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Senate and House of Representatives, of which they
Relief to Land Purchasers.
MONDAY, January 22.
Mr. ROBERTS presented the memorial of John Bioren, of Philadelphia, and Fielding Lucas, jr., of Baltimore, booksellers, proposing to sell to Government a certain number of copies of the edition of the laws of the United States, published by said Bioren and others, and to print a sixth volume, to contain all subsequent laws to the close of the present session of Congress, under the authority and patronage of Congress; and the memorial was read, and referred to the Committee on the Judi
Mr. LowRIE presented the petition of Thomas Dobson and son, booksellers of Philadelphia, praying that an act may be passed authorizing the purchase from them of six hundred copies of "Seybert's Statistical Annals of the United States," for the use of Government; and the petition was read, and referred to the Committee on Commerce and Manufactures.
Mr. PLEASANTS, from the Committee on Naval Affairs, to whom was referred the petition of Thomas Shields, made a report, accompanied by a bill concerning Thomas Shields and others; and the report and bill were read, and the bill passed to a second reading.
Mr. KING, of Alabama, gave notice that, tomorrow, he should ask leave to bring in a bill to establish a port of entry at Blakeley, in the State
The Senate proceeded to consider the motion of the 18th instant, instructing the Committee on Public Lands to inquire into the expediency of amending the act for the relief of the inhabitants of the late county of New Madrid, in the Missouri Territory, who suffered by earthquakes; and agreed
The system of relief, said Mr. JOHNSON, which
the bill provides, is embraced in two propositions: First, the power to relinquish that portion of the land which is entered, but not paid for, and to ob
sales are now made.
Mr. ROBERTS presented the petition of Ann Hodge, relict of George Hodge, deceased, late a boatswain in the Navy of the United States, pray-tain a patent for what is paid for; secondly, ining to be remunerated for the loss of household dulgence for eight or ten years, by annual instalfurniture, occasioned by the burning of the navy ments, without interest, to those who prefer yard at Washington, in the year 1814; and the retaining the whole amount purchased. In the petition was read, and referred to the Committee former case, it is so constructed as not to derange of Claims. surveys, or to produce any loss or inconvenience by interfering with the system upon which Under the present laws, our public lands are surveyed in ranges of six miles wide, and, by transverse lines, at the same distances, divided into townships, as they are technically called, of six miles square, numbered from a line of latitude taken for the basis, and a meridian of longitude. These townships are each subdivided into thirty-six sections, of a mile square, or six hundred and forty acres, and these sections again subdivided into oblong rectangles of one-eighth of a section, or eighty acres each, and all divided by lines running with the four cardinal points. When the sales are made for which moneys are now due, the smallest sub-division was one hundred and sixty acres, the fourth part of a section; and, if a purchaser is now indebted for the smallest purchase which he could then make, he may now relinquish one-half of that purchase, without derangement to the present system. The provision made in the bill which is now proposed, carefully guards this point. If the purchaser shall choose to avail himself of the provision, he can relinquish only such aliquot part of a section as shall form the proper division, agreeably to the present system. The purchases made, which this bill will embrace, are either a section, six hundred and forty acres; three-fourths of a section, four hundred and eighty acres; a half section, three hundred and twenty acres; or a quarter section, one hundred When the bill was last under consideration, Mr. and sixty acres. In every case, at least one-fourth EATON moved to recommit the bill to the Com- part of the purchase money was paid within forty mittee on the Public Lands, with instructions to-days of the time of application; another fourth part was required to be paid in two years; another in three years; the remainder in four years: and, in case any part shall be delayed till the expiration of five years from the day of application, the land is re-sold; and, unless some person shall advance cash in hand for what is due, the land reverts to the United States, and the whole of the money paid upon it, improvements and all, are
RELIEF TO LAND PURCHASERS. The Senate resumed the consideration of the bill to extend relief to the purchasers of the public lands prior to the 1st of July, 1820.
1st. Make the provisions of the bill applicable to those purchasers of public lands only who have purchased at public sale since the 30th day of December,
2d. And with instructions to extend the contemplated relief to none but those who, on or before the 30th day of October last, had made a settlement on the lands by them so purchased, defining and considering
the settlement of any quarter section, a settlement of all contiguous and adjoining land, not exceeding two entire sections.
3d. And with instructions to extend the contemplated relief to no section on which any town may have been laid off, and the lots sold by any individual or company of individuals.
his motion, and to show that the bill, unamended Mr. EATON spoke at some length in support of in the mode he proposed, would be defective.
Mr. THOMAS briefly opposed the recommitment, because it would produce delay.
