Skip to main content
View PDF

MVB Senate remarks on the Dismal Swamp canal, 15 May 1826

Mr. VAN BUREN said he rose principally to call for the yeas and nays; but while he was up, he would make one remark on this subject. He could not vote for this bill, for he did not believe that this Government possessed the Constitutional power to make these roads and canals, or to grant the money to make them; but, while he entertained this opinion, he did not wish to indulge in feelings of asperity towards those who differed from him. It was a subject not free from excitement, especially so far as the power to grant money was concerned. Different views were taken of this subject, by persons who were pure and honest; and, Mr. V. B. said, he should take the liberty, which, perhaps, he had no right to take, to express his regret, that in the course of the discussion on this question, such feelings had been drawn forth, as had been witnessed on the present as well as on former occasions. There were no two gentlemen on this floor who placed more unqualified confidence in each others integrity, than the gentlemen from Maine and North Carolina; still from the misapprehension of a few words used in debate, these feelings had been drawn forth. It was their duty to avoid such feelings. He acquiesced in the opinion, that there was no State in the Union which had received so little notice, as the State of North Carolina; and, Mr. V. B. said, where he could do it, consistently with his view of the Constitution, he would with the utmost cheerfulness contribute his support to any project to assist that State; but on this occasion he could not do it. At the same time he must say, that, if he believed in the power of the Government to grant money for this purpose, the present mode would be the last one he should think of adopting. If there was any grant of money at all for this purpose, it should be direct. Where aid was granted in the mode now proposed, abuses would creep in, and, in nine cases out of ten, deception would be practised. In the State of New York they had had, Mr. V. B. said, full experience of this, in the application for charters for banks; plausible pretences were set up that the State would be thereby benefitted, till these practices became so numerous, that in the end public opinion was decidedly against them, and the Legislature, to her honor, at the last session, had refused all applications of this description. So it was with Congress: they would proceed from one thing to another, till many millions of the public money were thrown away on disadvantageous projects, and they would finally come to the same conclusion which the State of New York had arrived at. When an individual subscribed for stock, he had a personal, a direct interest, which induced him to move with caution, and to see that his interests were properly attended to, and he would not embrace any wild scheme. Would any man believe that the United States would be benefitted by the Louisville and Portland Canal? Every gentleman on this floor believed it to be a useless concern; it was nothing but a cover to give money in this form which could not be given directly; and now they were called on to subscribe for stock in the Dismal Swamp Canal, giving to the existing stockholders the money of the United States, to reimburse them for the money they had expanded on a bad concern. Did this line of conduct comport with sound policy? He hoped the gentleman from North Carolina would not be discouraged; public opinion on this subject was taking the proper direction, and in the end this assumption of power on the part of the Government, would be put down, or there would be a salutary amendment to the Constitution to provide for an equitable and fair distribution of the funds of the Government for this purpose.

*    *    *

Mr. VAN BUREN regretted he was not so fortunate as to make himself understood. It was proposed that the United States should subscribe for a portion of the stock, and so place herself in the same relation as individual stockholders. His objection was, that this was bad stock, and a losing concern. If that was the case, and there were other reasons why the United States should benefit this company, it should be done by voting money directly. The gentleman from Maryland had said, there might be other advantages arising from this Canal; it was necessary for the support of the forts, and the general interests of the United States would be promoted by it. Then, Mr. V. B. said, his objection would apply; they should give money directly for these purposes, that their constituents might know, not only the purpose for which it was to be applied, but the extent also; and not go the round about way of promoting the public interest by becoming stockholders. As to the question being settled, he should protest against the admission of such a doctrine; and he should resist, to all intents and purposes, the idea that the acts of this Congress were to bind him, or his constituents, hereafter.

Images for this document are currently unavailable.
Source: <em>Register of Debates</em>
Collection: N/A
Series: Series 5 (1 January 1825-3 March 1829)