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Abridgment of the Debates of Congress, from 1789 to 1856. From Gales and Seatons' Annals of Congress; from their Register of debates; and from the official reported debates, by John C. Rives online

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Online LibraryUnited States. CongressAbridgment of the Debates of Congress, from 1789 to 1856. From Gales and Seatons' Annals of Congress; from their Register of debates; and from the official reported debates, by John C. Rives → online text (page 80 of 183)
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the amendment which he has proposed to the
resolution under consideration; because the
amendment renders the resolution null and



H. OF E.]

Georgia Claims.

[Jahuahy, 1805.

void, and the resolution neither affirms nor ad-
mits the legal title. Still, I should be willing
to rest the whole merits of the case on the
single question, whether the claimants, at the
time of making their purchases, had or had not
a knowledge of the fraud ? In the autumn of
1795, when the sales were generally made in
New England, there was no knowledge or sus-
picion of fraud — the contracts were made in
fall confidence of the act of a sovereign and in-
dependent State — and I know they could have
had no knowledge of any fraud in the Legisla-
ture of Georgia. We are told by the gentle-
man that there was " a great uproar through-
out the State of Georgia." Whatever might
have been the nature or extent of this uproar,
I am confident that a knowledge of it had not
reached New England at the time the contracts
were made. But the proof that there was no
knowledge of any fraud depends not on the
opinions or assertions of individuals — it is
founded on a circumstance which removes all
doubt on the subject — it is founded on the price
which the purchasers paid for the land. They
paid, as they have stated in their memorial, as
much per acre fbr these lands as the State of
Massachusetts had received, a few years before,
for lands lying in the State of New York. And
is it probable that the purchasers who have
been represented by a gentleman from Pennsyl-
vania as possessing so much sagacity, and look-
ing so well to their own interests, would have
paid or contracted to pay such a price, with a
knowledge that the original grant had been
fraudulently obtained ?

Thtjrsdat, January 31.
Georgia Claims.

The House resumed the consideration of the
resolution reported the twenty-ninth instant,
from the Committee of the Whole, on the Geor-
gia Claims.

Mr. Jackson. — ^Mr. Speaker, I rise with some
degree of reluctance to address you on the pres-
ent occasion, not because I fear to give publicity
to my sentiments on the question before the
House, but from the assurance that the length
of time which this subject has occupied at the
last, and during the present session of Congress,
renders it most certain that no new view can
be given ; and more especially that the opinions
already formed cannot be changed. I would not
now have risen but for the wish that inasmuch
as a most extraordinary course has been pursued,
and a general denunciation of every man who
dares to favor the report on your table has been
made, my reasons may accompany my vote, and
I am willing that they together may form the
criterion by which my political existence sball
be decided. The reluctance I felt in rising is
somewhat removed by the reflection that the
arguments urged on this floor are declared not
intended to influence the judgment of this
House, but to control the public mind, by an
avowed appeal to the people of the United

