A COMPILATION OF THE MESSAGES AND PAPERS OF THE PRESIDENTS
BY JAMES D. RICHARDSON
March 4, 1853, to March 4, 1857
Franklin Pierce was born in Hillsboro, N.H., November 23, 1804. Was the fourth son of Benjamin and Anna Pierce. His father was a citizen of Massachusetts; was a soldier in the War of the Revolution, attaining the rank of captain and brevet major. After peace was declared he removed from Massachusetts to New Hampshire and located near what is now Hillsboro. His first wife was Elizabeth Andrews, who died at an early age. His second wife, the mother of Franklin Pierce, was Anna Kendrick, of Amherst, N.H. He was sheriff of his county, a member of the State legislature and of the governor's council, and was twice chosen governor of his State (as a Democrat), first in 1827 and again in 1829, For many years he was declared to be "the most influential man in New Hampshire," He died in 1839. Franklin was given an academic education in well-known institutions at Hancock, Francestown, and Exeter, and in 1820 was sent to Bowdoin College, His college mates there were John P. Hale, his future political rival; Professor Calvin E. Stowe; Sergeant S. Prentiss, the distinguished orator; Henry W. Longfellow, and Nathaniel Hawthorne, his future biographer and lifelong friend. He graduated in 1824, being third in his class. After taking his degree he began the study of law at Portsmouth in the office of Levi Woodbury, where he remained about a year. Afterwards spent two years in the law school at Northampton, Mass., and in the office of Judge Edmund Parker, at Amherst, N.H. In 1827 was admitted to the bar and began practice in his native town. Espoused the cause of Andrew Jackson with ardor, and in 1829 was elected to represent his native town in the legislature, where by three subsequent elections he served four years, the last two as speaker. In 1833 was elected to represent his native district in the lower House of Congress, where he remained four years; served on the Judiciary and other important committees. His first important speech in the House was delivered in 1834 upon the necessity of economy and of watchfulness against frauds in the payment of Revolutionary claims. In 1834 married Miss Jane Means Appleton, daughter of Rev. Jesse Appleton, president of Bowdoin College. In 1837 was elected to the United States Senate. On account of ill health of his wife, deeming it best for her to return to New Hampshire, on June 28, 1842, resigned his seat, and returning to his home resumed the practice of the law. In 1838 he changed his residence from Hillsboro to Concord. In 1845 declined an appointment to the United States Senate to fill a vacancy. Also declined the nomination for governor, tendered by the Democratic State convention, and in 1845 an appointment to the office of Attorney-General of the United States, tendered by President Polk. In 1846, when the war with Mexico began, he enlisted as a private in a volunteer company organized at Concord; was soon afterwards commissioned colonel of the Ninth Regiment of Infantry; March 3, 1847, was commissioned brigadier-general in the Volunteer Army, and on March 27 embarked for Mexico, arriving at Vera Cruz June 28. August 6, 1847, joined General Scott with his brigade at Puebla, and soon set out for the capture of the City of Mexico. Took part in the battle of Contreras September 19, 1847, in which engagement he was severely injured by being thrown from his horse. The next day, not having recovered, he undertook to accompany his brigade in action against the enemy, when he fainted. He persisted in remaining on duty in the subsequent operations of the Army. His conduct and services were spoken of in high terms by his superior officers, Generals Scott, Worth, and Pillow. Before the battle of Molino del Rey was appointed one of the American commissioners in the effort for peace, a truce being declared for that purpose. The effort failed and the fighting was renewed. Participated in the battle of Molino del Rey and continued on duty till peace was declared. Resigned his commission in March, 1848, and returned to his home. The same month the legislature of his State voted him a sword of honor in appreciation of his services in the war. Resumed his law practice and was highly successful. In 1850 was a member of the constitutional convention which met at Concord to amend the constitution of New Hampshire, and was chosen to preside over its deliberations; he favored the removal of the religious-test clause in the old constitution, by which Roman Catholics were disqualified from holding office in the State, and also the abolition of any "property qualification;" he carried these amendments through the convention, but the people defeated them at the election. In January, 1852, the Democratic State convention of New Hampshire declared for him for President, but in a letter January 12 he positively refused to permit the delegation to present his name. The national convention of the party met at Baltimore June 1, 1852. On the fourth day he was nominated for President, and was elected in November, receiving 254 electoral votes, while his opponent, General Scott, received only 42. Was inaugurated March 4, 1853. In 1856 he was voted for by his friends in the national Democratic convention for renomination, but was unsuccessful. Upon the expiration of his term as President he retired to his home at Concord, where he resided the remainder of his life. Died October 8, 1869, and was buried at Concord.
My Countrymen: It is a relief to feel that no heart but my own can know the personal regret and bitter sorrow over which I have been borne to a position so suitable for others rather than desirable for myself.
The circumstances under which I have been called for a limited period to preside over the destinies of the Republic fill me with a profound sense of responsibility, but with nothing like shrinking apprehension. I repair to the post assigned me not as to one sought, but in obedience to the unsolicited expression of your will, answerable only for a fearless, faithful, and diligent exercise of my best powers. I ought to be, and am, truly grateful for the rare manifestation of the nation's confidence; but this, so far from lightening my obligations, only adds to their weight. You have summoned me in my weakness; you must sustain me by your strength. When looking for the fulfillment of reasonable requirements, you will not be unmindful of the great changes which have occurred, even within the last quarter of a century, and the consequent augmentation and complexity of duties imposed in the administration both of your home and foreign affairs.
Whether the elements of inherent force in the Republic have kept pace with its unparalleled progression in territory, population, and wealth has been the subject of earnest thought and discussion on both sides of the ocean. Less than sixty-four years ago the Father of his Country made "the" then "recent accession of the important State of North Carolina to the Constitution of the United States" one of the subjects of his special congratulation. At that moment, however, when the agitation consequent upon the Revolutionary struggle had hardly subsided, when we were just emerging from the weakness and embarrassments of the Confederation, there was an evident consciousness of vigor equal to the great mission so wisely and bravely fulfilled by our fathers. It was not a presumptuous assurance, but a calm faith, springing from a clear view of the sources of power in a government constituted like ours. It is no paradox to say that although comparatively weak the new-born nation was intrinsically strong. Inconsiderable in population and apparent resources, it was upheld by a broad and intelligent comprehension of rights and an all-pervading purpose to maintain them, stronger than armaments. It came from the furnace of the Revolution, tempered to the necessities of the times. The thoughts of the men of that day were as practical as their sentiments were patriotic. They wasted no portion of their energies upon idle and delusive speculations, but with a firm and fearless step advanced beyond the governmental landmarks which had hitherto circumscribed the limits of human freedom and planted their standard, where it has stood against dangers which have threatened from abroad, and internal agitation, which has at times fearfully menaced at home. They proved themselves equal to the solution of the great problem, to understand which their minds had been illuminated by the dawning lights of the Revolution. The object sought was not a thing dreamed of; it was a thing realized. They had exhibited not only the power to achieve, but, what all history affirms to be So much more unusual, the capacity to maintain. The oppressed throughout the world from that day to the present have turned their eyes hitherward, not to find those lights extinguished or to fear lest they should wane, but to be constantly cheered by their steady and increasing radiance.
