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then failed, bank and all, leaving a prodigious mass of unredeemed paper upon the hands of the Public. I know not how this may be; but, until the charge is cleared up, one should think they might find better employment than in attempting to bolster up slanderous imputations against their neighbors, and attacking people who have not the misfortune to owe them any thing.
In reply to Mr. Milks, Mr. Webster remarked —
The law says, in so many words, that these pension agents shall receive no compensation without provision by law; and the Secretary, in making compensation, has of course done it without law. I have a right to the fact. The Secretary makes the appointments, generally, of the president or some other officer of a bank, and the appointment is entirely personal; the bond is personal; the bond was directly to the United States; and this proves conclusively that the officer is an officer of the United States. No bank is named in the bond; in those which I have seen, — and I have obtained the common form from the office, — I do not find that the agent is named or described as president or cashier of any bank. The appointment is simply of A B as agent for paying pensions in a certain place; and A B gives his own bond, directly to the United States, with sureties, for the faithful discharge of his duties. If the agent, in any case, be connected with any bank, and desire to leave the money on deposit in that bank, instead of usinjj it himself, that is matter of arrangement between him and the bank. All this makes no difference; it does not diminish the amount of compensation ; it does not change the nature of the office. The agent is an officer, appointed by authority of law, and acting under bonds to the United States, and receiving, as it appears by this report, a very large compensation. I have nothing to do now with the deposit system; all I say is, that this kind of management ought not to go on, making, as every one must admit, a very great allowance for compensation, far too large. And what occasion is there of hazarding all this money? I speak, however, only of the existing state of things, as a subject which the Senate must perceive requires a remedy. There is a personal appointment of a certain officer by law; and therefore there is in effect a personal emolument to the amount which I have stated; at least it is as large as that at Boston, and may be larger elsewhere. Vol. in. 32
ON THE PREEMPTION BILL, MADE IN THE SENATE OF THE UNITED STATES, JANUARY », IKW.
The following bill to grant preemption rights to actual settlers on the public lands being on its passage, via.:
A BILL TO GRANT PREEMPTION RIGHTS TO SETTLERS ON THE PUBLIC LANDS.
Be it enacted by the Senate and House of Representatives of the United States of America in Congress assembled, That every actual settler of the public lands, being the head of a family, or over twenty-one years of ape, who was in possession, and a housekeeper by personal residence thereon, on or before the first day of December, eighteen hundred and thirty-seven, shall bo entitled to all the benefits and privileges of an act, entitled "An Act to grant preemption rights to settlers on the public lands," approved May twenty-ninth, eighteen hundred and thirty; and the said act is hereby revived and continued in force two years, Provided, That where more than on» person may have settled upon and cultivated any one quarter section of land, each one of them shall have an equal share or interest in the said quarter section, but shall have no claim, by virtue of this Act, to any other lond: .In I provided, always, That this act shall not be so construed as to give a right of preemption to any person or persons in consequence of any settlement or improvement made before the extinguishment of tlie Indian title to the land on which such settlement or improvement was made, or to any land specially occupied or reserved for town lots, or other purposes, by authority of the United States; And provided further. That nothing herein conttined shall be construed to affect any of the selections of public lands for the purposes of education, the use of salt springs, or for any other purpose, which may have been or may be made by any State under existing laws of the United States; but this Act shall not be Ho construed as to deprive those of the benefits of this Act, who have inhabited, according to its provisions, certain fractions of the public lands within the land district of Palmyra, in the State of Missouri, which were reserved from sale in consequence of the surveys of Spanish and French grants, but are found to be without the lines of said grants.
Mr. Webster rose and said, that whatever opposition might be made to this bill, in his opinion, some provision of this nature was necessary and proper, and therefore he had supported it, and he should now vote for its final passage.
Although entirely indisposed (said Mr. W.) to adopt any measure which may prejudice the public interest, or trifle with this great subject, and opposed at all times to all new schemes and projects, I still think the time has come when we must, from necessity, propriety, and justice, make some provision for the existing case. We are not now at the moment when preemption rights are first to be granted; nor can we recall the past. The state of things now actually existing must be regarded. To this our serious attention is summoned. There are now known to be many thousands of settlers on public lands, either not yet surveyed, or the surveys not yet returned; or if surveyed, not yet brought into market for sale.
The first question naturally is, How came they there? How did this great number of persons get on the public lands? And to this question it may be truly answered, that they have gone on to the lands under the encouragement of previous acts of Congress. They have settled and built houses, and made improvements, in the persuasion that Congress would deal with them in the same manner as it has, in repeated instances, dealt with others. This has been the universal sentiment and expectation. Others have settled on the public lands, certainly with less encouragement from acts of Congress than these settlers have had, and yet have been allowed a preemption right. These settlers, therefore, have confidently looked for the same privilege.
