Cyclopædia of Political Science, Political Economy, and the Political History of the United States

Edited by: Lalor, John J.
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Includes articles by Frédéric Bastiat, Gustave de Molinari, Henry George, J. B. Say, Francis A. Walker, and more.
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INTERNAL IMPROVEMENTS (IN U. S. HISTORY), a party question in the United States from 1820 until 1860. There has been very little objection to internal improvements where the jurisdiction of the improved property passes to the United States, as in case of lighthouses, forts, etc. The opposition has been to improvements where the jurisdiction has remained in the states, as in case of canals, rivers, harbors, etc.


—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 CONSTITUTION.) The intention of this provision is very evident, if we consider its original form, as above given, the geographical position of the states which then composed the Union, and the practice under it for thirty years. Every state, at the time, had seacoast, a seaport or seaports, and ocean commerce, more or less important. It was not until 1791 that Vermont, the first entirely inland state, was admitted. The original intention of the constitution, then, was that each state should control entirely the improvement of its own seaports, levying for that purpose duties upon the commerce which should enter them; but that the consent of congress should first be obtained, in order to guard against abuses—This was for many years the invariable practice. Whenever a state wished to improve any of its seaports or navigable rivers, its legislature passed an act to levy tonnage duties upon the commerce of the place to be improved; an act of congress approved the levy, for a limited time, and gave it validity; and the proceeds were expended under the direction of the state. One act of this nature, passed by Maryland in 1790, was continued in force until 1850, by successive "assents" of congress. There is no instance during this period, nor, indeed, until the act of March 3, 1823, hereafter referred to, of the expenditure of the national revenues for the improvement of rivers and harbors. Two "assenting" acts of congress are cited among the authorities, as instances of the practice during this period; the whole number (34) is too large for special reference to each. All the "internal improvements" provided for on the coast during this period were those in which the jurisdiction remained in the United States, such as "lighthouses, beacons, buoys, and public piers," for which congress appropriated money steadily after Aug. 7, 1789. These appropriations required as a prerequisite that the states should cede the sites of lighthouses, etc.


—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 CUMBERLAND ROAD.) It was to penetrate the western states and be the means of transmitting emigrants and mails in peace, and troops in war. Its constitutionality was variously defended upon the ground of the powers of congress "to provide for the common defense," "to establish post roads," and "to pass laws necessary and proper for carrying into execution" the foregoing powers; but the system found then, as it has always since found, a solider justification in the idea of "an equal division of benefits." In this instance the division recognized both the northwest and the southwest, for the bill for the Cumberland road was balanced by a bill for opening a road through Georgia on the route to New Orleans. From this time for thirty years bills for the construction of roads through the various territories were passed in great abundance. In congress it was first suggested by Henry Clay in the senate, Jan. 12, 1807, that a quantity of public land should be appropriated for the construction of a canal around the falls of the Ohio; and a bill for that purpose passed the senate, Feb. 28, but was not considered in the house. March 2, a senate resolution called on the secretary of the treasury for a plan for opening roads, canals, etc., at national expense. April 4, 1808, Gallatin submitted a voluminous report recommending a system of roads to cost $16,000,000. It was not acted upon.


—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 CONSTITUTION, III., B. 3.) But in deference to the scruples of the presidents the roads were built through the territories, or, where they passed through a state, were constructed under a compact with the state, and by its consent.


—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 NEW YORK; CLINTON, DE WITT.) In congress a bill to set apart the bonus and government dividends of the national bank (see BANK CONTROVERSIES, III.), as a fund "for constructing roads and canals and improving the navigation of watercourses," passed the house Feb. 8, and the senate Feb. 27, 1817. Among its warmest advocates was Calhoun, who had introduced the proposition both in this and in the previous session, and who defended it on the broad ground that "whatever impedes the intercourse of the extremes with the centre of the republic weakens the Union," and that it was the duty of congress to "bind the republic together with a perfect system of roads and canals." Henry Clay, however, had been the real father of the scheme, and he never deserted his offspring. March 3, 1817, in the last moments of his official life, President Madison vetoed the bill, for the reason that congress had no constitutional power to expend the public revenues for any such purpose. An effort to pass the bill over the veto failed. The new president, Monroe, in his first annual message, while admitting the great advantage to be derived from a good system of roads and canals, declared it to be the settled conviction of his mind that congress did not possess the right to construct it. The attempt was therefore dropped temporarily, with the salvo of a house resolution, passed March 14, 1818, that congress had power to appropriate money for the construction of roads and canals, and for the improvement of watercourses.


—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 DEMOCRATIC PARTY, III.; WHIG PARTY, I.)


—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 VETO.)


—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 RIDERS, VETO), appropriations for detached improvements in great number were every year included in the general appropriation bills. The president was thus compelled either to approve the objectionable minor features of the bill, or, by vetoing the whole bill, begin a war of annoyances with congress. This is the form which appropriations for internal improvements have ever since regularly taken.