Mr. JOHNSON, of Kentucky, opposed the motion to recommit, and advocated the bill at considerable length. Mr. J. spoke as follows:
Relief to Land Purchasers.
forfeited, and the industrious, frugal, but more unfortunate husbandman, sent adrift with his family, and deprived of all the fruits of his honest labors. Now, sir, the bill before you proposes, that, in such cases, the purchaser may still rescue from the grasp of penury and famine, in a land of plenty, by permitting him to retain so much of the land as the moneys paid by him will actually purchase, at the price of the original entry, not varying in quantity or form from the present legal sub-division, and to relinquish the remainder a proposition that every honorable member of this House would accede to, under similar circumstances, in his own individual transactions with a poor and unfortunate debtor.
The second proposition is equally necessary to screen the purchaser from loss, and will equally secure the Government against any sacrifice. If a purchaser shall have entered a quarter section, (one hundred and sixty acres,) and shall have paid thereon only eighty dollars, the first instalment, it will not entitle him to a patent for any part of his purchase, as it will not have paid for eighty acres or, if he shall have entered three-quarter sections, (four hundred and eighty acres,) and paid thereon only one instalment, two hundred and forty dollars, he will be entitled to a patent for eighty acres, amounting to one hundred and sixty dollars; but the remaining eighty dollars must be lost to him, unless relief be extended, by granting him time to complete his payment for an additional quantity of land. But most of these purchasers have paid more than the first instalment. They are generally an industrious, economical class of citizens, who, when they have been fortunate enough to collect small sums in return for their labor, pay them over to the land offices, as partial liquidations of the instalments due, or becoming due, for their lands, cheered by the animating prospect of being able one day to call that little portion of the wilderness on which their industry is creating perpetual smiles, their own. But all payments which either exceed or fall short of equal sums of one hundred and eighty dollars, the amount of purchase money for the smallest legal division of public land, must be forever lost to them and their families, unless the time shall also be extended, by which they may complete their payment for these aliquot parts of a section. One other course, it is true, might secure these over payments, which would be, to grant them certificates for such surpluses, receivable in payment for public lands; but no such provision is contained in the bill, and the relief proposed will be more for the interest of the Government, and quite as accommodating to the generality of those interested.
Let us have some regard to the character of those who need this relief. I mean the great body of this population, which must suffer without it. The question may seem to be local, from the particular interests which it involves; but no subject can, in reality, have a more extensive operation. It embraces the citizens of every section of every State in the Union; and the most useful and virtuous class of citizens, the honest, industrious farmers, by whose labors life and vigor are imparted
to every other, and from whose persevering enterprise our country derives all its treasures. These citizens have left their homes, to subdue the wilderness, and make it subservient to the welfare of man, there to provide a home for themselves and their numerous offspring. With this class of citizens the security of our liberties, and the energies of the Government rest. To them we owe our national safety and prosperity. Virtue and independence, when exiled from every other class, find an asylum with them. They already form an impregnable barrier against territorial invasion; and it is a duty which the Government owes no less to itself than to them, to protect them from injustice, from injury, from ruin. Withhold the relief which their peculiar necessities now demand, and you give a deadly blow to the brightest hopes of the nation. It will be like refusing the kind offices of paternal care to a perishing child, who, if nourished, is destined to be your support and comfort in declining age.
There may be some exceptions to this description of character, but the proportion is very small; and a good man will not leave all his children to starve, lest the sons of strangers eat their crumbs. All have paid their money, all are citizens, and we can make no discrimination. None will receive relief beyond what justice warrants; the Government will lose nothing by any, and the measure, even in relation to the least meritorious, is founded in reason and equity. If any difficulty shall seem to exist in correctly designating the part to be relinquished, it is easily surmounted by the proposition which I have the honor to make; that when actual settlements are made, the part retained shall include the improvements, or such part of them as shall be contained within a regular legal division of the section; and when no improvements are made the division to be decided by lot. This will remove every difficulty which might arise from submitting the decision to either of the parties.
Those citizens have a claim to the consideration of the Government founded in equity. The amount due to the Government for sales of public lands is something less than twenty-four millions of dollars. For lands on which that amount is due, there cannot have been paid less than eight millions of dollars-one-fourth part of the purchasemoney. And if one-half has been paid, then the money actually received is equal to the whole amount due. It is most probable that at least twelve millions have been paid; and if the relief shall be denied, this amount-the fruit of honest industry, drawn from the most virtuous and useful class of the community, the laboring husbandmen, into the public Treasury-must be forfeited and lost forever. Now, sir, let me inquire who among us is so lost to justice-so hardened against the cries of suffering innocence-that he would give his voice thus to fill the cup of misery, by replenishing the national coffers with twelve millions of dollars from this meritorious class of citizens, and then deprive them of the very lands which were designed to be purchased by that money? Let us bring this to a case betwixt individuals. Suppose one man
Relief to Land Purchasers.