States. Let the appeal be fairly made, and I
fearlessly await their decision. For that pur-
pose, I deem it proper to offer my sentiments,
in order that they may accompany those of my
two colleagues who have preceded me. Sir, I
am decidedly in favor of the report of the Com-
mittee of Claims, and of course opposed to the
amendment imder consideration. I do not on
this occasion regret the absence of party spirit
from these walls, which has been invoked by
my colleague, (Mr. Randolph.) That party
spirit which has been the bane of all govern-
ment ; that party spirit which, disregarding all
the forms of justice, tramples its most sacred
laws under foot, and presides without check or
control over questions relating solely to private
property ; or which was displayed in the con-
duct of Jefiries, who servilely prostrating his
sacred functions to the purposes of ministerial
vengeance, has justly excited the reproach and
execration of posterity : and which, if cherished
upon occasions like the present, will tend to de-
molish the fair fabric of our Republican Govern-
ment. I will not admit that because a majority
of this House are in favor of the claims, and
desire a prompt decision without debate, it is
evidence that " unprincipled men have acquired
the ascendency, and knowing themselves to be
in the commission of wrong they are silent."
Is my colleague aware of the extent of this doc-
trine ? When unprincipled men, said he, acquire
the ascendency, they act in concert and are
silent — silence and concert, then, are to him
proofs of corrupt motive. Is this always a cor-
rect position ? Does the gentleman recollect
that measures were adopted a few years past
without discussion, by my political friends, in
conjunction with him, who were silent., and
united? I am unwilling to believe that such
an inference can result from a union of senti-
ment. In some instances we are unanimous in
our decision of questions, on which no debate
takes place ; but I have never thought this was
proof of the prostration of principle ; nor can I
suppose that the gentleman himself thinks so ;
even now we adopt measures advocated by him,
and are nevertheless told that to act in concert
is proof of corruption. Having premised that
the inferences made by the gentleman were not
correct, I will proceed to the investigation of
the question before the House, viz: Are the
claims under the act of 1T95, entitled to refer-
ence to commissioners for compromise and set-
tlement, or are they not ? My colleague (Mr.
Randolph) says the persons who obtained the
land from the Legislature of Georgia were guilty
of a most detestable fraud; and the present
claimants, pretending to be innocent purchasers
without notice of fraud, are a set of hypodrites,
undeserving the attention of Congress, or the
commiseration of mankind. In support of this
assertion he has quoted the Message of the
President of the United States, in 1795, to Con-
gress, describing in terms of approbation the
high character of its author — Washington —
whose memory I revere, and whose name I will



Jancakt, 1805.]

Georgia Claims.

[H. OF R.

teach my childi-en to lisp, and venerate as the
father of American freedom, and who with
Liberty were the two best gifts bestowed by
Heaven upon our favored country ! Washingtoit,
my colleague says, gave notice to the nation, and
published the rape of unhallowed hands upon the
property of the State of Georgia. But, sir, if
we examine the Message, and the proceedings
of Congress upon the occasion, it will be dis-
covered that no knowledge of fraud in the trans-
actions of the Legislature of 1795, was even
known, or suspected ; because, if any such in-
formation had been received, the known integ-
rity of that virtuous man assures me, he would
have communicated it ; he woTild have opposed
it with his best exertions, and give me leave to
say, deprecated it as much as any man can.

Mr. FiKDLAT said that he claimed the atten-
tion of the House for a short time ; but from
viewing the unusual turn some of the arguments
had taken, and the nature of the subject, he
found it a matter of some delicacy to know how
to proceed. He was opposed to the amend-
ment under debate, and in favor of the resolu-
tion, but he observed some members, with whom
he had generally voted, and for whose talents he
had a high esteem, and in whose integrity he
had the utmost confidence, take the other side
with such ardent zeal, and in a mode of argu-
ment so unusual in public bodies, that on ob-
serving this, he had hesitated and had voted in
the last session for the postponement which took
place. He had done this in hopes that the House
would in this session meet the case in a temper
more becoming their own dignity and the im-
portance and delicacy of the subject.

He said he would begin with the Message of
the President near the close of the session in
February, in the year 1795, informing Con-
gress of the two laws made in Georgia, one in
December and the other in the month of Feb-
ruary, 1795, (the same Message mentioned by
the member from Virginia, Mr. Eabtooi-ph.)
The Message was referred to a select committee,
of which he had the honor of being a member,
with other very intelligent members from both
South and East, (Mr. Nicholas, Mr. Ainss, &o.)
It had long been the opinion of men well in-
formed, that the title of Georgia to the extent
of territory she claimed was doubtful, and that
it was too great for any one State to possess in
connection with the Federal Union. "X^e old
Congress frequently called on Georgia to make
a cession of her unsettled territory, agreeably to
the stipuhitions on which the Confederation was
agreed to, but when Georgia did propose a ces-
sion, the terms on which it was made were re-
jected. Other States made cessions of lands to
which they had no title, or else had appropriated
the lands to individuals before the cession was
made ; so that, on the whole, but a small quan-
tity of land unencumbered came to the benefit
of the United States. But to return : the com-
mittee in February, 1795, examined the title of
Georgia as far as they had information, the
bounds not being certainly known ; the unset-

tled territory of Georgia was believed to be
larger than France or Germany, or any other
European nation, except Russia, whose Asiatic
dominions extend to the Pacific Ocean ; hence
they concluded that such an extent of territory
possessed by one State, at the extremity of the
United States, and bordering its whole length
on the Spanish dominions, with which we were
then in danger of a serious contest, it was the
opinion of the committee that every proper
means should be used to induce Georgia to cede,
in a peaceable ma»ner, a proportion of that ter-
ritory; and, as a first step towards obtaining
this object, the committee reported that the
Attorney- General should examine the titles of
the State of Georgia and of the lands claimed
by the company from the law of 1795 ; and
they further reported that the President should
be authorized to obtain a cession from the State
of Georgia of the whole or part of the territory.

