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to overturn the whole current of our history? What is there to
show, in this case, that California has any intention of claim
ing the ownership of the public lands, as a consequence of her
State sovereignty ? Why, so far from that, the constitution of
California acknowledges the right of the United States to those
lands. It goes on, in the ninth article, to provide how those
lands which may be granted them by the United States shall be
disposed of by the legislature. Is not that an express admission
that the public lands within her territory belong to the United
States ? We must proceed according to, or we must regard,
the established precedent in this case ; and if any thing be estab
lished by law, if any thing be settled by the experience of the
government, in the course of the various admissions of States,
(nearly half of all the existing States now in the Union,) if any
thing is settled by the solemn decision of the court of highest
judicature in the country, it is that no such thing as an implica
tion of control over the public lands of the United States arises
from the creation of a State, founded on any idea that the pub
lic domain necessarily adheres to State sovereignty. Such a
notion has never prevailed in the counsels of the country.

Now, Sir, I really hope the honorable member from Louisi
ana will reconsider the subject; that he will look at what has
been decided ; that, in this important emergency, he will consider
whether it is worth his while to stand on technicalities, and
whether it is not rather his duty to conform to the usages and
practices of the la\vs and judicature of the country ? The hon
orable member is younger than most of us, but he will allow me
to say, that it is very doubtful whether, in his career as a pub
lic man, however long it may be, he will arrive at a more impor
tant exigency in the affairs of the country than is now before us.
He has taken an important part, and a successful part, in some
amendments to the bill. He has accomplished that which he
and his friends think important in respect to the territorial gov
ernments. Will he not now help us to accomplish his own and
a higher work ? Will he not reconsider his objections to the
admission of California, so far as those objections arise to which
I have adverted ? This is a common case, an ordinary case ;
every doubt about it is shut up and concluded by solemn decis
ions, so far as this objection goes, and ought to be withheld
from opposition to the admission of California.

VOL. v. 34


Then there is another objection. He says that the bounda
ries are wrong, extraordinarily large, unnatural, and impolitic.
Now, Sir, these are questions in a great measure depending
upon the peculiar circumstances of the case, and the situation,
soil, surface, and climate of the country. At an early part of
the session, I expressed an opinion, which I still hold, that, if the
subject were before us now, we could not make a better boun
dary for California than is made in her constitution. I came to
that opinion from my information respecting the formation of
the country, and all the circumstances connected with it. The
Senator says the territory of California is three times greater
than the average extent of the new States of the Union. Well,
Sir, suppose it is. We all know that it has more than three
times as many mountains, inaccessible and rocky hills, and
sandy wastes, as are possessed by any State of the Union. But
how much is there of useful land ? how much that may be made
to contribute to the support of man and of society? These
ought to be the questions. Well, with respect to that, I am
sure that everybody has become satisfied that, although Califor
nia may have a very great sea-board, and a large city or two,
yet that the agricultural products of the whole surface now
are not, and never will be, equal to one half part of those of
the State of Illinois ; no, nor yet a fourth, or perhaps a tenth
part. In the first place, the entire country, extending from the
eastern bottom of the Sierra Nevada, as far as the Gila, is a
desert of sand. That takes off thirty or forty thousand square
miles of the whole territory, and it is a pretty important re
duction. Then, look again at the mountains. There is un
doubtedly a long valley on the Sacramento and San Joaquin
of tolerably good land, and there may be some good land
between the coast mountains and the sea; but, on the whole,
nobody will say that, in quantity of good land, or of tolerably
good land, there is any excess ; on the contrary, there is far less
than belongs to most of the new States.

Then there is another consideration. If you separate South
California from North California, what will be the value of
South California by itself ? Why, look upon the map and the
question will be answered. Suppose we run the line of
36 30 from the sea across to New Mexico ; what have you ?
You have mountains, and you have those vast tracts of land


east of the mountains; but from the best information I can
obtain, and I have consulted what I suppose every one con
cedes is the best authority, there cannot be at most, within what
would constitute the territory of South California, more than
five thousand square miles of good land. Beyond that all is
desert lands and mountains. I speak now of lands that may
be tilled and cultivated. We must, as I have said, look at cli
mate as well as the surface of the land. Gentlemen will please
to remember, that, in this part of California, eight months in
every year roll on without a drop of rain falling, and there is
not within the whole of it any land whatever that can be culti
vated without irrigation. So small are the streams, when you
depart from those two rivers, the Sacramento and the San Joa-
quin, that they do not supply water for the cultivation of the
very small portion of the land that otherwise might be made
tillable. What, then, will be the value of this territory ? The
gentleman from Louisiana contended for the rights of the South
in regard to it. Where is there any value in it ? Is it any thing
more than a mere nominal right, if it be that ? Can it be of any
use whatever ? Could the South make any use of that territory
if it were now a territory, and free from any restraint what
ever, which they cannot make of it as part of a State ? I think,
therefore, that it is a dispute where there is no substantial value
in the matter contested.

