Special Message to the House of Representatives Containing the Views of the President of the United States on the Subject of Internal Improvements
To the House of Representatives:
I transmit the paper alluded to in the message of this day, on the subject of internal improvements.
Views of the President of the United States on the Subject of Internal Improvements
It may be presumed that the proposition relating to internal improvements by roads and canals, which has been several times before Congress, will be taken into consideration again either for the purpose of recommending to the States the adoption of an amendment to the Constitution to vest the necessary power in the General Government or to carry the system into effect on the principle that the power has already been granted. It seems to be the prevailing opinion that great advantage would be derived from the exercise of such a power by Congress. Respecting the right there is much diversity of sentiment. It is of the highest importance that this question should be settled. If the right exist, it ought forthwith to be exercised. If it does not exist, surely those who are friends to the power ought to unite in recommending an amendment to the Constitution to obtain it. I propose to examine this question.
The inquiry confined to its proper objects and within the most limited scale is extensive. Our Government is unlike other governments both in its origin and form. In analyzing it the differences in certain respects between it and those of other nations, ancient and modern, necessarily come into view. I propose to notice these differences so far as they are connected with the object of inquiry, and the consequences likely to result from them, varying in equal degree from those which have attended other governments. The digression, if it may be so called, will in every instance be short and the transition to the main object immediate and direct.
To do justice to the subject it will be necessary to mount to the source of power in these States and to pursue this power in its gradations and distribution among the several departments in which it is now vested. The great division is between the State governments and the General Government. If there was a perfect accord in every instance as to the precise extent of the powers granted to the General Government, we should then know with equal certainty what were the powers which remained to the State governments, since it would follow that those which were not granted to the one would remain to the other. But it is on this point, and particularly respecting the construction of these powers and their incidents, that a difference of opinion exists, and hence it is necessary to trace distinctly the origin of each government, the purposes intended by it, and the means adopted to accomplish them. By having the interior of both governments fully before us we shall have all the means which can be afforded to enable us to form a correct opinion of the endowments of each.
Before the Revolution the present States, then colonies, were separate communities, unconnected with each other except in their common relation to the Crown. Their governments were instituted by grants from the Crown, which operated, according to the conditions of each grant, in the nature of a compact between the settlers in each colony and the Crown. All power not retained in the Crown was vested exclusively in the colonies, each having a government consisting of an executive, a judiciary, and a legislative assembly, one branch of which was in every instance elected by the people. No office was hereditary, nor did any title under the Crown give rank or office in any of the colonies. In resisting the encroachments of the parent country and abrogating the power of the Crown the authority which had been held by it vested exclusively in the people of the colonies. By them was a Congress appointed, composed of delegates from each colony, who managed the war, declared independence, treated with foreign powers, and acted in all things according to the sense of their constituents. The Declaration of Independence confirmed in form what had before existed in substance. It announced to the world new States, possessing and exercising complete sovereignty, which they were resolved to maintain. They were soon after recognized by France and other powers, and finally by Great Britain herself in 1783.
Soon after the power of the Crown was annulled the people of each colony established a constitution or frame of government for themselves, in which these separate branches--legislative, executive, and judiciary--were instituted, each independent of the others. To these branches, each having its appropriate portion, the whole power of the people not delegated to Congress was communicated, to be exercised for their advantage on the representative principle by persons of their appointment, or otherwise deriving their authority immediately from them, and holding their offices for stated terms. All the powers necessary for useful purposes held by any of the strongest governments of the Old World not vested in Congress were imparted to these State governments without other checks than such as are necessary to prevent abuse, in the form of fundamental declarations or bills of right. The great difference between our governments and those of the Old World consists in this, that the former, being representative, the persons who exercise their powers do it not for themselves or in their own right, but for the people, and therefore while they are in the highest degree efficient they can never become oppresive. It is this transfer of the power of the people to representative and responsible bodies in every branch which constitutes the great improvement in the science of government and forms the boast of our system. It combines all the advantages of every known government without any of their disadvantages. It retains the sovereignty in the people, while it avoids the tumult and disorder incident to the exercise of that power by the people themselves. It possesses all the energy and efficiency of the most despotic governments, while it avoids all the oppressions and abuses inseparable from those governments.
In every stage of the conflict from its commencement until March, 1781, the powers of Congress were undefined, but of vast extent. The assemblies or conventions of the several colonies being formed by representatives from every county in each colony and the Congress by delegates from each colonial assembly, the powers of the latter for general purposes resembled those of the former for local. They rested on the same basis, the people, and were complete for all the purposes contemplated. Never was a movement so spontaneous, so patriotic, so efficient. The nation exerted its whole faculties in support of its rights, and of its independence after the contest took that direction, and it succeeded. It was, however, foreseen at a very early stage that although the patriotism of the country might be relied on in the struggle for its independence, a well-digested compact would be necessary to preserve it after obtained. A plan of confederation was in consequence proposed and taken into consideration by Congress even at the moment when the other great act which severed them from Great Britain and declared their independence was proclaimed to the world. This compact was ratified on the 21st March, 1781, by the last State, and thereupon carried into immediate effect.
The following powers were vested in the United States by the Articles of Confederation. As this, the first bond of union, was in operation nearly eight years, during which time a practical construction was given to many of its powers, all of which were adopted in the Constitution with important additions, it is thought that a correct view of those powers and of the manner in which they are executed may shed light on the subject under consideration. It may fairly be presumed that where certain powers were transferred from one instrument to the other and in the same terms, or terms descriptive only of the same powers, that it was intended that they should be construed in the same sense in the latter that they were in the former.
Article I declares that the style of the Confederacy shall be "The United States of America."
Article II. Each State retains its sovereignty, freedom, and independence, and every power and right which is not expressly delegated to the United States.
Article III. The States severally enter into a firm league of friendship with each other for their common defense, the security of their liberties, and their mutual and general welfare, binding themselves to assist each other against all force offered to or attacks made upon them on account of religion, sovereignty, trade, etc.
Article IV. The free inhabitants of each State, paupers, vagabonds, and fugitives from justice excepted, shall be entitled to all the privileges and immunities of free citizens in the several States, etc. Fugitives from justice into any of the States shall be delivered up on the demand of the executive of the State from which they fled. Full faith and credit shall be given in each State to the records and acts of every other State.
Article V. Delegates shall be annually appointed by the legislature of each State to meet in Congress on the first Monday in November, with a power to recall, etc. No State shall appoint less than two nor more than seven, nor shall any delegate hold his office for more than three in six years. Each State shall maintain its own delegates. Each State shall have one vote. Freedom of speech shall not be impeached, and the members shall be protected from arrests, except for treason, etc.
Article VI. No State shall send or receive an embassy or enter into a treaty with a foreign power. Nor shall any person holding any office of profit or trust under the United States or any State accept any present, emolument, office, or title from a foreign power. Nor shall the United States or any State grant any title of nobility. No two States shall enter into any treaty without the consent of Congress. No State shall lay any imposts or duties which may interfere with any treaties entered into by the United States. No State shall engage in war unless it be invaded or menaced with invasion by some Indian tribe, nor grant letters of marque or reprisal unless it be against pirates, nor keep up vessels of war nor any body of troops in time of peace without the consent of Congress; but every State shall keep up a well-regulated militia, etc.
Article VII. When land forces are raised by any State for the common defense, all officers of and under the rank of colonel shall be appointed by the legislature of each State.
Article VIII. All charges of war and all other expenses which shall be incurred for the common defense or general welfare shall be defrayed out of a common treasury, which shall be supplied by the several States in proportion to the value of all the land in each State granted to individuals. The taxes for paying each proportion shall be levied by the several States.
Article IX. Congress shall have the sole and exclusive right and power of determining on peace and war, except in the cases mentioned in the sixth article; of sending and receiving ambassadors; entering into alliances, except, etc.; of establishing rules for deciding what captures on land and water shall be legal; of granting letters of marque and reprisal in time of peace; appointing courts for the trial of piracies and felonies on the high seas; for deciding controversies between the States and between individuals claiming lands under two or more States whose jurisdiction has been adjusted; of regulating the alloy and value of coin struck by their authority and of foreign coin; fixing the standard of weights and measures; regulating the trade with the Indians; establishing and regulating post-offices from one State to another and throughout all the States, and exacting such postage as may be requisite to defray the expenses of the office; of appointing all officers of the land forces except the regimental; appointing all the officers of the naval forces; to ascertain the necessary sums of money to be raised for the service of the United States and appropriate the same; to borrow money and emit bills of credit; to build and equip a Navy; to agree on the number of land forces and to make requisitions on each State for its quota; that the assent of nine States shall be requisite to these great acts.
Article X regulates the powers of the committee of the States to sit in the recess of Congress.
Article XI provides for the admission of Canada into the Confederation.
Article XII pledges the faith of the United States for the payment of all bills of credit issued and money borrowed on their account.
Article XIII. Every State shall abide by the determination of the United States on all questions submitted to them by the Confederation, the Articles of the Confederation to be perpetual and not to be altered without the consent of every State.
This bond of union was soon found to be utterly incompetent to the purposes intended by it. It was defective in its powers; it was defective also in the means of executing the powers actually granted by it. Being a league of sovereign and independent States, its acts, like those of all other leagues, required the interposition of the States composing it to give them effect within their respective jurisdictions. The acts of Congress without the aid of State laws to enforce them were altogether nugatory. The refusal or omission of one State to pass such laws was urged as a reason to justify like conduct in others, and thus the Government was soon at a stand.
The experience of a few years demonstrated that the Confederation could not be relied on for the security of the blessings which had been derived from the Revolution. The interests of the nation required a more efficient Government, which the good sense and virtue of the people provided by the adoption of the present Constitution.
The Constitution of the United States was formed by a convention of delegates from the several States, who met in Philadelphia, duly authorized for the purpose, and it was ratified by a convention in each State which was especially called to consider and decide on the same. In this progress the State governments were never suspended in their functions. On the contrary, they took the lead in it. Conscious of their incompetency to secure to the Union the blessings of the Revolution, they promoted the diminution of their own powers and the enlargement of those of the General Government in the way in which they might be most adequate and efficient. It is believed that no other example can be found of a Government exerting its influence to lessen its own powers, of a policy so enlightened, of a patriotism so pure and disinterested. The credit, however, is more especially due to the people of each State. in obedience to whose will and under whose control the State governments acted.
The Constitution of the United States, being ratified by the people of the several States, became of necessity to the extent of its powers the paramount authority of the Union. On sound principles it can be viewed in no other light. The people, the highest authority known to our system, from whom all our institutions spring and on whom they depend, formed it. Had the people of the several States thought proper to incorporate themselves into one community, under one government, they might have done it. They had the power, and there was nothing then nor is there anything now, should they be so disposed, to prevent it. They wisely stopped, however, at a certain point, extending the incorporation to that point, making the National Government thus far a consolidated Government, and preserving the State governments without that limit perfectly sovereign and independent of the National Government. Had the people of the several States incorporated themselves into one community, they must have remained such, their Constitution becoming then, like the constitution of the several States, incapable of change until altered by the will of the majority. In the institution of a State government by the citizens of a State a compact is formed to which all and every citizen are equal parties. They are also the sole parties and may amend it at pleasure. In the institution of the Government of the United States by the citizens of every State a compact was formed between the whole American people which has the same force and partakes of all the qualities to the extent of its powers as a compact between the citizens of a State in the formation of their own constitution. It can not be altered except by those who formed it or in the mode prescribed by the parties to the compact itself.
This Constitution was adopted for the purpose of remedying all defects of the Confederation, and in this it has succeeded beyond any calculation that could have been formed of any human institution. By binding the States together the Constitution performs the great office of the Confederation; but it is in that sense only that it has any of the properties of that compact, and in that it is more effectual to the purpose, as it holds them together by a much stronger bond; and in all other respects in which the Confederation failed the Constitution has been blessed with complete success. The Confederation was a compact between separate and independent States, the execution of whose articles in the powers which operated internally depended on the State governments. But the great office of the Constitution, by incorporating the people of the several States to the extent of its powers into one community and enabling it to act directly on the people, was to annul the powers of the State governments to that extent, except in cases where they were concurrent, and to preclude their agency in giving effect to those of the General Government. The Government of the United States relies on its own means for the execution of its powers, as the State governments do for the execution of theirs, both governments having a common origin or sovereign, the people--the State governments the people of each State, the National Government the people of every State--and being amenable to the power which created it. It is by executing its functions as a Government thus originating and thus acting that the Constitution of the United States holds the States together and performs the office of a league. It is owing to the nature of its powers and the high source from whence they are derived--the people--that it performs that office better than the Confederation or any league which ever existed, being a compact which the State governments did not form, to which they are not parties, and which executes its own powers independently of them.
There were two separate and independent governments established over our Union, one for local purposes over each State by the people of the State, the other for national purposes over all the States by the people of the United States. The whole power of the people, on the representative principle, is divided between them. The State governments are independent of each other, and to the extent of their powers are complete sovereignties. The National Government begins where the State governments terminate, except in some instances where there is a concurrent jurisdiction between them. This Government is also, according to the extent of its powers, a complete sovereignty. I speak here, as repeatedly mentioned before, altogether of representative sovereignties, for the real sovereignty is in the people alone.
The history of the world affords no such example of two separate and independent governments established over the same people, nor can it exist except in governments rounded on the sovereignty of the people. In monarchies and other governments not representative there can be no such division of power. The government is inherent in the possessor; it is his, and can not be taken from him without a revolution. In such governments alliances and leagues alone are practicable. But with us individuals count for nothing in the offices which they hold; that is, they have no right to them. They hold them as representatives, by appointment from the people, in whom the sovereignty is exclusively vested. It is impossible to speak too highly of this system taken in its twofold character and in all its great principles of two governments, completely distinct from and independent of each other, each constitutional, founded by and acting directly on the people, each competent to all its purposes, administering all the blessings for which it was instituted, without even the most remote danger of exercising any of its powers in a way to oppress the people. A system capable of expansion over a vast territory not only without weakening either government, but enjoying the peculiar advantage of adding thereby new strength and vigor to the faculties of both; possessing also this additional advantage, that while the several States enjoy all the rights reserved to them of separate and independent governments, and each is secured by the nature of the Federal Government, which acts directly on the people, against the failure of the others to bear their equal share of the public burdens, and thereby enjoys in a more perfect degree all the advantages of a league, it holds them together by a bond altogether different and much stronger than the late Confederation or any league that was ever known before--a bond beyond their control, and which can not even be amended except in the mode prescribed by it. So great an effort in favor of human happiness was never made before; but it became those who made it. Established in the new hemisphere, descended from the same ancestors, speaking the same language, having the same religion and universal toleration, born equal and educated in the same principles of free government, made independent by a common struggle and menaced by the same dangers, ties existed between them which never applied before to separate communities. They had every motive to bind them together which could operate on the interests and affections of a generous, enlightened, and virtuous people, and it affords inexpressible consolation to find that these motives had their merited influence.