It was not certainly known that there was a
defect in the title of Georgia, but from the cir-
cumstances of the small extent of that colony
at the beginning, and in various extensions by
different royal proclamations, &c., the title of
Georgia was held in doubt. It is well known
that the State of Georgia at first was pitched
into the State of South Carolina, which for a
considerable time granted titles for land south
of the State of Georgia, and one degree of lati-
tude which the United States claimed from the
definitive treaty with Britain, was yet in the
possession of Spain ; but this the members of
Georgia considered also as within the jurisdic-
tion of that State. This being the case, the
committee thought it prudent to make, no men-
tion of the supposed defect of the title of Geor-
gia. The committee, and particularly himself,
suspected that different laws enacted by that
State for the sale of land, and particularly the
recent sale of 1795, were encouraged by their
own suspicion of a defective title, but they knew
nothing of the bribery and corruption assigned
as a reason in the year following, for annulling
the contract ; therefore it was, that no notice
to the contractors that Congress doubted the
title of Georgia was given. There was no pre-
cedent in the United States of a contract au-
thomed by a constitutional legislative act being
declared null and void by a succeeding legisla-
ture. The power of decisions on frauds and
corruptions, or the validity of titles being vested
in the courts of justice in all civilized countries,
such a decision could only be looked for from
that department ; but neither a judge who is
stated to have been corrupted was impeached,
nor any of the members indicted.

Mr. F. said, while the case was so situated,
the New England purchasers, or long-legged
speculators, did not, as his colleague (Mr. Ltjoas)
had said, go to Georgia, but the long-legged con-
tractors or speculators of Georgia, went above a
thousand miles to Massachusetts, an old, thick-
settled country, the citizens of which needed
land for their families, (a country which an-
nually sent forth numerous emigrants, who gen-



H. OP R.]

Georgia Chims.

[Jancabv, 1806.

erally purchased in large quantities and settled
in large bodies together,) and sold the land at
seven or eight times the original price, by which
they gained near $1,000,000 advance. They
went with the patents from the State of Georgia,
and the law, and probably the constitution of
that State, in their hands. This, alone, was
sufficient to encourage purchasers among a peo-
ple who needed land ; but this was not all.
The respectability of the characters of the set-
tlers was such as would reasonably induce an
opinion, that they could not themselves be de-
ceived, and would not deceive others. Among
these were a very respectable judge of the Su-
preme Court of the Dhited'States, who had been
a member of the old Congress from almost its
commencement till its dissolution, for as long a
period as the State constitution would permit,
and had been an efficient member of the Con-
vention which prepared the Constitution of the
United States, and several State conventions,
and a gentleman who was then, and both before
and after that time, a Senator of the United
States, and many other very respectable charac-
ters — who, however, he acknowledged, had by
that act forfeited the character they had for-
merly enjoyed, and yet, strange to tell, neither
before nor after the annulling act, he could not
call it a law, as no such law could be made under
the Constitution of the United States. The sale
was annulled ; but the judge said to have been
corrupted, nor the federal judge, was impeached,
nor any of the members of whom it was testified
that they had received bribes, or were sharers
in the spoil, were indicted, but stiU enjoy the
confidence, as much as they otherwise would
have done, of that State. Not one of them
was removed from office, or in any official
manner consigned to infamy, by the courts of
that respectable State, or by impeachment.
. The lands sold at Boston were yet in posses-
sion of the Indian tribes, and the Indian war
but lately extinguished, while, at the same time,
the lands in Pennsylvania were sold, the first
rate at one shilling and sixpence ; the reputed
second rate — but in fact equal if not superior in
quality and situation — at one shaiing the acre ;
and what remained unsold to the old settlements,
at sixpence; and, in New York, still cheaper
the acre ; when the Georgia purchase, with all
its disadvantages, is stated and admitted to have
been sold, rough and smooth, good and bad,
and of which a large proportion is allowed to
be bad, at something above fifteen pence an
acre on the amount reserved. Certainly such a
speculation, if it was one, was such as he would
not have had any share in, and therefore no
proof of the superior cunning ascribed to them
by his colleague and others.