Mr. President, we ought to look to what is the most practica
ble thing we can do. The member from Louisiana desires to
draw across the territory the line of 36 30 , the boundary com
monly called the Missouri Compromise. Now, is that a prac
ticable measure ? Does the gentleman, or do his friends, sup
pose that, either now or hereafter, by this Congress or the next,
any such thing can be done? Looking at the fact, in the
first place, that this Southern California is part of California, and
within her prescribed boundaries, and next, to the known state
of opinion in that region, I have yet to learn, (though I have
heard it suggested to the contrary,) after some diligent exam
ination of the proceedings of the convention, that there is any
disposition or wish, on the part of the people, from Monterey
down to San Diego, to remain by themselves, or form a State
by themselves. I find that a member of the convention, Mr.
Carrillo, I think, from San Angeles, in the early part of the de-


bate, having in the excitement of discussion with some north
ern members suggested such an idea, afterwards withdrew
it in the further progress of the debate, as will be found on
page 446 of the report. And I see no evidence from the
country to the south of 36 30 that it is desirous to set up
or to have a government for itself, or to be otherwise asso
ciated in government than it is. It is also to be remem
bered, Mr. President, that this Lower California is the old part
of California, and has been settled from one hundred and fifty
to two hundred years. Its habits are fixed, and, although not
a subject to dwell on, it may be fit to refer to it. So far as I
see, in the debates in the California convention, the indica
tions of a fixed purpose to exclude slavery from all parts of Cal
ifornia, that sentiment was most strongly expressed by persons,
members of the convention, coming from this old part, this
southern part, the lower part of California ; and therefore I do
not see that there is any human probability of their consenting
to its admission. Is it not better, then, to take this bill as it
stands ? We have determined the question in regard to the
territories, and, taking it as it stands under the constitution of
California, within her borders, and looking to the practical, I
may say the certain, operation of things, is it v not our bounden
duty to bring California into the Union ?

Mr. President, the idea most urgent and pressing on my
mind in all this matter is, that it is our duty to accomplish
something on the subject of these territories, to accomplish
something that will be as satisfactory to all parts of the coun
try as we can make it. I had no hand in introducing these
territories into the Union ; I have no responsibility, therefore,
for the evils that spring out of that act. But here they are
upon us. I wish to deal with the subject in the fairest, most
expedient, and just manner, and, according to my fixed opin
ion, there is nothing to be gained by our discussing, or apply
ing, or agitating the vexed matter of slavery over any of these
territories. I wish for my part, as an American, or one who
desires to carry on and maintain this government, to see a
course adopted that will give all the satisfaction we can give,
and that will accomplish something towards restoring peace
and quiet to the Union.

Mr. President, as has already been said, and as is known to


us all, we have been here six or seven months. We are called
upon to make some disposition of these territories. I think
that before all, in regard to time, is the question of the admis
sion of California ; and I hope, therefore, that we shall have
to-day, or when the question is taken, such a vote on the prop
osition of the Senator from Louisiana as will decide the case,
and show that the judgment of the Senate, as it is of the whole
country, is, that California should be admitted without further
delay than is necessary by the terms of the act.

I hope, therefore, without going into an elaborate profes
sional argument, that the member from Louisiana will see that
there is nothing to dispute about ; will see that, without any
act of Congress, there is no danger that California will under
take to run away with the public lands, or undertake to tax
the public lands or non-residents ; and therefore, in respect to
California, that we may have a vote which shall be decisive, and
so far show to the country that, as to this part of the case, it is
a determined question.

The next day (28th June) Mr. Webster spoke as follows, on the same
subject, in reply to Mr. Soule :

I shall occupy but a very brief time, I hope, in the remarks
which I shall make in reply to the honorable member from
Louisiana, rather by way of an explanation of what I have
heretofore said, than as a discussion of the subject anew. The
question really between us, as a substantial question, is this,
if there be any ; namely, whether the assent or agreement
of California is necessary, in order to secure to the United
States the property in the public lands, or public domain, now
belonging to the United States, and lying within the proposed
boundaries of California ? That is the question. Is it neces
sary that something further be done on the part of California to
make sure the title of the United States, and their possession
and enjoyment to and of the public lands ? The honorable gen
tleman holds the affirmative of that proposition, and, with
proper deference, I hold the negative. And I stand upon the
history of the country, from the period of the admission of the
first State where there was public land intended to be disposed
of for the benefit of the United States, I mean Ohio, and
that was in the year 1803. The honorable member has said,