In thus tracing our institutions to their origin and pursuing them in their progress and modifications down to the adoption of this Constitution two important facts have been disclosed, on which it may not be improper in this stage to make a few observations. The first is that in wresting the power, or what is called the sovereignty, from the Crown it passed directly to the people. The second, that it passed directly to the people of each colony and not to the people of all the colonies in the aggregate; to thirteen distinct communities and not to one. To these two facts, each contributing its equal proportion, I am inclined to think that we are in an eminent degree indebted for the success of our Revolution. By passing to the people it vested in a community every individual of which had equal rights and a common interest. There was no family dethroned among us, no banished pretender in a foreign country looking back to his connections and adherents here in the hope of a recall; no order of nobility whose hereditary rights in the Government had been violated; no hierarchy which had been degraded and oppressed. There was but one order, that of the people, by whom everything was gained by the change. I mention it also as a circumstance of peculiar felicity that the great body of the people had been born and educated under these equal and original institutions. Their habits, their principles, and their prejudices were therefore all on the side of the Revolution and of free republican government.
Had distinct orders existed, our fortune might and probably would have been different. It would scarcely have been possible to have united so completely the whole force of the country against a common enemy. A contest would probably have arisen in the outset between the orders for the control. Had the aristocracy prevailed, the people would have been heartless. Had the people prevailed, the nobility would probably have left the country, or, remaining behind, internal divisions would have taken place in every State and a civil war broken out more destructive even than the foreign, which might have defeated the whole movement. Ancient and modern history is replete with examples proceeding from conflicts between distinct orders, of revolutions attempted which proved abortive, of republics which have terminated in despotism. It is owing to the simplicity of the elements of which our system is composed that the attraction of all the parts has been to a common center, that every change has tended to cement the union, and, in short, that we have been blessed with such glorious and happy success.
And that the power wrested from the British Crown passed to the people of each colony the whole history of our political movement from the emigration of our ancestors to the present day clearly demonstrates. What produced the Revolution? The violation of our rights. What rights? Our chartered rights. To whom were the charters granted, to the people of each colony or to the people of all the colonies as a single community? We know that no such community as the aggregate existed, and of course that no such rights could be violated. It may be added that the nature of the powers which were given to the delegates by each colony and the manner in which they were executed show that the sovereignty was in the people of each and not in the aggregate. They respectively presented credentials such as are usual between ministers of separate powers, which were examined and approved before they entered on the discharge of the important duties committed to them. They voted also by colonies and not individually, all the members from one colony being entitled to one vote only. This fact alone, the first of our political association and at the period of our greatest peril, fixes beyond all controversy the source from whence the power which has directed and secured success to all our measures has proceeded.
Had the sovereignty passed to the aggregate, consequences might have ensued, admitting the success of our Revolution, which might even yet seriously affect our system. By passing to the people of each colony the opposition to Great Britain, the prosecution of the war, the Declaration of Independence, the adoption of the Confederation and of this Constitution are all imputable to them. Had it passed to the aggregate, every measure would be traced to that source; even the State governments might be said to have emanated from it, and amendments of their constitutions on that principle be proposed by the same authority. In short it is not easy to perceive all the consequences into which such a doctrine might lead. It is obvious that the people in mass would have had much less agency in all the great measures of the Revolution and in those which followed than they actually had, and proportionably less credit for their patriotism and services than they are now entitled to and enjoy. By passing to the people of each colony the whole body in each were kept in constant and active deliberation on subjects of the highest national importance and in the supervision of the conduct of all the public servants in the discharge of their respective duties. Thus the most effectual guards were provided against abuses and dangers of every kind which human ingenuity could devise, and the whole people rendered more competent to the self-government which by an heroic exertion they had acquired.
I will now proceed to examine the powers of the General Government, which, like the governments of the several States, is divided into three branches--a legislative, executive, and judiciary--each having its appropriate share. Of these the legislative, from the nature of its powers, all laws proceeding from it, and the manner of its appointment, its members being elected immediately by the people, is by far the most important. The whole system of the National Government may be said to rest essentially on the powers granted to this branch. They mark the limit within which, with few exceptions, all the branches must move in the discharge of their respective functions. It will be proper, therefore, to take a full and correct view of the powers granted to it.
By the eighth section of the first article of the Constitution it is declared that Congress shall have power--
First. To lay and collect taxes, duties, imposts, and excises, to pay the debts, and provide for the common defense and general welfare of the United States;
Second. To borrow money;
Third. To regulate commerce with foreign nations, and among the several States, and with the Indian tribes;
Fourth. To establish an uniform rule of naturalization and uniform laws respecting bankruptcies;
Fifth. To coin money, regulate the value thereof and of foreign coin, and fix the standard of weights and measures;
Sixth. To provide for the punishment of counterfeiting the securities and current coin of the United States;
Seventh. To establish post-offices and post-roads;
Eighth. To promote the progress of science and useful arts by securing for limited times to authors and inventors the exclusive right to their respective writings and discoveries;
Ninth. To constitute tribunals inferior to the Supreme Court, to define and punish piracies and felonies committed on the high seas, and offenses against the laws of nations;
Tenth. To declare war, grant letters of marque and reprisal, and make rules concerning captures on land and water;
Eleventh. To raise and support armies;
Twelfth. To provide and maintain a navy;
Thirteenth. To make rules for the government of the land and naval forces;
Fourteenth. To provide for calling forth the militia to execute the laws of the Union, suppress insurrections, and repel invasions;
Fifteenth. To provide for organizing, arming, and disciplining the militia, and for governing such part of them as may be in the service of the United States, reserving to the States the appointment of the officers and the authority of training the militia according to the discipline prescribed by Congress;
Sixteenth. To exercise exclusive legislation in all cases whatever over such district (not exceeding 10 miles square) as may, by the cession of particular States and the acceptance of by Congress, become the seat of Government of the United States; and to exercise like authority over all places purchased, by the consent of the legislature of the State in which the same may be, for the erection of forts, magazines, arsenals, dockyards, and other needful buildings;
Seventeenth. And to make all laws which shall be necessary and proper for carrying into execution the foregoing powers, and all other powers vested by this Constitution in the Government of the United States or in any department or officer thereof.
To the other branches of the Government the powers properly belonging to each are granted. The President, in whom the executive power is vested, is made commander in chief of the Army and Navy, and militia when called into the service of the United States. He is authorized, with the advice and consent of the Senate, two-thirds of the members present concurring, to form treaties, to nominate and, with the advice and consent of the Senate, to appoint ambassadors, other public ministers, and consuls, judges of the Supreme Court, and all other officers whose appointments are not otherwise provided for by law. He has power to grant reprieves and pardons for offenses against the United States, except in cases of impeachment. It is made his duty to give to Congress from time to time information of the state of the Union, to recommend to their consideration such measures as he may judge necessary and expedient, to convene both Houses on extraordinary occasions, to receive ambassadors, and to take care that the laws be faithfully executed.
The judicial power is vested in one Supreme Court and in such inferior courts as Congress may establish; and it is made to extend to all cases in law and equity arising under the Constitution, the laws of the United States, and treaties made under their authority. Cases affecting ambassadors and other public characters, cases of admiralty and maritime jurisdiction, causes in which the United States are a party, between two or more States, between citizens of different States, between citizens of the same State claiming grants of land under different States, between a State or the citizens thereof and foreign States, are specially assigned to these tribunals.
Other powers have been granted in other parts of the Constitution which, although they relate to specific objects, unconnected with the ordinary administration, yet, as they form important features in the Government and may shed useful light on the construction which ought to be given to the powers above enumerated, it is proper to bring into view.
By Article I, section 9, clause 1, it is provided that the migration or importation of such persons as any of the States now existing shall think proper to admit shall not be prohibited by Congress prior to the year 1808, but a tax or duty may be imposed on such importation not exceeding $10 for each person.
By Article III, section 3, clause 1, new States may be admitted by Congress into the Union, but that no new State shall be formed within the jurisdiction of another State, nor any State be formed by the junction of two or more States or parts of States without the consent of the legislature of the States concerned as well as of the United States. And by the next clause of the same article and section power is vested in Congress to dispose of and make all needful rules and regulations respecting the territory or other property belonging to the United States, with a proviso that nothing in the Constitution shall be so construed as to prejudice any claims of the United States or of any particular State.
By Article IV, section 4, the United States guarantee to every State a republican form of government and engage to protect each of them against invasion; and on application of the legislature, or of the executive when the legislature can not be convened, against domestic violence.
Of the other parts of the Constitution relating to power, some form restraints on the exercise of the powers granted to Congress and others on the exercise of the powers remaining to the States. The object in both instances is to draw more completely the line between the two governments and also to prevent abuses by either. Other parts operate like conventional stipulations between the States, abolishing between them all distinctions applicable to foreign powers and securing to the inhabitants of each State all the rights and immunities of citizens in the several States.
By the fifth article it is provided that Congress, whenever two-thirds of both Houses shall deem it necessary, shall propose amendments, or, on the application of the legislatures of two-thirds of the several States, shall call a convention for proposing amendments, which in either case shall be valid as a part of the Constitution when ratified by the legislatures of three-fourths of the several States, or by conventions in three-fourths thereof, as the one or the other mode may be proposed by Congress: Provided, That no State, without its consent, shall be deprived of its equal vote in the Senate, and that no amendment which may be made prior to the year 1808 shall affect the first and fourth clauses in the ninth section of the first article.
By the second section of the sixth article it is declared that the Constitution, and laws of the United States which shall be made in pursuance thereof, and all treaties made under the authority of the United States, shall be the supreme law of the land, and that the judges in every State shall be bound thereby, anything in the constitution or laws of any State to the contrary notwithstanding. This right in the National Government to execute its powers was indispensable to its existence. If the State governments had not been restrained from encroaching on the powers vested in the National Government, the Constitution, like the Confederation, would soon have been set at naught; and it was not within the limit of the human mind to devise any plan for the accomplishment of the object other than by making a national constitution which should be to the extent of its powers the supreme law of the land. This right in the National Government would have existed under the Constitution to the full extent provided for by this declaration had it not been made. To prevent the possibility of a doubt, however, on so important a subject it was proper to make the declaration.
Having presented above a full view of all the powers granted to the United States, it will be proper to look to those remaining to the States. It is by fixing the great powers which are admitted to belong to each government that we may hope to come to a right conclusion respecting those in controversy between them. In regard to the National Government, this task was easy because its powers were to be found in specific grants in the Constitution; but it is more difficult to give a detail of the powers of the State governments, as their constitutions, containing all powers granted by the people not specifically taken from them by grants to the United States, can not well be enumerated. Fortunately, a precise detail of all the powers remaining to the State governments is not necessary in the present instance. A knowledge of their great powers only will answer every purpose contemplated, and respecting these there can be no diversity in opinion. They are sufficiently recognized and established by the Constitution of the United States itself. In designating the important powers of the State governments it is proper to observe, first, that the territory contemplated by the Constitution belongs to each State in its separate character and not to the United States in their aggregate character. Each State holds territory according to its original charter, except in cases where cessions have been made to the United States by individual States. The United States had none when the Constitution was adopted which had not been thus ceded to them and which they held on the conditions on which such cession had been made. Within the individual States it is believed that they held not a single acre; but if they did it was as citizens held it, merely as private property. The territory acquired by cession lying without the individual States rests on a different principle, and is provided for by a separate and distinct part of the Constitution. It is the territory within the individual States to which the Constitution in its great principles applies, and it applies to such territory as the territory of a State and not as that of the United States. The next circumstance to be attended to is that the people composing this Union are the people of the several States, and not of the United States in the full sense of a consolidated government. The militia are the militia of the several States; lands are held under the laws of the States; descents, contracts, and all the concerns of private property, the administration of justice, and the whole criminal code, except in the cases of breaches of the laws of the United States made under and in conformity with the powers vested in Congress and of the laws of nations, are regulated by State laws. This enumeration shows the great extent of the powers of the State governments. The territory and the people form the basis on which all governments are founded. The militia constitutes their effective force. The regulation and protection of property and of personal liberty are also among the highest attributes of sovereignty. This, without other evidence, is sufficient to show that the great office of the Constitution of the United States is to unite the States together under a Government endowed with powers adequate to the purposes of its institution, relating, directly or indirectly, to foreign concerns, to the discharge of which a National Government thus formed alone could be competent.
This view of the exclusive jurisdiction of the several States over the territory within their respective limits, except in cases otherwise specially provided for, is supported by the obvious intent of the several powers granted to Congress, to which a more particular attention is now due. Of these the right to declare war is perhaps the most important, as well by the consequences attending war as by the other powers granted in aid of it. The right to lay taxes, duties, imposts, and excises, though necessary for the support of the civil government, is equally necessary to sustain the charges of war; the right to raise and support armies and a navy and to call forth and govern the militia when in the service of the United States are altogether of the latter kind. They are granted in aid of the power to make war and intended to give effect to it. These several powers are of great force and extent, and operate more directly within the limits and upon the resources of the States than any of the other powers. But still they are means only for given ends. War is declared and must be maintained, an army and a navy must be raised, fortifications must be erected for the common defense, debts must be paid. For these purposes duties, imposts, and excises are levied, taxes are laid, the lands, merchandise, and other property of the citizens are liable for them; if the money is not paid, seizures are made and the lands are sold. The transaction is terminated; the lands pass into other hands, who hold them, as the former proprietors did, under the laws of the individual States. They were means only to certain ends; the United States have nothing further to do with them. The same view is applicable to the power of the General Government over persons. The militia is called into the service of the United States; the service is performed; the corps returns to the State to which it belongs; it is the militia of such State, and not of the United States. Soldiers are required for the Army, who may be obtained by voluntary enlistment or by some other process rounded in the principles of equality. In either case the citizen after the tour of duty is performed is restored to his former station in society, with his equal share in the common sovereignty of the nation. In all these cases, which are the strongest which can be given, we see that the right of the General Government is nothing more than what it is called in the Constitution, a power to perform certain acts, and that the subject on which it operates is a means only to that end; that it was both before and after that act under the protection and subject to the laws of the individual State within which it was.