In this our country has, in my judgment, thus far fulfilled its highest duty to suffering humanity. It has spoken and will continue to speak, not only by its words, but by its acts, the language of sympathy, encouragement, and hope to those who earnestly listen to tones which pronounce for the largest rational liberty. But after all, the most animating encouragement and potent appeal for freedom will be its own history—its trials and its triumphs. Preeminently, the power of our advocacy reposes in our example; but no example, be it remembered, can be powerful for lasting good, whatever apparent advantages may be gained, which is not based upon eternal principles of right and justice. Our fathers decided for themselves, both upon the hour to declare and the hour to strike. They were their own judges of the circumstances under which it became them to pledge to each other "their lives, their fortunes, and their sacred honor" for the acquisition of the priceless inheritance transmitted to us. The energy with which that great conflict was opened and, under the guidance of a manifest and beneficent Providence, the uncomplaining endurance with which it was prosecuted to its consummation were only surpassed by the wisdom and patriotic spirit of concession which characterized all the counsels of the early fathers.
One of the most impressive evidences of that wisdom is to be found in the fact that the actual working of our system has dispelled a degree of solicitude which at the outset disturbed bold hearts and far-reaching intellects. The apprehension of dangers from extended territory, multiplied States, accumulated wealth, and augmented population has proved to be unfounded. The stars upon your banner have become nearly threefold their original number; your densely populated possessions skirt the shores of the two great oceans; and yet this vast increase of people and territory has not only shown itself compatible with the harmonious action of the States and Federal Government in their respective constitutional spheres, but has afforded an additional guaranty of the strength and integrity of both.
With an experience thus suggestive and cheering, the policy of my Administration will not be controlled by any timid forebodings of evil from expansion. Indeed, it is not to be disguised that our attitude as a nation and our position on the globe render the acquisition of certain possessions not within our jurisdiction eminently important for our protection, if not in the future essential for the preservation of the rights of commerce and the peace of the world. Should they be obtained, it will be through no grasping spirit, but with a view to obvious national interest and security, and in a manner entirely consistent with the strictest observance of national faith. We have nothing in our history or position to invite aggression; we have everything to beckon us to the cultivation of relations of peace and amity with all nations. Purposes, therefore, at once just and pacific will be significantly marked in the conduct of our foreign affairs. I intend that my Administration shall leave no blot upon our fair record, and trust I may safely give the assurance that no act within the legitimate scope of my constitutional control will be tolerated on the part of any portion of our citizens which can not challenge a ready justification before the tribunal of the civilized world. An Administration would be unworthy of confidence at home or respect abroad should it cease to be influenced by the conviction that no apparent advantage can be purchased at a price so dear as that of national wrong or dishonor. It is not your privilege as a nation to speak of a distant past. The striking incidents of your history, replete with instruction and furnishing abundant grounds for hopeful confidence, are comprised in a period comparatively brief. But if your past is limited, your future is boundless. Its obligations throng the unexplored pathway of advancement, and will be limitless as duration. Hence a sound and comprehensive policy should embrace not less the distant future than the urgent present.
The great objects of our pursuit as a people are best to be attained by peace, and are entirely consistent with the tranquillity and interests of the rest of mankind. With the neighboring nations upon our continent we should cultivate kindly and fraternal relations. We can desire nothing in regard to them so much as to see them consolidate their strength and pursue the paths of prosperity and happiness. If in the course of their growth we should open new channels of trade and create additional facilities for friendly intercourse, the benefits realized will be equal and mutual, Of the complicated European systems of national polity we have heretofore been independent. From their wars, their tumults, and anxieties we have been, happily, almost entirely exempt. Whilst these are confined to the nations which gave them existence, and within their legitimate jurisdiction, they can not affect us except as they appeal to our Sympathies in the cause of human freedom and universal advancement. But the vast interests of commerce are common to all mankind, and the advantages of trade and international intercourse must always present a noble field for the moral influence of a great people.
With these views firmly and honestly carried out, we have a right to expect, and shall under all circumstances require, prompt reciprocity. The rights which belong to us as a nation are not alone to be regarded, but those which pertain to every citizen in his individual capacity, at home and abroad, must be sacredly maintained. So long as he can discern every star in its place upon that ensign, without wealth to purchase for him preferment or title to secure for him place, it will be his privilege, and must be his acknowledged right, to stand unabashed even in the presence of princes, with a proud consciousness that he is himself one of a nation of sovereigns and that he can not in legitimate pursuit wander so far from home that the agent whom he shall leave behind in the place which I now occupy will not see that no rude hand of power or tyrannical passion is laid upon him with impunity. He must realize that upon every sea and on every soil where our enterprise may rightfully seek the protection of our flag American citizenship is an inviolable panoply for the security of American rights. And in this connection it can hardly be necessary to reaffirm a principle which should now be regarded as fundamental. The rights, security, and repose of this Confederacy reject the idea of interference or colonization on this side of the ocean by any foreign power beyond present jurisdiction as utterly inadmissible.
The opportunities of observation furnished by my brief experience as a soldier confirmed in my own mind the opinion, entertained and acted upon by others from the formation of the Government, that the maintenance of large standing armies in our country would be not only dangerous, but unnecessary. They also illustrated the importance—I might well say the absolute necessity—of the military science and practical skill furnished in such an eminent degree by the institution which has made your Army what it is, under the discipline and instruction of officers not more distinguished for their solid attainments, gallantry, and devotion to the public service than for unobtrusive bearing and high moral tone. The Army as organized must be the nucleus around which in every time of need the strength of your military power, the sure bulwark of your defense—a national militia—may be readily formed into a well-disciplined and efficient organization. And the skill and self-devotion of the Navy assure you that you may take the performance of the past as a pledge for the future, and may confidently expect that the flag which has waved its untarnished folds over every sea will still float in undiminished honor. But these, like many other subjects, will be appropriately brought at a future time to the attention of the coordinate branches of the Government, to which I shall always look with profound respect and with trustful confidence that they will accord to me the aid and support which I shall so much need and which their experience and wisdom will readily suggest.
In the administration of domestic affairs you expect a devoted integrity in the public service and an observance of rigid economy in all departments, so marked as never justly to be questioned. If this reasonable expectation be not realized, I frankly confess that one of your leading hopes is doomed to disappointment, and that my efforts in a very important particular must result in a humiliating failure. Offices can be properly regarded only in the light of aids for the accomplishment of these objects, and as occupancy can confer no prerogative nor importunate desire for preferment any claim, the public interest imperatively demands that they be considered with sole reference to the duties to be performed. Good citizens may well claim the protection of good laws and the benign influence of good government, but a claim for office is what the people of a republic should never recognize. No reasonable man of any party will expect the Administration to be so regardless of its responsibility and of the obvious elements of success as to retain persons known to be under the influence of political hostility and partisan prejudice in positions which will require not only severe labor, but cordial cooperation. Having no implied engagements to ratify, no rewards to bestow, no resentments to remember, and no personal wishes to consult in selections for official station, I shall fulfill this difficult and delicate trust, admitting no motive as worthy either of my character or position which does not contemplate an efficient discharge of duty and the best interests of my country. I acknowledge my obligations to the masses of my countrymen, and to them alone. Higher objects than personal aggrandizement gave direction and energy to their exertions in the late canvass, and they shall not be disappointed. They require at my hands diligence, integrity, and capacity wherever there are duties to be performed. Without these qualities in their public servants, more stringent laws for the prevention or punishment of fraud, negligence, and peculation will be vain. With them they will be unnecessary.