—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 NOMINATING CONVENTIONS.) The first convention of the national republicans (see WHIG PARTY, I.) asserted, in one of its resolutions, that "a uniform system of internal improvements, sustained and supported by the general government, is calculated to secure, in the highest degree, the harmony, the strength and the permanency of the republic." In 1836, 1839 and 1848 the whigs adopted no platform; in 1844 they approved the distribution scheme, hereafter referred to; in 1852 they finally approved the conjunction of protective tariffs and internal improvement known as the "American system." (See WHIG PARTY, II.) Their opponents were not ready to formulate a platform until 1840; from that time until 1864 they quadrennially condemned the internal improvement system in every form. Practically, however, "internal improvement," in its original form, died with the Maysville road veto. After that time the whigs had but one opportunity, after the election of Harrison, to enforce their views, and then they chose the "distribution scheme," hereafter referred to, instead; and the democrats, while condemning an internal improvement system, saw no objections to voting for isolated improvements in the general appropriation bill. Aug. 3, 1846, President Polk vetoed a river and harbor improvement bill which both houses had passed, and it failed. March 3, 1847, the last day of the next session, a bill for certain improvements in Wisconsin was passed and disposed of by a "pocket veto"; but at the opening of the following session the president sent his reasons for refusing to sign it, in a special message. The house, by resolution, declared that congress possessed the power to appropriate money for internal improvements; and with that the matter slept again until 1854, excepting that the house, in March, 1849, passed a river and harbor bill, which was not acted upon by the senate. In the session of 1853-4, President Pierce vetoed two bills, one for the appropriation of 10,000,000 acres of public lands to the states for the relief of insane paupers, and one for the improvement of rivers and harbors. Dec. 30, 1854, he gave his reasons for the latter veto in a special message, whose arguments were those of President Polk in 1847. This phase of the question of internal improvements then slept until 1870.


—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 TERRITORIES); and 2, that congress had no power to appropriate the public revenues, directly or indirectly, for internal improvements. The bill was not passed over the veto.


—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 BANK CONTROVERSIES, IV.), and Calhoun estimated that at the end of the year the country would have $66,000,000 surplus in the treasury. He therefore introduced, May 25, 1836, an amendment to a bill to regulate deposits of public moneys in state banks (see INDEPENDENT TREASURY), providing that at the end of each year the money remaining in the treasury, reserving $5,000,000, should be "deposited" with the several states, in proportion to their representation in congress. The act became a law June 23. The president signed it with the greatest reluctance, and only in consideration of the amount of paper money already in the treasury; and his "specie circular" of the following month (see BANK CONTROVERSIES, IV.) seems to have been his method of cutting the Gordian knot, wiping out a paper money surplus, and checkmating Calhoun's distribution bill and internal improvements together. It ultimately had greater consequences. The first installment of the "deposit" was paid in January, 1837; the second in April, both in specie or its equivalent; and the third in June, in paper. By that time the "panic of 1837" had burst upon the country, and the fourth installment, in October, was never paid. The act of October 2, 1837, postponed it until 1839, when the treasury was in no better condition to pay it, and the law was repealed. The amount "deposited" was $37,000,000, which has never been recalled.


—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 CENSURES, II.) Aug. 27 congress yielded and passed the tariff bill without the distribution clause, and three days later it became law. Thereafter the distribution of public revenue or of proceeds of land sales among the states was no more heard of.


—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 CONSTITUTION) irresponsible in the federal courts to citizens of other states, creditors were without recourse. (See also MINNESOTA.) The worst cases, at this period, were Maryland, Louisiana and Mississippi in the south, and Pennsylvania, Indiana, Illinois and Michigan in the north. Most of these have since paid or "accommodated" their debts.


—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 STATE DEBTS, under the article DEBTS)


—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.


—See CONFEDERATION, ARTICLES OF, VI, IX; 5 Elliot's Debates, 548; 1 Stat. at Large, 184, 190 (assent of congress to acts of Maryland legislature). 1 Stat. at Large, 54 (first lighthouse act. Aug 7, 1789), authorities under CUMBERLAND ROAD; Adams' Life of Gallatin, 351; 2 Adams' Writings of Gallatin, 72; Tanner's Memoir on Internal Improvements (1829); 5 Benton's Debates of Congress, 665, 711; 3 Statesman's Manual (edit. 1849) xxviii., (Madison's veto) II. For this period in general the best authority is 2 Wheeler's History of Congress, 109; 1 Statesman's Manual, 491 (Monroe's Cumberland road veto); 3 Stat. at Large, 781 (act of March 3, 1823); 4 Stat. at Large, 23 (act of April 30, 1824), 124 (March 3, 1825); 2 Statesman's Manual, 719 (Maysville road veto); 3 Parton's Life of Jackson, 285, 340; 3 Statesman's Manual, 1635, 1711 (Polk's vetoes); 1 Webster's Works, 169, 347; 2 ib., 238; 4 ib., 247, 252; 5 Whig Review, 537; 1 Colton's Life and Times of Clay, 428, 1 Benton's Thirty Years' View, 102, 130, 167, 275, 362; 2 ib., 125, 171; Cluskey's Political Text Book, 540; Bradford's History of the Federal Government (see its index); Cutts' Treatise on Party Questions, 41; Gillet's Democracy in the United States, 132 DISTRIBUTION. 12 Benton's Debates of Congress, 124, 765; 2 von Holst's United States, 181, 454, 2 Calhoun's Works, 620; 5 Stat. at Large, 52, 201, 453 (acts of June 23, 1836, Oct 2, 1837, and Sept. 4, 1841); 2 Benton's Thirty Years' View, 36; 4 Opinions of the Attorneys General, 60, 63; 14 Benton's Debates of Congress, 443, 456. IN THE STATES. The best authority is 2 B. R. Curtis' Works, 93, being his article "Debts of the States" from the North American Review, January, 1844. III. Cutts' Treatise on Party Questions, 187; 9 Stat. at Large, 466 (act of Sept. 20, 1850); Reports of the General Land Office (1873); the same in substance is more easily accessible in Spofford's American Almanac for 1878, 237, and in Appleton's Annual Cyclopœdia for 1871, 674. The first Pacific Railroad act of July 1, 1862, will be found in 12 Stat. at Large, 489; a convenient summary of Pacific Railroad legislation is the long preamble to the act of May 7, 1878 (20 Stat. at Large, 56); Report of the Secretary of the Treasury (Dec. 5, 1881), 25; Major H. M. Robert's Index to Reports on River and Harbor Improvements (Art. "Appropriations"); Porter's West in 1880, 585 (and Map).


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