Cyclopædia of Political Science, Political Economy, and the Political History of the United States
INTERNAL IMPROVEMENTS (IN
—I. 1789-1820. Under the articles of confederation each state exercised the right to control commerce, to levy duties, and to expend the proceeds at its discretion, with the proviso that the imposts or duties should not be levied upon the property "of the United States or either of them," should not conflict with treaties of the United States already concluded or provided for, and should not prevent the transfer to other states of goods imported.
—In the convention of 1787, Sept 15, after the control of commerce had been given to the federal government, a provision was offered that "no state shall be restrained from laying duties of tonnage for the purpose of clearing harbors and erecting lighthouses." It was at once suggested that there were other purposes for which tonnage duties might conveniently be levied by the states; and the provision was altered to the more general form, "no state shall, without the consent of congress, lay any duty of tonnage." It was then incorporated into article one, section ten, paragraph three, of the constitution as it now stands. (See
—Since the original thirteen states ratified the constitution, no other states fronting on the ocean have been admitted, excepting Maine and Florida on the Atlantic, and California and Oregon on the Pacific. During the remainder of this period nine new states were admitted, all of which were growing rapidly, and none of which touched the Atlantic. This rapid influx of inland representation into congress soon began to work a change in the original conception of the powers of that body as to internal improvements. It seemed unfair that states which possessed seaports should be allowed to provide for internal improvements by levying duties, to be paid ultimately by inland consumers, while inland states should be left to make their necessary internal improvements at their own expense. In 1806 this idea took shape in a provision for a great turnpike road, to be built at national expense. (See
—From the beginning the constitutionality of appropriations for the construction of roads was warmly denied, and by none more steadily than by the successive presidents, Jefferson, Madison and Monroe. All of them refused to be convinced that the building of roads in different parts of the country was such a matter of "general welfare" as to justify the expenditure of the public moneys. All of them, however, approved the advisability of such measures, if they could be constitutionally effected, and urged an amendment to the constitution, to give congress the doubted power. (See
—During the war of 1812 the American armies on the frontiers labored under great disadvantages, owing to the almost entire want of efficient means of transportation. One consequence was, a great development of the idea of internal improvements, and its extension to include canals. In the great state of New York it took shape in the construction of the Erie canal. (See
—II. 1820-60. The pronounced success of the Erie canal, and its evident bearing upon the prosperity of the state of New York, gave a new impetus to the internal improvement idea. Appropriations had already been made by congress for the preservation of exposed islands, and occasionally army officers had attended to the removal of annoying obstructions in navigable rivers. March 3, 1823, the first act for harbor improvement at the expense of the United States was passed by congress. It seems to have been due, in great measure, to an expression in President Monroe's veto of the bill for the preservation of the Cumberland road, May 4, 1822. He had vetoed it because of its attempt to assert jurisdiction by establishing turnpike gates, tolls, and penalties for their infringement; but he acknowledged a considerable modification of the opinions given in his first annual message. While his own opinion still was that an amendment to the constitution was necessary to give congress the power to construct a general system of internal improvements, he now held that congress had the power to appropriate the public moneys at its discretion; and that though it was in duty bound to select objects of general importance, it was not the province of the president to sit in judgment upon its selections. This idea was more fully exemplified in the act of April 30, 1824, appropriating $30,000 for the survey of such roads and canals as the president should deem of national importance, and in the act of March 3, 1825, ordering a subscription of $300,000 to the stock of the Delaware and Chesapeake canal.