But these are not the only points to which you look for vigilant watchfulness. The dangers of a concentration of all power in the general government of a confederacy so vast as ours are too obvious to be disregarded. You have a right, therefore, to expect your agents in every department to regard strictly the limits imposed upon them by the Constitution of the United States. The great scheme of our constitutional liberty rests upon a proper distribution of power between the State and Federal authorities, and experience has shown that the harmony and happiness of our people must depend upon a just discrimination between the separate rights and responsibilities of the States and your common rights and obligations under the General Government; and here, in my opinion, are the considerations which should form the true basis of future concord in regard to the questions which have most seriously disturbed public tranquillity. If the Federal Government will confine itself to the exercise of powers clearly granted by the Constitution, it can hardly happen that its action upon any question should endanger the institutions of the States or interfere with their right to manage matters strictly domestic according to the will of their own people.
In expressing briefly my views upon an important subject which has recently agitated the nation to almost a fearful degree, I am moved by no other impulse than a most earnest desire for the perpetuation of that Union which has made us what we are, showering upon us blessings and conferring a power and influence which our fathers could hardly have anticipated, even with their most sanguine hopes directed to a far-off future. The sentiments I now announce were not unknown before the expression of the voice which called me here. My own position upon this subject was clear and unequivocal, upon the record of my words and my acts, and it is only recurred to at this time because silence might perhaps be misconstrued. With the Union my best and dearest earthly hopes are entwined. Without it what are we individually or collectively? What becomes of the noblest field ever opened for the advancement of our race in religion, in government, in the arts, and in all that dignifies and adorns mankind? From that radiant constellation which both illumines our own way and points out to struggling nations their course, let but a single star be lost, and, if there be not utter darkness, the luster of the whole is dimmed. Do my countrymen need any assurance that such a catastrophe is not to overtake them while I possess the power to stay it? It is with me an earnest and vital belief that as the Union has been the source, under Providence, of our prosperity to this time, so it is the surest pledge of a continuance of the blessings we have enjoyed, and which we are sacredly bound to transmit undiminished to our children. The field of calm and free discussion in our country is open, and will always be so, but never has been and never can be traversed for good in a spirit of sectionalism and uncharitableness. The founders of the Republic dealt with things as they were presented to them, in a spirit of self-sacrificing patriotism, and, as time has proved, with a comprehensive wisdom which it will always be safe for us to consult. Every measure tending to strengthen the fraternal feelings of all the members of our Union has had my heartfelt approbation. To every theory of society or government, whether the offspring of feverish ambition or of morbid enthusiasm, calculated to dissolve the bonds of law and affection which unite us, I shall interpose a ready and stern resistance. I believe that involuntary servitude, as it exists in different States of this Confederacy, is recognized by the Constitution. I believe that it stands like any other admitted right, and that the States where it exists are entitled to efficient remedies to enforce the constitutional provisions. I hold that the laws of 1850, commonly called the "compromise measures," are strictly constitutional and to be unhesitatingly carried into effect. I believe that the constituted authorities of this Republic are bound to regard the rights of the South in this respect as they would view any other legal and constitutional right, and that the laws to enforce them should be respected and obeyed, not with a reluctance encouraged by abstract opinions as to their propriety in a different state of society, but cheerfully and according to the decisions of the tribunal to which their exposition belongs. Such have been, and are, my convictions, and upon them I shall act. I fervently hope that the question is at rest, and that no sectional or ambitious or fanatical excitement may again threaten the durability of our institutions or obscure the light of our prosperity.
But let not the foundation of our hope rest upon man's wisdom. It will not be sufficient that sectional prejudices find no place in the public deliberations. It will not be sufficient that the rash counsels of human passion are rejected. It must be felt that there is no national security but in the nation's humble, acknowledged dependence upon God and His overruling providence.
We have been carried in safety through a perilous crisis. Wise counsels, like those which gave us the Constitution, prevailed to uphold it. Let the period be remembered as an admonition, and not as an encouragement, in any section of the Union, to make experiments where experiments are fraught with such fearful hazard. Let it be impressed upon all hearts that, beautiful as our fabric is, no earthly power or wisdom could ever reunite its broken fragments. Standing, as I do, almost within view of the green slopes of Monticello, and, as it were, within reach of the tomb of Washington, with all the cherished memories of the past gathering around me like so many eloquent voices of exhortation from heaven, I can express no better hope for my country than that the kind Providence which smiled upon our fathers may enable their children to preserve the blessings they have inherited.
MARCH 4, 1853.
WASHINGTON, March 21, 1853.
To the Senate of the United States:
In answer to the resolution of the Senate of the 17th instant, respecting certain propositions to Nicaragua and Costa Rica relative to the settlement of the territorial controversies between the States and Governments bordering on the river San Juan, I transmit a report from the Secretary of State and the documents by which it was accompanied.
WASHINGTON, March 21, 1853.
To the Senate:
The eleventh article of the treaty with the Chickasaw Indians of the 20th October, 1832, provides that certain moneys arising from the sales of the lands ceded by that treaty shall be laid out under the direction of the President of the United States, by and with the advice and consent of the Senate, in such safe and valuable stock as he may approve of, for the benefit of the Chickasaw Nation.
The report of the Secretary of the Treasury of the 15th instant, herewith transmitted, shows that the sum of $58,100 5 per cent stock, created under the act of 3d March, 1843, now stands on the books of the Treasury in the name of the Secretary of the Treasury, as trustee for the Chickasaw national fund. This stock, by the terms of its issue, is redeemable on the 1st July next, when interest thereon will cease. It therefore becomes my duty to lay before the Senate the subject of reinvesting this amount under the same trust.
The second section of the act of 11th September, 1841 (the first section of which repeals the provisions of the act of 7th July, 1838, directing the investment of the Smithsonian fund in the stocks of the States), enacts that "all other funds held in trust by the United States, and the annual interest accruing thereon, when not otherwise required by treaty, shall in like manner be invested in stocks of the United States bearing a like rate of interest."
I submit to the Senate whether it will advise and consent that the Secretary of the Treasury be authorized, under my direction, to reinvest the above-mentioned sum of $58,100 in stocks of the United States under the same trust.
WASHINGTON, March 21, 1853.
To the Senate of the United States:
In answer to the resolution of the Senate of the 18th of January last, calling for further correspondence touching the revolution in France of December, 1851, I transmit a report from the Secretary of State and the documents by which it was accompanied.
EXECUTIVE CHAMBER, March 25, 1853.
To the Senate of the United States:
I nominate Mrs. Mary Berard to be deputy postmaster at "West Point," N.Y., the commissions for said office having exceeded $1,000 for the year ending the 30th June, 1852. Mrs. B. has held said office since the 12th of May, 1848, under an appointment of the Post-Office Department.
EXECUTIVE OFFICE, March 23, 1853.
Believing that the public interests involved in the erection of the wings of the United States Capitol will be promoted by the exercise of a general supervision and control of the whole work by a skillful and competent officer of the Corps of Engineers or of the Topographical Corps, and as the officers of those corps are more immediately amenable to the Secretary of War, I hereby direct that the jurisdiction heretofore exercised over the said work by the Department of the Interior be transferred to the War Department, and request that the Secretary of War will designate to the President a suitable officer to take charge of the same.
BY THE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES.
WASHINGTON, April 20, 1853.
The President has, with deep sorrow, received information that the Vice-President of the United States, William R. King, died on the 18th instant at his residence in Alabama.
In testimony of respect for eminent station, exalted character, and, higher and above all station, for a career of public service and devotion to this Union which for duration and usefulness is almost without a parallel in the history of the Republic, the labors of the various Departments will be suspended.
The Secretaries of War and Navy will issue orders that appropriate military and naval honors be rendered to the memory of one to whom such a tribute will not be formal, but heartfelt from a people the deceased has so faithfully served.
The public offices will be closed to-morrow and badges of mourning be placed on the Executive Mansion and all the Executive Departments at Washington.
