December 2, 1850: First Annual Message
Fellow-Citizens of the Senate and of the House of Representatives:
Being suddenly called in the midst of the last session of Congress bya painful dispensation of Divine Providence to the responsible stationwhich I now hold, I contented myself with such communications to the Legislatureas the exigency of the moment seemed to require. The country was shroudedin mourning for the loss of its venerable Chief Magistrate and all heartswere penetrated with grief. Neither the time nor the occasion appearedto require or to justify on my part any general expression of politicalopinions or any announcement of the principles which would govern me inthe discharge of the duties to the performance of which I had been so unexpectedlycalled. I trust, therefore, that it may not be deemed inappropriate ifI avail myself of this opportunity of the reassembling of Congress to makeknown my sentiments in a general manner in regard to the policy which oughtto be pursued by the Government both in its intercourse with foreign nationsand its management and administration of internal affairs.
Nations, like individuals in a state of nature, are equal and independent,possessing certain rights and owing certain duties to each other, arisingfrom their necessary and unavoidable relations; which rights and dutiesthere is no common human authority to protect and enforce. Still, theyare rights and duties, binding in morals, in conscience, and in honor,although there is no tribunal to which an injured party can appeal butthe disinterested judgment of mankind, and ultimately the arbitrament ofthe sword.
Among the acknowledged rights of nations is that which each possessesof establishing that form of government which it may deem most conduciveto the happiness and prosperity of its own citizens, of changing that formas circumstances may require, and of managing its internal affairs accordingto its own will. The people of the United States claim this right for themselves,and they readily concede it to others. Hence it becomes an imperative dutynot to interfere in the government or internal policy of other nations;and although we may sympathize with the unfortunate or the oppressed everywherein their struggles for freedom, our principles forbid us from taking anypart in such foreign contests. We make no wars to promote or to preventsuccessions to thrones, to maintain any theory of a balance of power, orto suppress the actual government which any country chooses to establishfor itself. We instigate no revolutions, nor suffer any hostile militaryexpeditions to be fitted out in the United States to invade the territoryor provinces of a friendly nation. The great law of morality ought to havea national as well as a personal and individual application. We shouldact toward other nations as we wish them to act toward us, and justiceand conscience should form the rule of conduct between governments, insteadof mere power, self interest, or the desire of aggrandizement. To maintaina strict neutrality in foreign wars, to cultivate friendly relations, toreciprocate every noble and generous act, and to perform punctually andscrupulously every treaty obligation--these are the duties which we oweto other states, and by the performance of which we best entitle ourselvesto like treatment from them; or, if that, in any case, be refused, we canenforce our own rights with justice and a clear conscience.
In our domestic policy the Constitution will be my guide, and in questionsof doubt I shall look for its interpretation to the judicial decisionsof that tribunal which was established to expound it and to the usage ofthe Government, sanctioned by the acquiescence of the country. I regardall its provisions as equally binding. In all its parts it is the willof the people expressed in the most solemn form, and the constituted authoritiesare but agents to carry that will into effect. Every power which it hasgranted is to be exercised for the public good; but no pretense of utility,no honest conviction, even, of what might be expedient, can justify theassumption of any power not granted. The powers conferred upon the Governmentand their distribution to the several departments are as clearly expressedin that sacred instrument as the imperfection of human language will allow,and I deem it my first duty not to question its wisdom, add to its provisions,evade its requirements, or nullify its commands.
Upon you, fellow-citizens, as the representatives of the States andthe people, is wisely devolved the legislative power. I shall comply withmy duty in laying before you from time to time any information calculatedto enable you to discharge your high and responsible trust for the benefitof our common constituents.
My opinions will be frankly expressed upon the leading subjects of legislation;and if--which I do not anticipate--any act should pass the two Houses ofCongress which should appear to me unconstitutional, or an encroachmenton the just powers of other departments, or with provisions hastily adoptedand likely to produce consequences injurious and unforeseen, I should notshrink from the duty of returning it to you, with my reasons, for yourfurther consideration. Beyond the due performance of these constitutionalobligations, both my respect for the Legislature and my sense of proprietywill restrain me from any attempt to control or influence your proceedings.With you is the power, the honor, and the responsibility of the legislationof the country.
The Government of the United States is a limited Government. It is confinedto the exercise of powers expressly granted and such others as may be necessaryfor carrying those powers into effect; and it is at all times an especialduty to guard against any infringement on the just rights of the States.Over the objects and subjects intrusted to Congress its legislative authorityis supreme. But here that authority ceases, and every citizen who trulyloves the Constitution and desires the continuance of its existence andits blessings will resolutely and firmly resist any interference in thosedomestic affairs which the Constitution has dearly and unequivocally leftto the exclusive authority of the States. And every such citizen will alsodeprecate useless irritation among the several members of the Union andall reproach and crimination tending to alienate one portion of the countryfrom another. The beauty of our system of government consists, and itssafety and durability must consist, in avoiding mutual collisions and encroachmentsand in the regular separate action of all, while each is revolving in itsown distinct orbit.