—The inaugural address of the new president, John Quincy Adams, warmly commended Monroe's internal improvement policy, and promised an adherence to it. Through his term of office appropriations for this object increased in number very rapidly; the board of engineers appointed under the act of April 30, 1824, was steadily engaged in pushing forward the surveys for new improvements: and every annual message of the president laid special stress upon the importance of this feature of the government's operations. This part of the "Adams and Clay policy" was one of the great moving causes which led to the new development of two opposing parties, and the overthrow of Adams at the election of 1828. (See
—In his first annual message President Jackson condemned the constitutionality of an internal improvement system, but advised the adoption of an amendment to allow congress to apportion the surplus revenue among the states. The first session of congress under his administration did not agree with his views. Internal improvement bills, aggregating $106,000,000, were reported by the committees, and the probabilities were in favor of the passage of very many of them. The first important one which reached the president was the bill to authorize a government subscription to the stock of the Maysville and Lexington turnpike road, in Kentucky. May 27, 1830, the bill was vetoed in a message which summed up all the objections to the internal improvement system. The bill was not carried over the veto. May 29, two similar bills were passed. The president got rid of these by a "pocket veto." (See
—The Maysville road veto ranged the president distinctly against the internal improvement system. Throughout the remainder of his two terms of office few acts were passed for this object, and these were vetoed. But through that feature of the presidential veto by which the president is compelled to sign or veto an entire bill in gross, without the privilege of vetoing particular provisions (see
—This change in the method of appropriations should be remembered in connection with the following table of appropriations for internal improvements under different administrations, as collected by Wheeler, cited among the authorities: Jefferson, $48,400; Madison, $250,800; Monroe, $707,621; Adams, $2,310,475; Jackson, $10,582,882; Van Buren, $2,222,544; Tyler, $1,076,500.
—The two new national parties at once began the system of nominating conventions which has ever since obtained. (See
—DISTRIBUTION. In 1829 Jackson had suggested a distribution of surplus revenue among the states, provided an amendment for that purpose could be ratified. In the following session a house resolution was passed for the distribution of the proceeds of land sales among the states. When the project next appeared, it had become a whig measure. April 16, 1832, Clay introduced a bill in the senate to provide for the distribution of the proceeds of public land sales among the states. It passed the senate, and failed in the house. At the opening of the next session, the president's message advised the reduction of the price of public lands to a nominal amount, or the cession of the lands to the states in which they were situated. On the other hand, Clay again introduced his bill, Dec. 12, 1832, which was debated, and passed both houses, March 2, 1833. It was not signed, and a special message of Dec. 4, 1833, assigned cogent reasons for the refusal to sign it. The bill appropriated 12½ per cent. of the proceeds of public land sales to the seven states last admitted (excluding Maine) for "objects of internal improvement or education," and 87½ per cent. to all the states according to population, to be distributed as the legislatures should deem proper. The objections were, in brief, 1, that the bill violated the compacts by which the original states had ceded their claims to the United States (see
—The sales of public lands grew suddenly and enormously after 1830. For the previous ten years they had averaged about $3,000,000 annually; in 1836 they reached nearly $25,000,000. (see
—The return of the whigs to power with Harrison's election was marked by the passage of the act of Sept. 4, 1841, to distribute the proceeds of public land sales among the states. In this case, however, the distribution was to be suspended as soon as, and as long as, the duties on imports should rise above the maximum fixed by the compromise tariff act of 1833, which was to expire in June, 1842. Before this last date arrived, the conflict between Tyler and the whig party had become flagrant, and the majority in congress, were disposed to put a new pressure on the president. June 27, 1842, they passed an act for a provisional tariff, raising the duties above the compromise maximum, and yet retaining the distribution clause. Tyler had obtained the opinion of the attorney general that the compromise duties would remain in force after July 1, in default of the passage of a new tariff act; he therefore vetoed the bill, June 29. Aug. 5, a tariff bill, still including the distribution clause, passed both houses by narrow majorities, 25 to 23 in the senate, and 116 to 112 in the house; and Aug. 9 this bill was vetoed. (See
—IN THE STATES. Space will not permit any full treatment of this division of the subject, for which the reader is referred to the authority cited below. The success of the Eric canal in New York state had prompted other states to imitate its design. Most of the state constitutions adopted from 1830 until 1850 contain either directions or permissions to the legislatures "to encourage internal improvements within the state." Where such enterprises were undertaken in states whose interests were agricultural, not commercial, and whose people were impatient of abstinence from the present enjoyment of capital for the prospect of possible future profit, the state's irresponsibility in courts of law led to but one result, "repudiation," a term whose first application in this sense is ascribed to Governor McNutt, of Mississippi, in 1841. European capital, tempted by high interest, and undeterred by any thought of "repudiation," flowed rapidly to the United States after 1830. The state debts, which were but $13,000,000 in 1830, reached $50,000,000 in 1836, and about $100,000,000 in 1838. When, after the crash of 1837, foreign capitalists undertook to withdraw, they found it easier to get their capital into state securities than to get it out. On one pretext or another, and sometimes on no pretext at all, a number of states repudiated, in whole or in part, their internal improvement debts, and, as they were irresponsible in their own courts, and, by amendment XI (see
—The unwillingness to allow foreigners to brand all the states, separately or collectively, as "repudiators," was the parent of a proposition to assume the state debts for internal improvements. It was formally introduced in congress in July, 1842, met with warm opposition, and fell through in the following year. (For further information see
—III. 1850-82. LAND GRANTS. A grant of 5 per cent. of the public land sales within the state had regularly been made to new states at their admission, the consideration being the exemption of the remainder of the public lands from taxation. Grants had been made also for state capitals and for universities. In 1850 began the system of grants of specified amounts of public lands to states for the encouragement of railroads. The first grant of this nature was by the act of Sept. 20, 1850, for the benefit of the Illinois Central railroad, coupled with a grant for the Mobile and Ohio railroad. Its inside history will be found in Cutts' work, as cited below. The number of acres, 2,595,053, was the largest granted by any single act until 1860.