To the other powers of the General Government the same remarks are applicable and with greater force. The right to regulate commerce with foreign powers was necessary as well to enable Congress to lay and collect duties and imposts as to support the rights of the nation in the intercourse with foreign powers. It is executed at the ports of the several States and operates almost altogether externally. The right to borrow and coin money and to fix its value and that of foreign coin are important to the establishment of a National Government, and particularly necessary in support of the right to declare war, as, indeed, may be considered the right to punish piracy and felonies on the high seas and offenses against the laws of nations. The right to establish an uniform rule of naturalization and uniform laws respecting bankruptcies seems to be essentially connected with the right to regulate commerce. The first branch of it relates to foreigners entering the country; the second to merchants who have failed. The right to promote the progress of useful arts and sciences may be executed without touching any of the individual States. It is accomplished by granting patents to inventors and preserving models, which may be done exclusively within the Federal district. The right to constitute courts inferior to the Supreme Court was a necessary consequence of the judiciary existing as a separate branch of the General Government. Without such inferior court in every State it would be difficult and might even be impossible to carry into effect the laws of the General Government. The right to establish post-offices and post-roads is essentially of the same character. For political, commercial, and social purposes it was important that it should be vested in the General Government. As a mere matter of regulation, and nothing more, I presume, was intended by it, it is a power easily executed and involving little authority within the States individually. The right to exercise exclusive legislation in all cases whatsoever over the Federal district and over forts, magazines, arsenals, dockyards, and other needful buildings with the consent of the State within which the same may be is a power of a peculiar character, and is sufficient in itself to confirm what has been said of all the other powers of the General Government. Of this particular grant further notice will hereafter be taken.
I shall conclude my remarks on this part of the subject by observing that the view which has been presented of the powers and character of the two Governments is supported by the marked difference which is observable in the manner of their endowment. The State governments are divided into three branches--a legislative, executive, and judiciary--and the appropriate duties of each assigned to it without any limitation of power except such as is necessary to guard against abuse, in the form of bills of right. But in instituting the National Government an entirely different principle was adopted and pursued. The Government itself is organized, like the State governments, into three branches, but its powers are enumerated and defined in the most precise form. The subject has already been too fully explained to require illustration by a general view of the whole Constitution, every part of which affords proof of what is here advanced. It will be sufficient to advert to the eighth section of the first article, being that more particularly which defines the powers and fixes the character of the Government of the United States. By this section it is declared that Congress shall have power, first, to lay and collect taxes, duties, imposts, and excises, etc.
Having shown the origin of the State governments and their endowments when first formed; having also shown the origin of the National Government and the powers vested in it, and having shown, lastly, the powers which are admitted to have remained to the State governments after those which were taken from them by the National Government, I will now proceed to examine whether the power to adopt and execute a system of internal improvement by roads and canals has been vested in the United States.
Before we can determine whether this power has been granted to the General Government it will be necessary to ascertain distinctly the nature and extent of the power requisite to make such improvements. When that is done we shall be able to decide whether such power is vested in the National Government.
If the power existed it would, it is presumed, be executed by a board of skillful engineers, on a view of the whole Union, on a plan which would secure complete effect to all the great purposes of our Constitution. It is not my intention, however, to take up the subject here on this scale. I shall state a case for the purpose of illustration only. Let it be supposed that Congress intended to run a road from the city of Washington to Baltimore and to connect the Chesapeake Bay with the Delaware and the Delaware with the Raritan by a canal, what must be done to carry the project into effect? I make here no question of the existing power. I speak only of the power necessary for the purpose. Commissioners would be appointed to trace a route in the most direct line, paying due regard to heights, water courses, and other obstacles, and to acquire the right to the ground over which the road and canal would pass, with sufficient breadth for each. This must be done by voluntary grants, or by purchases from individuals, or, in case they would not sell or should ask an exorbitant price, by condemning the property and fixing its value by a jury of the vicinage. The next object to be attended to after the road and canal are laid out and made is to keep them in repair. We know that there are people in every community capable of committing voluntary injuries, of pulling down walls that are made to sustain the road, of breaking the bridges over water courses, and breaking the road itself. Some living near it might be disappointed that it did not pass through their lands and commit these acts of violence and waste from revenge or in the hope of giving it that direction, though for a short time. Injuries of this kind have been committed and are still complained of on the road from Cumberland to the Ohio. To accomplish this object Congress should have a right to pass laws to punish offenders wherever they may be found. Jurisdiction over the road would not be sufficient, though it were exclusive. It would seldom happen that the parties would be detected in the act. They would generally commit it in the night and fly far off before the sun appeared. The power to punish these culprits must therefore reach them wherever they go. They must also be amenable to competent tribunals, Federal or State. The power must likewise extend to another object not less essential or important than those already mentioned. Experience has shown that the establishment of turnpikes, with gates and tolls and persons to collect the tolls, is the best expedient that can be adopted to defray the expense of these improvements and the repairs which they necessarily require. Congress must therefore have power to make such an establishment and to support it by such regulations, with fines and penalties in the case of injuries, as may be competent to the purpose. The right must extend to all those objects, or it will be utterly incompetent. It is possessed and exercised by the States individually, and it must be possessed by the United States or the pretension must be abandoned.
Let it be further supposed that Congress, believing that they do possess the power, have passed an act for those purposes, under which commissioners have been appointed, who have begun the work. They are met at the first farm on which they enter by the owner, who forbids them to trespass on his land. They offer to buy it at a fair price or at twice or thrice its value. He persists in his refusal. Can they, on the principle recognized and acted on by all the State governments that in cases of this kind the obstinacy and perverseness of an individual must yield to the public welfare, summon a jury of upright and discreet men to condemn the land, value it, and compel the owner to receive the amount and to deliver it up to them ? I believe that very few would concur in the opinion that such a power exists.
The next object is to preserve these improvements from injury. The locks of the canal are broken, the walls which sustained the road are pulled down, the bridges are broken, the road itself is plowed up, toll is refused to be paid, the gates of the canal or turnpike are forced. The offenders are pursued, caught, and brought to trial. Can they be punished? The question of right must be decided on principle. The culprits will avail themselves of every barrier that may serve to screen them from punishment. They will plead that the law under which they stand arraigned is unconstitutional, and that question must he decided by the court, whether Federal or State, on a fair investigation of the powers vested in the General Government by the Constitution. If the judges find that these powers have not been granted to Congress, the prisoners must be acquitted, and by their acquittal all claim to the right to establish such a system is at an end.
I have supposed an opposition to be made to the right in Congress by the owner of the land and other individuals charged with breaches of laws made to protect the works from injury, because it is the mildest form in which it can present itself. It is not, however, the only one. A State, also, may contest the right, and then the controversy assumes another character. Government might contend against government, for to a certain extent both the Governments are sovereign and independent of each other, and in that form it is possible, though not probable, that opposition might be made. To each limitations are prescribed, and should a contest rise between them respecting their rights and the people sustain it with anything like an equal division of numbers the worst consequences might ensue.
It may be urged that the opposition suggested by the owner of the land or by the States individually may be avoided by a satisfactory arrangement with the parties. But a suppression of opposition in that way is no proof of a right in Congress, nor could it, if confined to that limit, remove all the impediments to the exercise of the power. It is not sufficient that Congress may by the command and application of the public revenue purchase the soil, and thus silence that class of individuals, or by the accommodation afforded to individual States put down opposition on their part. Congress must be able rightfully to control all opposition or they can not carry the system into effect. Cases would inevitably occur to put the right to the test. The work must be preserved from injury, tolls must be collected, offenders must be punished. With these culprits no bargain can be made. When brought to trial they must deny the validity of the law, and that plea being sustained all claim to the right ceases.
If the United States possess this power, it must be either because it has been specifically granted or that it is incidental and necessary to carry into effect some specific grant. The advocates for the power derive it from the following sources: First; the right to establish post-offices and post-roads; second, to declare war; third, to regulate commerce among the several States; fourth, from the power to pay the debts and provide for the common defense and general welfare of the United States; fifth, from the power to make all laws necessary and proper for carrying into execution all the powers vested by the Constitution in the Government of the United States or in any department or officer thereof; sixth and lastly, from the power to dispose of and make all needful rules and regulations respecting the territory and other property of the United States. It is to be observed that there is but little accord among the advocates for this power as to the particular source from whence it is derived. They all agree, however, in ascribing it to some one or more of those above mentioned. I will examine the ground of the claim in each instance.
The first of these grants is in the following words: "Congress shall have power to establish post-offices and post-roads." What is the just import of these words and the extent of the grant? The word "establish" is the ruling term; "post-offices and post-roads" are the subjects on which it acts. The question therefore is, What power is granted by that word? The sense in which words are commonly used is that in which they are to be understood in all transactions between public bodies and individuals. The intention of the parties is to prevail, and there is no better way of ascertaining it than by giving to the terms used their ordinary import. If we were to ask any number of our most enlightened citizens, who had no connection with public affairs and whose minds were unprejudiced, what was the import of the word "establish" and the extent of the grant which it controls, we do not think there would be any difference of opinion among them. We are satisfied that all of them would answer that a power was thereby given to Congress to fix on the towns, court-houses, and other places throughout our Union at which there should be post-offices, the routes by which the mails should be carried from one post-office to another, so as to diffuse intelligence as extensively and to make the institution as useful as possible, to fix the postage to be paid on every letter and packet thus carried, to support the establishment, and to protect the post-office and mails from robbery by punishing those who should commit the offense. The idea of a right to lay off the roads of the United States on a general scale of improvement, to take the soil from the proprietor by force, to establish turnpikes and tolls, and to punish offenders in the manner stated above would never occur to any such person. The use of the existing road by the stage, mail carrier, or postboy in passing over it as others do is all that would be thought of, the jurisdiction and soil remaining to the State, with a right in the State or those authorized by its legislature to change the road at pleasure.
The intention of the parties is supported by other proof, which ought to place it beyond all doubt. In the former act of Government, the Confederation, we find a grant for the same purpose expressed in the following words: "The United States in Congress assembled shall have the sole and exclusive right and power of establishing and regulating post-offices from one State to another throughout all the United States, and exacting such postage on the papers passing through the same as may be requisite to defray the expenses of the said office." The term "establish" was likewise the ruling one in that instrument, and was evidently intended and understood to give a power simply and solely to fix where there should be post-offices. By transferring this term from the Confederation into the Constitution it was doubtless intended that it should be understood in the same sense in the latter that it was in the former instrument, and to be applied alike to post-offices and post-roads. In whatever sense it is applied to post-offices it must be applied in the same sense to post-roads. But it may be asked, If such was the intention, why were not all the other terms of the grant transferred with it? The reason is obvious. The Confederation being a bond of union between independent States, it was necessary in granting the powers which were to be exercised over them to be very explicit and minute in defining the powers granted. But the Constitution to the extent of its powers having incorporated the States into one Government like the government of the States individually, fewer words in defining the powers granted by it were not only adequate, but perhaps better adapted to the purpose. We find that brevity is a characteristic of the instrument. Had it been intended to convey a more enlarged power in the constitution than had been granted in the Confederation, surely the same controlling term would not have been used, or other words would have been added, to show such intention and to mark the extent to which the power should be carried. It is a liberal construction of the powers granted in the Constitution by this term to include in it all the powers that were granted in the Confederation by terms which specifically defined and, as was supposed, extended their limits. It would be absurd to say that by omitting from the Constitution any portion of the phraseology which was deemed important in the Confederation the import of that term was enlarged, and with it the powers of the Constitution, in a proportional degree, beyond what they were in the Confederation. The right to exact postage and to protect the post-offices and mails from robbery by punishing the offenders may fairly be considered as incidents to the grant, since without it the object of the grant might be defeated. Whatever is absolutely necessary to the accomplishment of the object of the grant, though not specified, may fairly be considered as included in it. Beyond this the doctrine of incidental power can not be carried.
If we go back to the origin of our settlements and institutions and trace their progress down to the Revolution, we shall see that it was in this sense, and in none other, that the power was exercised by all our colonial governments. Post-offices were made for the country, and not the country for them. They are the offspring of improvement; they never go before it. Settlements are first made, after which the progress is uniform and simple, extending to objects in regular order most necessary to the comfort of man--schools, places of public worship, court-houses, and markets; post-offices follow. Roads may, indeed, be said to be coeval with settlements; they lead to all the places mentioned, and to every other which the various and complicated interests of society require.
It is believed that not one example can be given, from the first settlement of our country to the adoption of this Constitution, of a post-office being established without a view to existing roads or of a single road having been made by pavement, turnpike, etc., for the sole purpose of accommodating a post-office. Such, too, is the uniform progress of all societies. In granting, then, this power to the United States it was undoubtedly intended by the framers and ratifiers of the Constitution to convey it in the sense and extent only in which it had been understood and exercised by the previous authorities of the country.
This conclusion is confirmed by the object of the grant and the manner of its execution. The object is the transportation of the mail throughout the United States, which may be done on horseback, and was so done until lately, since the establishment of stages. Between the great towns and in other places where the population is dense stages are preferred because they afford an additional opportunity to make a profit from passengers; but where the population is sparse and on crossroads it is generally carried on horseback. Unconnected with passengers and other objects, it can not be doubted that the mail itself may be carried in every part of our Union with nearly as much economy and greater dispatch on horseback than in a stage, and in many parts with much greater. In every part of the Union in which stages can be preferred the roads are sufficiently good provided those which serve for every other purpose will accommodate them. In every other part where horses alone are used if other people pass them on horseback surely the mail carrier can. For an object so simple and so easy in its execution it would doubtless excite surprise if it should be thought proper to appoint commissioners to lay off the country on a great scheme of improvement, with the power to shorten distances, reduce heights, level mountains, and pave surfaces.