The Constitution has made it the duty of the President to take carethat the laws be faithfully executed. In a government like ours, in whichall laws are passed by a majority of the representatives of the people,and these representatives are chosen for such short periods that any injuriousor obnoxious law can very soon be repealed, it would appear unlikely thatany great numbers should be found ready to resist the execution of thelaws. But it must be borne in mind that the country is extensive; thatthere may be local interests or prejudices rendering a law odious in onepart which is not so in another, and that the thoughtless and inconsiderate,misled by their passions or their imaginations, may be induced madly toresist such laws as they disapprove. Such persons should recollect thatwithout law there can be no real practical liberty; that when law is trampledunder foot tyranny rules, whether it appears in the form of a militarydespotism or of popular violence. The law is the only sure protection ofthe weak and the only efficient restraint upon the strong. When impartiallyand faithfully administered, none is beneath its protection and none aboveits control. You, gentlemen, and the country may be assured that to theutmost of my ability and to the extent of the power vested in me I shallat all times and in all places take care that the laws be faithfully executed.In the discharge of this duty, solemnly imposed upon me by the Constitutionand by my oath of office, I shall shrink from no responsibility, and shallendeavor to meet events as they may arise with firmness, as well as withprudence and discretion.
The appointing power is one of the most delicate with which the Executiveis invested. I regard it as a sacred trust, to be exercised with the soleview of advancing the prosperity and happiness of the people. It shallbe my effort to elevate the standard of official employment by selectingfor places of importance individuals fitted for the posts to which theyare assigned by their known integrity, talents, and virtues. In so extensivea country, with so great a population, and where few persons appointedto office can be known to the appointing power, mistakes will sometimesunavoidably happen and unfortunate appointments be made notwithstandingthe greatest care. In such cases the power of removal may be properly exercised;and neglect of duty or malfeasance in office will be no more toleratedin individuals appointed by myself than in those appointed by others.
I am happy in being able to say that no unfavorable change in our foreignrelations has taken place since the message at the opening of the
last session of Congress. We are at peace with all nations and we enjoyin an eminent degree the blessings of that peace in a prosperous and
growing commerce and in all the forms of amicable national intercourse.The unexampled growth of the country, the present amount of its population,and its ample means of self-protection assure for it the respect of allnations, while it is trusted that its character for justice and a regardto the rights of other States will cause that respect to be readily andcheerfully paid.
A convention was negotiated between the United States and Great Britainin April last for facilitating and protecting the construction of a shipcanal between the Atlantic and Pacific oceans and for other purposes. Theinstrument has since been ratified by the contracting parties, the exchangeof ratifications has been effected, and proclamation thereof has been dulymade.
In addition to the stipulations contained in this convention, two otherobjects remain to be accomplished between the contracting powers: First.The designation and establishment of a free port at each end of the canal.
Second. An agreement fixing the distance from the shore within whichbelligerent maritime operations shall not be carried on. On these pointsthere is little doubt that the two Governments will come to an understanding.
The company of citizens of the United States who have acquired fromthe State of Nicaragua the privilege of constructing a ship canal betweenthe two oceans through the territory of that State have made progress intheir preliminary arrangements. The treaty between the United States andGreat Britain of the 19th of April last, above referred to, being now inoperation, it is to be hoped that the guaranties which it offers will besufficient to secure the completion of the work with all practicable expedition.It is obvious that this result would be indefinitely postponed if any otherthan peaceful measures for the purpose of harmonizing conflicting claimsto territory in that quarter should be adopted. It will consequently bemy endeavor to cause any further negotiations on the part of this Governmentwhich may be requisite for this purpose to be so conducted as to bringthem to a speedy and successful close.
Some unavoidable delay has occurred, arising from distance and the difficultyof intercourse between this Government and that of Nicaragua, but as intelligencehas just been received of the appointment of an envoy extraordinary andminister plenipotentiary of that Government to reside at Washington, whosearrival may soon be expected, it is hoped that no further impediments willbe experienced in the prompt transaction of business between the two Governments.
