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The bill, (said Mr. W.,) it is well ascertained, will pass the Senate by a large majority. Of its fate elsewhere, I know nothing, either certainly or probably. But, since no doubt is entertained of its passage here, 1 have desired, and still desire, only to say so much as may show the ground of my own opinion in its favor.
Sir, the difference between the member from Kentucky and myself, on this occasion, is plain and distinct. It is precisely this:
He is altogether against the preemptive right. He is for carrying into operation the law, as it stands, and for giving it effect over the lands on which these settlers live, in the same way as over other public lands. He is for putting all these lands up to open auction, and selling them to the highest bidder, letting the settler take the consequence. He says there should be an auction, and • free auction; and he argues, with that consistency and cohesion of ideas which belongs to him, that if there is to be a public auction, as he insists there ought to be, then there must be, and ought to be, a perfectly free competition; that it should be as open to one man to bid, as another; that no man, or men, ought to be privileged or favored; that it is ridiculous to talk of an auction, at which one man may bid, and another may not; or an auction, at which some bidders are told that others must have preference. He, therefore, is for a free sale, open to every body, and to be conducted in that manner which shall insure the receipts of the greatest sum of money into the Treasury. Now, I say at once, plainly and distinctly, that this is not my object. I have other views. I wish, in the first place, to preserve the peace of the frontier; and I wish, also, to preserve and to protect the reasonable rights of the settlers; because I think they have rights which deserve to be protected. These are my objects. Sir, if we could order an auction here, in tliis city, or elsewhere, out of all possible control of the settlers, and far from all fear of any influence of theirs, and could there sell the lands they live on, and their improvements, for their utmost value, and put the proceeds of the whole into the Treasury, it would be the very last thing I should ever do. God forbid that I should make gain and profit out of the labors of these settlers, and carry that gain into the Treasury. I did not suppose any man would desire that. I did not suppose there was any one who would coosent that the increased value of these lands, caused by the labor, the toil, and the sweat of the settlers, should be turned to the advantage of the national Treasury. Certainly, certainly, sir, I shall oppose all proceedings leading to such a result. Yet the member from Kentucky has nothing to propose, but to sell the lands at auction for the most they will bring, at a sale which he says ought to be perfectly free and open to every body, and to carry the proceeds into the Treasury. Let the sales go on; that is his doctrine. Let the laws take their course, he says, since we live under a Government of laws. Have a sale, make it free and open, and make the most of it. Let the Government take care that every body, who wishes to bid, be as free to do so as any other; and that no combination, no privilege, no preemption, be suffered to exist.
Now, sir, in my opinion, all this is what we cannot do, if we would; and what we ought not to do, if we could. I do not believe we can have an auction, under existing circumstances, such as the gentleman insists upon. The known condition of things renders it impossible. The honorable member thinks otherwise. He will not agree, he says, that the President, with the militia and the army, cannot protect the authorities in maintaining a fair and open sale. Sir, is it discreet, is it prudent, to refer to such a recourse as that? Is it not greatly wiser, and greatly better, to remove the occasion, which may be done without injury to the Government, and in perfect consistency with the rights of others, rather than to think of such measures as have been suggested? For one, I disclaim all such policy.
I place my support of the bill, therefore, upon the indispensable necessity of doing something; upon the impolicy of longer delay; upon the fair claims of the settlers to all which this bill proposes for their benefit; and upon the impolicy, the injustice, and, I may say, the impossibility, of other courses which have been suggested.
The honorable member recalls our recollection to the fact, that the Senate has refused to make any prospective measure to prevent this evil for the future. It has done so, so far as the vote on the proposed amendment went. But what then? Because a majority is not inclined, now, to provide for the future, is that a reason why we should make no provision for the present?
Sir, the true tendency of this bill will be to prevent, or to mitigate, those scenes at the public sales, which have been so often alluded to. If you pass this bill, the settler will go to the landoffice, prove his preemption right, and get his certificate. He will then have no business, so far as his homestead is concerned, at the public sales. He will be quieted in his possession, and at peace. If you do not pass it, he must attend the public sales; the whole country must be there; every man must be present, because every man's home is to be sold over his head: and how is it possible that much feeling and great excitement should not prevail among a large multitude assembled for such a purpose? Business, to be conducted under such circumstances, can take but one course; and we all know what that is. This bill diminishes temptation to form combinations, or to do any unlawful or irregular act. It is a bill of peace and repose. It is to secure men in their possessions; to quiet them in their own homes; to give to them that sense of security, that consciousness of safe ownership, which make men's houses and homesteads dear and valuable to them.
In further reply to Mr. Clav —
1 do not intend, Mr. President, to go further into this debate than is necessary to keep my own course clear. Other gentlemen act upon the result of their own reasoning; I act on the result of mine, and wish to explain and defend that result, so far as it may require defence or explanation.