If the United States possessed the power contended for under this grant, might they not in adopting the roads of the individual States for the carriage of the mail, as has been done, assume jurisdiction over them and preclude a right to interfere with or alter them? Might they not establish turnpikes and exercise all the other acts of sovereignty above stated over such roads necessary to protect them from injury and defray the expense of repairing them? Surely if the right exists these consequences necessarily followed as soon as the road was established. The absurdity of such a pretension must be apparent to all who examine it. In this way a large portion of the territory of every State might be taken from it, for there is scarcely a road in any State which will not be used for the transportation of the mail. A new field for legislation and internal government would thus be opened.
From this view of the subject I think we may fairly conclude that the right to adopt and execute a system of internal improvement, or any part of it, has not been granted to Congress under the power to establish post-offices and post-roads; that the common roads of the country only were contemplated by that grant and are fully competent to all its purposes.
The next object of inquiry is whether the right to declare war includes the right to adopt and execute this system of improvement. The objections to it are, I presume, not less conclusive than those which are applicable to the grant which we have just examined.
Under the last-mentioned grant a claim has been set up to as much of that system as relates to roads. Under this it extends alike to roads and canals.
We must examine this grant by the same rules of construction that were applied to the preceding one. The object was to take this power from the individual States and to vest it in the General Government. This has been done in clear and explicit terms, first by granting the power to Congress, and secondly by prohibiting the exercise of it by the States. "Congress shall have a right to declare war." This is the language of the grant. If the right to adopt and execute this system of improvement is included in it, it must be by way of incident only, since there is nothing in the grant itself which bears any relation to roads and canals. The following considerations, it is presumed, prove incontestably that this power has not been granted in that or any other manner.
The United States are exposed to invasion through the whole extent of their Atlantic coast by any European power with whom we might be engaged in war--on the northern and northwestern frontier on the side of Canada by Great Britain, and on the southern by Spain or any power in alliance with her. If internal improvements are to be carried to the full extent to which they may be useful for military purposes, the power as it exists must apply to all the roads of the Union, there being no limitation to it. Wherever such improvements may facilitate the march of troops, the transportation of cannon, or otherwise aid the operations or mitigate the calamities of war along the coast or in any part of the interior they would be useful for military purposes, and might therefore be made. The power following as an incident to another power can be measured as to its extent by reference only to the obvious extent of the power to which it is incidental. So great a scope was, it is believed, never given to incidental power.
If it had been intended that the right to declare war should include all the powers necessary to maintain war, it would follow that nothing would have been done to impair the right or to restrain Congress from the exercise of any power which the exigencies of war might require. The nature and extent of this exigency would mark the extent of the power granted, which should always be construed liberally, so as to be adequate to the end. A right to raise money by taxes, duties, excises, and by loan, to raise and support armies and a navy, to provide for calling forth, arming, disciplining, and governing the militia when in the service of the United States, establishing fortifications and governing the troops stationed in them independently of the State authorities, and to perform many other acts is indispensable to the maintenance of war--no war with any great power can be prosecuted with success without the command of the resources of the Union in all these respects. These powers, then, would of necessity and by common consent have fallen within the right to declare war had it been intended to convey by way of incident to that right the necessary powers to maintain war. But these powers have all been granted specifically with many others, in great detail, which experience had shown were necessary for the purposes of war. By specifically granting, then, these powers it is manifest that every power was thus granted which it was intended to grant for military purposes, and that it was also intended that no important power should be included in this grant by way of incident, however useful it might be for some of the purposes of the grant.
By the sixteenth of the enumerated powers, Article I, section 8, Congress are authorized to exercise exclusive legislation in all cases whatever over such district as may by cession of particular States and the acceptance of Congress, not exceeding 10 miles square, become the seat of the Government of the United State, and to exercise like authority over all places purchased by the consent of the legislature of the State in which the same shall be, for the erection of forts, magazines, arsenals, dock-yards, and other useful buildings. If any doubt existed on a view of other parts of the Constitution respecting the decision which ought to be formed on the question under consideration, I should suppose that this clause would completely remove it. It has been shown after the most liberal construction of all the enumerated powers of the General Government that the territory within the limits of the respective States belonged to them; that the United States had no right under the powers granted to them, with the exception specified in this grant, to any the smallest portion of territory within a State, all those powers operating on a different principle and having their full effect without impairing in the slightest degree this right in the States; that those powers were in every instance means to ends, which being accomplished left the subject--that is, the property, in which light only land could be regarded--where it was before, under the jurisdiction and subject to the laws of the State governments.
The second number of the clause, which is applicable to military and naval purposes alone, claims particular attention here. It fully confirms the view taken of the other enumerated powers, for had it been intended to include in the right to declare war, by way of incident, any right of jurisdiction or legislation over territory within a State, it would have been done as to fortifications, magazines, arsenals, dockyards, and other needful buildings. By specifically granting the right as to such small portions of territory as might be necessary for these purposes and on certain conditions, minutely and well defined, it is manifest that it was not intended to grant it as to any other portion on any condition for any purpose or in any manner whatsoever.
It may be said that although the authority to exercise exclusive legislation in certain cases within the States with their consent may be considered as a prohibition to Congress to exercise like exclusive legislation in any other case, although their consent should be granted, it does not prohibit the exercise of such jurisdiction or power within a State as would be competent to all the purposes of internal improvement. I can conceive no ground on which the idea of such a power over any part of the territory of a State can be inferred from the power to declare war. There never can be an occasion for jurisdiction for military purposes except in fortifications, dockyards, and the like places. If the soldiers are in the field or are quartered in garrisons without the fortifications, the civil authority must prevail where they are. The government of the troops by martial law is not affected by it. In war, when the forces are increased and the movement is on a greater scale, consequences follow which are inseparable from the exigencies of the state. More freedom of action and a wider range of power in the military commanders, to be exercised on their own responsibility, may be necessary to the public safety; but even here the civil authority of the State never ceases to operate. It is also exclusive for all civil purposes.
Whether any power short of that stated would be adequate to the purposes of internal improvement is denied. In the case of territory one government must prevail for all the purposes intended by the grant. The jurisdiction of the United States might be modified in such manner as to admit that of the State in all cases and for all purposes not necessary to the execution of the proposed power; but the right of the General Government must be complete for all the purposes above stated. It must extend to the seizure and condemnation of the property, if necessary; to the punishment of offenders for injuries to the roads and canals; to the establishment and enforcement of tolls, etc. It must be a complete right to the extent above stated or it will be of no avail. That right does not exist.
The reasons which operate in favor of the right of exclusive legislation in forts, dockyards, etc., do not apply to any other places. The safety of such works and of the cities which they are intended to defend, and even of whole communities, may sometimes depend on it. If spies are admitted within them in time of war, they might communicate intelligence to the enemy which might be fatal. All nations surround such works with high walls and keep their gates shut. Even here, however, three important conditions are indispensable to such exclusive legislation: First, the ground must be requisite for and be applied to those purposes; second, it must be purchased; third, it must be purchased by the consent of the State in which it may be. When we find that so much care has been taken to protect the sovereignty of the States over the territory within their respective limits, admitting that of the United States over such small portions and for such special and important purposes only, the conclusion is irresistible not only that the power necessary for internal improvements has not been granted, but that it has been clearly prohibited.
I come next to the right to regulate commerce, the third source from whence the right to make internal improvements is claimed. It is expressed in the following words: "Congress shall have power to regulate commerce with foreign nations and among the several States and with the Indian tribes." The reasoning applicable to the preceding claims is equally so to this. The mischief complained of was that this power could not be exercised with advantage by the individual States, and the object was to transfer it to the United States. The sense in which the power was understood and exercised by the States was doubtless that in which it was transferred to the United States. The policy was the same as to three branches of this grant, and it is scarcely possible to separate the two first from each other in any view which may be taken of the subject. The last, relating to the Indian tribes, is of a nature distinct from the others for reasons too well known to require explanation. Commerce between independent powers or communities is universally regulated by duties and imposts. It was so regulated by the States before the adoption of this Constitution equally in respect to each other and to foreign powers. The goods and vessels employed in the trade are the only subjects of regulation. It can act on none other. A power, then, to impose such duties and imposts in regard to foreign nations and to prevent any on the trade between the States was the only power granted.
If we recur to the causes which produced the adoption of this Constitution, we shall find that injuries resulting from the regulation of trade by the States respectively and the advantages anticipated from the transfer of the power to Congress were among those which had the most weight. Instead of acting as a nation in regard to foreign powers, the States individually had commenced a system of restraint on each other whereby the interests of foreign powers were promoted at their expense. If one State imposed high duties on the goods or vessels of a foreign power to countervail the regulations of such power, the next adjoining States imposed lighter duties to invite those articles into their ports, that they might be transferred thence into the other States, securing the duties to themselves. This contracted policy in some of the States was soon counteracted by others. Restraints were immediately laid on such commerce by the suffering States, and thus had grown up a state of affairs disorderly and unnatural, the tendency of which was to destroy the Union itself and with it all hope of realizing those blessings which we had anticipated from the glorious Revolution which had been so recently achieved. From this deplorable dilemma, or, rather, certain ruin, we were happily rescued by the adoption of the Constitution.
Among the first and most important effects of this great Revolution was the complete abolition of this pernicious policy. The States were brought together by the Constitution as to commerce into one community equally in regard to foreign nations and each other. The regulations that were adopted regarded us in both respects as one people. The duties and imposts that were laid on the vessels and merchandise of foreign nations were all uniform throughout the United States, and in the intercourse between the States themselves no duties of any kind were imposed other than between different ports and counties within the same State.
This view is supported by a series of measures, all of a marked character, preceding the adoption of the Constitution. As early as the year 1781 Congress recommended it to the States to vest in the United States a power to levy a duty of 5 per cent on all goods imported from foreign countries into the United States for the term of fifteen years. In 1783 this recommendation, with alterations as to the kind of duties and an extension of this term to twenty-five years, was repeated and more earnestly urged. In 1784 it was recommended to the States to authorize Congress to prohibit, under certain modifications, the importation of goods from foreign powers into the United States for fifteen years. In 1785 the consideration of the subject was resumed, and a proposition presented in a new form, with an address to the States, explaining fully the principles on which a grant of the power to regulate trade was deemed indispensable. In 1786 a meeting took place at Annapolis of delegates from several of the States on this subject, and on their report a convention was formed at Philadelphia the ensuing year from all the States, to whose deliberations we are indebted for the present Constitution.
In none of these measures was the subject of internal improvement mentioned or even glanced at. Those of 1784, 1785, 1786, and 1787, leading step by step to the adoption of the Constitution, had in view only the obtaining of a power to enable Congress to regulate trade with foreign powers. It is manifest that the regulation of trade with the several States was altogether a secondary object, suggested by and adopted in connection with the other. If the power necessary to this system of improvement is included under either branch of this grant, I should suppose that it was the first rather than the second. The pretension to it, however, under that branch has never been set up. In support of the claim under the second no reason has been assigned which appears to have the least weight.
The fourth claim is founded on the right of Congress to "pay the debts and provide for the common defense and general welfare" of the United States. This claim has less reason on its side than either of those which we have already examined. The power of which this forms a part is expressed in the following words: "Congress shall have power to lay and collect taxes, duties, imposts, and excises; to pay the debts and provide for the common defense and general welfare of the United States; but all duties, imposts, and excises shall be uniform throughout the United States."
That the second part of this grant gives a right to appropriate the public money, and nothing more, is evident from the following considerations: First. If the right of appropriation is not given by this clause, it is not given at all, there being no other grant in the Constitution which gives it directly or which has any bearing on the subject, even by implication, except the two following: First, the prohibition, which is contained in the eleventh of the enumerated powers, not to appropriate money for the support of armies for a longer term than two years; and, second, the declaration of the sixth member or clause of the ninth section of the first article that no money shall be drawn from the Treasury but in consequence of appropriations made by law. Second. This part of the grant has none of the characteristics of a distinct and original power. It is manifestly incidental to the great objects of the first part of the grant, which authorizes Congress to lay and collect taxes, duties, imposts, and excises, a power of vast extent, not granted by the Confederation, the grant of which formed one of the principal inducements to the adoption of this Constitution. If both parts of the grant are taken together ( as they must be, for the one follows immediately after the other in the same sentence), it seems to be impossible to give to the latter any other construction than that contended for. Congress shall have power to lay and collect taxes, duties, imposts, and excises. For what purpose? To pay the debts and provide for the common defense and general welfare of the United States, an arrangement and phraseology which clearly show that the latter part of the clause was intended to enumerate the purposes to which the money thus raised might be appropriated. Third. If this is not the real object and fair construction of the second part of this grant, it follows either that it has no import or operation whatever or one of much greater extent than the first part. This presumption is evidently groundless in both instances. In the first because no part of the Constitution can be considered useless; no sentence or clause in it without a meaning. In the second because such a construction as made the second part of the clause an original grant, embracing the same object with the first, but with much greater power than it, would be in the highest degree absurd. The order generally observed in grants, an order rounded in common sense, since it promotes a clear understanding of their import, is to grant the power intended to be conveyed in the most full and explicit manner, and then to explain or qualify it, if explanation or qualification should be necessary. This order has, it is believed, been invariably observed in all the grants contained in the Constitution. In the second because if the clause in question is not construed merely as an authority to appropriate the public money, it must be obvious that it conveys a power of indefinite and unlimited extent; that there would have been no use for the special powers to raise and support armies and a navy, to regulate commerce, to call forth the militia, or even to lay and collect taxes, duties, imposts, and excises. An unqualified power to pay the debts and provide for the common defense and general welfare, as the second part of this clause would be if considered as a distinct and separate grant, would extend to every object in which the public could be interested. A power to provide for the common defense would give to Congress the command of the whole force and of all the resources of the Union; but a right to provide for the general welfare would go much further. It would, in effect, break down all the barriers between the States and the General Government and consolidate the whole under the latter.