Citizens of the United States have undertaken the connection of thetwo oceans by means of a railroad across the Isthmus of Tehuantepec, undergrants of the Mexican Government to a citizen of that Republic. It is understoodthat a thorough survey of the course of the communication is in preparation,and there is every reason to expect that it will be prosecuted with characteristicenergy, especially when that Government shall have consented to such stipulationswith the Government of the United States as may be necessary to imparta feeling of security to those who may embark their property in the enterprise.Negotiations are pending for the accomplishment of that object, and a hopeis confidently entertained that when the Government of Mexico shall becomeduly sensible of the advantages which that country can not fail to derivefrom the work, and learn that the Government of the United States desiresthat the right of sovereignty of Mexico in the Isthmus shall remain unimpaired,the stipulations referred to will be agreed to with alacrity.
By the last advices from Mexico it would appear, however, that thatGovernment entertains strong objections to some of the stipulations whichthe parties concerned in the project of the railroad deem necessary fortheir protection and security. Further consideration, it is to be hoped,or some modification of terms, may yet reconcile the differences existingbetween the two Governments in this respect.
Fresh instructions have recently been given to the minister of the UnitedStates in Mexico, who is prosecuting the subject with promptitude and ability.
Although the negotiations with Portugal for the payment of claims ofcitizens of the United States against that Government have not yet resultedin a formal treaty, yet a proposition, made by the Government of Portugalfor the final adjustment and payment of those claims, has recently beenaccepted on the part of the United States. It gives me pleasure to saythat Mr. Clay, to whom the negotiation on the part of the United Stateshad been intrusted, discharged the duties of his appointment with abilityand discretion, acting always within the instructions of his Government.
It is expected that a regular convention will be immediately negotiatedfor carrying the agreement between the two Governments into effect. Thecommissioner appointed under the act of Congress for carrying into effectthe convention with Brazil of the 27th of January, 1849, has entered uponthe performance of the duties imposed upon him by that act. It is hopedthat those duties may be completed within the time which it prescribes.The documents, however, which the Imperial Government, by the third articleof the convention, stipulates to furnish to the Government of the UnitedStates have not yet been received. As it is presumed that those documentswill be essential for the correct disposition of the claims, it may becomenecessary for Congress to extend the period limited for the duration ofthe commission. The sum stipulated by the fourth article of the conventionto be paid to this Government has been received.
The collection in the ports of the United States of discriminating dutiesupon the vessels of Chili and their cargoes has been suspended, pursuantto the provisions of the act of Congress of the 24th of May, 1828. It isto be hoped that this measure will impart a fresh impulse to the commercebetween the two countries, which of late, and especially since our acquisitionof California, has, to the mutual advantage of the parties, been much augmented.
Peruvian guano has become so desirable an article to the agriculturalinterest of the United States that it is the duty of the Government toemploy all the means properly in its power for the purpose of causing thatarticle to be imported into the country at a reasonable price. Nothingwill be omitted on my part toward accomplishing this desirable end. I ampersuaded that in removing any restraints on this traffic the PeruvianGovernment will promote its own best interests, while it will afford aproof of a friendly disposition toward this country, which will be dulyappreciated.
The treaty between the United States and His Majesty the King of theHawaiian Islands, which has recently been made public, will, it is believed,have a beneficial effect upon the relations between the two countries.
The relations between those parts of the island of St. Domingo whichwere formerly colonies of Spain and France, respectively, are still inan unsettled condition. The proximity of that island to the United Statesand the delicate questions involved in the existing controversy there renderit desirable that it should be permanently and speedily adjusted. The interestsof humanity and of general commerce also demand this; and as intimationsof the same sentiment have been received from other governments, it ishoped that some plan may soon be devised to effect the object in a mannerlikely to give general satisfaction. The Government of the United Stateswill not fail, by the exercise of all proper friendly offices, to do allin its power to put an end to the destructive war which has raged betweenthe different parts of the island and to secure to them both the benefitsof peace and commerce.
I refer you to the report of the Secretary of the Treasury for a detailedstatement of the finances.
The total receipts into the Treasury for the year ending 30th of Junelast were $47,421,748.90. The total expenditures during the same periodwere $43,002,168.90. The public debt has been reduced since the last annualreport from the Treasury Department $495,276.79.
By the nineteenth section of the act of 28th January, 1847, the proceedsof the sales of the public lands were pledged for the interest and principalof the public debt. The great amount of those lands subsequently grantedby Congress for military bounties will, it is believed, very nearly supplythe public demand for several years to come, and but little reliance can,therefore, be placed on that hitherto fruitful source of revenue. Asidefrom the permanent annual expenditures, which have necessarily largelyincreased, a portion of the public debt, amounting to $8,075,986.59, mustbe provided for within the next two fiscal years. It is most desirablethat these accruing demands should be met without resorting to new loans.