GENERAL ORDERS, No. II.
Washington, April 20, 1853.
I. The following order announces to the Army the death of William Rufus King, late Vice-President of the United States:
Washington, April 20, 1853.
With deep sorrow the President announces to the Army the death of William Rufus King, Vice-President of the United States, who died on the evening of Monday, the 18th instant, at his residence in Dallas County, Ala.
Called into the service of his country at a period in life when but few are prepared to enter upon its realities, his long career of public usefulness at home and abroad has always been honored by the public confidence, and was closed in the second office within the gift of the people.
From sympathy with his relatives and the American people for their loss and from respect for his distinguished public services, the President directs that appropriate honors to his memory be paid by the Army.
Secretary of War.
II. On the day next succeeding the receipt of this order at each military post the troops will be paraded at 10 o'clock a.m. and this order read to them.
The national flag will be displayed at half-staff.
At dawn of day thirteen guns will be fired. Commencing at 12 o'clock m. seventeen minute guns will be fired and at the close of the day the national salute of thirty-one guns.
The usual badge of mourning will be worn by officers of the Army and the colors of the several regiments will be put in mourning for the period of three months.
[From the Daily National Intelligencer, April 21, 1853.]
April 20, 1853.
With deep sorrow the President announces to the officers of the Navy and Marine Corps the death of William Rufus King, Vice-President of the United States, who died on the evening of Monday, the 18th instant, at his residence in Alabama.
Called into the service of his country at a period of life when but few are prepared to enter upon its realities, his long career of public usefulness at home and abroad has always been honored by the public confidence, and was closed in the second office within the gift of the people.
From sympathy with his relatives and the American people for their loss and from respect for his distinguished public services, the President directs that appropriate honors be paid to his memory at each of the navy-yards and naval stations and on board all the public vessels in commission on the day after this order is received by firing at dawn of day thirteen guns, at 12 o'clock m. seventeen minute guns, and at the close of the day the national salute, by carrying their flags at half-mast one day, and by the officers wearing crape on the left arm for three months.
Secretary of the Navy.
FIRST ANNUAL MESSAGE.
WASHINGTON, D.C., December 5, 1853.
Fellow-Citizens of the Senate and of the House of Representatives:
The interest with which the people of the Republic anticipate the assembling of Congress and the fulfillment on that occasion of the duty imposed upon a new President is one of the best evidences of their capacity to realize the hopes of the founders of a political system at once complex and symmetrical. While the different branches of the Government are to a certain extent independent of each other, the duties of all alike have direct reference to the source of power. Fortunately, under this system no man is so high and none so humble in the scale of public station as to escape from the scrutiny or to be exempt from the responsibility which all official functions imply.
Upon the justice and intelligence of the masses, in a government thus organized, is the sole reliance of the confederacy and the only security for honest and earnest devotion to its interests against the usurpations and encroachments of power on the one hand and the assaults of personal ambition on the other.
The interest of which I have spoken is inseparable from an inquiring, self-governing community, but stimulated, doubtless, at the present time by the unsettled condition of our relations with several foreign powers, by the new obligations resulting from a sudden extension of the field of enterprise, by the spirit with which that field has been entered and the amazing energy with which its resources for meeting the demands of humanity have been developed.
Although disease, assuming at one time the characteristics of a widespread and devastating pestilence, has left its sad traces upon some portions of our country, we have still the most abundant cause for reverent thankfulness to God for an accumulation of signal mercies showered upon us as a nation. It is well that a consciousness of rapid advancement and increasing strength be habitually associated with an abiding sense of dependence upon Him who holds in His hands the destiny of men and of nations.
Recognizing the wisdom of the broad principle of absolute religious toleration proclaimed in our fundamental law, and rejoicing in the benign influence which it has exerted upon our social and political condition, I should shrink from a clear duty did I fail to express my deepest conviction that we can place no secure reliance upon any apparent progress if it be not sustained by national integrity, resting upon the great truths affirmed and illustrated by divine revelation. In the midst of our sorrow for the afflicted and suffering, it has been consoling to see how promptly disaster made true neighbors of districts and cities separated widely from each other, and cheering to watch the strength of that common bond of brotherhood which unites all hearts, in all parts of this Union, when danger threatens from abroad or calamity impends over us at home.
Our diplomatic relations with foreign powers have undergone no essential change since the adjournment of the last Congress. With some of them questions of a disturbing character are still pending, but there are good reasons to believe that these may all be amicably adjusted.
For some years past Great Britain has so construed the first article of the convention of the 20th of April, 1818, in regard to the fisheries on the northeastern coast, as to exclude our citizens from some of the fishing grounds to which they freely resorted for nearly a quarter of a century subsequent to the date of that treaty. The United States have never acquiesced in this construction, but have always claimed for their fishermen all the rights which they had so long enjoyed without molestation. With a view to remove all difficulties on the subject, to extend the rights of our fishermen beyond the limits fixed by the convention of 1818, and to regulate trade between the United States and the British North American Provinces, a negotiation has been opened with a fair prospect of a favorable result. To protect our fishermen in the enjoyment of their rights and prevent collision between them and British fishermen, I deemed it expedient to station a naval force in that quarter during the fishing season.
Embarrassing questions have also arisen between the two Governments in regard to Central America. Great Britain has proposed to settle them by an amicable arrangement, and our minister at London is instructed to enter into negotiations on that subject.
A commission for adjusting the claims of our citizens against Great Britain and those of British subjects against the United States, organized under the convention of the 8th of February last, is now sitting in London for the transaction of business.
It is in many respects desirable that the boundary line between the United States and the British Provinces in the northwest, as designated in the convention of the 15th of June, 1846, and especially that part which separates the Territory of Washington from the British possessions on the north, should be traced and marked. I therefore present the subject to your notice.
With France our relations continue on the most friendly footing. The extensive commerce between the United States and that country might, it is conceived, be released from some unnecessary restrictions to the mutual advantage of both parties. With a view to this object, some progress has been made in negotiating a treaty of commerce and navigation.
Independently of our valuable trade with Spain, we have important political relations with her growing out of our neighborhood to the islands of Cuba and Porto Rico. I am happy to announce that since the last Congress no attempts have been made by unauthorized expeditions within the United States against either of those colonies. Should any movement be manifested within our limits, all the means at my command will be vigorously exerted to repress it. Several annoying occurrences have taken place at Havana, or in the vicinity of the island of Cuba, between our citizens and the Spanish authorities. Considering the proximity of that island to our shores, lying, as it does, in the track of trade between some of our principal cities, and the suspicious vigilance with which foreign intercourse, particularly that with the United States, is there guarded, a repetition of such occurrences may well be apprehended.
As no diplomatic intercourse is allowed between our consul at Havana and the Captain-General of Cuba, ready explanations can not be made or prompt redress afforded where injury has resulted. All complaint on the part of our citizens under the present arrangement must be, in the first place, presented to this Government and then referred to Spain. Spain again refers it to her local authorities in Cuba for investigation, and postpones an answer till she has heard from those authorities. To avoid these irritating and vexatious delays, a proposition has been made to provide for a direct appeal for redress to the Captain-General by our consul in behalf of our injured fellow-citizens. Hitherto the Government of Spain has declined to enter into any such arrangement. This course on her part is deeply regretted, for without some arrangement of this kind the good understanding between the two countries may be exposed to occasional interruption. Our minister at Madrid is instructed to renew the proposition and to press it again upon the consideration of Her Catholic Majesty's Government.