The powers specifically granted to Congress are what are called the enumerated powers, and are numbered in the order in which they stand, among which that contained in the first clause holds the first place in point of importance. If the power created by the latter part of the clause is considered an original grant, unconnected with and independent of the first, as in that case it must be, then the first part is entirely done away, as are all the other grants in the Constitution, being completely absorbed in the transcendent power granted in the latter part; but if the clause be construed in the sense contended for, then every part has an important meaning and effect; not a line, a word, in it is superfluous. A power to lay and collect taxes, duties, imposts, and excises subjects to the call of Congress every branch of the public revenue, internal and external, and the addition to pay the debts and provide for the common defense and general welfare gives the right of applying the money raised--that is, of appropriating it to the purposes specified according to a proper construction of the terms. Hence it follows that it is the first part of the clause only which gives a power which affects in any manner the power remaining to the States, as the power to raise money from the people, whether it be by taxes, duties, imposts, or excises, though concurrent in the States as to taxes and excises must necessarily do. But the use or application of the money after it is raised is a power altogether of a different character. It imposes no burden on the people, nor can it act on them in a sense to take power from the States or in any sense in which power can be controverted, or become a question between the two Governments. The application of money raised under a lawful power is a right or grant which may be abused. It may be applied partially among the States, or to improper purposes in our foreign and domestic concerns; but still it is a power not felt in the sense of other power, since the only complaint which any State can make of such partiality and abuse is that some other State or States have obtained greater benefit from the application than by a just rule of apportionment they were entitled to. The right of appropriation is therefore from its nature secondary and incidental to the right of raising money, and it was proper to place it in the same grant and same clause with that right. By finding them, then, in that order we see a new proof of the sense in which the grant was made, corresponding with the view herein taken of it.
The last part of this grant, which provides that all duties, imposts, and excises shall be uniform throughout the United States, furnishes another strong proof that it was not intended that the second part should constitute a distinct grant in the sense above stated, or convey any other right than that of appropriation. This provision operates exclusively on the power granted in the first part of the clause. It recites three branches of that power--duties, imposts, and excises--those only on which it could operate, the rule by which the fourth--that is, taxes--should be laid being already provided for in another part of the Constitution. The object of this provision is to secure a just equality among the States in the exercise of that power by Congress. By placing it after both the grants--that is, after that to raise and that to appropriate the public money--and making it apply to the first only it shows that it was not intended that the power granted in the second should be paramount to and destroy that granted in the first. It shows also that no such formidable power as that suggested had been granted in the second, or any power against the abuse of which it was thought necessary specially to provide. Surely if it was deemed proper to guard a specific power of limited extent and well-known import against injustice and abuse, it would have been much more so to have guarded against the abuse of a power of such vast extent and so indefinite as would have been granted by the second part of the clause if considered as a distinct and original grant.
With this construction all the other enumerated grants, and, indeed, all the grants of power contained in the Constitution, have their full operation and effect. They all stand well together, fulfilling the great purposes intended by them. Under it we behold a great scheme, consistent in all its parts, a Government instituted for national purposes, vested with adequate powers for those purposes, commencing with the most important of all, that of the revenue, and proceeding in regular order to the others with which it was deemed proper to endow it, all, too, drawn with the utmost circumspection and care. How much more consistent is this construction with the great objects of the institution and with the high character of the enlightened and patriotic citizens who framed it, as well as of those who ratified it, than one which subverts every sound principle and rule of construction and throws everything into confusion.
I have dwelt thus long on this part of the subject from an earnest desire to fix in a clear and satisfactory manner the import of the second part of this grant, well knowing from the generality of the terms used their tendency to lead into error. I indulge a strong hope that the view herein presented will not be without effect, but will tend to satisfy the unprejudiced and impartial that nothing more was granted by that part than a power to appropriate the public money raised under the other part. To what extent that power may be carried will be the next object of inquiry.
It is contended on the one side that as the National Government is a government of limited powers it has no right to expend money except in the performance of acts authorized by the other specific grants according to a strict construction of their powers; that this grant in neither of its branches gives to Congress discretionary power of any kind, but is a mere instrument in its hands to carry into effect the powers contained in the other grants. To this construction I was inclined in the more early stage of our Government; but on further reflection and observation my mind has undergone a change, for reasons which I will frankly unfold.
The grant consists, as heretofore observed, of a twofold power--the first to raise, the second to appropriate, the public money--and the terms used in both instances are general and unqualified. Each branch was obviously drawn with a view to the other, and the import of each tends to illustrate that of the other. The grant to raise money gives a power over every subject from which revenue may be drawn, and is made in the same manner with the grants to declare war, to raise and support armies and a navy, to regulate commerce, to establish post-offices and post-roads, and with all the other specific grants to the General Government. In the discharge of the powers contained in any of these grants there is no other check than that which is to be found in the great principles of our system, the responsibility of the representative to his constituents. If war, for example, is necessary, and Congress declare it for good cause, their constituents will support them in it. A like support will be given them for the faithful discharge of their duties under any and every other power vested in the United States. It affords to the friends of our free governments the most heartfelt consolation to know--and from the best evidence, our own experience--that in great emergencies the boldest measures, such as form the strongest appeals to the virtue and patriotism of the people, are sure to obtain the most decided approbation. But should the representative act corruptly and betray his trust, or otherwise prove that he was unworthy of the confidence of his constituents, he would be equally sure to lose it and to be removed and otherwise censured, according to his deserts. The power to raise money by taxes, duties, imposts, and excises is alike unqualified, nor do I see any check on the exercise of it other than that which applies to the other powers above recited, the responsibility of the representative to his constituents. Congress know the extent of the public engagements and the sums necessary to meet them; they know how much may be derived from each branch of revenue without pressing it too far; and, paying due regard to the interests of the people, they likewise know which branch ought to be resorted to in the first instance. From the commencement of the Government two branches of this power, duties and imposts, have been in constant operation, the revenue from which has supported the Government in its various branches and met its other ordinary engagements. In great emergencies the other two, taxes and excises, have likewise been resorted to, and neither was the right or the policy ever called in question.
If we look to the second branch of this power, that which authorizes the appropriation of the money thus raised, we find that it is not less general and unqualified than the power to raise it. More comprehensive terms than to "pay the debts and provide for the common defense and general welfare" could not have been used. So intimately connected with and dependent on each other are these two branches of power that had either been limited the limitation would have had the like effect on the other. Had the power to raise money been conditional or restricted to special purposes, the appropriation must have corresponded with it, for none but the money raised could be appropriated, nor could it be appropriated to other purposes than those which were permitted. On the other hand, if the right of appropriation had been restricted to certain purposes, it would be useless and improper to raise more than would be adequate to those purposes. It may fairly be inferred these restraints or checks have been carefully and intentionally avoided. The power in each branch is alike broad and unqualified, and each is drawn with peculiar fitness to the other, the latter requiring terms of great extent and force to accommodate the former, which have been adopted, and both placed in the same clause and sentence. Can it be presumed that all these circumstances were so nicely adjusted by mere accident? Is it not more just to conclude that they were the result of due deliberation and design? Had it been intended that Congress should be restricted in the appropriation of the public money to such expenditures as were authorized by a rigid construction of the other specific grants, how easy would it have been to have provided for it by a declaration to that effect. The omission of such declaration is therefore an additional proof that it was not intended that the grant should be so construed.
It was evidently impossible to have subjected this grant in either branch to such restriction without exposing the Government to very serious embarrassment. How carry it into effect? If the grant had been made in any degree dependent upon the States, the Government would have experienced the fate of the Confederation. Like it, it would have withered and soon perished. Had the Supreme Court been authorized, or should any other tribunal distinct from the Government be authorized, to impose its veto, and to say that more money had been raised under either branch of this power--that is, by taxes, duties, imposts, or excises--than was necessary, that such a tax or duty was useless, that the appropriation to this or that purpose was unconstitutional, the movement might have been suspended and the whole system disorganized. It was impossible to have created a power within the Government or any other power distinct from Congress and the Executive which should control the movement of the Government in this respect and not destroy it. Had it been declared by a clause in the Constitution that the expenditures under this grant should be restricted to the construction which might be given of the other grants, such restraint, though the most innocent, could not have failed to have had an injurious effect on the vital principles of the Government and often on its most important measures. Those who might wish to defeat a measure proposed might construe the power relied on in support of it in a narrow and contracted manner, and in that way fix a precedent inconsistent with the true import of the grant. At other times those who favored a measure might give to the power relied. on a forced or strained construction, and, succeeding in the object, fix a precedent in the opposite extreme. Thus it is manifest that if the right of appropriation be confined to that limit, measures may oftentimes be carried or defeated by considerations and motives altogether independent of and unconnected with their merits, and the several powers of Congress receive constructions equally inconsistent with their true import. No such declaration, however, has been made, and from the fair import of the grant, and, indeed, its positive terms, the inference that such was intended seems to be precluded.
Many considerations of great weight operate in favor of this construction, while I do not perceive any serious objections to it. If it be established, it follows that the words "to provide for the common defense and general welfare" have a definite, safe, and useful meaning. The idea of their forming an original grant, with unlimited power, superseding every other grant, is abandoned. They will be considered simply as conveying a right of appropriation, a right indispensable to that of raising a revenue and necessary to expenditures under every grant. By it, as already observed, no new power will be taken from the States, the money to be appropriated being raised under a power already granted to Congress. By it, too, the motive for giving a forced or strained construction to any of the other specific grants will in most instances be diminished and in many utterly destroyed. The importance of this consideration can not be too highly estimated, since, in addition to the examples already given, it ought particularly to be recollected that to whatever extent any specified power way be carried the right of jurisdiction goes with it. pursuing it through all its incidents. The very important agency which this grant has in carrying into effect every other grant is a wrong argument in favor of the construction contended for. All the other grants are limited by the nature of the offices which they have severally to perform, each conveying a power to do a certain thing, and that only, whereas this is coextensive with the great scheme of the Government itself. It is the lever which raises and puts the whole machinery in motion and continues the movement. Should either of the other grants fail in consequence of any condition or limitation attached to it or misconstruction of its powers, much injury might follow, but still it would be the failure of one branch of power, of one item in the system only. All the others might move on. But should the right to raise and appropriate the public money be improperly restricted, the whole system might be sensibly affected, if not disorganized. Each of the other grants is limited by the nature of the grant itself; this, by the nature of the Government only. Hence it became necessary that, like the power to declare war, this power should be commensurate with the great scheme of the Government and with all its purposes.
If, then, the right to raise and appropriate the public money is not restricted to the expenditures under the other specific grants according to a strict construction of their powers, respectively, is there no limitation to it? Have Congress a right to raise and appropriate the money to any and to every purpose according to their will and pleasure? They certainly have not. The Government of the United States is a limited Government, instituted for great national purposes, and for those only. Other interests are committed to the States, whose duty it is to provide for them. Each government should look to the great and essential purposes for which it was instituted and confine itself to those purposes. A State government will rarely if ever apply money to national purposes without making it a charge to the nation. The people of the State would not permit it. Nor will Congress be apt to apply money in aid of the State administrations for purposes strictly local in which the nation at large has no interest, although the State should desire it. The people of the other States would condemn it. They would declare that Congress had no right to tax them for such a purpose, and dismiss at the next election such of their representatives as had voted for the measure, especially if it should be severely felt. I do not think that in offices of this kind there is much danger of the two Governments mistaking their interests or their duties. I rather expect that they would soon have a clear and distinct understanding of them and move on in great harmony.
Good roads and canals will promote many very important national purposes. They will facilitate the operations of war, the movements of troops, the transportation of cannon, of provisions, and every warlike store, much to our advantage and to the disadvantage of the enemy in time of war. Good roads will facilitate the transportation of the mail, and thereby promote the purposes of commerce and political intelligence among the people. They will by being properly directed to these objects enhance the value of our vacant lands, a treasure of vast resource to the nation. To the appropriation of the public money to improvements having these objects in view and carried to a certain extent I do not see any well-founded constitutional objection.
In regard to our foreign concerns, provided they are managed with integrity and ability, great liberality is allowable in the application of the public money. In the management of these concerns no State interests can be affected, no State rights violated. The complete and exclusive control over them is vested in Congress. The power to form treaties of alliance and commerce with foreign powers, to regulate by law our commerce with them, to determine on peace or war, to raise armies and a navy, to call forth the militia and direct their operations belongs to the General Government. These great powers, embracing the whole scope of our foreign relations, being granted, on what principle can it be said that the minor are withheld? Are not the latter clearly and evidently comprised in the former? Nations are sometimes called upon to perform to each other acts of humanity and kindness, of which we see so many illustrious examples between individuals in private life. Great calamities make appeals to the benevolence of mankind which ought not to be resisted. Good offices in such emergencies exalt the character of the party rendering them. By exciting grateful feelings they soften the intercourse between nations and tend to prevent war. Surely if the United States have a right to make war they have a right to prevent it. How was it possible to grant to Congress a power for such minor purposes other than in general terms, comprising it within the scope and policy of that which conveyed it for the greater?
The right of appropriation is nothing more than a right to apply the public money to this or that purpose. It has no incidental power, nor does it draw after it any consequences of that kind. All that Congress could do under it in the case of internal improvements would be to appropriate the money necessary to make them. For every act requiring legislative sanction or support the State authority must be relied on. The condemnation of the land, if the proprietors should refuse to sell it, the establishment of turnpikes and tolls, and the protection of the work when finished must be done by the State. To these purposes the powers of the General Government are believed to be utterly incompetent.
To the objection that the United States have no power in any instance which is not complete to all the purposes to which it may be made instrumental, and in consequence that they have no right to appropriate any portion of the public money to internal improvements because they have not the right of sovereignty and jurisdiction over them when made, a full answer has, it is presumed, been already given. It may, however, be proper to add that if this objection was well rounded it would not be confined to the simple case of internal improvements, but would apply to others of high importance. Congress have a right to regulate commerce. To give effect to this power it becomes necessary to establish custom-houses in every State along the coast and in many parts of the interior. The vast amount of goods imported and the duties to be performed to accommodate the merchants and secure the revenue make it necessary that spacious buildings should be erected, especially in the great towns, for their reception. This, it is manifest, could best be performed under the direction of the General Government. Have Congress the right to seize the property of individuals if they should refuse to sell it, in quarters best adapted to the purpose, to have it valued, and to take it at the valuation? Have they a right to exercise jurisdiction within those buildings? Neither of these claims has ever been set up, nor could it, as is presumed, be sustained. They have invariably either rented houses where such as were suitable could be obtained, or, where they could not, purchased the ground of individuals, erected the buildings, and held them under the laws of the State. Under the power to establish post-offices and post-roads houses are also requisite for the reception of the mails and the transaction of the business of the several offices. These have always been rented or purchased and held under the laws of the State in the same manner as if they had been taken by a citizen. The United States have a right to establish tribunals inferior to the Supreme Court, and such have been established in every State of the Union. It is believed that the houses for these inferior courts have invariably been rented. No right of jurisdiction in them has ever been claimed, nor other right than that of privilege, and that only while the court is in session. A still stronger case may be urged. Should Congress be compelled by invasion or other cause to remove the Government to some town within one of the States, would they have a right of jurisdiction over such town, or hold even the house in which they held their session under other authority than the laws of such State ? It is believed that they would not. If they have a right to appropriate money for any of these purposes, to be laid out under the protection of the laws of the State, surely they have an equal right to do it for the purposes of internal improvements.