All experience has demonstrated the wisdom and policy of raising a largeportion of revenue for the support of Government from duties on goods imported.The power to lay these duties is unquestionable, and its chief object,of course, is to replenish the Treasury. But if in doing this an incidentaladvantage may be gained by encouraging the industry of our own citizens,it is our duty to avail ourselves of that advantage.
A duty laid upon an article which can not be produced in this country,such as tea or coffee, adds to the cost of the article, and is chieflyor wholly paid by the consumer. But a duty laid upon an article which maybe produced here stimulates the skill and industry of our own country toproduce the same article, which is brought into the market in competitionwith the foreign article, and the importer is thus compelled to reducehis price to that at which the domestic article can be sold, thereby throwinga part of the duty upon the producer of the foreign article. The continuanceof this process creates the skill and invites the capital which finallyenable us to produce the article much cheaper than it could have been procuredfrom abroad, thereby benefiting both the producer and the consumer at home.The consequence of this is that the artisan and the agriculturist are broughttogether, each affords a ready market for the produce of the other, thewhole country becomes prosperous, and the ability to produce every necessaryof life renders us independent in war as well as in peace.
A high tariff can never be permanent. It will cause dissatisfaction,and will be changed. It excludes competition, and thereby invites the investmentof capital in manufactures to such excess that when changed it brings distress,bankruptcy, and ruin upon all who have been misled by its faithless protection.What the manufacturer wants is uniformity and permanency, that he may feela confidence that he is not to be ruined by sudden exchanges. But to makea tariff uniform and permanent it is not only necessary that the laws shouldnot be altered, but that the duty should not fluctuate. To effect thisall duties should be specific wherever the nature of the article is suchas to admit of it. Ad valorem duties fluctuate with the price and offerstrong temptations to fraud and perjury. Specific duties, on the contrary,are equal and uniform in all ports and at all times, and offer a stronginducement to the importer to bring the best article, as he pays no moreduty upon that than upon one of inferior quality. I therefore stronglyrecommend a modification of the present tariff, which has prostrated someof our most important and necessary manufactures, and that specific dutiesbe imposed sufficient to raise the requisite revenue, making such discriminationsin favor of the industrial pursuits of our own country as to encouragehome production without excluding foreign competition. It is also importantthat an unfortunate provision in the present tariff, which imposes a muchhigher duty upon the raw material that enters into our manufactures thanupon the manufactured article, should be remedied.
The papers accompanying the report of the Secretary of the Treasurywill disclose frauds attempted upon the revenue, in variety and amountso great as to justify the conclusion that it is impossible under any systemof ad valorem duties levied upon the foreign cost or value of the articleto secure an honest observance and an effectual administration of the laws.The fraudulent devices to evade the law which have been detected by thevigilance of the appraisers leave no room to doubt that similar impositionsnot discovered, to a large amount, have been successfully practiced sincethe enactment of the law now in force. This state of things has alreadyhad a prejudicial influence upon those engaged in foreign commerce. Ithas a tendency to drive the honest trader from the business of importingand to throw that important branch of employment into the hands of unscrupulousand dishonest men, who are alike regardless of law and the obligationsof an oath. By these means the plain intentions of Congress, as expressedin the law, are daily defeated. Every motive of policy and duty, therefore,impels me to ask the earnest attention of Congress to this subject. IfCongress should deem it unwise to attempt any important changes in thesystem of levying duties at this session, it will become indispensableto the protection of the revenue that such remedies as in the judgmentof Congress may mitigate the evils complained of should be at once applied.
As before stated, specific duties would, in my opinion, afford the mostperfect remedy for this evil; but if you should not concur in this view,then, as a partial remedy, I beg leave respectfully to recommend that insteadof taking the invoice of the article abroad as a means of determining itsvalue here, the correctness of which invoice it is in many cases impossibleto verify, the law be so changed as to require a home valuation or appraisal,to be regulated in such manner as to give, as far as practicable, uniformityin the several ports.
There being no mint in California, I am informed that the laborers inthe mines are compelled to dispose of their gold dust at a large discount.This appears to me to be a heavy and unjust tax upon the labor of thoseemployed in extracting this precious metal, and I doubt not you will bedisposed at the earliest period possible to relieve them from it by theestablishment of a mint. In the meantime, as an assayer's office is establishedthere, I would respectfully submit for your consideration the proprietyof authorizing gold bullion which has been assayed and stamped to be receivedin payment of Government dues. I can not conceive that the Treasury wouldsuffer any loss by such a provision, which will at once raise bullion toits par value, and thereby save (if I am rightly informed) many millionsof dollars to the laborers which are now paid in brokerage to convert thisprecious metal into available funds. This discount upon their hard earningsis a heavy tax, and every effort should be made by the Government to relievethem from so great a burden.