thfct, though in the act admitting Ohio there is a condition
inserted, as there is here, that the public lands shall not be
taxed, there is no stipulation by Ohio that the primary disposal
of the soil shall not be interfered with ; and that either from the
consideration that without any such condition the primary dis
position of the soil could not be interfered with by the State, or
from the fact that a proper provision, applicable to the whole of
the Northwestern Territory, had been already inserted in the
Ordinance of 1787. I care not which way it be taken. What
I mean to say is this : that from the first establishment of States
in this Union over territory possessed by the United States, or
over limits within which the United States had more or less
public land, it has not been regarded as a part of the public
law of America that the States, by merely being created States,
by any implication arising from their sovereignty, or otherwise,
have obtained, or could obtain, any right whatever to the public
property of the United States within their limits. Such, I
understand, has been the whole history of the country; and
such was precisely the decision of the Supreme Court in the
case referred to by me yesterday. The honorable member from
Louisiana is kind enough to admit that, if this question were to
be discussed in a forensic form, if we were now before a court
to settle this question as a question of law, that the decision
would be against him.

MR. SOULE. Will the Senator allow me to say, that what I stated
was, that, if we were in another forum, the authority quoted by the dis
tinguished Senator would carry with it greater weight than it would be
entitled to in this body ?

Let me ask, why should that authority, if quoted to-day in
the Supreme Court, have any greater respect or weight attached
to it than if quoted here? The suggestion of the honorable
member was, that this is a political question. It is just the
question which has been decided in the case referred to. It is
no question of expediency, no question of wisdom or folly, oi
prudence or imprudence in matters of political concern. It is
just exactly a question of public law. It turns on the effect of
the treaty with Spain of 1798, upon the provisions of the Con
stitution and the acts of Congress admitting Alabama into the
Union. That is a judicial question emphatically, a question of


high public law; and is just exactly the same question here to
day that it was when before the Supreme Court. And, how
ever we decide it here, if dispute arises about it, it must go back
before the same tribunal to be there again adjudged. It is, there
fore, no question of political expediency, as I have said, and no
question of what is wise or unwise, but a question of constitu
tional law ; and that question has been decided by the highest
tribunal in this government. And it has been decided, as I
should have said yesterday, and perhaps did say, not upon any
ground of conflict between the sovereign power in this govern
ment and the sovereign power in a State government. Not at
all. The court rejected that ground. The court proceeded upon
the idea, that the local sovereignty necessarily had control over
all lands lying within its limits, except so far as it had parted
with that control to individuals, and except so far as the United
States, by virtue of the constitutional power of Congress, re
tained control over the public domain lying within such State.

The honorable member has said, with great propriety, that, if
we separate the useful domain from the sovereignty, why, then
the useful domain may inure to individuals, as well as to gov
ernments; and the gentleman will remember that I said the
very same thing yesterday, in just so many terms. But, then,
the gentleman seems to alarm us by the danger of this construc
tion. He says it would enable this government to grasp all the
lands lying within a State, and establish a federal tenantry
within that State. I think the grasp of the gentleman s imagi
nation, in this respect, is far wider than any possible grasp of
jurisdiction by this government. He must take along with the
general proposition the proper limitation; and that is, that the
United States hold these public lands within a State only for
sale and settlement, or other proper disposal. The language of
all our history, of the cessions, the Ordinance, the Constitution,
and all the laws, is in accordance with this idea. The United
States hold the lands, not to cultivate, not to lease, but simply
to sell or dispose of. They protect the lands till sold or dis
posed of, and there their authority ends ; and every acre, when
sold, comes under the proper dominion of the local sovereignty.

The honorable member thinks I did him some injustice in
omitting to notice what was contained in his amendment in re
spect to the mines. I certainly did not intend any injustice or


any omission. But it struck me that the question was just the
same in regard to the mines as in regard to the ordinary lands
which the United States obtained from Mexico by the treaty.
What is true of one must be true of the other. Whatever was
the government right of Mexico, either to the lands or mines,
passes to the government of the United States. Whatever
right, in lands or mines, had passed from the government of
Mexico into private ownership remains in such ownership, ex
actly as if the sovereignty had never been changed. Now, it is
of no sort of consequence to this argument, or the question
arising in this case, what were the laws of Mexico, whether de
rived from Spain, or established by her own sovereignty, after
she had been separated from Spain. So far as private rights
were vested in lands or mines, they will remain vested, and
every thing that still adhered to the sovereignty of Mexico has
passed to the United States, to be disposed of as the United
States shall think proper. If there be public domain in the
mineral lands, the United States will be entitled to hold them
and to dispose of them ; and if individuals were entitled to hold
any part of them, they will be entitled to continue to hold them.
The honorable member s amendment proposes that California
shall not obstruct or impede any control which the United
States may wish to exercise over the mining region. Need we
take a bond from California, that she will not interpose her power
to obstruct the Constitution and laws of the United States?
Any thing done, or to be done, or omitted to be done, by Califor
nia, can neither enlarge nor diminish the power of the United
States over the lands in California. Nothing is clearer, as a
general rule, than that the constitutional powers of Congress
can no more be enlarged by the assent of States than they can
be diminished by their dissent.