For several years Spain has been calling the attention of this Government to a claim for losses by some of her subjects in the case of the schooner Amistad. This claim is believed to rest on the obligations imposed by our existing treaty with that country. Its justice was admitted in our diplomatic correspondence with the Spanish Government as early as March, 1847, and one of my predecessors, in his annual message of that year, recommended that provision should be made for its payment. In January last it was again submitted to Congress by the Executive. It has received a favorable consideration by committees of both branches, but as yet there has been no final action upon it. I conceive that good faith requires its prompt adjustment, and I present it to your early and favorable consideration.
Martin Koszta, a Hungarian by birth, came to this country in 1850, and declared his intention in due form of law to become a citizen of the United States. After remaining here nearly two years he visited Turkey. While at Smyrna he was forcibly seized, taken on board an Austrian brig of war then lying in the harbor of that place, and there confined in irons, with the avowed design to take him into the dominions of Austria. Our consul at Smyrna and legation at Constantinople interposed for his release, but their efforts were ineffectual. While thus in prison Commander Ingraham, with the United States ship of war St. Louis, arrived at Smyrna, and after inquiring into the circumstances of the case came to the conclusion that Koszta was entitled to the protection of this Government, and took energetic and prompt measures for his release. Under an arrangement between the agents of the United States and of Austria, he was transferred to the custody of the French consul-general at Smyrna, there to remain until he should be disposed of by the mutual agreement of the consuls of the respective Governments at that place. Pursuant to that agreement, he has been released, and is now in the United States. The Emperor of Austria has made the conduct of our officers who took part in this transaction a subject of grave complaint. Regarding Koszta as still his subject, and claiming a right to seize him within the limits of the Turkish Empire, he has demanded of this Government its consent to the surrender of the prisoner, a disavowal of the acts of its agents, and satisfaction for the alleged outrage. After a careful consideration of the case I came to the conclusion that Koszta was seized without legal authority at Smyrna; that he was wrongfully detained on board of the Austrian brig of war; that at the time of his seizure he was clothed with the nationality of the United States, and that the acts of our officers, under the circumstances of the case, were justifiable, and their conduct has been fully approved by me, and a compliance with the several demands of the Emperor of Austria has been declined.
For a more full account of this transaction and my views in regard to it I refer to the correspondence between the charge d'affaires of Austria and the Secretary of State, which is herewith transmitted. The principles and policy therein maintained on the part of the United States will, whenever a proper occasion occurs, be applied and enforced.
The condition of China at this time renders it probable that some important changes will occur in that vast Empire which will lead to a more unrestricted intercourse with it. The commissioner to that country who has been recently appointed is instructed to avail himself of all occasions to open and extend our commercial relations, not only with the Empire of China, but with other Asiatic nations.
In 1852 an expedition was sent to Japan, under the command of Commodore Perry, for the purpose of opening commercial intercourse with that Empire. Intelligence has been received of his arrival there and of his having made known to the Emperor of Japan the object of his visit. But it is not yet ascertained how far the Emperor will be disposed to abandon his restrictive policy and open that populous country to a commercial intercourse with the United States.
It has been my earnest desire to maintain friendly intercourse with the Governments upon this continent and to aid them in preserving good understanding among themselves. With Mexico a dispute has arisen as to the true boundary line between our Territory of New Mexico and the Mexican State of Chihuahua. A former commissioner of the United States, employed in running that line pursuant to the treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo, made a serious mistake in determining the initial point on the Rio Grande; but inasmuch as his decision was clearly a departure from the directions for tracing the boundary contained in that treaty, and was not concurred in by the surveyor appointed on the part of the United States, whose concurrence was necessary to give validity to that decision, this Government is not concluded thereby; but that of Mexico takes a different view of the subject.
There are also other questions of considerable magnitude pending between the two Republics. Our minister in Mexico has ample instructions to adjust them. Negotiations have been opened, but sufficient progress has not been made therein to enable me to speak of the probable result. Impressed with the importance of maintaining amicable relations with that Republic and of yielding with liberality to all her just claims, it is reasonable to expect that an arrangement mutually satisfactory to both countries may be concluded and a lasting friendship between them confirmed and perpetuated.
Congress having provided for a full mission to the States of Central America, a minister was sent thither in July last. As yet he has had time to visit only one of these States (Nicaragua), where he was received in the most friendly manner. It is hoped that his presence and good offices will have a benign effect in composing the dissensions which prevail among them, and in establishing still more intimate and friendly relations between them respectively and between each of them and the United States.
Considering the vast regions of this continent and the number of states which would be made accessible by the free navigation of the river Amazon, particular attention has been given to this subject. Brazil, through whose territories it passes into the ocean, has hitherto persisted in a policy so restricted in regard to the use of this river as to obstruct and nearly exclude foreign commercial intercourse with the States which lie upon its tributaries and upper branches. Our minister to that country is instructed to obtain a relaxation of that policy and to use his efforts to induce the Brazilian Government to open to common use, under proper safeguards, this great natural highway for international trade. Several of the South American States are deeply interested in this attempt to secure the free navigation of the Amazon, and it is reasonable to expect their cooperation in the measure. As the advantages of free commercial intercourse among nations are better understood, more liberal views are generally entertained as to the common rights of all to the free use of those means which nature has provided for international communication. To these more liberal and enlightened views it is hoped that Brazil will conform her policy and remove all unnecessary restrictions upon the free use of a river which traverses so many states and so large a part of the continent. I am happy to inform you that the Republic of Paraguay and the Argentine Confederation have yielded to the liberal policy still resisted by Brazil in regard to the navigable rivers within their respective territories. Treaties embracing this subject, among others, have been negotiated with these Governments, which will be submitted to the Senate at the present session.
A new branch of commerce, important to the agricultural interests of the United States, has within a few years past been opened with Peru. Notwithstanding the inexhaustible deposits of guano upon the islands of that country, considerable difficulties are experienced in obtaining the requisite supply. Measures have been taken to remove these difficulties and to secure a more abundant importation of the article. Unfortunately, there has been a serious collision between our citizens who have resorted to the Chincha Islands for it and the Peruvian authorities stationed there. Redress for the outrages committed by the latter was promptly demanded by our minister at Lima. This subject is now under consideration, and there is reason to believe that Peru is disposed to offer adequate indemnity to the aggrieved parties.
We are thus not only at peace with all foreign countries, but, in regard to political affairs, are exempt from any cause of serious disquietude in our domestic relations.
The controversies which have agitated the country heretofore are passing away with the causes which produced them and the passions which they had awakened; or, if any trace of them remains, it may be reasonably hoped that it will only be perceived in the zealous rivalry of all good citizens to testify their respect for the rights of the States, their devotion to the Union, and their common determination that each one of the States, its institutions, its welfare, and its domestic peace, shall be held alike secure under the sacred aegis of the Constitution.
This new league of amity and of mutual confidence and support into which the people of the Republic have entered happily affords inducement and opportunity for the adoption of a more comprehensive and unembarrassed line of policy and action as to the great material interests of the country, whether regarded in themselves or in connection with the powers of the civilized world.
The United States have continued gradually and steadily to expand through acquisitions of territory, which, how much soever some of them may have been questioned, are now universally seen and admitted to have been wise in policy, just in character, and a great element in the advancement of our country, and with it of the human race, in freedom, in prosperity, and in happiness. The thirteen States have grown to be thirty-one, with relations reaching to Europe on the one side and on the other to the distant realms of Asia.