More than three-fourths of our population are engaged in the cultivationof the soil. The commercial, manufacturing, and navigating interests areall to a great extent dependent on the agricultural. It is therefore themost important interest of the nation, and has a just claim to the fosteringcare and protection of the Government so far as they can be extended consistentlywith the provisions of the Constitution. As this can not be done by theordinary modes of legislation, I respectfully recommend the establishmentof an agricultural bureau, to be charged with the duty of giving to thisleading branch of American industry the encouragement which it so welldeserves. In view of the immense mineral resources of our country, provisionshould also be made for the employment of a competent mineralogist andchemist, who should be required, under the direction of the head of thebureau, to collect specimens of the various minerals of our country andto ascertain by careful analysis their respective elements and propertiesand their adaptation to useful purposes. He should also be required toexamine and report upon the qualities of different soils and the manuresbest calculated to improve their productiveness. By publishing the resultsof such experiments, with suitable explanations, and by the collectionand distribution of rare seeds and plants, with instructions as to thebest system of cultivation, much may be done to promote this great nationalinterest.
In compliance with the act of Congress passed on the 23d of May, 1850,providing, among other things, for taking the Seventh Census, a superintendentwas appointed and all other measures adopted which were deemed necessaryto insure the prompt and faithful performance of that duty. The appropriationalready made will, it is believed, be sufficient to defray the whole expenseof the work, but further legislation may be necessary in regard to thecompensation of some of the marshals of the Territories. It will also beproper to make provision by law at an early day for the publication ofsuch abstracts of the returns as the public interests may require.
The unprecedented growth of our territories on the Pacific in wealthand population and the consequent increase of their social and commercialrelations with the Atlantic States seem to render it the duty of the Governmentto use all its constitutional power to improve the means of intercoursewith them. The importance of opening "a line of communication, the bestand most expeditious of which the nature of the country will admit," betweenthe Valley of the Mississippi and the Pacific was brought to your noticeby my predecessor in his annual message; and as the reasons which he presentedin favor of the measure still exist in full force, I beg leave to callyour attention to them and to repeat the recommendations then made by him.
The uncertainty which exists in regard to the validity of land titlesin California is a subject which demands your early consideration. Largebodies of land in that State are claimed under grants said to have beenmade by authority of the Spanish and Mexican Governments. Many of thesehave not been perfected, others have been revoked, and some are believedto be fraudulent. But until they shall have been judicially investigatedthey will continue to retard the settlement and improvement of the country.I therefore respectfully recommend that provision be made by law for theappointment of commissioners to examine all such claims with a view totheir final adjustment.
I also beg leave to call your attention to the propriety of extendingat an early day our system of land laws, with such modifications as maybe necessary, over the State of California and the Territories of Utahand New Mexico. The mineral lands of California will, of course, form anexception to any general system which may be adopted. Various methods ofdisposing of them have been suggested. I was at first inclined to favorthe system of leasing, as it seemed to promise the largest revenue to theGovernment and to afford the best security against monopolies; but furtherreflection and our experience in leasing the lead mines and selling landsupon credit have brought my mind to the conclusion that there would begreat difficulty in collecting the rents, and that the relation of debtorand creditor between the citizens and the Government would be attendedwith many mischievous consequences. I therefore recommend that insteadof retaining the mineral lands under the permanent control of the Governmentthey be divided into small parcels and sold, under such restrictions asto quantity and time as will insure the best price and guard most effectuallyagainst combinations of capitalists to obtain monopolies.
The annexation of Texas and the acquisition of California and New Mexicohave given increased importance to our Indian relations. The various tribesbrought under our jurisdiction by these enlargements of our boundariesare estimated to embrace a population of 124,000. Texas and New Mexicoare surrounded by powerful tribes of Indians, who are a source of constantterror and annoyance to the inhabitants. Separating into small predatorybands, and always mounted, they overrun the country, devastating farms,destroying crops, driving off whole herds of cattle, and occasionally murderingthe inhabitants or carrying them into captivity. The great roads leadinginto the country are infested with them, whereby traveling is renderedextremely dangerous and immigration is almost entirely arrested. The Mexicanfrontier, which by the eleventh article of the treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgowe are bound to protect against the Indians within our border, is exposedto these incursions equally with our own. The military force stationedin that country, although forming a large proportion of the Army, is representedas entirely inadequate to our own protection and the fulfillment of ourtreaty stipulations with Mexico. The principal deficiency is in cavalry,and I recommend that Congress should, at as early a period as practicable,provide for the raising of one or more regiments of mounted men.
For further suggestions on this subject and others connected with ourdomestic interests and the defense of our frontier, I refer you to thereports of the Secretary of the Interior and of the Secretary of War.