It is believed that there is not a corporation in the Union which does not exercise great discretion in the application of the money raised by it to the purposes of its institution. It would be strange if the Government of the United States, which was instituted for such important purposes and endowed with such extensive powers, should not be allowed at least equal discretion and authority. The evil to be particularly avoided is the violation of State rights. Shunning that, it seems to be reasonable and proper that the powers of Congress should be so construed as that the General Government in its intercourse with other nations and in our internal concerns should be able to adopt all such measures lying within the fair scope and intended to facilitate the direct objects of its powers as the public welfare may require and a sound and provident policy dictate.
The measures of Congress have been in strict accord with the view taken of the right of appropriation both as to its extent and limitation, as will be shown by a reference to the laws, commencing at a very early period. Many roads have been opened, of which the following are the principal: The first from Cumberland, at the head waters of the Potomac, in the State of Maryland, through Pennsylvania and Virginia, to the State of Ohio (March 29, 1806; see vol. 4, p. 13, of the late edition of the laws). The second from the frontiers of Georgia, on the route from Athens to New Orleans, to its intersection with the thirty-first degree of north latitude (April 31, 1806, p. 58). The third from the Mississippi at a point and by a route described to the Ohio (same act). The fourth from Nashville, in Tennessee, to Natchez (same act). The fifth from the thirty-first degree of north latitude, on the route from Athens to New Orleans, under such regulations as might be agreed on between the Executive and the Spanish Government (March 3, 1807, p. 117). The sixth from the foot of the rapids of the river Miami, of Lake Erie, to the western line of the Connecticut Reserve (December 12, 1811, p. 364). The seventh from the Lower Sandusky to the boundary line established by the treaty of Greenville (same act). The eighth from a point where the United States road leading from Vincennes to the Indian boundary line, established by the treaty of Greenville, strikes the said line, to the North Bend, in the State of Ohio (January 8, 1812, p. 367). The ninth for repairing and keeping in repair the road between Columbia, on Duck River, in Tennessee, and Madisonville, in Louisiana, and also the road between Fort Hawkins, in Georgia, and Fort Stoddard (April 27, 1816, p. 104 of the acts of that year). The tenth from the Shawneetown, on the Ohio River, to the Sabine, and to Kaskaskias, in Illinois (April 27, 1816, p. 112). The eleventh from Reynoldsburg, on Tennessee River, in the State of Tennessee, through the Chickasaw Nation, to intersect the Natchez road near the Chickasaw old town (March 3, 1817, p. 252). The twelfth: By this act authority was given to the President to appoint three commissioners for the purpose of examining the country and laying out a road from the termination of the Cumberland road, at Wheeling, on the Ohio, through the States of Ohio, Indiana, and Illinois, to a point to be chosen by them, on the left bank of the Mississippi, between St. Louis and the mouth of the Illinois River, and to report an accurate plan of the said road, with an estimate of the expense of making it. It is, however, declared by the act that nothing was thereby intended to imply an obligation on the part of the United States to make or defray the expense of making the said road or any part thereof.
In the late war two other roads were made by the troops for military purposes--one from the Upper Sandusky, in the State of Ohio, through the Black Swamp, toward Detroit, and another from Plattsburg, on Lake Champlain, through the Chatauga woods toward Sacketts Harbor, which have since been repaired and improved by the troops. Of these latter there is no notice in the laws. The extra pay to the soldiers for repairing and improving those roads was advanced in the first instance from the appropriation to the Quartermaster's Department and afterwards provided for by a specific appropriation by Congress. The necessity of keeping those roads open and in good repair, being on the frontier, to facilitate a communication between our posts, is apparent.
All of these roads except the first were formed merely by cutting down the trees and throwing logs across, so as to make causeways over such parts as were otherwise impassable. The execution was of the coarsest kind. The Cumberland road is the only regular work which has been undertaken by the General Government or which could give rise to any question between the two Governments respecting its powers. It is a great work, over the highest mountains in our Union, connecting from the seat of the General Government the Eastern with the Western waters, and more intimately the Atlantic with the Western States, in the formation of which $1,800,000 have been expended. The measures pursued in this case require to be particularly noticed as fixing the opinion of the parties, and particularly of Congress, on the important question of the right. Passing through Maryland, Pennsylvania, and Virginia, it was thought necessary and proper to bring the subject before their respective legislatures to obtain their sanction, which was granted by each State by a legislative act, approving the route and providing for the purchase and condemnation of the land. This road was rounded on an article of compact between the United States and the State of Ohio, under which that State came into the Union, and by which the expense attending it was to be defrayed by the application of a certain portion of the money arising from the sale of the public lands within that State. In this instance, which is by far the strongest in respect to the expense, extent, and nature of the work done, the United States have exercised no act of jurisdiction or sovereignty within either of the States by taking the land from the proprietors by force, by passing acts for the protection of the road, or to raise a revenue from it by the establishment of turnpikes and tolls, or any other act founded on the principle of jurisdiction or right. Whatever they have done has, on the contrary, been founded on the opposite principle, on the voluntary and unqualified admission that the sovereignty belonged to the State and not to the United States, and that they could perform no act which should tend to weaken the power of the State or to assume any to themselves. All that they have done has been to appropriate the public money to the construction of this road and to cause it to be constructed, for I presume that no distinction can be taken between the appropriation of money raised by the sale of the public lands and of that which arises from taxes, duties, imposts, and excises; nor can I believe that the power to appropriate derives any sanction from a provision to that effect having been made by an article of compact between the United States and the people of the then Territory of Ohio. This point may, however, be placed in a clearer light by a more particular notice of the article itself.
By an act of April 30, 1802, entitled "An act to enable the people of the eastern division of the territory northwest of the river Ohio to form a constitution and State government, and for the admission of such State into the Union on an equal footing with the original States, and for other purposes," after describing the limits of the proposed new State and authorizing the people thereof to elect a convention to form a constitution, the three following propositions were made to the convention, to be obligatory on the United States if accepted by it: First, that section No. 16 of every township, or, where such section had been sold, other lands equivalent thereto, should be granted to the inhabitants of such township for the use of free schools. Second, that the 6 miles' reservation, including the salt springs commonly called the Sciota Salt Springs, the salt springs near the Muskingum River and in the military tract, with the sections which include the same, should be granted to the said State for the use of the people thereof, under such regulations as the legislature of the State should prescribe: Provided, That it should never sell or lease the same for more than ten years. Third, that one-twentieth part of the proceeds of the public lands lying within the said State which might be sold by Congress from and after the 30th June ensuing should be applied to the laying out and making public roads from the navigable waters emptying into the Atlantic, to the Ohio, and through the State of Ohio, such roads to be laid out under the authority of Congress, with the consent of the several States through which they should pass.
These three propositions were made on the condition that the convention of the State should provide by an ordinance, irrevocable without the consent of the United States, that every tract of land sold by Congress after the 30th of June ensuing should remain for the term of five years after sale exempt from every species of tax whatsoever.
It is impossible to read the ordinance of the 23d of April, 1784, or the provisions of the act of April 30, 1802, which are rounded on it, without being profoundly impressed with the enlightened and magnanimous policy which dictated them. Anticipating that the new States would be settled by the inhabitants of the original States and their offspring, no narrow or contracted jealousy was entertained of their admission into the Union in equal participation in the national sovereignty with the original States. It was foreseen at the early period at which that ordinance passed that the expansion of our Union to the Lakes and to the Mississippi and all its waters would not only make us a greater power, but cement the Union itself. These three propositions were well calculated to promote these great results. A grant of land to each township for free schools, and of the salt springs to the State, which were within its limits, for the use of its citizens, with 5 per cent of the money to be raised from the sale of lands within the State for the construction of roads between the original States and the new State, and of other roads within the State, indicated a spirit not to be mistaken, nor could it fail to produce a corresponding effect in the bosoms of those to whom it was addressed. For these considerations the sole return required of the convention was that the new State should not tax the public lands which might be sold by the United States within it for the term of five years after they should be sold. As the value of these lands would be enhanced by this exemption from taxes for that term, and from which the new State would derive its proportionable benefit, and as it would also promote the rapid sale of those lands, and with it the augmentation of its own population, it can not be doubted, had this exemption been suggested unaccompanied by any propositions of particular advantage, that the convention would, in consideration of the relation which had before existed between the parties, and was about to be so much improved, most willingly have acceded to it and without regarding it as an onerous condition.
Since, then, it appears that the whole of the money to be employed in making this road was to be raised from the sale of the public lands, and which would still belong to the United States, although no mention had been made of them in the compact, it follows that the application of the money to that purpose stands upon the same ground as if such compact had not been made, and in consequence that the example in favor of the right of appropriation is in no manner affected by it.
The same rule of construction of the right of appropriation has been observed and the same liberal policy pursued toward the other new States, with certain modifications adapted to the situation of each, which were adopted with the State of Ohio. As, however, the reasoning which is applicable to the compact with Ohio in relation to the right of appropriation, in which light only I have adverted to it, is equally applicable to the several compacts with the other new States, I deem it unnecessary to take a particular notice of them.
It is proper to observe that the money which was employed in the construction of all the other roads was taken directly from the Treasury. This fact affords an additional proof that in the contemplation of Congress no difference existed in the application of money to those roads between that which was raised by the sale of lands and that which was derived from taxes, duties, imposts, and excises.
So far I have confined my remarks to the acts of Congress respecting the right of appropriation to such measures only as operate internally and affect the territory of the individual States. In adverting to those which operate externally and relate to foreign powers I find only two which appear to merit particular attention. These were gratuitous grants of money for the relief of foreigners in distress--the first in 1794 to the inhabitants of St. Domingo, who sought an asylum on our coast from the convulsions and calamities of the island; the second in 1812 to the people of Caracas, reduced to misery by an earthquake. The considerations which were applicable to these grants have already been noticed and need not be repeated.
In this examination of the right of appropriation I thought it proper to present to view also the practice of the Government under it, and to explore the ground on which each example rested, that the precise nature and extent of the construction thereby given of the right might be clearly understood. The right to raise money would have given, as is presumed, the right to use it, although nothing had been said to that effect in the Constitution; and where the fight to raise it is granted without special limitation, we must look for such limitation to other causes. Our attention is first drawn to the right to appropriate, and not finding it there we must then look to the general powers of the Government as designated by the specific grants and to the purposes contemplated by them, allowing to this (the right to raise money), the first and most important of the enumerated powers, a scope which will be competent to those purposes. The practice of the Government, as illustrated by numerous and strong examples directly applicable, ought surely to have great weight in fixing the construction of each grant. It ought, I presume, to settle it, especially where it is acquiesced in by the nation and produces a manifest and positive good. A practical construction, thus supported, shows that it has reason on its side and is called for by the interests of the Union. Hence, too, the presumption that it will be persevered in. It will surely be better to admit that the construction given by these examples has been just and proper than to deny that construction and still to practice on it--to say one thing and to do another.
Wherein consists the danger of giving a liberal construction to the right of Congress to raise and appropriate the public money? It has been shown that its obvious effect is to secure the rights of the States from encroachment and greater harmony in the political movement between the two governments, while it enlarges to a certain extent in the most harmless way the useful agency of the General Government for all the purposes of its institution. Is not the responsibility of the representative to his constituent in every branch of the General Government equally strong and as sensibly felt as in the State governments, and is not the security against abuse as effectual in the one as in the other government? The history of the General Government in all its measures fully demonstrates that Congress will never venture to impose unnecessary burdens on the people or any that can be avoided. Duties and imposts have always been light, not greater, perhaps, than would have been imposed for the encouragement of our manufactures had there been no occasion for the revenue arising from them; and taxes and excises have never been laid except in cases of necessity, and repealed as soon as the necessity ceased. Under this mild process and the sale of some hundreds of millions of acres of good land the Government will be possessed of money, which may be applied with great advantage to national purposes. Within the States only will it be applied, and, of course, for their benefit, it not being presumable that such appeals as were made to the benevolence of the country in the instances of the inhabitants of St. Domingo and Caracas will often occur. How, then, shall this revenue be applied? Should it be idle in the Treasury? That our resources will be equal to such useful purposes I have no doubt, especially if by completing our fortifications and raising and maintaining our Navy at the point provided for immediately after the war we sustain our present altitude and preserve by means thereof for any length of time the peace of the Union.
When we hear charges raised against other governments of breaches of their constitutions, or, rather, of their charters, we always anticipate the most serious consequences--communities deprived of privileges which they have long enjoyed, or individuals oppressed and punished in violation of the ordinary forms and guards of trial to which they were accustomed and entitled. How different is the situation of the United States! Nor can anything mark more strongly the great characteristics of that difference than the grounds on which like charges are raised against this Government. It is not alleged that any portion of the community or any individual has been oppressed or that money has been raised under a doubtful title. The principal charges are that a work of great utility to the Union and affecting immediately and with like advantage many of the States has been constructed; that pensions to the surviving patriots of our Revolution, to patriots who fought the battles and promoted the independence of their country, have been granted, by money, too, raised not only without oppression, but almost without being felt, and under an acknowledged constitutional power.
From this view of the right to appropriate and of the practice under it I think that I am authorized to conclude that the right to make internal improvements has not been granted by the power "to pay the debts and provide for the common defense and general welfare," included in the first of the enumerated powers; that that grant conveys nothing more than a fight to appropriate the public money, and stands on the same ground with the right to lay and collect taxes, duties, imposts, and excises, conveyed by the first branch of that power; that the Government itself being limited, both branches of the power to raise and appropriate the public money are also limited, the extent of the Government as designated by the specific grants marking the extent of the power in both branches, extending, however, to every object embraced by the fair scope of those grants and not confined to a strict construction of their respective powers, it being safer to aid the purposes of those grants by the appropriation of money than to extend by a forced construction the grant itself; that although the right to appropriate the public money to such improvements affords a resource indispensably necessary to such a scheme, it is nevertheless deficient as a power in the great characteristics on which its execution depends.
