William Russell Smith.

The history and debates of the Convention of the people of Alabama, begun and held in the city of Montgomery, on the seventh day of January, 1861; in which is preserved the speeches of the secret sessions and many valuable state papers online

. (page 32 of 47)
Online LibraryWilliam Russell SmithThe history and debates of the Convention of the people of Alabama, begun and held in the city of Montgomery, on the seventh day of January, 1861; in which is preserved the speeches of the secret sessions and many valuable state papers → online text (page 32 of 47)
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a settlement and accountability of their interest; and we cannot
be justified by her unjust and unwise course. It is the duty of
the seceded States to cultivate the most kindly relations, and it
would be the part of wisdom to set Florida a good example, with
the hope that she may repair her error.

The gentleman says, the Confederate States have no interest in
our lands, and whilst it would be generous in us to give away our
property, honesty does not require it: and in the same breath,
says, honesty requires us to account to the United States for the
value of the lauds, if we ever enter into a settlement with that
Government, of the matters in dispute. I must confess I cannot
understand on what principle) or by what process of reasoning,
he has attained his conclusion,

If honesty requires us to account to the United States for these
lands, it is because each State forming the Union was equally in
terested in t his property , which the gentleman is willing to admit.
Then, it is conceded that the seceding States had every right that
the States remaining in the Union had, and I cannot see how those
separating from us can retain their righto, whilst those acting and
uniting their destinies with us, lose theirs. It may be safer to
gratify our avarice at the expense of friends who would submit
rather than expose us — a degree of forbearance we might not re-
ceive from 01 1 1- North mi brethren.

The Ordinance to dispose of the Public Lands being under con-


Mr. JsWETT sail] :

I have been surprised to hear two or three members of the
Convention propose to turn over to the action of the Legislature,

which will not be iii session for nearly a year in come, all matters
embraced in the Ordinance, reported by the Committe on Public

Lands; and still, more surprised to hear assigned, as a reason Tor
such Course) that we arc not sufficiently informed upon the sul>-
ject to act with prudence and safety at the present time.

It certainly argues a want of information upon the questions

involved, and particularly shows an ignorance, mi their part, of
the scope and design of the Ordinance now under consideration.
But 1 am at a loss to discern how they can charge this body with
such want of knowledge as is requisite to dispose of the Public
Lands which have now become the property of the State; an 1 am
very far from being convinced that the Legislature is a more com-
petent body than our Convention, to do all that is necessary in
the premises.

To show you how injudicious it will be to refuse to consider
tin- < Ordinance reported, and adopt, in lieu thereof, the crude prop-
ositions ol" gentlemen, I need but call your attention to the
manner in which one of them proposes to meet such difficulties as
are apparent upon a single glance at his plan. He merely pro-
poses that we shall rcenact the laws of the United States formerly
in favor in this State, in regard to the disposal of the public lands.
Ami when it is suggested that the condition of affairs is materially
altered by such changes as have grown out of secession; and that
there is no officer in the State upon whom we. can devolve the
duties of supervising and regulating the many matters constantly
occurring in the different Land Offices, he proposes, without a
moment's hesitation, to invest the Governor of the State with
the same ppWCF as was previously vested in the President of the
United States in that respect, when it must be known to every
man conversant with the laws of the United Slates, that the Pre-
sident had the most insignificant duties to perform in respect to
the Public Lands — his signature to all the patents for land being
affixed by a private Secretary, and his power t<> review and pass
upon the decisions of the Commissioner of Public Lands and the
Secretary of the Interior being merely appellate. I repeat, that
I am surprised to see so grave a question as the disposal of the
public domain, embracing several millions of acres pf land, at-
tempted to be settled here by the passage of three or four Reso-
lutions, or the adoption of an Ordinance of some half a dozen


