich States of the Northwest and the Mississippi Valley.


Chester A. Arthur, Special Message Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

Filed Under



Simple Search of Our Archives