MVB, Speech on the Erie Canal bill, 14 April 1817
Mr. Van Beuren. (We regret exceedingly, that we cannot give Mr. Van Beuren's speech entire. The editor is not sufficiently expert, at short hand, to follow a Speaker whose utterance is as rapid as Mr. Van Beuren's. His speech was able, and delivered with much force and eloquence.) Mr. Van Beuren said he must trespass upon the committee while he stated the general considerations which induced him to give his vote for the bill. It was a subject which had been so fully discussed, and upon which so much had been said, that he should deem it arrogance to enlarge. The calculations which had been made with respect to the probable expense of the canal, and the ways and means for raising funds, were fit subjects for consideration. But to do this he deemed himself incompetent. He must place great confidence upon the reports of the commissioners upon these points. Mr. V. B. here took a brief review of the measures adopted at the last session of the legislature in relation to the canal, when a bill similar to the one now before the senate, was under consideration, and stated the reasons why he voted against the bill at that time. We then had no calculations made by the commissioners so minute as at present.—Under those considerations, he conceived it his duty at the last session, to move the rejection of the whole bill relating to the commencement of the canal. It was so done; and he had the satisfaction to find that most gentlemen have since united with him in his opinions. Now the scene is entirely changed. We at that time passed a law appointing new commissioners, and applying $20,000 to enable them to obtain all the information possible. We now have the information; and we have arrived at the point, when if this bill do not pass, the project must for many years be abandoned. His convictions were, that it is for the honor and interest of the state to commence the work at once. We are pledged by former measures to do it.
Mr. Van Buren here viewed the proceedings of former legislatures upon the subject, during the years 1810, 11, 12-14, when, in consequence of the war, the law, appropriating five millions for the canal, was repealed. He proceeded—Since that period, new commissioners have been appointed, and new authority given, to examine the route for the canal, and report at the present session of the legislature.—A law authorizing the commencement of the work has passed the popular branch of the Legislature, and unless we have the clearest convictions that the project is impracticable, or the resources of our state insufficient you must not recede from the measures already taken. Are we satisfied upon these two points? We have had able, competent commissioners to report, and they have laid a full statement before us—We are bound to receive these reports as correct evidence upon this subject.—In no part of the business have we looked to individual states, or to the U. States for assistance, other than accidental or auxiliary. Mr. Van Buren here made some calculations relative to the funds. Lay out of view said he, all the accidental resources, and the revenue from the canal, and in completing the work you will only entail upon the state a debt, the interest of which will amount to but about $300,000. He then stated the amount of real estate within this state now, and what it probably would be, if the canal were completed. The tax would not amount to more than one mill on the dollar. Unless the report of the commissioners is a tissue of fraud or misrepresentation, this tax will be sufficient and more than sufficient to complete the canal. We are now to say that all our former proceedings have been insincere or we must go on with the work. The people in the districts where we are first to make the canal are willing and able to be subjected to the expense of those sections.
Mr. Van Buren contended that the duties upon Salt, and the Auction duties, were a certain source of revenue; and that these two sources of revenue would be abundant, and more than abundant, forever to discharge the interest of the debt to be created—Ought we under such circumstances to reject this bill? No, sir; For one, he was willing to go to the lengths contemplated by the bill—The Canal is to promote the interest and character of the state in a thousand ways. But we are told that the people cannot bear the burden.—Sir, I assume it as a fact, that the people have consented to it—For six years we have been engaged upon this business. During this time our tables have groaned with the petitions of the people from every section of our country in favor of it. And not a solitary voice has been raised against it— Mr. V. B. said he had seen with regret, the divisions that have heretofore existed upon this subject, apparently arising from hostility to the commissioners.—Last year the same bill in effect passed the Assembly—the immediate representatives of the people—and this year it has passed again. This was conclusive evidence that the people have assented to it.—Little can be done by the commissioners other than to make a loan, before another session. The money cannot be lost—there can be no loss at six per cent—we have spent years—have all the information we wish or can have—and we must either say that we will be harrassed from year to year, or we must decide upon it.
We have now all the information we can wish—We must make up our minds either to be expending large sums in Legislation, year after year,—or we must go on with the project. After so much has been done and said upon this subject, it would belittle the state to abandon it. He considered it the most important vote which he ever gave in his life;—but the project, if executed, would raise the state to the highest possible pitch of fame and grandeur.—He repeated that we were bound to consider that the people have given their assent.—Twelve thousand men of wealth and respectability in the city of New-York, last year petitioned for the canal; and at all events, before the operations would be commenced, the people, if opposed to the measure, would have ample time to express their will upon the subject.
The question on the first enacting clause was taken and carried in the affirmative, 21 to 8.
(Owing to some unaccountable accident, the remainder of our sketches of this debate were lost or mislaid, after they went to the compositor. Messrs. Livingston, Elmendorph and Ogden, spoke in reply to Mr. Van Buren. Their arguments, however were principally a repetition of what had been said before. Mr. V. B. replied in a short, but very pertinent and forcible speech.)