The entire question involved in the repeal of the Ordinance of
1819, which ceded the waste and unappropriated lands of the State
to the United States Government — and our State's future policy in
regard to such lauds, has been before tin 1 Special Committee ap-
pointed at the former meeting of this ('(invention, to consider
these matters, and they have engaged the earnest and careful at-
tention of tlie Committee. After considering these questions in
all their bearings, and the propriety of pursuing a line <>f policy
similar to that which induced the Stale to cede all its vacant
lands to the United States Government, when it entered the old
Federal Union, the. Committee have come to the unanimous con-
clusion to recommend a different policy, and to advise the State
to retain the I'ublic Lauds for its own use, and to dispose of them
under its own laws and regulations. They have accordingly re-
ported the Ordinance now under consideration, which establishes
a Department of Public Lands, appoints officers to carry into
effect the laws and regulations for the sale of the lands, fixes the
prices and establishes the mode of selling the lands. It further
confers privileges upon actual settlers and the occupants of neigh-
boring farms, and establishes preemption rights ; following, in
these respects, the laws of the United States, which obtained pre-
vious to our withdrawal from the Union. There are, also, some
general provisions for the correction of mistakes by purchasers
and hmd officers, and certain regulations to prevent fraud and

These matters, as I have said before, have been carefully pre-
pared, and are entitled now to the attention of this body, com-
mensurate with their importance.

The Ordinance- makes no disposal by grant or otherwise of the
lands themselves, or the proceeds arising from their sale, to any
Kail road, or for any purpose of education or otherwise ; and so
tar as remarks have been made in this debate upon the impolicy
of diverting the public, lands, or the proceeds of their sale, from
revenue purposes, they are wholly foreign to the true issues under

This Ordinance, as I have previously remarked, merely pro-
poses to supply such laws as are requisite to enable the State to
■ell its vacant, hands, in place of those laws ot' the United States
previously in force, and repealed by the Ordinance of Secession.

To have our Land Offices closed, and all the lands wit hhcld
from market until the Legislature Can meet and enact laws for
their eiitn and sale, will greatly em harass our citizens, and hin-
der the settlement of many portions of the State, in which lands
are now sought for improvement and cultivation. This Ordinance


has i ired W ith a \ n \\ of esl t for the

disposal of the vacant lands of the Stab . tnilar to thai

■11 under the United States * loi i rnment, for a like pur-
and which has been found to operate well, both to the eiti-
/cii who desired to purchase, and to the G i mem which ocoo*
pied the position of proprietor of the land.

There are features in this Ordinance, as reported under the
instructions of a majority of the Committee, which do n< I meet
n ith the approval of every member, and some of which, I am tree
bo sayj are objectionable to me ; such, for instance, as the < Btab-
lishiiHiit of County Land Offices, under the charge of the Ju<
of Probate, for the sale of the Public Lands. These feato
however, it' equally objectionable to the majority of the Conven-
tion, may be easily corrected, and the Committee expected that.
in many respects, the Convention would make alterations and ad-
ditions to the Ordinance; but it is urged, mosl earnestly, that do
reason exists for rejecting the whole Ordinance, and particularly
those parts which are satisfactory to the Convention, because
other parts ma^ not meet with like favor.

I suggest, that the whole subjeel be taken up in a Committee
of the Whole; that we entertain all motions for amendment;
debate fully all suggested alterations; and I have no doubt we
shall be able, without the consumption of much time, to eml i
in this Ordinance as safe and prudent regulations for the disposal
of the lands of the. state, as an\ fotu uld enact

upon the subject.

Mi;. \\ iiai i i.» said :

Mr. President -The gentleman from Marengo [Mr. Clarke]
denies our right to the Public Land within the State, in this 1
disagree with him. I contend that we have not only the equita-
ble right, but the legal light to these Ian. Is. How did these
lands originate, and who was originally the owner of the Bame 1
These lands were ceded l>\ the State ,,1' Georgia, l>\ the Articles
men! of 24th April, 180% What was the object of tile
cession ? ' me of the objects of the cession was to create a com-
mon-fund t'"i- the I nited State-, for the defence of the Stat.-.
That object bat now ceased ; we no longer ask the United States
for defense or protection; we have taken our defense into our
own hands. "The reason ceasing, the law itself ceases." The
United State, not being required to afford protection, the funds
provided for that parpese should not remain vested in the I nited


MY. President, another and more important object of the 068
sion by Georgia] as stated in the 5th Section of the Articles of
Cession in 1802, is to " form a State, to be admitted as such into
the Union," on an equal footing with the other States. Now, sir,
I contend that a*! soon as Alabama assembled in Tluntsville, in
1810, in her sovereign capacity, she then assumed her sovereign-
ty and right of eminent domain. She was then clothed with the
legal title to these lands, and fiduciary trust of the United States
was discharged. The Government lias impliedly admitted our
right to these lands, when Alabama was admitted into the Union.
The United States required that Alabama u should forever disclaim
all right and title to the waste and unappropriated land lying
within the territory of Alabama. 7 ' If the State did not own the
lands by virtue of her sovereignty, why did the United Slates
require the State to disclaim and cede all her rights to these
lands ?