The substance of what has been urged on this subject may be expressed in a few words. My idea is that Congress have an unlimited power to raise money, and that in its appropriation they have a discretionary power, restricted only by the duty to appropriate it to purposes of common defense and of general, not local, national, not State, benefit.
I will now proceed to the fifth source from which the power is said to be derived, viz, the power to make all laws which shall be necessary and proper for carrying into execution all the powers vested by the Constitution in the Government of the United States or in any department or officer thereof. This is the seventeenth and last of the enumerated powers granted to Congress.
I have always considered this power as having been granted on a principle of greater caution to secure the complete execution of all the powers which had been vested in the General Government. It contains no distinct and specific power, as every other grant does, such as to lay and collect taxes, to declare war, to regulate commerce, and the like. Looking to the whole scheme of the General Government, it gives to Congress authority to make all laws which should be deemed necessary and proper for carrying all its powers into effect. My impression has been invariably that this power would have existed substantially if this grant had not been made; for why is any power granted unless it be to be executed when required, and how can it be executed under our Government unless it be by laws necessary and proper for the purpose--that is, well adapted to the end? It is a principle universally admitted that a grant of a power conveys as a necessary consequence or incident to it the means of carrying it into effect by a fair construction of its import. In the formation, however, of the Constitution, which was to act directly upon the people and be paramount to the extent of its powers to the constitutions of the States, it was wise in its framers to leave nothing to implication which might be reduced to certainty. It is known that all power which rests solely on that ground has been systematically and zealously opposed under all governments with which we have any acquaintance; and it was reasonable to presume that under our system, where there was a division of the sovereignty between the two independent governments, the measures of the General Government would excite equal jealousy and produce an opposition not less systematic, though, perhaps, less violent. Hence the policy by the framers of our Government of securing by a fundamental declaration in the Constitution a principle which in all other governments had been left to implication only. The terms "necessary" and "proper" secure to the powers of all the grants to which the authority given in this is applicable a fair and sound construction, which is equally binding as a rule on both Governments and on all their departments.
In examining the right of the General Government to adopt and execute under this grant a system of internal improvement the sole question to be decided is whether the power has been granted under any of the other grants. If it has, this power is applicable to it to the extent stated. If it has not, it does not exist at all, for it has not been hereby granted. I have already examined all the other grants (one only excepted, which will next claim attention) and shown, as I presume, on the most liberal construction of their powers that the right has not been granted by any of them; hence it follows that in regard to them it has not been granted by this.
I come now to the last source from which this power is said to be derived, viz, the power to dispose of and make all needful rules and regulations respecting the territory or other property of the United States, which is contained in the second clause of the third section of the fourth article of the Constitution.
To form a just opinion of the nature and extent of this power it will be necessary to bring into view the provisions contained in the first clause of the section of the article referred to, which makes an essential part of the policy in question. By this it is declared that new States shall be admitted into the Union, but that no new States shall be formed or erected within the jurisdiction of any other State, nor any States be formed by the junction of two or more States or parts of States, without the consent of the legislatures of the States concerned as well as of the United States.
If we recur to the condition of our country at the commencement of the Revolution, we shall see the origin and cause of these provisions. By the charters of the several colonies limits by latitude and other descriptions were assigned to each. In commencing the Revolution the colonies, as has already been observed, claimed by those limits, although their population extended in many instances to a small portion of the territory lying within them. It was contended by some of the States after the declaration of independence that the vacant lands lying within any of the States should become the property of the Union, as by a common exertion they would be acquired. This claim was resisted by the others on the principle that all the States entered into the contest in the full extent of their chartered rights, and that they ought to have the full benefit of those rights in the event of success. Happily this controversy was settled, as all interfering claims and pretensions between the members of our Union and between the General Government and any of these members have been, in the most amicable manner and to the satisfaction of all parties. On the recommendation of Congress the individual States having such territory within their chartered limits ceded large portions thereof to the United States on condition that it should be laid off into districts of proper dimensions, the lands to be sold for the benefit of the United States, and that the districts be admitted into the Union when they should obtain such a population as it might be thought proper and reasonable to prescribe. This is the territory and this the property referred to in the second clause of the fourth article of the Constitution.
All the States which had made cessions of vacant territory except Georgia had made them before the adoption of the Constitution, and that State had made a proposition to Congress to that effect which was under consideration at the time the Constitution was adopted. The cession was completed after the adoption of the Constitution. It was made on the same principle and on similar conditions with those which had been already made by the other States. As differences might arise respecting the right or the policy in Congress to admit new States into the Union under the new Government, or to make regulations for the government of the territory ceded in the intermediate state, or for the improvement and sale of the public lands, or to accept other cessions, it was thought proper to make special provisions for these objects, which was accordingly done by the above-recited clause in the Constitution.
Thus the power of Congress over the ceded territory was not only limited to these special objects, but was also temporary. As soon as the territory became a State the jurisdiction over it as it had before existed ceased. It extended afterwards only to the unsold lands, and as soon as the whole were sold it ceased in that sense also altogether. From that moment the United States have no jurisdiction or power in the new States other than in the old, nor can it be obtained except by an amendment of the Constitution.
Since, then, it is manifest that the power granted to Congress to dispose of and make all needful regulations respecting the territory and other property of the United States relates solely to the territory and property which had been ceded by individual States, and which after such cession lay without their respective limits, and for which special provision was deemed necessary, the main power of the Constitution operating internally, not being applicable or adequate thereto, it follows that this power gives no authority, and has even no bearing on the question of internal improvement. The authority to admit new States and to dispose of the property and regulate the territory is not among the enumerated powers granted to Congress, because the duties to be performed under it are not among the ordinary duties of that body, like the imposition of taxes, the regulation of commerce, and the like. They are objects in their nature special, and for which special provision was more suitable and proper.
Having now examined all the powers of Congress under which the right to adopt and execute a system of internal improvement is claimed and the reasons in support of it in each instance, I think that it may fairly be concluded that such a right has not been granted. It appears and is admitted that much may be done in aid of such a system by the right which is derived from several of the existing grants, and more especially from that to appropriate the public money. But still it is manifest that as a system for the United States it can never be carried into effect under that grant nor under all of them united, the great and essential power being deficient, consisting of a right to take up the subject on principle; to cause our Union to be examined by men of science, with a view to such improvements; to authorize commissioners to lay off the roads and canals in all proper directions; to take the land at a valuation if necessary, and to construct the works; to pass laws with suitable penalties for their protection; and to raise a revenue from them, to keep them in repair, and make further improvement by the establishment of turnpikes and tolls, with gates to be placed at the proper distances.
It need scarcely be remarked that this power will operate, like many others now existing, without affecting the sovereignty of the States except in the particular offices to be performed. The jurisdiction of the several States may still exist over the roads and canals within their respective limits, extending alike to persons and property, as if the right to make and protect such improvements had not been vested in Congress. The right, being made commensurate simply with the purposes indispensable to the system, may be strictly confined to them. The right of Congress to protect the works by laws imposing penalties would operate on the same principles as the right to protect the mail. The act being punishable only, a jurisdiction over the place would be altogether unnecessary and even absurd.
In the preceding inquiry little has been said of the advantages which would attend the exercise of such a power by the General Government. I have made the inquiry under a deep conviction that they are almost incalculable, and that there was a general concurrence of opinion among our fellow-citizens to that effect. Still, it may not be improper for me to state the grounds upon which my own impression is rounded. If it sheds no additional light on this interesting part of the subject, it will at least show that I have had more than one powerful motive for making the inquiry. A general idea is all that I shall attempt.
The advantages of such a system must depend upon the interests to be affected by it and the extent to which they may be affected, and those must depend on the capacity of our country for improvement and the means at its command applicable to that object.
I think that I may venture to affirm that there is no part of our globe comprehending so many degrees of latitude on the main ocean and so many degrees of longitude into the interior that admits of such great improvement and at so little expense. The Atlantic on the one side, and the Lakes, forming almost inland seas, on the other, separated by high mountains, which rise in the valley of the St. Lawrence and determine in that of the Mississippi, traversing from north to south almost the whole interior, with innumerable rivers on every side of those mountains, some of vast extent, many of which take their sources near to each other, give the great outline. The details are to be seen on the valuable maps of our country.
It appears by the light already before the public that it is practicable and easy to connect by canals the whole coast from its southern to its northern extremity in one continued inland navigation, and to connect in like manner in many parts the Western lakes and rivers with each other. It is equally practicable and easy to facilitate the intercourse between the Atlantic and the Western country by improving the navigation of many of the rivers which have their sources near to each other in the mountains on each side, and by good roads across the mountains between the highest navigable points of those rivers. In addition to the example of the Cumberland road, already noticed, another of this kind is now in train from the head waters of the river James to those of the Kanawha; and in like manner may the Savannah be connected with the Tennessee. In some instances it is understood that the Eastern and Western waters may be connected together directly by canals. One great work of this kind is now in its progress and far advanced in the State of New York, and there is good reason to believe that two others may be formed, one at each extremity of the high mountains above mentioned, connecting in the one instance the waters of the St. Lawrence with Lake Champlain, and in the other some of the most important of the Western rivers with those emptying into the Gulf of Mexico, the advantage of which will be seen at the first glance by an enlightened observer.
Great improvements may also be made by good roads in proper directions through the interior of the country. As these roads would be laid out on principle on a full view of the country, its mountains, rivers, etc., it would be useless, if I had the knowledge, to go into detail respecting them. Much has been done by some of the States, but yet much remains to be done with a view to the Union.
Under the colonial governments improvements of this kind were not thought of. There was, it is believed, not one canal and little communication from colony to colony. It was their policy to encourage the intercourse between each colony and the parent country only. The roads which were attended to were those which led from the interior of each colony to its principal towns on the navigable waters. By those routes the produce of the country was carried to the coast, and shipped thence to the mercantile houses in London, Liverpool, Glasgow, or other towns to which the trade was carried on. It is believed that there was but one connected route from North to South at the commencement of the Revolution, and that a very imperfect one. The existence and principle of our Union point out the necessity of a very different policy.
The advantages which would be derived from such improvements are incalculable. The facility which would thereby be afforded to the transportation of the whole of the rich productions of our country to market would alone more than amply compensate for all the labor and expense attending them. Great, however, as is that advantage, it is one only of many and by no means the most important, Every power of the General Government and of the State governments connected with the strength and resources of the country would be made more efficient for the purposes intended by them. In war they would facilitate the transportation of men, ordnance, and provisions, and munitions of war of every kind to every part of our extensive coast and interior on which an attack might be made or threatened. Those who have any knowledge of the occurrences of the late war must know the good effect which would result in the event of another war from the command of an interior navigation alone along the coast for all the purposes of war as well as of commerce between the different parts of our Union. The impediments to all military operations which proceeded from the want of such a navigation and the reliance which was placed, notwithstanding those impediments, on such a commerce can not be forgotten. In every other line their good effect would be most sensibly felt. Intelligence by means of the Post-Office Department would be more easily, extensively, and rapidly diffused. Parts the most remote from each other would be brought more closely together. Distant lands would be made more valuable, and the industry of our fellow-citizens on every portion of our soil be better rewarded.
It is natural in so great a variety of climate that there should be a corresponding difference in the produce of the soil; that one part should raise what the other might want. It is equally natural that the pursuits of industry should vary in like manner; that labor should be cheaper and manufactures succeed better in one part than in another; that were the climate the most severe and the soil less productive, navigation, the fisheries, and commerce should be most relied on. Hence the motive for an exchange for mutual accommodation and active intercourse between them. Each part would thus find for the surplus of its labor, in whatever article it consisted, an extensive market at home, which would be the most profitable because free from duty.
There is another view in which these improvements are of still more vital importance. The effect which they would have on the bond of union itself affords an inducement for them more powerful than any which have been urged or than all of them united. The only danger to which our system is exposed arises from its expansion over a vast territory. Our union is not held together by standing armies or by any ties other than the positive interests and powerful attractions of its parts toward each other. Ambitious men may hereafter grow up among us who may promise to themselves advancement from a change, and by practicing upon the sectional interests, feelings, and prejudices endeavor under various pretexts to promote it. The history of the world is replete with examples of this kind--of military commanders and demagogues becoming usurpers and tyrants, and of their fellow-citizens becoming their instruments and slaves. I have little fear of this danger, knowing well how strong the bond which holds us together is and who the people are who are thus held together; but still, it is proper to look at and to provide against it, and it is not within the compass of human wisdom to make a more effectual provision than would be made by the proposed improvements. With their aid and the intercourse which would grow out of them the parts would soon become so compacted and bound together that nothing could break it.
The expansion of our Union over a vast territory can not operate unfavorably to the States individually. On the contrary, it is believed that the greater the expansion within practicable limits--and it is not easy to say what are not so--the greater the advantage which the States individually will derive from it. With governments separate, vigorous, and efficient for all local purposes, their distance from each other can have no injurious effect upon their respective interests. It has already been shown that in some important circumstances, especially with the aid of these improvements, they must derive great advantage from that cause alone--that is, from their distance from each other. In every other way the expansion of our system must operate favorably for every State in proportion as it operates favorably for the union. It is in that sense only that it can become a question with the States, or, rather, with the people who compose them. As States they can be affected by it only by their relation to each other through the General Government and by its effect on the operations of that Government. Manifest it is that to any extent to which the General Government can sustain and execute its functions with complete effect will the States--that is, the people who compose them--be benefited. It is only when the expansion shall be carried beyond the faculties of the General Government so as to enfeeble its operations to the injury of the whole that any of the parts can be injured. The tendency in that stage will be to dismemberment and not to consolidation. This danger should, therefore, be looked at with profound attention as one of a very serious character. I will remark here that as the operations of the National Government are of a general nature, the States having complete power for internal and local purposes, the expansion may be carried to very great extent and with perfect safety. It must be obvious to all that the further the expansion is carried, provided it be not beyond the just limit, the greater will be the freedom of action to both Governments and the more perfect their security, and in all other respects the better the effect will be to the whole American people. Extent of territory, whether it be great or small, gives to a nation many of its characteristics. It marks the extent of its resources, of its population, of its physical force. It marks, in short, the difference between a great and a small power.