I have placed this bill on the fair right of the settler, founded on the encouragement which Congress has held out by previous laws. I have asked whether this right of the honest, bona fide settler, is to be disregarded and sacrificed. The honorable member from Kentucky now answers that this right will be amply protected at the sale; that nobody will bid against an honest, bona fide settler; that at the sale all these cases will be carefully sifted and examined, and justice done to each case respectively. Why, sir, this is a good deal inconsistent, I think, with the character of those sales, as we have heard them described. If what has been said of them be true, they are the last places, and the last occasions, for any thing to be sifted or examined. The gentleman himself has said, that at these sales it is enough to cry out " Settler's right," to prevent all interference. No, sir; it is not at these sales that sifting and examination are to be had. Examination can only be had at the land-office, before sworn officers, on sworn proofs, and according to the provisions of this bill. Such an examination as that can be had, if the officers will do their duty; and the result will do justice to the Government, and justice to the settlers.
Much has been said of the general character of these settlers. I have no extensive information, sir, on that point, and had not intended to say any thing upon it. But it has so happened that 1 have recently been in the North-west, and have met, for a short time, with many of these settlers; and, since they have been spoken of here with so much harshness, I feel bound to say that, so far as my knowledge of them goes, they do not deserve it. Undoubtedly, sir, they are trespassers in the contemplation of law. They know that very well. They are on the public lands without title; but then they say that the course of the Government heretofore has been such as to induce and encourage them to go where they are; and that they are ready and willing to do all that Government has required from others in similar circumstances; that is, to pay for the lands at the common price. They have the general character of frontiersmen: they are hardy, adventurous, and enterprising. They have come from far, to establish themselves and families in new abodes in the West. They appeared to me to be industrious and laborious; and I saw nothing in their character or conduct that should justly draw upon them expressions of contumely and reproach.
In answer to Mr. Davis —
As I have the misfortune, on this occasion, to differ from my colleague, (for whom I entertain so much deference and so much warm regard, that it is always painful for me to differ from him,) I might naturally be supposed to be desirous of replying to his remarks at some length. At this late hour, however, I shall forego that privilege. I will confine what I have to say to two or three points.
In the first place, I wish to say that I cannot concede to my colleague, and those who act with him on this occasion, the vantageground which he and they seem to claim. I cannot agree that they only are acting for the whole people; and that we, who are in favor of this bill, are acting for a few only. My opinion is—and my ground is — that the interest of the whole country, as well as the just protection of the settlers, requires the passage of this bill. The whole country has an interest in quieting these claims; the bill proposes to quiet them; and, in that respect, is for the advantage of the whole country.
In the next place, I wish to say that I do not think it just to say of this bill, that it proposes to give away the public lands; to exercise a gratuitous bounty to the settlers; to make a mere gift of the public property to a few, at the expense of the many.
The bill proposes no gift at all; it bestows no gratuitous bounty. It grants exactly what it proposes to grant, and that is, a right of purchase, a preemption; the privilege of retaining the quarter section upon which each man is settled, paying for it the common price. This the bill grants, and it grants no more.
My worthy colleague seems to think this bill opposed to the policy upon which we supported the land bill some sessions ago. I do not think so. I think it quite consistent with that policy.
If the land bill had passed, and were now a law, and in full operation, I should still support this bill as the best mode of selling—not giving away — but of selling, the lands to which the bill applies, and getting payment for them. If the proceeds of the public lands were to go to the States, I should still think that the true interest of the States required that this bill should become a law.
My colleague complains, also, that the bill holds out great inducements to foreigners to come among us and settle on the public lands. He says it is an invitation to the nations of Europe to open their work-houses and send hither all their paupers. Now, sir, in all candor, is this the just character of the bill? Does it propose any change in our law in respect to foreigners? Certainly it does not. Always a foreigner could come here; always he could buy land at the minimum price; always he stood on an exact footing Vol. in. 33 v *
of equality, in this particular, with our own citizens. And would my worthy colleague now make a difference hy this bill? If two settlers are found on the frontier, each on his own quarter section, each with a family, and each living under a roof erected by his own hands, and on the produce of fields tilled by his own labor, the one a citizen, and the other a foreigner not yet naturalized, would my colleague make a difference, and confirm the settlement of one, and break up that of the oiher? No, I am sure, sir, he would do no such tlung. His sense of justice and his good feeling would revolt from such a course of action as quick as those of any living human being.
Air. President, there are some other remarks of my colleague to which I should have been glad to have made some answer. But I will forbear. I regret, most exceedingly, that we differ on this occasion. I know he desires to do justice to those settlers, and to all others ; and I cannot but persuade myself that, on further reduction, he will be of opinion that some such measure as the present ought to be adopted; because there is no man who, to a high regard for the public interest, unites a greater sense of the justice which is due to individuals.