Certainly our right is clear to these lauds. We have retired
from the partnership on account of the violation of the articles
of that partnership. AN e have a right to hold the assets in our
possession until the account is settled. Sir, we do not tear that.
iccount — we have much less than our full share.

The Confederate States have not requested us to transfer these
lands to them ; and have we any assurance that other States in-
tend to transfer their lands'/

It is said, it' we take these lands we shall have to pay an exor-
bitant price for them — the price which the Government asks for
the same. This is not the law, sir. In no case are we liable for
more than the reasonable value of said lands, however touch the
Government may charge for them. [Ainsworth vs. Patillo, 1 ."»
Ala. Reports.] Then, sir, if we have to pay for them, it will
only be what they bring in market — what is received by the State.

Mn. \Vatt.s said :

.)//-. President—] do not propose, at this late day ot the Con-
ention, to enter into as extended discussion of this important
and complicated subject. I %\ish simply to make some ml
'ions in the way of argument, to show that the amendment of the
gentleman from Marengo, [Mr. Clarke,] should not be adopted :
Uld to show why the amendment which 1 shall offer ought to be

'\"tf prop - tion of the gentleman from Marengo is to rctU- all
the Public Lands within Alabama, to the Confederate States of
\mcrica. In his reply to the gentleman from Dallas. [Mr. Mor-

iiisToky 1ND DKBATKfl 0*

mn ] he baa said that there is doubt as to Alabam 1'a title to th.
[*ubli( I within her borders. It* his icnt be true,

liis proposition ought not to be adopted. His prop

tssertion that Alabama lias no title. Ala-
i certainly cannot, an 1 ought not tb convey a title t>> a t :
which sin- doee not own. I have no doubt that tne effect
b&ma's Secession, and the establishment of her ind<-pcndenc<
the United Btates of America; invest her, according to settled
principle's of international law. with the title to all the la
within her border. I will not the argument to

show this.

But, sir. we ought not, in ray judgment, to c
the < Jonfederate > : at a. ■ -. by th ■ ( !on,

federate States is in do itial or important to th

,,t th States. If wo look to the past history <>t* tin- I h

iching this we cannot fail to discover, from \a-

rious reports made to Congress, that as a source of revenue,
the Public Lands have never oeen of service to the United Si

The coste of purchaa ■ other acquisition, have far exceeded, in

dollars a the amount ever received from them into the

The advantage arising from the publio domain lias not consist.'.!
in money ; but in furtihishing homesteads for families, incn
and stability of population, and in all the progress and wealth
which Bpring from the cultivation of the sou, and in the content
incut and happiness, and patriotic impulses which cluster around
fixed habitation and permanent fu.mes. ^<» fully was it shown, in
the Congress of the United States, that the Public Lands were
worthless as a source of revenue, and that the) served but
the fruitful fountain <>t" dishonest combinations and "log rolling"
nfiea of corruption, that, as long ago as fifteen years, th<
greal Carolina Senator, with the ken of a prophet, and the wis-
dom ! . proposed, that the whole should be relinquished
to the control and ownership of the States in which they were lo-
cated. VVe shall be unwise it" we remain urttaughl by the histor)
of the past.

I have an amendment, which I Bhall offer at the proper time,
which declares thai these Public Lands belong to Alabama ; that
th v shall be under the control and subject t<> tin- disposition of
tho General Assembly, to be appropriated to three specific pur-
: : One-fourth to citizens of Alabama, headsof families,
tute of lands; and that the remainder shall be approprii
to the pufposesof Education and Internal Improvements.
I will read the amendment, which I pro;. use to oiler:


Be it further ordained. That the General Assembly shall ap
propriate one-fourth of the Publio I, amis, now unsold, and unap
propriated, under rules to be prescribed by the General Assem
bly, to citizens of this State, beads of families destitute of home-
steads; and the remainder to the purposes of Education and In-
ternal Improvements.

