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and for the mouths of creeks, denominated harbors, which if improved can benefit only the particular neighborhood in which they are situated. It will be found, too, to contain appropriations the expenditure of which will only have the effect of improving one place at the expense of the local natural advantages of another in its vicinity. Should this bill become a law, the same principle which authorizes the appropriations which it proposes to make would also authorize similar appropriations for the improvement of all the other bays, inlets, and creeks, which may with equal propriety be called harbors, and of all the rivers, important or unimportant, in every part of the Union. To sanction the bill with such provisions would be to concede the prinu ple that the Federal Government possesses the power to expend the public money in a general system of internal improvements, limited in its extent only by the ever-varying discretion of successive Congresses and successive Executives. It would be to efface and remove the limitations and restrictions of power which the Constitution has wisely provided to limit the authority and action of the Federal Government to a few well-defined and specified objects. Besides these objections, the practical evils which must flow from the exercise on the part of the Federal Government of the powers asserted in this bill impress my mind with a grave sense of my duty to avert them from the country as far as my constitutional action may enable me to do so.
It not only leads to a consolidation of power in the Federal Government at the expense of the rightful authority of the States, but its inevitable tendency is to embrace objects for the expenditure of the public money which are local in their character, benefiting but few at the expense of the common Treasury of the whole. It will engender sectional feelings and prejudices calculated to disturb the harmony of the Union. It will destroy the harmony which should prevail in our legislative councils.
It will produce combinations of local and sectional interests, strong enough when united to carry propositions for appropriations of public money which could not of themselves, and standing alone, succeed, and can not fail to lead to wasteful and extravagant expenditures.
It must produce a disreputable scramble for the public money, by the conflict which is inseparable from such a system between local and individual intererts and the general interest of the whole. It is unjust to those States which have with their own means constructed their own internal improvements to make from the common Treasury appropriations for similar improvements in other States.
In its operation it will be oppressive and unjust toward those States whose representatives and people either deny or doubt the existence of the power or think its exercise inexpedient, and who, while they equally contribute to the Treasury, can not consistently with their opinions engage in a general competition for a share of the public money. Thus a large portion of the Union, in numbers and in geographical extent, contributing its equal proportion of taxes to the support of the Government, would under the operation of such a system be compelled to see the national treasure-the common stock of all—unequally disbursed, and often improvidently wasted for the advantage of small sections, instead of being applied to the great national purposes in which all have a common interest, and for which alone the power to collect the revenue was given. Should the system of internal improvements proposed prevail, all these evils will multiply and increase with the increase of the number of the States and the extension of the geographical limits of the settled portions of our country. With the increase of our numbers and the extension of our settlements the local objects demanding appropriations of the public money for their improvement will be proportionately increased. In each case the expenditure of the public money would confer benefits, direct or indirect, only on a section, while these sections would become daily less in comparison with the whole.
The wisdom of the framers of the Constitution in withholding power over such objects from the Federal Government and leaving them to the local governments of the States becomes more and more manifest with every year's experience of the operations of our system.
In a country of limited extent, with but few such objects of expenditure (if the form of government permitted it), a common treasury might be used for their improvement with much less inequality and injustice than in one of the vast extent which ours now presents in population and territory. The treasure of the world would hardly be equal to the improvement of every bay, inlet, creek, and river in our country which might be supposed to promote the agricultural, manufacturing, or commercial interests of a neighborhood.
The Federal Constitution was wisely adapted in its provisions to any expansion of our limits and population, and with the advance of the confederacy of the States in the career of national greatness it becomes the more apparent that the harmony of the Union and the equal justice to which all its parts are entitled require that the Federal Government should confine its action within the limits prescribed by the Constitution to its power and authority. Some of the provisions of this bill are not subject to the objections stated, and did they stand alone I should not feel it to be my duty to withhold my approval.
If no constitutional objections existed to the bill, there are others of a serious nature which deserve some consideration. It appropriates between $1,000,000 and $2,000,000 for objects which are of no pressing necessity, and this is proposed at a time when the country is engaged in a foreign war, and when Congress at its present session has authorized a loan or the issue of Treasury notes to defray the expenses of the war, to be resorted to if the “exigencies of the Government shall require it." It would seem to be the dictate of wisdom under such circumstances to husband our means, and not to waste them on comparatively unimportant objects, so that we may reduce the loan or issue of Treasury
notes which may become necessary to the smallest practicable sum. It would seem to be wise, too, to abstain from such expenditures with a view to avoid the accumulation of a large public debt, the existence of which would be opposed to the interests of our people as well as to the genius of our free institutions.
Should this bill become a law, the principle which it establishes will inevitably lead to large and annually increasing appropriations and drains upon the Treasury, for it is not to be doubted that numerous other localities not embraced in its provisions, but quite as much entitled to the favor of the Government as those which are embraced, will demand, through their representatives in Congress, to be placed on an equal footing with them. With such an increase of expenditure must necessarily follow either an increased public debt or increased burdens upon the people by taxation to supply the Treasury with the means of meeting the accumulated demands upon it.
With profound respect for the opinions of Congress, and ever anxious, as far as I can consistently with my responsibility to our common constituents, to cooperate with them in the discharge of our respective duties, it is with unfeigned regret that I find myself constrained, for the reasons which I have assigned, to withhold my approval from this bill.
JAMES K. POLK.
WASHINGTON, August 8, 1846. To the Senate of the United States:
I return to the Senate, in which it originated, the bill entitled "An act to provide for the ascertainment and satisfaction of claims of American citizens for spoliations committed by the French prior to the 31st day of July, 1801,” which was presented to me on the 6th instant, with my objections to its becoming a law.
In attempting to give to the bill the careful examination it requires, difficulties presented themselves in the outset from the remoteness of the period to which the claims belong, the complicated nature of the transactions in which they originated, and the protracted negotiations to which they led between France and the United States.
The short time intervening between the passage of the bill by Congress and the approaching close of their session, as well as the pressure of other official duties, have not permitted me to extend my examination of the subject into its minute details; but in the consideration which I have been able to give to it I find objections of a grave character to its provisions.
For the satisfaction of the claims provided for by the bill it is proposed to appropriate $5,000,000. I can perceive no legal or equitable ground upon which this large appropriation can rest. A portion of the claims have been more than half a century before the Government in its execuitive or legislative departments, and all of them had their origin in events which occurred prior to the year 1800. Since 1802 they have been from