I commend also to your favorable consideration the suggestion containedin the last-mentioned report and in the letter of the General in Chiefrelative to the establishment of an asylum for the relief of disabled anddestitute soldiers. This subject appeals so strongly to your sympathiesthat it would be superfluous in me to say anything more than barely toexpress my cordial approbation of the proposed object.
The Navy continues to give protection to our commerce and other nationalinterests in the different quarters of the globe, and, with the exceptionof a single steamer on the Northern lakes, the vessels in commission aredistributed in six different squadrons.
The report of the head of that Department will exhibit the servicesof these squadrons and of the several vessels employed in each during thepast year. It is a source of gratification that, while they have been constantlyprepared for any hostile emergency, they have everywhere met with the respectand courtesy due as well to the dignity as to the peaceful dispositionsand just purposes of the nation.
The two brigantines accepted by the Government from a generous citizenof New York and placed under the command of an officer of the Navy to proceedto the Arctic Seas in quest of the British commander Sir John Franklinand his companions, in compliance with the act of Congress approved inMay last, had when last heard from penetrated into a high northern latitude;but the success of this noble and humane enterprise is yet uncertain.
I invite your attention to the view of our present naval establishmentand resources presented in the report of the Secretary of the Navy, andthe suggestions therein made for its improvement, together with the navalpolicy recommended for the security of our Pacific Coast and the protectionand extension of our commerce with eastern Asia. Our facilities for a largerparticipation in the trade of the East, by means of our recent settlementson the shores of the Pacific, are too obvious to be overlooked or disregarded.
The questions in relation to rank in the Army and Navy and relativerank between officers of the two branches of the service, presented tothe Executive by certain resolutions of the House of Representatives atthe last session of Congress, have been submitted to a board of officersin each branch of the service, and their report may be expected at an earlyday.
I also earnestly recommend the enactment of a law authorizing officersof the Army and Navy to be retired from the service when incompetent forits vigorous and active duties, taking care to make suitable provisionfor those who have faithfully served their country and awarding distinctionsby retaining in appropriate commands those who have been particularly conspicuousfor gallantry and good conduct. While the obligation of the country tomaintain and honor those who, to the exclusion of other pursuits, havedevoted themselves to its arduous service is acknowledged, this obligationshould not be permitted to interfere with the efficiency of the serviceitself.
I am gratified in being able to state that the estimates of expenditurefor the Navy in the ensuing year are less by more than $1,000,000 thanthose of the present, excepting the appropriation which may become necessaryfor the construction of a dock on the coast of the Pacific, propositionsfor which are now being considered and on which a special report may beexpected early in your present session.
There is an evident justness in the suggestion of the same report thatappropriations for the naval service proper should be separated from thosefor fixed and permanent objects, such as building docks and navy yardsand the fixtures attached, and from the extraordinary objects under thecare of the Department which, however important, are not essentially naval.
A revision of the code for the government of the Navy seems to requirethe immediate consideration of Congress. Its system of crimes and punishmentshad undergone no change for half a century until the last session, thoughits defects have been often and ably pointed out; and the abolition ofa particular species of corporal punishment, which then took place, withoutproviding any substitute, has left the service in a state of defectivenesswhich calls for prompt correction. I therefore recommend that the wholesubject be revised without delay and such a system established for theenforcement of discipline as shall be at once humane and effectual.
The accompanying report of the Postmaster-General presents a satisfactoryview of the operations and condition of that Department. At the close ofthe last fiscal year the length of the inland mail routes in the UnitedStates (not embracing the service in Oregon and California) was 178,672miles, the annual transportation thereon 46,541,423 miles, and the annualcost of such transportation $2,724,426. The increase of the annual transportationover that of the preceding year was 3,997,354 miles and the increase incost was $342,440. The number of post-offices in the United States on the1st day of July last was 18,417, being an increase of 1,670 during thepreceding year.
The gross revenues of the Department for the fiscal year ending June30, 1850, amounted to $5,552,971.48, including the annual appropriationof $200,000 for the franked matter of the Departments and excluding theforeign postages collected for and payable to the British Government.
The expenditures for the same period were $5,212,953.43, leaving a balanceof revenue over expenditures of $340,018.05.
I am happy to find that the fiscal condition of the Department is suchas to justify the Postmaster-General in recommending the reduction of ourinland letter postage to 3 cents the single letter when prepaid and 5 centswhen not prepaid. He also recommends that the prepaid rate shall be reducedto 2 cents whenever the revenues of the Department, after the reduction,shall exceed its expenditures by more than 5 per cent for two consecutiveyears; that the postage upon California and other letters sent by our oceansteamers shall be much reduced, and that the rates of postage on newspapers,pamphlets, periodicals, and other printed matter shall be modified andsome reduction thereon made.