I am deeply sensible of the immense responsibility which the present magnitude of the Republic and the diversity and multiplicity of its interests devolves upon me, the alleviation of which, so far as relates to the immediate conduct of the public business, is, first, in my reliance on the wisdom and patriotism of the two Houses of Congress, and, secondly, in the directions afforded me by the principles of public polity affirmed by our fathers of the epoch of 1798, sanctioned by long experience, and consecrated anew by the overwhelming voice of the people of the United States.
Recurring to these principles, which constitute the organic basis of union, we perceive that vast as are the functions and the duties of the Federal Government, vested in or intrusted to its three great departments—the legislative, executive, and judicial—yet the substantive power, the popular force, and the large capacities for social and material development exist in the respective States, which, all being of themselves well-constituted republics, as they preceded so they alone are capable of maintaining and perpetuating the American Union. The Federal Government has its appropriate line of action in the specific and limited powers conferred on it by the Constitution, chiefly as to those things in which the States have a common interest in their relations to one another and to foreign governments, while the great mass of interests which belong to cultivated men—the ordinary business of life, the springs of industry, all the diversified personal and domestic affairs of society—rest securely upon the general reserved powers of the people of the several States. There is the effective democracy of the nation, and there the vital essence of its being and its greatness.
Of the practical consequences which flow from the nature of the Federal Government, the primary one is the duty of administering with integrity and fidelity the high trust reposed in it by the Constitution, especially in the application of the public funds as drawn by taxation from the people and appropriated to specific objects by Congress.
Happily, I have no occasion to suggest any radical changes in the financial policy of the Government. Ours is almost, if not absolutely, the solitary power of Christendom having a surplus revenue drawn immediately from imposts on commerce, and therefore measured by the spontaneous enterprise and national prosperity of the country, with such indirect relation to agriculture, manufactures, and the products of the earth and sea as to violate no constitutional doctrine and yet vigorously promote the general welfare. Neither as to the sources of the public treasure nor as to the manner of keeping and managing it does any grave controversy now prevail, there being a general acquiescence in the wisdom of the present system.
The report of the Secretary of the Treasury will exhibit in detail the state of the public finances and the condition of the various branches of the public service administered by that Department of the Government.
The revenue of the country, levied almost insensibly to the taxpayer, goes on from year to year, increasing beyond either the interests or the prospective wants of the Government.
At the close of the fiscal year ending June 30, 1852, there remained in the Treasury a balance of $14,632,136. The public revenue for the fiscal year ending June 30, 1853, amounted to $58,931,865 from customs and to $2,405,708 from public lands and other miscellaneous sources, amounting together to $61,337,574, while the public expenditures for the same period, exclusive of payments on account of the public debt, amounted to $43,554,262, leaving a balance of $32,425,447 of receipts above expenditures.
This fact of increasing surplus in the Treasury became the subject of anxious consideration at a very early period of my Administration, and the path of duty in regard to it seemed to me obvious and clear, namely: First, to apply the surplus revenue to the discharge of the public debt so far as it could judiciously be done, and, secondly, to devise means for the gradual reduction of the revenue to the standard of the public exigencies.
Of these objects the first has been in the course of accomplishment in a manner and to a degree highly satisfactory. The amount of the public debt of all classes was on the 4th of March, 1853, $69,190,037, payments on account of which have been made since that period to the amount of $12,703,329, leaving unpaid and in continuous course of liquidation the sum of $56,486,708. These payments, although made at the market price of the respective classes of stocks, have been effected readily and to the general advantage of the Treasury, and have at the same time proved of signal utility in the relief they have incidentally afforded to the money market and to the industrial and commercial pursuits of the country.
The second of the above-mentioned objects, that of the reduction of the tariff, is of great importance, and the plan suggested by the Secretary of the Treasury, which is to reduce the duties on certain articles and to add to the free list many articles now taxed, and especially such as enter into manufactures and are not largely, or at all, produced in the country, is commended to your candid and careful consideration.
You will find in the report of the Secretary of the Treasury, also, abundant proof of the entire adequacy of the present fiscal system to meet all the requirements of the public service, and that, while properly administered, it operates to the advantage of the community in ordinary business relations.
I respectfully ask your attention to sundry suggestions of improvements in the settlement of accounts, especially as regards the large sums of outstanding arrears due to the Government, and of other reforms in the administrative action of his Department which are indicated by the Secretary; as also to the progress made in the construction of marine hospitals, custom-houses, and of a new mint in California and assay office in the city of New York, heretofore provided for by Congress, and also to the eminently successful progress of the Coast Survey and of the Light-House Board.
Among the objects meriting your attention will be important recommendations from the Secretaries of War and Navy. I am fully satisfied that the Navy of the United States is not in a condition of strength and efficiency commensurate with the magnitude of our commercial and other interests, and commend to your especial attention the suggestions on this subject made by the Secretary of the Navy. I respectfully submit that the Army, which under our system must always be regarded with the highest interest as a nucleus around which the volunteer forces of the nation gather in the hour of danger, requires augmentation, or modification, to adapt it to the present extended limits and frontier relations of the country and the condition of the Indian tribes in the interior of the continent, the necessity of which will appear in the communications of the Secretaries of War and the Interior.
In the administration of the Post-Office Department for the fiscal year ending June 30, 1853, the gross expenditure was $7,982,756, and the gross receipts during the same period $5,942,734, showing that the current revenue failed to meet the current expenses of the Department by the sum of $2,042,032. The causes which, under the present postal system and laws, led inevitably to this result are fully explained by the report of the Postmaster-General, one great cause being the enormous rates the Department has been compelled to pay for mail service rendered by railroad companies.
The exhibit in the report of the Postmaster-General of the income and expenditures by mail steamers will be found peculiarly interesting and of a character to demand the immediate action of Congress.
Numerous and flagrant frauds upon the Pension Bureau have been brought to light within the last year, and in some instances merited punishments inflicted; but, unfortunately, in others guilty parties have escaped, not through the want of sufficient evidence to warrant a conviction, but in consequence of the provisions of limitation in the existing laws.
From the nature of these claims, the remoteness of the tribunals to pass upon them, and the mode in which the proof is of necessity furnished, temptations to crime have been greatly stimulated by the obvious difficulties of detection. The defects in the law upon this subject are so apparent and so fatal to the ends of justice that your early action relating to it is most desirable.
During the last fiscal year 9,819,411 acres of the public lands have been surveyed and 10,363,891 acres brought into market. Within the same period the sales by public purchase and private entry amounted to 1,083,495 acres; located under military bounty-land warrants, 6,142,360 acres; located under other certificates, 9,427 acres; ceded to the States as swamp lands, 16,684,253 acres; selected for railroad and other objects under acts of Congress, 1,427,457 acres; total amount of lands disposed of within the fiscal year, 25,346,992 acres, which is an increase in quantity sold and located under land warrants and grants of 12,231,818 acres over the fiscal year immediately preceding. The quantity of land sold during the second and third quarters of 1852 was 334,451 acres; the amount received therefor was $623,687. The quantity sold the second and third quarters of the year 1853 was 1,609,919 acres, and the amount received therefor $2,226,876.
The whole number of land warrants issued under existing laws prior to the 30th of September last was 266,042, of which there were outstanding at that date 66,947. The quantity of land required to satisfy these outstanding warrants is 4,778,120 acres.
Warrants have been issued to 30th of September last under the act of 11th February, 1847, calling for 12,879,280 acres, under acts of September 28, 1850, and March 22, 1852, calling for 12,505,360 acres, making a total of 25,384,640 acres.
It is believed that experience has verified the wisdom and justice of the present system with regard to the public domain in most essential particulars.
