Imagens das páginas
[ocr errors][ocr errors]

ties that, in spite of grave constitutional objections, to the astonishment of his friends, he was for admitting them at once into a subsequent session of this same Legislature.

From this we now pass to another subject. At that time the spirit of speculation permeated our people; the railroad boom had just reached our borders, and with it came the rage for paper money. I once heard Governor James Barbour, of Virginia, in addressing his farmer constituents of old Albemarle, thunder out, in that sonorous voice of his, the following prophecy : : "Fellow-citizens, if you cut down a big persimmon-tree in your fields, a thousand sprouts will spring from its stump; and so will it be with us financially if you destroy the great Bank of the United States. Your State banks will rise by thousands on the stump, and will flutter their worthless leaves all over the land.” The prophecy was literally fulfilled. Banks here were chartered per se. Railroads with banking privileges were incorporated, and when the banks got into operation the road was quietly “switched off," and left the bank in full sway. The people and the Legislature seemed to have been seized by alchemists' idea that by an act of Legislature they could transmute paper into gold.

The grand climax in this delusion in our State was the charter of the Union Bank. In the lower house, forty-seven voted in its favor and only seven against it. The names of the seven ought to be preserved in history: they were Cunningham, of Pike; Ellis, of Jones; Horne, of Wayne; Magee; Monette, of Hancock; Pendleton, of Lawrence; and Thomas. McNutt voted against it in the Senate.

A fellow-student of mine at the University of Virginia met me on the steps of the rotunda at the time and exclaimed,

“ Your State is ruined !" “ How so?" said I.

*Your Legislature has just chartered a bank with a capital of fifteen millions of dollars."

With the heedlessness of a boy I scouted the evil foreboding; but long years after I remembered the school-boy prediction when I heard Prentiss, all in vain, ring out the slogan-cry to save my State from repudiation.

[ocr errors][merged small][ocr errors]

I do not find in the recorded vote upon the Union Bank bill that Prentiss voted at all, nor can I find in the journals whether or not he opposed it, but presume, as Whigs and Democrats sang truce on the theme, that he too fell beneath the siren song of the hour. He was wise enough, however, to foresee the danger of creating so many banks; he deprecated and ridiculed it, and used his best endeavors to put a stop to it. “Ay,” said he, in a tone of withering sarcasm, “ you will go on from bad to worse in this wild way of legislation until, to cap the fraud climax, you'll charter every man's breeches-pocket into a banking institution and make shirts a legal tender.” In spite, however, of his warnings the Legislature still continued to increase, multiply, and replenish our State with banks.

He heartily joined in the efforts to build up the railroads in our State. He was never a narrow-minded politician, and was perfectly free from localism and sectionalism. He always went heart and soul into any scheme for the good of his country, his whole country. He gave an illustration of his liberality in this respect by advocating the locating east of Pearl River in this State the great trunk railroad from North to South.

His reason for this was that the West was already provided with transportation by the great river on her border, and that the East was entitled to the iron river, which would open her commerce and her vast timber wealth to the markets of the world.

We have already seen that he was opposed to the constitution as adopted; an effort was made at this session to amend it by calling another convention; this he supported with his usual zeal and fiery eloquence, but the measure failed! We shall soon see, at the adjourned session, how manfully he stood by the constitution as ordained, and that, too, in spite of the warning of friends that his course would inevitably mar his future political prospects.

A measure was also brought forward to establish a "separate court of criminal jurisdiction” for the Western District of the State. This was referred to the Judiciary Committee, and the following report from him, as chairman of the same, being one of the very few specimens of Prentiss's pen-labors, is given in extenso. It is valuable, not only as showing the clearness of his

style, but also as an historical paper of the state of society at that time, exhibited by one who was himself a conspicuous actor on the stage :

" Mr. Speaker :—The Committee on the Judiciary, to whom was referred a resolution of this IIouse instructing them to inquire into the inexpediency of establishing in the counties of Warren, Claiborne, Jefferson, Adams, and Wilkinson a criminal court of inferior jurisdiction, ask leave to report:

“That they have taken the matter embraced in said resolution under serious consideration. They have arrived at the conclusion, after mature investigation, that the establishment of a criminal court within the counties embraced in the resolution will be of material benefit not only to those counties, but to the State at large. Your Committee will state some of the reasons by which they have been drawn to this conclusion: The Mississippi River, which washes the western boundary of our State, mingles with the innumerable benefits it bears to our borders some evils, not the least of which is that it has become the great thoroughfare of vice and crime as well as of wealth and enterprise; villains of every description, outlaws from other States, refugees from justice, thieves, robbers, and banditti of all sorts are continually floating upon its current, and collect in the towns and villages upon its banks like drifting wood in its eddies. The western counties of our State are peculiarly subject to these visitations, hence there is committed within them a greater amount of crime than in all the rest of the State. Probably two-thirds of the violation of our penal laws occur within the river counties, which are those embraced in the resolution. The importance of a speedy and certain execution of the laws within this district of country must be apparent to all. Under the present arrangement, by which civil and criminal business is thrown together in the same court, this object has not been attained. So great has become the amount of crime that in some of these counties it is not unfrequent to consume in the trials of criminals alone more than two out of the three weeks appropriated to the court. This necessarily interferes with the civil business. The civil and the criminal docket interfere with each other, and in the conflict both suffer. In the anxiety to get at the civil business prosecutions are hurried through carelessly and ineffectually. By the organization of a district criminal court these difficulties will be obviated, more attention and care will be given to the prosecution of offences, and, of course, punishment will oftener follow the footsteps of guilt. Such a court will also be a greater terror to evil-doers than those under the present organization, and it will not only punish more effectu. ally, but will, for that very reason, deter many of those classes above alluded to from coming within its reach. This court will be greatly beneficial to other portions of the State as a sort of a frontier guard, a barrier against the inroad of vice, a levee against the overlow of crime, In addition, your Committee would observe that they have no doubt that the amount which the State has to pay annually on account of ineffectual prosecutions, and for other causes arising out of the present system, would exceed the annual expense of a separate criminal court. These are some of the reasons which have influenced your Committee in arriving to a conclusion favorable to the object of the resolution, and in accordance therewith they have instructed me to report a bill to be entitled An Act to establish in the Counties of Warren, Claiborne, Jefferson, Adams, and Wilkinson an Inferior Court of Criminal Jurisdiction."

The bill was passed, and became a law. The court existed for a brief while, but was abolished after having survived long enough to answer the objects of its distinct creation.

Another question of vital importance brought before the body by the governor's message was the right of the State to the sixteenth sections, and the five per cent. of the sale of the lands embraced in the treaties made by the United States with the Chickasaw Indians. This subject was specially referred to the Judiciary Committee, and brought forth an elaborate report on the 13th of February, 1836.

In reading this, one here and there perceives the doctrine of “State rights” glinting out,-a doctrine which, though scouted in a general way by some States, will in those very States crop out if they happen to be the particular subjects of Federal encroachment. As a bishop once said, in discussing whether or not some other bishop was high or low church, You'll find all of them high enough if you only run against them.” Unionloving Massachusetts avowed once the doctrine, and in this report we shall see that Mississippi was not one whit behind her, but, even at this early day, was counselled to stand up to her constitutional rights.

The report,* from the pen of Prentiss, speaks for itself, and, like the preceding one, gives a great deal of historical information, which Mississippians at least ought to know:

"Mr. Speaker :--The Committee on the Judiciary, to whoin was referred so much of the late governor's message as relates to the treaties with the Chickasaw Indians, and the rights of this ate to the sixteenth sections, and the five per cent. upon the sale of the lands embraced in said treaties, ask leave to report :

* Page 304 of Journal, February 15, 1836.

“ That they have approached the subject submitted to their consideration with no ordinary degree of anxiety and solicitude. It involves questions of the highest magnitude, such as seldom occur, and which require to be treated with much delicacy. Whether the United States, in their treaty with the Chickasaw Indians, have disregarded the rights of this State, and violated their compact both with this State and Georgia, is indeed a grave question. Equally so is that which will arise in relation to the remedy should we arrive at the conclusion that our rights have been sacrificed. Thus impressed with the importance of their duty, your Committee will proceed to the investigation.

“ By articles of agreement and cession entered into by the United States and Georgin, A.D. 1802, the State of Georgia ceded to the United States, under conditions and stipulations therein contained, all her right, title, and claim to the jurisdiction and soil of the land lying between her western boundary and the Mississippi River, including the present State of Mississippi. Among the conditions of said articles is one that the lands so ceded should be held as a common fund for the use and benefit of the United States, Georgia included, and should be applied to no other use or purpose whatever. There is also another stipulation: that should the United States, after a lapse of one year, cede any part of said lands on account of any claim laid thereto, other than those recognized in said articles, then the cession of Georgia to the right of the lands thus ceded should be absolutely null and void, and said lands should revert to Georgia.

"Afterwards Congress, by an act passed March 3, 1803, reserved sections number sixteen in each township for the support of schools within the same, which reservation has been reasserted by various other acts, and has been universally recognized as a direct and irrevocable grant for the uses above mentioned of section number sixteen in every township of land embraced in said ceded territory, not then otherwise disposed of, and in which the United States had the right of soil at the time of the grant.

“By an act of Congress passed March 1, 1817, provision was made for admitting a portion of the ceded territory comprising this State into the Union, and the State when formed was to be admitted on the same footing with the original States in all respects whatever.

“ By the fourth section of this act, however, the convention was by an ordinance to relinquish all right or title to the waste or unappropriated lands in said territory, and the same were to remain at the sole and entire disposition of the United States, and to be exempt from taxation in the hands of the United States for five years after the sale thereof.

"By the fifth section of the same act fire per cent. of the net proceeds of the lands lying within said territory, and which should be sold by Congress from and after the first day of December then next ensuing, after deducting expenses of sale, was reserved for the use of the State, to be appropriated to the construction of roads and canals.

« AnteriorContinuar »