Another circumstance is fit to be mentioned. Very large purchases of the public land are known to have been made in 1835 and 1836. These purchases exceeded the quantity necessary for actual settlement; and they were made, in many cases, in large tracts, by companies or by large single proprietors, who purchased for purposes of investment, and with a view to retain the lands until their value should be enhanced by the general settlement and improvement of the country. These purchases would be, of course, of the best and freshest lands in the market; that is, they would be in the most recent surveys, or, in other words, in the surveyed districts most advanced in the interior. Now, 1 have understood from good authority, that it has often happened in the North-west, (and of the South-west I know little,) that persons disposed to purchase and settle on the frontier have, in many instances, found themselves unable to buy to their satisfaction, either of Government or individuals. Government had sold the best lands to companies or to individual proprietors, and these last were disposed to keep, and not to sell; or they or their agents were either unknown, or were living in distant parts of the country, so that application to purchase could not readily be made to them.
These circumstances, there can be no doubt, created a new incentive to pass beyond the surveys set down on the public domain, and trust to Congress for a preemption right, such as had been granted in previous instances. The result of these causes is, that settlements have become quite extensive, and the number of people very large. In that part of Wisconsin which lies west of the Mississippi, there are supposed to be from thirty to fifty thousand inhabitants. Over this region Congress has extended civil government, established courts of law, and encouraged the building of villages and towns; and yet the country has not been brought into the market for sale, except it may be small quantities for the sites of villages and towns. In other parts of Wisconsin a similar state of things exists, especially on and near the border of Lake Michigan, where numerous settlements have been made and commercial towns erected, some of them already of considerable importance, but where the title to the land still remains in the Government. Similar cases exist in Indiana, Illinois, and Michigan, and probably also in the South-western States.
Now, (said Mr. W.,) the practical question is, What is to be done in these cases? What are we to do with those settlers, their improvements, and the lands on which they live? Is there any one who would propose or desire that these lands should be put up at open auction, improvements and all, and sold to the highest bidder, without any regard whatever to the interest or protection of the settlers? For my part, I could propose no such thing, nor hy any means consent to any such thing.
Nor do I suppose that there could be such an auction, and that other persons could attend and bid at it freely, and overbid the actual settlers for their own settlements and improvements, without disturbance and violation of the public peace. Nor would a dollar of money, in my judgment, be realized by the Treasury by such a course of proceeding, beyond what would be received for the same lands under this law. As to the general justice of the bill, its policy, or the degree of indulgence which it holds out to those who have become settlers, it ought to be remembered —
1. That it applies only to those who have now already settled on the public lands. And 1 am quite willing to concur with others in carrying out the recommendations of the President's Message, by adopting such measures, for the future, as may be thought wise and reasonable, and as shall prevent the recurrence hereafter of any necessity for laws like this.
2. The bill makes no donation or gratuity. It grants only a preemption right; a right of previous purchase, at the price for which the greater part of the public lands has been, and now is, actually sold.
3. It gives this right only to the extent of one quarter section; not more than a reasonable quantity for a farm, in the estimation of the inhabitants of these new and vast regions.
4. It gives the right only to heads of families, or householders, actually settled and residing on the tract.
And, in my opinion, it is much in favor of this bill, that what it does grant, it grants (whero the requisite proof is made) at once
and forever, without mischievous qualifications, and conditions subsequent, such as formed part of the bill of last year.
It has been proposed to amend this bill, so as to limit its benefits to native or naturalized citizens of the United States.
Although I have heretofore been disposed to favor such a proposition, yet, on the whole, I think it ought not to pass; because such a limitation has been altogether unknown in our general system of land sales; and to introduce it here, where we are acting on rights already acquired, would be both invidious and unjust.
It has been proposed, also, so to amend the bill as to require that the settler, in addition to the dollar and a quarter per acre, should pay one half the actual value of the land above that sum; this value to be ascertained by appraisers, appointed by the register of the land-office. I could not agree to this amendment; because, in the first place, we have never adopted the principle of selling lands on appraisement; but, secondly and mainly, because, if these settlers have had any ground or reason to expect a preemption right from Congress, (which is the substantial foundation of the bill,) they have had, and now have, reason to expect it, on the same terms on which it has been granted to others.
Mr. President, that there may be some undeserving persons among these settlers, I do not doubt. That the advantages of this bill may be enjoyed, in sotne cases, by those who are not actual settlers, with honest, bona fide purpose of permanent residence, is very probable. But I believe the great majority of the cases to which the bill will apply will be such as ought to be relieved. I believe the bill is the readiest way of quieting these titles and possessions, which the public interest requires should, in some way, be quieted without further delay. Indeed, no course is proposed but either to pass this bill, or to bring the lands at once to public auction, open to the biddings of all. This last course, I am persuaded, would result in no gain whatever to the Treasury, whilst it might be attended with serious inconveniences to the public, and would be sure to throw whole neighborhoods, villages, and counties, into a state of much excitement, much perplexity, and much distress. Both for the general interests of the country, and for the interest and protection of the settler, I am of opinion that the bill ought to
In answer to Mr. Clay —
Mr. Webster said that, notwithstanding the surprise which it had pleased the honorable member from Kentucky to express at his support of this bill, he should continue that support; but he did not feel it necessary to go into any elaborate defence of his vote.