Here, Mr. President, are three great purposes to be accom-
plished : The first looks to the stability of our population, and
encourages that manly independence which animates the heart of
him who has a spot of earth he can call his own; that love of
country, which has its root at the hearth-Stones, and happy homes
of the bttmble, yet independent tiller of the soil. Iladl the time,
I could show by the light which issues from two thousand years of
the world's history, that the beginning of civilization, in every
age ami every country, has been coeval icith the cultivation of the
soil; that from the seeming curse imposed on man, by the Al-
mighty : " In the sweat of thy face shall thou eat bread !" has
grown the greatest temporal blessings ever conferred on our race.
\i:d we all know, that in times of war, we look with confidence,
fbf the defence of our liberty and honor, to the soldiers who come
from the hills and valleys of the land, with hearts full of the
thoughts of home and the holy memories of ihc jirend' .

The first object to lie acccotnplished by my amendment needs
but to b ■ named to meet the approval of the Convention,

The second is Education.

This needs from me no lengthened comments on the benefits of
education. In a Government whose basis is the people, it needs
no argument, to show, that the wisdom of its administration, its
power, prosperity and progress, depend on the intelligence and
virtue of its citizens. We are admonished by the advancing civ-
ilization of the age, and by the love we bear to republican in-
stitutions to spread broad-cast, the light of knowledge through

our land. Our own State Constitution, adopted, forty years since.

declares that " schools and the means of education shall forever
he encouraged in this State. v The means heretofore adopted have
fallen far snort of fulfilling the purposes ; audit' these public lands
ota thus be appropriated, they will furnish the means of equalizing
and making sure and steadfast the benefits intended to be con-
ferred by our past compacts and legislation. The inequalities
in the distribution of the funds heretofore devoted to education
can then he avoided, and the whole harmonized into<a Common
School System, through which every child in the State may have
education as free as the air he breathes
The third object t" he accomplished i- Internal Improvemei U
•J I


I kimw t lint it is fashionable with certain gentlemen to decry
internal Improvements. Opposition to such improvements by the
old Federal Government, has been so long the watch cry <>t' patty,
that many people confound them with improvements within each
e by its own Legislature. Two things could not be mure < 1 i t '-
f'erent than the powers of a State, and those of the Federal
Government. The latter has no powers except those del-
egated in its Constitution ; whilst, by the terms of almost
every State Constitution, the Legislative power extends to all
proper subjects of Legislation, restrained alone by its own, or the
Federal Constitution. The geographical situation of* Alabama
requires as a part of a wise policy some encouragement to a system
of Internal Improvements. North and South Alabama are sepa-
rated by mountain barriers, such as to make us almost two sepa-
rate and distinct people. This should not be so. Along these
mountains and valleys cannot be found the wealth to aid in the
instruction of such improvements as will make the people of
Alabama otn people. This can only be done by the aid and en-
couragement which the whole people as represented in the (J<n-
eral Assembly, can give to a particular part, for the great good of
the whole State. It is now within the power of this Convention,
without expense to the people, to do what every Alabaman who
loves his State earnestly desires to be done. Our whole people
■ i i become a homogeous and united people; the North and the
South, the East and the West, identified in interest, in purpose,
and in destiny.

The fact that you have, in the Amendments to our Constitu-
tion, restricted the power of the General Assembly, makes the
more necessary the adoption of the policy 1 urge. That which
has made our Mother (icurgia, the Empire State of the South,
may double the population, the wealth and power of Alabama.
Let us not turn over these Public Lands to our Legislature to be-
come the prolific source of log-rolling squabbles, and party combi-
nations and speculations. ]>ut let us now fix the purposes to which
they shall be appropriated. The purposes to which I propose to
devote them, form the pillars of the greatness of every civilized
people : permanent, honest, and fixed population, intellectual wealth)
and commercial power, constitute the glory and the grandeur of a
Republican State.



The Permanent Constitution was submitted tp the Convention

on the 12th March.

Mr. Jemison offered a Resolution, providing that the Perma-
nent Constitution be submitted tor ratification or rejection, tp a
Convention of the people, to be hereafter elected.