You will perceive from the report of the Secretary of the Interior that opinions which have often been expressed in relation to the operation of the land system as not being a source of revenue to the Federal Treasury were erroneous. The net profits from the sale of the public lands to June 30, 1853, amounted to the sum of $53,289,465.
I recommend the extension of the land system over the Territories of Utah and New Mexico, with such modifications as their peculiarities may require.
Regarding our public domain as chiefly valuable to provide homes for the industrious and enterprising, I am not prepared to recommend any essential change in the land system, except by modifications in favor of the actual settler and an extension of the preemption principle in certain cases, for reasons and on grounds which will be fully developed in the reports to be laid before you.
Congress, representing the proprietors of the territorial domain and charged especially with power to dispose of territory belonging to the United States, has for a long course of years, beginning with the Administration of Mr. Jefferson, exercised the power to construct roads within the Territories, and there are so many and obvious distinctions between this exercise of power and that of making roads within the States that the former has never been considered subject to such objections as apply to the latter; and such may now be considered the settled construction of the power of the Federal Government upon the subject.
Numerous applications have been and no doubt will continue to be made for grants of land in aid of the construction of railways. It is not believed to be within the intent and meaning of the Constitution that the power to dispose of the public domain should be used otherwise than might be expected from a prudent proprietor, and therefore that grants of land to aid in the construction of roads should be restricted to cases where it would be for the interest of a proprietor under like circumstances thus to contribute to the construction of these works. For the practical operation of such grants thus far in advancing the interests of the States in which the works are located, and at the same time the substantial interests of all the other States, by enhancing the value and promoting the rapid sale of the public domain, I refer you to the report of the Secretary of the Interior. A careful examination, however, will show that this experience is the result of a just discrimination and will be far from affording encouragement to a reckless or indiscriminate extension of the principle.
I commend to your favorable consideration the men of genius of our country who by their inventions and discoveries in science and arts have contributed largely to the improvements of the age without, in many instances, securing for themselves anything like an adequate reward. For many interesting details upon this subject I refer you to the appropriate reports, and especially urge upon your early attention the apparently slight, but really important, modifications of existing laws therein suggested.
The liberal spirit which has so long marked the action of Congress in relation to the District of Columbia will, I have no doubt, continue to be manifested.
The erection of an asylum for the insane of the District of Columbia and of the Army and Navy of the United States has been somewhat retarded by the great demand for materials and labor during the past summer, but full preparation for the reception of patients before the return of another winter is anticipated; and there is the best reason to believe, from the plan and contemplated arrangements which have been devised, with the large experience furnished within the last few years in relation to the nature and treatment of the disease, that it will prove an asylum indeed to this most helpless and afflicted class of sufferers and stand as a noble monument of wisdom and mercy.
Under the acts of Congress of August 31, 1852, and of March 3, 1853, designed to secure for the cities of Washington and Georgetown an abundant supply of good and wholesome water, it became my duty to examine the report and plans of the engineer who had charge of the surveys under the act first named. The best, if not the only, plan calculated to secure permanently the object sought was that which contemplates taking the water from the Great Falls of the Potomac, and consequently I gave to it my approval.
For the progress and present condition of this important work and for its demands so far as appropriations are concerned I refer you to the report of the Secretary of War.
The present judicial system of the United States has now been in operation for so long a period of time and has in its general theory and much of its details become so familiar to the country and acquired so entirely the public confidence that if modified in any respect it should only be in those particulars which may adapt it to the increased extent, population, and legal business of the United States. In this relation the organization of the courts is now confessedly inadequate to the duties to be performed by them, in consequence of which the States of Florida, Wisconsin, Iowa, Texas, and California, and districts of other States, are in effect excluded from the full benefits of the general system by the functions of the circuit court being devolved on the district judges in all those States or parts of States.
The spirit of the Constitution and a due regard to justice require that all the States of the Union should be placed on the same footing in regard to the judicial tribunals. I therefore commend to your consideration this important subject, which in my judgment demands the speedy action of Congress. I will present to you, if deemed desirable, a plan which I am prepared to recommend for the enlargement and modification of the present judicial system.
The act of Congress establishing the Smithsonian Institution provided that the President of the United States and other persons therein designated should constitute an "establishment" by that name, and that the members should hold stated and special meetings for the supervision of the affairs of the Institution. The organization not having taken place, it seemed to me proper that it should be effected without delay. This has been done; and an occasion was thereby presented for inspecting the condition of the Institution and appreciating its successful progress thus far and its high promise of great and general usefulness.
I have omitted to ask your favorable consideration for the estimates of works of a local character in twenty-seven of the thirty-one States, amounting to $1,754,500, because, independently of the grounds which have so often been urged against the application of the Federal revenue for works of this character, inequality, with consequent injustice, is inherent in the nature of the proposition, and because the plan has proved entirely inadequate to the accomplishment of the objects sought.
The subject of internal improvements, claiming alike the interest and good will of all, has, nevertheless, been the basis of much political discussion and has stood as a deep-graven line of division between statesmen of eminent ability and patriotism. The rule of strict construction of all powers delegated by the States to the General Government has arrayed itself from time to time against the rapid progress of expenditures from the National Treasury on works of a local character within the States. Memorable as an epoch in the history of this subject is the message of President Jackson of the 27th of May, 1830, which met the system of internal improvements in its comparative infancy; but so rapid had been its growth that the projected appropriations in that year for works of this character had risen to the alarming amount of more than $100,000,000.
In that message the President admitted the difficulty of bringing back the operations of the Government to the construction of the Constitution set up in 1798, and marked it as an admonitory proof of the necessity of guarding that instrument with sleepless vigilance against the authority of precedents which had not the sanction of its most plainly defined powers.
Our Government exists under a written compact between sovereign States, uniting for specific objects and with specific grants to their general agent. If, then, in the progress of its administration there have been departures from the terms and intent of the compact, it is and will ever be proper to refer back to the fixed standard which our fathers left us and to make a stern effort to conform our action to it. It would seem that the fact of a principle having been resisted from the first by many of the wisest and most patriotic men of the Republic, and a policy having provoked constant strife without arriving at a conclusion which can be regarded as satisfactory to its most earnest advocates, should suggest the inquiry whether there may not be a plan likely to be crowned by happier results. Without perceiving any sound distinction or intending to assert any principle as opposed to improvements needed for the protection of internal commerce which does not equally apply to improvements upon the seaboard for the protection of foreign commerce, I submit to you whether it may not be safely anticipated that if the policy were once settled against appropriations by the General Government for local improvements for the benefit of commerce, localities requiring expenditures would not, by modes and means clearly legitimate and proper, raise the fund necessary for such constructions as the safety or other interests of their commerce might require.
If that can be regarded as a system which in the experience of more than thirty years has at no time so commanded the public judgment as to give it the character of a settled policy; which, though it has produced some works of conceded importance, has been attended with an expenditure quite disproportionate to their value and has resulted in squandering large sums upon objects which have answered no valuable purpose, the interests of all the States require it to be abandoned unless hopes may be indulged for the future which find no warrant in the past.
With an anxious desire for the completion of the works which are regarded by all good citizens with sincere interest, I have deemed it my duty to ask at your hands a deliberate reconsideration of the question, with a hope that, animated by a desire to promote the permanent and substantial interests of the country, your wisdom may prove equal to the task of devising and maturing a plan which, applied to this subject, may promise something better than constant strife, the suspension of the powers of local enterprise, the exciting of vain hopes, and the disappointment of cherished expectations.