Mr. F. said that, so far, the bargain and sale
were fair and legal ; whether it was a good bar-
gain or a bad one, was the look-out of the pur-
chasers ; if it was a bad one Government would
have given them no relief. Had nothing extra-
ordinary, or out of the common road, taken
place, he believed the attention of Congress

would never have been called to the subject.
Soon, however, after this contract was made,
the Legislature of Georgia declared the contract,
and the law under which it was made, to be
void or annulled ; and in a short time after, a
convention of that respectable State disapproved
of the constitutional act of the Legislature ; but
as long as we pay respect to constitutional ob-
ligations and the distribution of the powers of
government, and as long as we respect the Fed-
eral Constitution, which expressly asserts that
no ex post facto law, or law impairing the ob-
ligation of contracts, shall be made, we must
agree that one session of a legislature cannot
annul the contracts made by the preceding ses-
sion. If that could be done, the patent for his
own plantation might also be set aside, for he
acknowledged it is worth more now than the
price that he paid for it. This doctrine had never
been entertained even in the Revolutionary
period. At that solemn period, all contracts
were protected.

Mr. F. said that he cheerfully acknowledged
that the amount of land sold under the law of
Georgia of 1795, was so enormous as that, if
that State had been a separate and wholly in-
dependent government, would have justified,
in some degree, an agrarian law ; and if the
fraud and corruption attested by ex parte testi-
mony was true, would have justified the most
exemplary punishment of those who suffered
themselves to be corrupted, or who defrauded
the commonwealth, and this would have proved
a defect in the contract itself; but no such
thing appears to have taken place. The judge,
who is said to have received $13,000 for his
vote, was not impeached, nor the members who
are said to have given, or received bribes, in-
dicted. It appears to have been so contrived
that the State or citizens of Georgia, should
suffer no loss — that the loss and reproach should
be transferred to people at the greatest possible
distance. He gave credit, however, to the Legis-
lature of Georgia, which met in the year 1796,
for making an extraordinary exertion to free
themselves from an extraordinary evil. It was
a laudable testimony against corruption and
fraud, but no court of justice had yet, by de-
ciding on it, acknowledged it to be law, and it
was too slow for warning others at a distance
against titles originating under the law of 1795.

The annulling law of 1796 had all the effect
that any citizen, at that period, could have
wished. Congress took possession of the gov-
errmient of the western parts of Georgia, the
parts in which the lands in question lay, and
erected a territorial government, without the
consent of that State, and passed a law author-
izing the President to enter into a negotiation
with Georgia on the principles of compromise,
for the right of soil. The compromise eventually
succeeded, and an act of cession took place be-
tween the United States and the State of Geor-
gia. In this act of cession, or convention, it
was provided that the claims in the counties of
Bourbon and "Washington, bordering on the



January, 1805.]

Georgia Claims.

[H. OF E.

Mississippi river, &o., should be protected, and
that five millions of acres, or part thereof, should,
by the United States, be applied to satisfy, quiet,
or compensate, the claims now before the House,
and that if they were not so applied, they should
revert to the State of Georgia.

On these conditions, Mr. F. said, did Georgia
surrender her right of soil. Agreeably to these
conditions were the Commissioners of the United
States authorized to make and receive proposals,
but the commissioners were not authorized to
conclude the agreement, they did report to Con-
gress, and in that report, they state that the
claimants cannot, in their opinion, recover by
law. This is well founded, because no action
can be brought against the United States, nor,
since the amendment made to the constitution
respecting the suability of States, against a State.
Therefore this fund, viz: the five millions of
acres, set apart by the Convention of Georgia, to
quiet, satisfy, or compensate these claims, must
be either applied to that purpose, or revert to
the State of Georgia, or the faith of the United
States must be sacrificed.