To what extent it may be proper to expand our system of government is a question which does not press for a decision at this time. At the end of the Revolutionary war, in 1783, we had, as we contended and believed, a right to the free navigation of the Mississippi, but it was not until after the expiration of twelve years, in 1795, that that right was acknowledged and enjoyed. Further difficulties occurred in the bustling of a contentious world when, at the expiration of eight years more, the United States, sustaining the strength and energy of their character, acquired the Province of Louisiana, with the free navigation of the river from its source to the ocean and a liberal boundary on the western side. To this Florida has since been added, so that we now possess all the territory in which the original States had any interest, or in which the existing States can be said, either in a national or local point of view, to be in any way interested. A range of States on the western side of the Mississippi, which already is provided for, puts us essentially at ease. Whether it will be wise to go further will turn on other considerations than those which have dictated the course heretofore pursued. At whatever point we may stop, whether it be at a single range of States beyond the Mississippi or by taking a greater scope, the advantage of such improvements is deemed of the highest importance. It is so on the present scale. The further we go the greater will be the necessity for them.
It can not be doubted that improvements for great national purposes would be better made by the National Government than by the governments of the several States. Our experience prior to the adoption of the Constitution demonstrated that in the exercise by the individual States of most of the powers granted to the United States a contracted rivalry of interest and misapplied jealousy of each other had an important influence on all their measures to the great injury of the whole. This was particularly exemplified by the regulations which they severally made of their commerce with foreign nations and with each other. It was this utter incapacity in the State governments, proceeding from these and other causes, to act as a nation and to perform all the duties which the nation owed to itself under any system which left the General Government dependent on the States, which produced the transfer of these powers to the United States by the establishment of the present Constitution. The reasoning which was applicable to the grant of any of the powers now vested in Congress is likewise so, at least to a certain extent, to that in question. It is natural that the States individually in making improvements should look to their particular and local interests. The members composing their respective legislatures represent the people of each State only, and might not feel themselves at liberty to look to objects in these respects beyond that limit. If the resources of the Union were to be brought into operation under the direction of the State assemblies, or in concert with them, it may be apprehended that every measure would become the object of negotiation, of bargain and barter, much to the disadvantage of the system, as well as discredit to both governments. But Congress would look to the whole and make improvements to promote the welfare of the whole. It is the peculiar felicity of the proposed amendment that while it will enable the United States to accomplish every national object, the improvements made with that view will eminently promote the welfare of the individual States, who may also add such others as their own particular interests may require.
The situation of the Cumberland road requires the particular and early attention of Congress. Being formed over very lofty mountains and in many instances over deep and wide streams, across which valuable bridges have been erected, which are sustained by stone walls, as are many other parts of the road, all these works are subject to decay, have decayed, and will decay rapidly unless timely and effectual measures are adopted to prevent it.
The declivities from the mountains and all the heights must suffer from the frequent and heavy falls of water and its descent to the valleys, as also from the deep congelations during our severe winters. Other injuries have also been experienced on this road, such as the displacing the capping of the walls and other works, committed by worthless people either from a desire to render the road impassable or to have the transportation in another direction, or from a spirit of wantonness to create employment for idlers. These considerations straw that an active and strict police ought to be established over the whole road, with power to make repairs when necessary, to establish turnpikes and tolls as the means of raising money to make them, and to prosecute and punish those who commit waste and other injuries.
Should the United States be willing to abandon this road to the States through which it passes, would they take charge of it, each of that portion within its limits, and keep it in repair? It is not to be presumed that they would, since the advantages attending it are exclusively national, by connecting, as it does, the Atlantic with the Western States, and in a line with the seat of the National Government. The most expensive parts of this road lie within Pennsylvania and Virginia, very near the confines of each State and in a route not essentially connected with the commerce of either.
If it is thought proper to vest this power in the United States, the only mode in which it can be done is by an amendment of the Constitution. The States individually can not transfer the power to the United States, nor can the United States receive it. The Constitution forms an equal and the sole relation between the General Government and the several States, and it recognizes no change in it which shall not in like manner apply to all. If it is once admitted that the General Government may form compacts with individual States not common to the others, and which the others might even disapprove, into what pernicious consequences might it not lead? Such compacts are utterly repugnant to the principles of the Constitution and of the most dangerous tendency. The States through which this road passes have given their sanction only to the route and to the acquisition of the soil by the United States, a right very different from that of jurisdiction, which can not be granted without an amendment to the Constitution, and which need not be granted for the purposes of this system except in the limited manner heretofore stated. On full consideration, therefore, of the whole subject I am of opinion that such an amendment ought to be recommended to the several States for their adoption.
I have now essentially executed that part of the task which I imposed on myself of examining the right of Congress to adopt and execute a system of internal improvement, and, I presume, have shown that it does not exist. It is, I think, equally manifest that such a power vested in Congress and wisely executed would have the happiest effect on all the great interests of our Union. It is, however, my opinion that the power should be confined to great national works only, since if it were unlimited it would be liable to abuse and might be productive of evil. For all minor improvements the resources of the States individually would be fully adequate, and by the States such improvements might be made with greater advantage than by the Union, as they would understand better such as their more immediate and local interests required.
In the view above presented I have thought it proper to trace the origin of our institutions, and particularly of the State and National Governments, for although they have a common origin in the people, yet, as the point at issue turned on what were the powers granted to the one government and what were those which remained to the other, I was persuaded that an analysis which should mark distinctly the source of power in both governments, with its progress in each, would afford the best means for obtaining a sound result. In our political career there are, obviously, three great epochs. The colonial state forms the first; the Revolutionary movement from its commencement to the adoption of the Articles of Confederation the second, and the intervening space from that event to the present day the third. The first may be considered the infant state. It was the school of morality, of political science and just principles. The equality of rights enjoyed by the people of every colony under their original charters forms the basis of every existing institution, and it was owing to the creation by those charters of distinct communities that the power, when wrested from the Crown, passed directly and exclusively to the people of each colony. The Revolutionary struggle gave activity to those principles, and its success secured to them a permanent existence in the governments of our Union, State and National. The third epoch comprises the administration under the Articles of Confederation, with the adoption of the Constitution and administration under it. On the first and last of these epochs it is not necessary to enlarge for any purpose connected with the object of this inquiry. To the second, in which we were transferred by a heroic exertion from the first to the third stage, and whose events give the true character to every institution, some further attention is due. In tracing in greater detail the prominent acts of a movement to which we owe so much I shall perform an office which, if not useful, will be gratifying to my own feelings, and I hope not unacceptable to my readers.
Of the Revolutionary movement itself sentiments too respectful, too exalted, can not be entertained. It is impossible for any citizen having a just idea of the dangers which we had to encounter to read the record of our early proceedings and to see the firmness with which they were met and the wisdom and patriotism which were displayed in every stage without being deeply affected by it. An attack on Massachusetts was considered an attack on every colony, and the people of each moved in her defense as in their own cause. The meeting of the General Congress in Philadelphia on the 6th of September, 1774, appears to have been the result of a spontaneous impulse in every quarter at the same time. The first public act proposing it, according to the Journals of the First Congress, was passed by the house of representatives of Connecticut on the 3d of June of that year; but it is presumed that the first suggestion came from Massachusetts, the colony most oppressed, and in whose favor the general sympathy was much excited. The exposition which that Congress made of grievances, in the petition to the King, in the address to the people of Great Britain, and in that to the people of the several colonies, evinced a knowledge so profound of the English constitution and of the general principles of free government and of liberty, of our rights rounded on that constitution and on the charters of the several colonies, and of the numerous and egregious violations which had been committed of them, as must have convinced all impartial minds that the talent on this side of the Atlantic was at least equal to that on the other. The spirit in which those papers were drawn, which was known to be in strict accord with the public sentiment, proved that, although the whole people cherished a connection with the parent country and were desirous of preserving it on just principles, they nevertheless stood embodied at the parting line, ready to separate forever if a redress of grievances, the alternative offered, was not promptly rendered. That alternative was rejected, and in consequence war and dismemberment followed.
The powers granted to the delegates of each colony who composed the First Congress looked primarily to the support of rights and to a redress of grievances, and, in consequence, to the restoration of harmony, which was ardently desired. They justified, however, any extremity in case of necessity. They were ample for such purposes, and were executed in every circumstance with the utmost fidelity. It was not until after the meeting of the Second Congress, which took place on the 10th May, 1775, when full proof was laid before it of the commencement of hostilities in the preceding month by a deliberate attack of the British troops on the militia and inhabitants of Lexington and Concord, in Massachusetts, that war might be said to be decided on, and measures were taken to support it. The progress even then was slow and reluctant, as will be seen by their second petition to the King and their second address to the people of Great Britain, which were prepared and forwarded after that event. The arrival, however, of large bodies of troops and the pressure of war in every direction soon dispelled all hope of accommodation.
On the 15th of June, 1775, a commander in chief of the forces raised and to be raised for the defense of American liberty was appointed by the unanimous vote of Congress, and his conduct in the discharge of the duties of that high trust, which he held through the whole of the war, has given an example to the world for talents as a military commander; for integrity, fortitude, and firmness under the severest trials; for respect to the civil authority and devotion to the rights and liberties of his country, of which neither Rome nor Greece have exhibited the equal. I saw him in my earliest youth, in the retreat through Jersey, at the head of a small band, or rather in its rear, for he was always next the enemy, and his countenance and manner made an impression on me which time can never efface. A lieutenant then in the Third Virginia Regiment, I happened to be on the rear guard at Newark, and I counted the force under his immediate command by platoons as it passed me, which amounted to less than 3,000 men. A deportment so firm, so dignified, so exalted, but yet so modest and composed, I have never seen in any other person.
On the 6th July, 1775, Congress published a declaration of the causes which compelled them to take up arms, and immediately afterwards took measures for augmenting the Army and raising a navy; for organizing the militia and providing cannon and small arms and military stores of every kind; for raising a revenue and pushing the war offensively with all the means in their power. Nothing escaped the attention of that enlightened body. The people of Canada were invited to join the Union, and a force sent into the province to favor the Revolutionary party, which, however, was not capable of affording any essential aid. The people of Ireland were addressed in terms manifesting due respect for the sufferings, the talents, and patriotism of that portion of the British Empire, and a suitable acknowledgment was made to the assembly of Jamaica for the approbation it had expressed of our cause and the part it had taken in support of it with the British Government.
On the 2d of June, 1775, the convention of Massachusetts, by a letter signed by their president, of May the 10th, stated to Congress that they labored under difficulties for the want of a regular form of government, and requested to be favored with explicit advice respecting the taking up and exercising the powers of civil government, and declaring their readiness to submit to such a general plan as the Congress might direct for the colonies, or that they would make it their great study to establish such a form of government there as should not only promote their own advantage, but the union and interest of all America. To this application an answer was given on the 9th, by which it was recommended to the convention "to write letters to the inhabitants of the several places entitled to representation in assembly, requesting them to choose such representatives, and that the assembly, when chosen, should elect councilors, and that said assembly or council should exercise the powers of government until a governor of His Majesty's appointment will consent to govern the colony according to its charter."
On the 18th October of the same year the delegates from New Hampshire laid before Congress an instruction from their convention "to use their utmost endeavors to obtain the advice and direction of Congress with respect to a method for administering justice and regulating their civil police." To this a reply was given on the 3d November, by which it was recommended to the convention "to call a full and free representation of the people, and that the representatives, if they thought it necessary, should establish such a form of government as in their judgment would best promote the happiness of the people and most effectually secure peace and good order in the Province during the continuance of the present dispute between Great Britain and the colonies."
On the 4th November it was resolved by Congress "that if the convention of South Carolina shall find it necessary to establish a form of government in that colony it be recommended to that convention to call a full and free representation of the people; and the said representatives, if they think it necessary, shall establish such a form of government as in their judgment will best promote the happiness of the people and most effectually secure peace and good order in the colony during the continuance of the present dispute between Great Britain and the colonies."
On the 4th December following a resolution passed recommending the same measure, and precisely in the same words, to the convention of Virginia.
On the 10th May, 1776, it was recommended to the respective assemblies and conventions of the united colonies, where no government sufficient to the exigencies of their affairs had been established, "to adopt such government as should, in the opinion of the representatives of the people, best conduce to the happiness and safety of their constituents in particular and America in general."
On the 7th June resolutions respecting independence were moved and seconded, which were referred to a committee of the whole on the 8th and 10th, on which latter day it was resolved to postpone a decision on the first resolution or main question until the 1st July, but that no time might be lost in case the Congress agree thereto that a committee be appointed to prepare a declaration to the effect of that resolution.
On the 11th June, 1776, Congress appointed a committee to prepare and digest a plan of confederation for the colonies. On the 12th July the committee reported a draft of articles, which were severally afterwards debated and amended until the 15th November, 1777, when they were adopted. These articles were then proposed to the legislatures of the several States, with a request that if approved by them they would authorize their delegates to ratify the same in Congress, and, which being done, to become conclusive. It was not until the 21st of March, 1781, as already observed, that they were ratified by the last State and carried into effect.
On the 4th July, 1776, independence was declared by an act which arrested the attention of the civilized world and will bear the test of time. For force and condensation of matter, strength of reason, sublimity of sentiment and expression, it is believed that no document of equal merit exists. It looked to everything, and with a reach, perspicuity, and energy of mind which seemed to be master of everything.
Thus it appears, in addition to the very important charge of managing the war, that Congress had under consideration at the same time the Declaration of Independence, the adoption of a confederation for the States, and the propriety of instituting State governments, with the nature of those governments, respecting which it had been consulted by the conventions of several of the colonies. So great a trust was never reposed before in a body thus constituted, and I am authorized to add, looking to the great result, that never were duties more ably or faithfully performed.
The distinguishing characteristic of this movement is that although the connection which had existed between the people of the several colonies before their dismemberment from the parent country was not only not dissolved but increased by that event, even before the adoption of the Articles of Confederation, yet the preservation and augmentation of that tie were the result of a new creation, and proceeded altogether from the people of each colony, into whose hands the whole power passed exclusively when wrested from the Crown. To the same cause the greater change which has since occurred by the adoption of the Constitution is to be traced.
The establishment of our institutions forms the most important epoch that history hath recorded. They extend unexampled felicity to the whole body of our fellow-citizens, and are the admiration of other nations. To preserve and hand them down in their utmost purity to the remotest ages will require the existence and practice of virtues and talents equal to those which were displayed in acquiring them. It is ardently hoped and confidently believed that these will not be wanting.
James Monroe, Special Message to the House of Representatives Containing the Views of the President of the United States on the Subject of Internal Improvements Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/208046