In expending the appropriations made by the last Congress several cases have arisen in relation to works for the improvement of harbors which involve questions as to the right of soil and jurisdiction, and have threatened conflict between the authority of the State and General Governments. The right to construct a breakwater, jetty, or dam would seem necessarily to carry with it the power to protect and preserve such constructions. This can only be effectually done by having jurisdiction over the soil. But no clause of the Constitution is found on which to rest the claim of the United States to exercise jurisdiction over the soil of a State except that conferred by the eighth section of the first article of the Constitution. It is, then, submitted whether, in all cases where constructions are to be erected by the General Government, the right of soil should not first be obtained and legislative provision be made to cover all such cases.
For the progress made in the construction of roads within the Territories, as provided for in the appropriations of the last Congress, I refer you to the report of the Secretary of War.
There is one subject of a domestic nature which, from its intrinsic importance and the many interesting questions of future policy which it involves, can not fail to receive your early attention. I allude to the means of communication by which different parts of the wide expanse of our country are to be placed in closer connection for purposes both of defense and commercial intercourse, and more especially such as appertain to the communication of those great divisions of the Union which lie on the opposite sides of the Rocky Mountains.
That the Government has not been unmindful of this heretofore is apparent from the aid it has afforded through appropriations for mail facilities and other purposes. But the general subject will now present itself under aspects more imposing and more purely national by reason of the surveys ordered by Congress, and now in the process of completion, for communication by railway across the continent, and wholly within the limits of the United States.
The power to declare war, to raise and support armies, to provide and maintain a navy, and to call forth the militia to execute the laws, suppress insurrections, and repel invasions was conferred upon Congress as means to provide for the common defense and to protect a territory and a population now widespread and vastly multiplied. As incidental to and indispensable for the exercise of this power, it must sometimes be necessary to construct military roads and protect harbors of refuge. To appropriations by Congress for such objects no sound objection can be raised. Happily for our country, its peaceful policy and rapidly increasing population impose upon us no urgent necessity for preparation, and leave but few trackless deserts between assailable points and a patriotic people ever ready and generally able to protect them. These necessary links the enterprise and energy of our people are steadily and boldly struggling to supply. All experience affirms that wherever private enterprise will avail it is most wise for the General Government to leave to that and individual watchfulness the location and execution of all means of communication.
The surveys before alluded to were designed to ascertain the most practicable and economical route for a railroad from the river Mississippi to the Pacific Ocean. Parties are now in the field making explorations, where previous examinations had not supplied sufficient data and where there was the best reason to hope the object sought might be found. The means and time being both limited, it is not to be expected that all the accurate knowledge desired will be obtained, but it is hoped that much and important information will be added to the stock previously possessed, and that partial, if not full, reports of the surveys ordered will be received in time for transmission to the two Houses of Congress on or before the first Monday in February next, as required by the act of appropriation. The magnitude of the enterprise contemplated has aroused and will doubtless continue to excite a very general interest throughout the country. In its political, its commercial, and its military bearings it has varied, great, and increasing claims to consideration. The heavy expense, the great delay, and, at times, fatality attending travel by either of the Isthmus routes have demonstrated the advantage which would result from interterritorial communication by such safe and rapid means as a railroad would supply.
These difficulties, which have been encountered in a period of peace, would be magnified and still further increased in time of war. But whilst the embarrassments already encountered and others under new contingencies to be anticipated may serve strikingly to exhibit the importance of such a work, neither these nor all considerations combined can have an appreciable value when weighed against the obligation strictly to adhere to the Constitution and faithfully to execute the powers it confers.
Within this limit and to the extent of the interest of the Government involved it would seem both expedient and proper if an economical and practicable route shall be found to aid by all constitutional means in the construction of a road which will unite by speedy transit the populations of the Pacific and Atlantic States. To guard against misconception, it should be remarked that although the power to construct or aid in the construction of a road within the limits of a Territory is not embarrassed by that question of jurisdiction which would arise within the limits of a State, it is, nevertheless, held to be of doubtful power and more than doubtful propriety, even within the limits of a Territory, for the General Government to undertake to administer the affairs of a railroad, a canal, or other similar construction, and therefore that its connection with a work of this character should be incidental rather than primary. I will only add at present that, fully appreciating the magnitude of the subject and solicitous that the Atlantic and Pacific shores of the Republic may be bound together by inseparable ties of common interest, as well as of common fealty and attachment to the Union, I shall be disposed, so far as my own action is concerned, to follow the lights of the Constitution as expounded and illustrated by those whose opinions and expositions constitute the standard of my political faith in regard to the powers of the Federal Government. It is, I trust, not necessary to say that no grandeur of enterprise and no present urgent inducement promising popular favor will lead me to disregard those lights or to depart from that path which experience has proved to be safe, and which is now radiant with the glow of prosperity and legitimate constitutional progress. We can afford to wait, but we can not afford to overlook the ark of our security.
It is no part of my purpose to give prominence to any subject which may properly be regarded as set at rest by the deliberate judgment of the people. But while the present is bright with promise and the future full of demand and inducement for the exercise of active intelligence, the past can never be without useful lessons of admonition and instruction. If its dangers serve not as beacons, they will evidently fail to fulfill the object of a wise design. When the grave shall have closed over all who are now endeavoring to meet the obligations of duty, the year 1850 will be recurred to as a period filled with anxious apprehension. A successful war had just terminated. Peace brought with it a vast augmentation of territory. Disturbing questions arose bearing upon the domestic institutions of one portion of the Confederacy and involving the constitutional rights of the States. But notwithstanding differences of opinion and sentiment which then existed in relation to details and specific provisions, the acquiescence of distinguished citizens, whose devotion to the Union can never be doubted, has given renewed vigor to our institutions and restored a sense of repose and security to the public mind throughout the Confederacy. That this repose is to suffer no shock during my official term, if I have power to avert it, those who placed me here may be assured. The wisdom of men who knew what independence cost, who had put all at stake upon the issue of the Revolutionary struggle, disposed of the subject to which I refer in the only way consistent with the Union of these States and with the march of power and prosperity which has made us what we are. It is a significant fact that from the adoption of the Constitution until the officers and soldiers of the Revolution had passed to their graves, or, through the infirmities of age and wounds, had ceased to participate actively in public affairs, there was not merely a quiet acquiescence in, but a prompt vindication of, the constitutional rights of the States. The reserved powers were scrupulously respected. No statesman put forth the narrow views of casuists to justify interference and agitation, but the spirit of the compact was regarded as sacred in the eye of honor and indispensable for the great experiment of civil liberty, which, environed by inherent difficulties, was yet borne forward in apparent weakness by a power superior to all obstacles. There is no condemnation which the voice of freedom will not pronounce upon us should we prove faithless to this great trust. While men inhabiting different parts of this vast continent can no more be expected to hold the same opinions or entertain the same sentiments than every variety of climate or soil can be expected to furnish the same agricultural products, they can unite in a common object and sustain common principles essential to the maintenance of that object. The gallant men of the South and the North could stand together during the struggle of the Revolution; they could stand together in the more trying period which succeeded the clangor of arms. As their united valor was adequate to all the trials of the camp and dangers of the field, so their united wisdom proved equal to the greater task of founding upon a deep and broad basis institutions which it has been our privilege to enjoy and will ever be our most sacred duty to sustain. It is but the feeble expression of a faith strong and universal to say that their sons, whose blood mingled so often upon the same field during the War of 1812 and who have more recently borne in triumph the flag of the country upon a foreign soil, will never permit alienation of feeling to weaken the power of their united efforts nor internal dissensions to paralyze the great arm of freedom, uplifted for the vindication of self-government.