Mr. F. said, that from this view of the subject,
he had made up his mind to vote in favor of the
report of the Committee of Claims. That he
had not made up his mind lightly, that he had
been prepossessed against it, but it becoming his
duty to decide, he had thrown aside these pre-
possessions, and examined the case with all the
coolness and deliberation of which he was ca-
pable, and would give his vote, as he had made
up his mind, without consulting or relying on
the opinions of others, for he was responsible
only for Ms own opinion.

Mr. Geegg. — I rise, Mr. Speaker, to congratu-
late the House, on the question being at length
brought within such narrow limits. The valid-
ity of the title appears to be nearly abandoned,
and the advocates of the resolution seem now
disposed to rest its defence almost entirely on
the ground of expediency. For my own part I
have always felt satisfied with the report of the
commissioners, so far as it respects the ques-
tion of title. They have investigated the sub-
ject with more diligence and attention than can
well be bestowed on it by members of this House,
and being men distinguished for their abilities
and of high ofiioial standing, their opinion, cer-
tainly, should have great weight. That opinion,
as recorded in their report, is, that the title of
the claimants cannot be supported. In this
opinion I most heartily concur, for I can never
be induced to believe that an act so marked
with fraud and corruption as the act of Geor-
gia, under which the claimants pretend to derive
their title, has been fully proved to be, can vest
a title either in law or in equity.

The question of title being given up, any re-
marks respecting the weight that ought to attach
to the rescinding act passed by the Legislature
of Georgia, in 1796, wOl be unnecessary. On
that part of the subject I will only just observe,
in reply to one of my colleagues, (Mi. Finblat,)
who has stated that act to be without precedent,

and that one Legislature cannot repeal an act of
a preceding Legislature where it involves a con-
tract, that there is one instance at least of such
an act, and that instance is in the State in which
he and I live. The case to which I allude, is
an act passed by the Legislature of Pennsylva
nia, for repealing the charter of the Bank ot
North America. This act, if I am not mistaken,
was passed when my colleague was a member
of the Legislature, and I beheve received his

But, leaving tBe question of title, good policy,
say gentlemen, requires us to pass the resolu-
tion. In this sentiment, they and the commis-
sioners appear to unite. The commissioners
acknowledge that the title of the claimants can-
not be supported, and yet undertake to recom-
mend a compromise, by stating "that the inter-
est of the United States, the tranquillity of
those who may hereafter inhabit that territory,
and certain equitable considerations which may
be urged in favor of most of the present claim-
ants, render it expedient to enter into a com-
promise on reasonable terms." Now, I would
ask, how is the interest of the United States to
be promoted by giving five millions of acres of
land to persons acknowledged not to have a
good title in law, and ngne in equity ? If our
interest is to be promoted in this way, we may
soon get rid of all om- land. Claimants will not
be wanting, if it is to be got for asking.

"With respect to the equitable considerations
which have been urged so strenuously in favor
of the present claimants, I must acknowledge
they have not appeared to me so very forcible.
The innocence of the claimants has been painted
in strong and glowing colors. They have been
represented, not only as innocent, but innocent
through ignorance. One of my colleagues, in
particular, has dilated largely on this idea, and
applied it especially to the New England pur-
chasers. In evidence of this, he has referred to
the case of the Connecticut intruders in the
State of Pennsylvania. But in this allusion he
was certainly extremely unfortunate. The case
might be cited to prove a position exactly the
reverse. The fact is, that these intruders have
for many years, by their superior skiU and ad-
dress, held their lands in defiance of the State ;
and, from appearance, I believe will continue to
hold them, without making any compensation to
the State ; and this instance may serve to show
the impropriety and inefiioiency of governments
pretending to compromise! with individuals.
The measures pursued by the State of Pennsyl-
vania relative to these claimants have generally
been of this description. They have produced
no advantage to the State, and have always
been converted by the intruders into arguments

Online LibraryUnited States. CongressAbridgment of the Debates of Congress, from 1789 to 1856. From Gales and Seatons' Annals of Congress; from their Register of debates; and from the official reported debates, by John C. Rives → online text (page 80 of 183)