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HELD IN THE CITY OF NEW-YORK,
OCTOBER 13, 1842.
It is with no ordinary feelings of satisfaction that the members of the Home League are enabled to look upon
the occurrences of this year. The headlong career of the government in prostrating our most important interests to gratify the cupidity of European manufacturers, or to practically refute the visionary theories of nullifying abstractionists has been arrested, and under the strong and determined expression of the public opinion of those who live by their own industry, a tariff has been passed, which, by affording ample protection to American labour, has given a new impulse to the enterprise of the country, and justified the confidence of those, who regard their own countrymen as able to furnish from their own skill and ingenuity the chief articles of domestic consumption. But although a decided step has been taken towards re-establishing our domestic prosperity, much yet remains to be done. By the policy systematically pursued by the government for the last twelve years, a severe blow has been given to the public credit of the United States. In the great forum of nations, our national character has been impeached; and if we set aside all high considerations belonging to a patriotic and statesmanlike view of this question, still, in reference to mere pecuniary advantages
attached to unsullied honour on the part of a government, more has been lost by the reckless manner in which those who during that period have been entrusted with the management of affairs, have contracted debts without providing any means of repayment, than all the sums that they ever promised to save when, smitten with the rage of reform, the people placed them in power.
The public debt of the states thus contracted, forms one of the greatest obstacles to the restoration of general prosperity; and while it continues to exist without provision for the payment of either principal or interest, it must be productive of great national injury and loss. The amount of this debt at this time is $198,000,000, of which $103,000,000 was incurred by eight states, that neglect or refuse to pay the interest. Of these only one, Mississippi, has openly repudiated: the others plead inability ; although in the cases of Pennsylvania and Maryland, the plea of inability is as dishonest as open repudiation. Be this as it may, it is clear, that in the existing state of the currency and of business, the Western states have incurred debts they are unable to pay.
They have no wealth but agricultural produce, and the expense of transporting it to market renders it of comparatively little value in reimbursing their debts. In order to enable them to pay them, they must be aided; and nowhere can they look for aid except to the general government. That government is interested in restoring their credit, as its own credit is intimately connected with that of the several members of the Union, Credit depends not only upon means but upon character. A reputation for integrity, a high sense of national honour, affords better pledges for the faithful discharge of national obligations, than all the wealth of the Indies in hands which are insensible to the suggestions of justice.
The credit of the Union, as well as that of the states, has already been deeply affected by the failure on the part of some of them to pay their bonds. The public opinion of the world has already arraigned the whole Union as defaulters in their engagements. They have been regarded as members of the
same family, and it is not remarkable that they have been identified in reputation.
This Union under one government, through which only they are known to other nations, makes them one not only in peace and war, but in good and evil repute. We cannot avoid this responsibility by asserting, that Mississippi alone is responsible to the world for her debts as a state. By our Constitution we have exempted her from being sued to enforce the performance of her contracts. As a state, she is only responsible under the law of nations, for the performance of her obligations towards the citizens of other powers. Their governments, in enforcing their performance, can only do so in the mode provided for the arbitrament of national controversies—by negotiation or the sword. But in the adjustment of all claims on the part of other countries upon the states of this Union, the Federal Government alone can be addressed. The separate states cannot treat nor enter into any agreement with a foreign government. That is their sole representative in their relations with foreign powers. If a demand be made by France or England, in behalf of their subjects, for payment of state bonds, it must be presented through the national government. If war is to be declared, in the absence of all other remedy to enforce payment, it must be waged against the United States, and it is the blood and treasure of the whole Union that must be expended to sustain the dishonest cause of repudiating states.
It is then absurd for us to say, that we have no concern with those repudiated bonds. The consequences of the act must fall upon the whole Union, as well as upon those dishonest states who have violated their engagements. It is a matter of high national concern to wipe off this stain upon the country. No subject is more deserving the attention of an American statesman than that of resuscitating public credit.
It cannot be done entirely by direct taxation. The debts of Indiana and Illinois are beyond the ability of their population. Their discharge can only be effected by the aid of the general government; and by that aid, efficiently given, provision can be at once made, by which the credit of these and other
states can be restored, and the prosperity of the whole country re-established.
Is there not something, too, in the character of these engagements, which peculiarly recommends them to the attention of the national government ?
The greatest portion of the state debts was contracted during and subsequent to the first administration of General Jackson. Previous to his accession to the Presidency, the currency of the whole Union had been especially under the supervision of Congress. It had been thought, that to regulate so essential an element of national prosperity, and to provide a medium of domestic exchanges, was not unworthy of attention. So, too, the improvement of the means of internal intercourse: the removing obstructions from harbours and those vast rivers formed by nature to bind this extensive country together under one government; the aiding, by liberal appropriations, the enterprising efforts of state corporations to construct canals and rail-roads, were deemed fit objects for the encouragement of Congress,
This policy, commenced during Mr. Jefferson's administration, was enlarged in proportion to the augmented means of the treasury; and as the period for the extinction of the national debt approached, the country looked forward with hope and eager expectation to the time, when, by the release of $10,000,000, annually appropriated by law to the sinking fund, ample means would be placed at the disposal of Congress to promote internal improvements throughout the Union.
The necessity of making a great effort to improve the internal communications between different portions of the country was every where acknowledged. While the cultivator of the soil was compelled to transport his productions to market over roads, which in spring and autumn resembled ditches rather than roads ; or down rivers, where snags and bars often destroy the labours of a season, the cost of transportation absorbed too great a proportion of his crop. He felt, that an improvement in the means of transportation was a direct benefit to him ; and that it would render a numerous class rich, who were now