The honorable member alludes again to what he considers a
possible danger, of great magnitude to the rest of the Union,
from the large boundaries assigned to California ; since he thinks
there may be within these boundaries one, or two, or three mil
lions of people, at some time to come. Pray, Mr. President,
will the honorable member allow me to ask if he supposes the
division of the territory into two Territories or two States will
tend to retard the population of the whole, so that there will not
be, in the whole of the two States, as great a population as


there would be in one ? I did say yesterday, and said truly,
that I thought the case a very urgent and important one ; that I
saw danger, and great danger, likely to arise from further delay
in admitting California into the Union. These apprehensions
may have been unfounded ; but they were real, genuine, and
honest. We take from her the income of her ports, we take her
commercial revenues, without affording her any thing in return.
How long is it likely that such a state of things will be con
tinued, and be satisfactory to the people of California ? But,
says the honorable member, is it possible that California dreams
of secession ? No, Mr. President ; I hope she does not dream
of any thing of that sort; but she thinks of accession. She
must come into the Union before she can go out of it. I think
that is a plain proposition. The gentleman has stated, truly
enough, that there are ties that bind the people of California to
the United States. I hope these ties will be found to exist
always, and in all their force. I hope, too, that the argument
will be applied, as it may be with equal force, in places not so
far off as California. I hope these ties will have a prevalence
among the people everywhere and always, which will secure
their attachment to the Union.

MR. KING. Mr. President, I wish to call the attention of the hon
orable Senator to that part of the amendment of the Senator from
Louisiana, which relates to the taxing of the public lands. Is the hon
orable Senator prepared to give his opinion with respect to the power
vested in the State of California, if brought into the Union without any
relinquishment of that right ? Does he think that the power to tax the
public lands of the United States does not and will not exist in the State
of California ?

That principle is entirely embraced within the opinion of the
Supreme Court. The power of taxing the public domain is
completely denied to the States by virtue of the general au
thority of Congress. And, say the court, "by virtue of that
authority which enables them to make rules and regulations
with respect to the territory, the new States, without any com
pact, can neither interfere with the primary disposal of the soil,
nor tax the public lands."

Mr. Soule s amendment was disagreed to by a vote of ayes 19, nays 36.


ON the 9th of July, 1850, the " Compromise Bill " being under dis
cussion, Mr. Butler of South Carolina was addressing the Senate, but
gave way to Mr. Webster, who rose and said :

MR. PRESIDENT, I have permission from the member from
South Carolina to interrupt the progress of his speech, in order
to make a solemn and mournful suggestion to the Senate. The
intelligence which within the last few moments has been re
ceived indicates that a very great misfortune is now impend
ing over the country. It is supposed by medical advisers and
others that the President of the United States cannot live
many hours. This intimation comes in a shape so authentic,
and through so many channels of communication, and all tend
ing to the same result, that I have thought it my duty to move
the Senate to follow the example which has already been set
in the other branch of the national legislature.

At half-past eleven o clock to-day I called at the President s
mansion to inquire after his health. I was informed that he
had passed a very bad night ; that he was exceedingly ill this
morning, but that at that moment he was more easy and more
composed. I had hardly reached my seat in the Senate when
it was announced to me that the fever had suddenly returned
upon him with very alarming symptoms ; that appearances of
congestion were obvious ; and that it was hardly possible his
life could be prolonged through the day.

With the permission, therefore, of my honorable friend from

* Remarks in the Senate of the United States, on the 9th and 10th of July,


South Carolina, who, I am sure, shares those feelings on this
occasion which quite disqualify us for the performance of our
duties, even in this very important crisis of public affairs, I
venture to move the Senate that it do now adjourn.

The Senate accordingly adjourned.

On the next day, July 10th, the following message was received from
the Vice-President, Mr. Fillmore :

"Washington, July 10, 1850.
;t Fellow-citizens of the Senate and of the House of Representatives :

" I have to perform the melancholy duty of announcing to you that it
has pleased Almighty God to remove from this life Zachary Taylor,
late President of the United States. He deceased last evening, at the

Online LibraryDaniel WebsterThe works of Daniel Webster (Volume 05) → online text (page 39 of 53)