Mb. Jemibon said :

.)//•. Pri's/ilcn(—\ think (his is the plan which we ought now to
pursue. Tiic question is a grave one. ami surrounded with main
difficulties. It must be admitted, that when we were elected to
this Convention, it was not contemplated, either by us or by the
people, that we should be called upon to ratify a New and Perma-
nent Constitution. It is true, that the language used in the Joint
Resolutions of the General Assembly, authorising this ( Jonvention,
maybe construed so as to embrace in its meaning this power;

and Indeed, every conceivable power ; but we should look not only

to the intention of the Legislature at the time, and to the reasons

that induced them to act. I nit we should look carefully to the pre-
sent state of the public mind. So far as I am individually con-
cerned, I have no great preference for the plan that I propose, and
1 am moved to it by the respect that 1 have for the people, as well
as by what I conceive to he my duty to them. I do not wish

thus to avoid the responsibility of a direct vot. the ratification

hero, for I should have no hesitation whatever to vote for the
ratification now.

Thai there is great dissatisfaction prevailing in . bme sections of
the State now. in reference to our acts heretofore, there is no
doubt : and we must recollect too. that this dissatisfaction, to
some extent, at Irasi. is owing to the fact, that the < >rdinaiice of

Secession was not submitted to the people. We should have res

pact tor their scruples and wishes. And I can conceive of' no
more ellectiial way of satisfying the people now, than by submit-
ting to them this Constitution for ratification. I would have no

fear of the result.

There is no pretext now in the way of this course. We canuof

plead the want ot' time, nor the necessity of hasty or rapid move

meats. And, in my Opinion, unless \ve have hitter reasons for
immediate ratification hanS, and at onoe, a ratios*] on our part to


submit it (<> the people, or to their newly elected Del< g
will greatly increase the dissatisfaction. So far as I am Concern-
ed. I endorse the Constitution fully, and am prepared to vote for

Mi:. Hkookp, the President. [Mk. Wkbb in the Chair.] said :

There ean lie no use in the course sugg< .-ted by the gentleman
from Tuscaloosa; no necessity for it — it will he a mere waste of'

[Mr. Brooks was proceeding with his remarks, when Mr. Mor-
gan asked and obtained leave tooffer a substitute.]

Ma. Watts :

There is no earthly use in the amendment offered by the gen-
tleman from Dallas. [Mr. Morgan.] as will he seen by reference
to the Preamble to the Constitution. The Constitution provides
that only the seceded Slates ean ratify.

Mr. Mokgan :

I wish to adapt our language 1 to the plain eomprehension of the
people, so that there should be no misunderstanding. If we rati-
fy, and the other States do not. we will then have two Constitu-

Mr. Watts :

I low call that be. when the Constitution provides that it must
be ratified by live States. In-fore it is binding?

.Mil Mokgan:

Explained further his position, and made some general ob-
servations in favor of the policy of ratification by this Conven-
tion, at once. The people would never ratify by a direct Mite.

This doctrine of a direct vote of the people on ratification, was
absurd and odious. A reference would give rise to many dis-
tracting questions. The African Slave Trade question would be
brought in; the question of Reconstruction, with all its agitating
features, would be brought in; and many other questions of suf-
ficient abstract merit to excite the people and arouse opposition,
but o| no useful importance. Our fathers never would have rati-
fied the Old Constitution by a direct vote.



Mr. Dargan said :

Mr. President — It ought to be gratifying to us, who are friend I\
to this Constitution, to hear such unanimous expressions of praise
bestowed upon it. It meets with general approbation here — we
have heard no objection urged against it. If it is so perfect that
the Representatives cordially endorse it, this argues that it will
receive the approval of the citizens. Then, why not adopt here,
and at once, that which we know will be approved by OUT con-
stituents I If we have the legal right and power to adopt and
ratify it, and this, no one seems seriously to deny, why postpone
action ? The. relations we hear to our constituents authorize us,
in matters of great delicacy like this, to take upon ourselves the

Online LibraryWilliam Russell SmithThe history and debates of the Convention of the people of Alabama, begun and held in the city of Montgomery, on the seventh day of January, 1861; in which is preserved the speeches of the secret sessions and many valuable state papers → online text (page 32 of 47)