It can not be doubted that the proposed reductions will for the presentdiminish the revenues of the Department. It is believed that the deficiency,after the surplus already accumulated shall be exhausted, may be almostwholly met either by abolishing the existing privileges of sending freematter through the mails or by paying out of the Treasury to the Post-OfficeDepartment a sum equivalent to the postage of which it is deprived by suchprivileges. The last is supposed to be the preferable mode, and will, ifnot entirely, so nearly supply that deficiency as to make any further appropriationthat may be found necessary so inconsiderable as to form no obstacle tothe proposed reductions.
I entertain no doubt of the authority of Congress to make appropriationsfor leading objects in that class of public works comprising what are usuallycalled works of internal improvement. This authority I suppose to be derivedchiefly from the power of regulating commerce with foreign nations andamong the States and the power of laying and collecting imposts. Wherecommerce is to be carried on and imposts collected there must be portsand harbors as well as wharves and custom-houses. If ships laden with valuablecargoes approach the shore or sail along the coast, light-houses are necessaryat suitable points for the protection of life and property. Other facilitiesand securities for commerce and navigation are hardly less important; andthose clauses of the Constitution, therefore, to which I have referredhave received from the origin of the Government a liberal and beneficialconstruction. Not only have light-houses, buoys, and beacons been establishedand floating lights maintained, but harbors have been cleared and improved,piers constructed, and even breakwaters for the safety of shipping andsea walls to protect harbors from being filled up and rendered uselessby the action of the ocean, have been erected at very great expense. Andthis construction of the Constitution appears the more reasonable fromthe consideration that if these works, of such evident importance and utility,are not to be accomplished by Congress they can not be accomplished atall. By the adoption of the Constitution the several States voluntarilyparted with the power of collecting duties of imposts in their own ports,and it is not to be expected that they should raise money by internal taxation,direct or indirect, for the benefit of that commerce the revenues derivedfrom which do not, either in whole or in part, go into their own treasuries.Nor do I perceive any difference between the power of Congress to makeappropriations for objects of this kind on the ocean and the power to makeappropriations for similar objects on lakes and rivers, wherever they arelarge enough to bear on their waters an extensive traffic. The magnificentMississippi and its tributaries and the vast lakes of the North and Northwestappear to me to fall within the exercise of the power as justly and asclearly as the ocean and the Gulf of Mexico. It is a mistake to regardexpenditures judiciously made for these objects as expenditures for localpurposes. The position or sight of the work is necessarily local, but itsutility is general. A ship canal around the Falls of St. Mary of less thana mile in length, though local in its construction, would yet be nationalin its purpose and its benefits, as it would remove the only obstructionto a navigation of more than 1,000 miles, affecting several States, aswell as our commercial relations with Canada. So, too, the breakwater atthe mouth of the Delaware is erected, not for the exclusive benefit ofthe States bordering on the bay and river of that name, but for that ofthe whole coastwise navigation of the United States and, to a considerableextent, also of foreign commerce. If a ship be lost on the bar at the entranceof a Southern port for want of sufficient depth of water, it is very likelyto be a Northern ship; and if a steamboat be sunk in any part of the Mississippion account of its channel not having been properly cleared of obstructions,it may be a boat belonging to either of eight or ten States. I may add,as somewhat remarkable, that among all the thirty-one States there is nonethat is not to a greater or less extent bounded on the ocean, or the Gulfof Mexico, or one of the Great Lakes, or some navigable river.
In fulfilling our constitutional duties, fellow-citizens, on this subject,as in carrying into effect all other powers conferred by the Constitution,we should consider ourselves as deliberating and acting for one and thesame country, and bear constantly in mind that our regard and our dutyare due not to a particular part only, but to the whole.
I therefore recommend that appropriations be made for completing suchworks as have been already begun and for commencing such others as mayseem to the wisdom of Congress to be of public and general importance.