—The growth of the Pacific states, the difficulty of communication with them, and the vast extent of the intervening unsettled country, made very evident both the necessity of a Pacific railroad and the impossibility of constructing it by private capital. Before 1855 government surveys had ascertained practicable passes through the Rocky mountains; and in 1860 both political parties had declared, in their national platforms, in favor of the completion of the work by the federal government. The outbreak of the rebellion, and the necessity of a closer military connection with the Pacific, made the need for the road immediate and imperative, and it was begun by act of July 1, 1862, in favor of the Central Pacific, Kansas Pacific and Union Pacific railroads. The number of acres granted to railroads in every part of the country has grown enormously since that date; they will he found in the land office report cited below. The largest grants to single corporations have been 47,000,000 acres to the Northern Pacific railroad, and 42,000,000 acres to the Atlantic and Pacific railroad. The amount of bonds issued to the various Pacific railroads, interest payable by the United States, was $64,623,512. The grant of lands directly to corporations interested began with the act of July 1, 1862; before that date the grants were made to the states for the benefit of corporations.
—RIVER AND HARBOR BILLS. After the veto by President Pierce of the river and harbor bill which was passed in 1854, this species of appropriation lapsed until 1870. Improvements which were imperatively needed were classed under "fortifications" and similar heads. The cessation of expenditures under this head, however, was far more than balanced by the appropriations for postoffices, custom houses, and other public buildings in various parts of the country. These increased until, in 1873-4, they amounted to $12,341,944.
—In 1870 a river and harbor appropriation was made, amounting to $2,000,000. From this time appropriations of this nature were no longer covered up in other appropriation bills, but took distinct rank for themselves. In 1873 the appropriation rose to $5,286,000, and they have since generally remained above that amount, as follows: 1873-4, $7,352,900; 1874-5, $5,228,000; 1875-6, $6,648,517.50; 1876-7, $5,015,000; 1877-8,——; 1878-9, $8,322,700; 1879-80, $9,577,494 61; 1880-1, $8,976,500; 1881-2, $11,451,300; 1882-3, $18,743,875. This last increase in the appropriations provoked a veto by President Arthur, Aug. 1, 1882, but the bill was immediately passed over the veto. In such a mass of appropriations it is impossible that there should not be very many objects well worth the care of the national government; but, with every allowance, the amount of absolute plunder in the total must have been enormous. In debating one of these bills a member of congress declared from personal knowledge that one "river," for which an appropriation had been inserted, could be fitted for commerce only by being paved or macadamized; and this instance was certainly not an isolated one. In many cases the coveted appropriation is only to "secure the work," and compel succeeding appropriations to eight or ten times the original amount to complete it. Many appropriations are inserted, not upon their merits, but by "log-rolling," by an understanding among a number of members that each will vote for the appropriations demanded by all his associates. In fact, most of these appropriations are not for the public benefit at all, but for the personal interests of the legislators, for the re-election of a congressman often depends upon his success in "bringing money into the district" through the river and harbor bill, or the erection of public buildings. In this manner congress has probably squandered in twelve years money enough to have built a railroad from the Mississippi to the Atlantic, whose running expenses could be paid by the similar appropriations for the future. It is hard to say which of the two methods of getting rid of surplus revenue would be most demoralizing to the people.
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