MVB, Senate speech and remarks on bill regarding Alabama laws, 12 March 1824
Mr. Van Buren said he was in the minority on the committee that reported this bill, and subsequent reflection had confirmed him in the opinion that the bill ought not to pass. Before the State of Alabama was admitted into the Union, she was required to pass an ordinance that the then navigable waters within her territories should be forever free from toll or exaction to her own citizens, and to the citizens of the other States. This ordinance accompanied the act for her admission. She now applies for the revocation of that ordinance. There is nothing peculiar in her situation. The other new States are subject to similiar restrictions. If this ordinance should be revoked, the same measure should be dealt out to all the other States. He had examined the laws for the admission of the other States, and found the same conditions attached to them. Mr. V. B. proceeded to explain the provisions which had been adopted in regard to other States on this subject. He believed the people of Alabama themselves would not require this revocation, if they would thoroughly consider the effect of this provision; it was a matter of great importance to them. In the old States, all the powers over their waters, which were not surrendered to the Government at the adoption of the Constitution, were reserved to those States. This reservation of a part of the power was calculated to bring them into collision with each other. The citizens of the new States have a check upon their own Legislatures which those of the old States have not. These checks he considered very advantageous. The people were protected by their own stipulations from any oppressive exactions, by acts of their own Legislatures. He went on to show the difficulties which would arise from an attempt, on the part of any one of the States commanding the great Western rivers, to control the navigation of those rivers. It was a paternal interest for the new States, Mr. V. B. said, that had produced this stipulation.
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Mr. Holmes, of Maine, considered this the same question that was agitated on the admission of Missouri into the Union. He resisted the supposition of a power, on the part of the General Government, to impose restrictions upon the States, in regard to their legislation. The present proposition is, that the State of Alabama shall have power to impose tolls, for the improvement her navigation. Mr. H. said, he had supposed they possessed that power; but as they consider the restraint in this ordinance a stumbling-block in their way, the inquiry is, whether it ought now to be removed? Mr. H contended that it ought to be removed; that these new States ought not to be held in leading-strings, or as colonial governments, or to be restrained from legislating as the other States may do. He denied the right to impose any restriction or limitation upon the power of legislating; and contended that every new State, admitted into the Union, must be admitted with the same powers and privileges as the other States. If it were not so, the equilibrium of the Government would be destroyed, by the difference in the powers appertaining to the different States. The State had no right to surrender, nor had the General Government any right to receive, any part of that power which belonged of right to every individual State in the Confederacy.
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Mr. Van Buren, in answer to Mr. Holmes, denied entirely, that this question was similar to that involved in the discussion on the admission of Missouri into the Union.