The difficulties and delays incident to the settlement of private claimsby Congress amount in many cases to a denial of justice. There is reasonto apprehend that many unfortunate creditors of the Government have therebybeen unavoidably ruined. Congress has so much business of a public characterthat it is impossible it should give much attention to mere private claims,and their accumulation is now so great that many claimants must despairof ever being able to obtain a hearing. It may well be doubted whetherCongress, from the nature of its organization, is properly constitutedto decide upon such cases. It is impossible that each member should examinethe merits of every claim on which he is compelled to vote, and it is preposterousto ask a judge to decide a case which he has never heard. Such decisionsmay, and frequently must, do injustice either to the claimant or the Government,and I perceive no better remedy for this growing evil than the establishmentof some tribunal to adjudicate upon such claims. I beg leave, therefore,most respectfully to recommend that provision be made by law for the appointmentof a commission to settle all private claims against the United States;and as an ex parte hearing must in all contested cases be very unsatisfactory,I also recommend the appointment of a solicitor, whose duty it shall beto represent the Government before such commission and protect it againstall illegal, fraudulent, or unjust claims which may be presented for theiradjudication. This District, which has neither voice nor vote in your deliberations,looks to you for protection and aid, and I commend all its wants to yourfavorable consideration, with a full confidence that you will meet themnot only with justice, but with liberality. It should be borne in mindthat in this city, laid out by Washington and consecrated by his name,is located the Capitol of our nation, the emblem of our Union and the symbolof our greatness. Here also are situated all the public buildings necessaryfor the use of the Government, and all these are exempt from taxation.It should be the pride of Americans to render this place attractive tothe people of the whole Republic and convenient and safe for the transactionof the public business and the preservation of the public records. TheGovernment should therefore bear a liberal proportion of the burdens ofall necessary and useful improvements. And as nothing could contributemore to the health, comfort, and safety of the city and the security ofthe public buildings and records than an abundant supply of pure water,I respectfully recommend that you make such provisions for obtaining thesame as in your wisdom you may deem proper.
The act, passed at your last session, making certain propositions toTexas for settling the disputed boundary between that State and the Territoryof New Mexico was, immediately on its passage, transmitted by express tothe governor of Texas, to be laid by him before the general assembly forits agreement thereto. Its receipt was duly acknowledged, but no officialinformation has yet been received of the action of the general assemblythereon. It may, however, be very soon expected, as, by the terms of thepropositions submitted they were to have been acted upon on or before thefirst day of the present month.
It was hardly to have been expected that the series of measures passedat your last session with the view of healing the sectional differenceswhich had sprung from the slavery and territorial questions should at oncehave realized their beneficent purpose. All mutual concession in the natureof a compromise must necessarily be unwelcome to men of extreme opinions.And though without such concessions our Constitution could not have beenformed, and can not be permanently sustained, yet we have seen them madethe subject of bitter controversy in both sections of the Republic. Itrequired many months of discussion and deliberation to secure the concurrenceof a majority of Congress in their favor. It would be strange if they hadbeen received with immediate approbation by people and States prejudicedand heated by the exciting controversies of their representatives. I believethose measures to have been required by the circumstances and conditionof the country. I believe they were necessary to allay asperities and animositiesthat were rapidly alienating one section of the country from another anddestroying those fraternal sentiments which are the strongest supportsof the Constitution. They were adopted in the spirit of conciliation andfor the purpose of conciliation. I believe that a great majority of ourfellow citizens sympathize in that spirit and that purpose, and in themain approve and are prepared in all respects to sustain these enactments.I can not doubt that the American people, bound together by kindred bloodand common traditions, still cherish a paramount regard for the Union oftheir fathers, and that they are ready to rebuke any attempt to violateits integrity, to disturb the compromises on which it is based, or to resistthe laws which have been enacted under its authority.
The series of measures to which I have alluded are regarded by me asa settlement in principle and substance--a final settlement of the dangerousand exciting subjects which they embraced. Most of these subjects, indeed,are beyond your reach, as the legislation which disposed of them was inits character final and irrevocable. It may be presumed from the oppositionwhich they all encountered that none of those measures was free from imperfections,but in their mutual dependence and connection they formed a system of compromisethe most conciliatory and best for the entire country that could be obtainedfrom conflicting sectional interests and opinions.
For this reason I recommend your adherence to the adjustment establishedby those measures until time and experience shall demonstrate the necessityof further legislation to guard against evasion or abuse.
By that adjustment we have been rescued from the wide and boundlessagitation that surrounded us, and have a firm, distinct, and legal groundto rest upon. And the occasion, I trust, will justify me in exhorting mycountrymen to rally upon and maintain that ground as the best, if not theonly, means of restoring peace and quiet to the country and maintaininginviolate the integrity of the Union.
And now, fellow-citizens, I can not bring this communication to a closewithout invoking you to join me in humble and devout thanks to the GreatRuler of Nations for the multiplied blessings which He has graciously bestowedupon us. His hand, so often visible in our preservation, has stayed thepestilence, saved us from foreign wars and domestic disturbances, and scatteredplenty throughout the land.
Our liberties, religions and civil, have been maintained, the fountainsof knowledge have all been kept open, and means of happiness widely spreadand generally enjoyed greater than have fallen to the lot of any othernation. And while deeply penetrated with gratitude for the past, let ushope that His all-wise providence will so guide our counsels as that theyshall result in giving satisfaction to our constituents, securing the peaceof the country, and adding new strength to the united Government underwhich we live.