sells to another a tract of land for four thousand at this hour of unparalleled pressure and distress? dollars, to be paid in four annual instalments. On a more auspicious day, these citizens became The purchaser pays the two first instalments, (two purchasers of the public domain, when the prosthousand dollars,) and is unable to pay the bal-pect of a fair remuneration invited to industry. ance. In such a case, what would be the course They cheerfully endured the toils and privations of an honorable man-one who loved justice-who incident to their undertakings, in prospect of hapacted upon the golden rule, "Whatsoever ye would pier days. Returning to their shelter, from the that men should do unto you, do ye even so unto labors of the day, gladness sparkled in their eyes, them?" Would he deprive the honest laborer of and the smile of hope beamed in their countenanthe hard-earned money which he had paid him, ces, as their little ones hailed their approach, beand triumphing in the misfortune of his neighbor, cause fortune promised them a long and comfortdrive him, with his helpless babes, a houseless, able abode. Shall these smiles of innocence be homeless vagrant, upon the charities of an unfriend- followed with tears of anguish and disappointly world? No, sir; he would first inquire whether ment? Shall the labor of the parent be forfeited the failure to pay the residue had operated so as and the hope of infancy be blasted forever, when to subject him to any considerable loss. He would we can, without detriment to the public interest, next inquire whether the land could be divided, still fan the heavenly flame? The voice of juswithout injury, so as to convey to the purchaser tice, the voice of mercy, the voice of God, forbid it. the worth of the money he had actually paid. He The times are now changed. The products of would then investigate the cause of the failure their labor and their lands find no place in market, whether it had originated in a fraudulent design or will command no money, in comparison with of the purchaser. Being satisfied on all these points, what they once would do. It would be the height that no special injury had arisen to himself in of injustice and oppression to seize upon this occonsequence of the failure; that the premises might casion to deprive them of their homes, and reduce be divided without injury or inconvenience; that them to all the horrors of wretchedness and desthe purchaser had failed to complete the payment pair. They can still live, and exhibit all the joys through pure misfortune, he would, without a of contentment, if you will afford them this relief. moment's hesitation, either return him the money If they cannot get money, they can furnish the or divide the land, and convey so much as the pay- comforts of life without it, and cheerfulness will ment made would cover. Such, sir, is precisely still rest in their bosoms. They are now waiting the case before us. The purchasers of public lands in awful suspense the result of this propositiondo not solicit your charity. Donations are not in anxious solicitude, betwixt hope and despair, called for. Abatement in the price of the land is whether the arrival of the courier will sound the not expected. But they implore what they have a trump of their jubilee, or ring the knell of their moral right to demand-they implore your justice. departed happiness. Confirm them in the possession of what they have paid for, at the price stipulated in the purchase, and give them the privilege of relinquishing the remainder; and where their payments do not exactly cover the legal rectangle, for where they have extended improvements over the different parts of the purchase, that they may receive quid pro quo for their moneys, or, that they may enjoy the benefit of their improvements, extend the time for paying the balance. This is what justice warrants them to expect, and is only continuing the principle which the Government has acted upon in former cases.
It is necessary for us to look into the reasons for fixing this penalty to the law under which these purchases were made. It originated in a policy to influence punctuality on the part of purchasers, and to prevent an accumulation of the debts due from individuals to the Government. That reason exists no longer. The old system of credit is abolished, and the debts, therefore, never can accumulate. In doing away this reason, you have also diminished the means of payment; by requiring prompt payment for all lands sold, which drains the money from those sections of the country, and by diminishing the price of lands in re
When times were more propitious than at pres-ducing the minimum from two dollars to one dolent, relief has been repeatedly extended to others. lar and twenty-five cents per acre. Thus you Purchasers of lands between the Miami rivers, to have at once renewed the objections to relief, and whom a right of preemption was given in consid- by the same act increased the necessity of that eration of their contract with John Cleves Symmes, relief. were at first required to pay the whole purchase- When the purchases were made, there existed a money in three annual instalments. The inabil-stronger pretext for the enforcing of the penalty. ity of many to comply, rendered it necessary to The law provides, that when those lands shall be forfeit their claims, or extend the time. The lib- offered for sale, if they fetch more than the balance eral course was adopted; and, after several years due the United States, including interest and costs, had elapsed, and relief more than once had been the surplus shall be repaid to the original purchaser; granted them, a law was passed which permitted and when the circulating medium was great, and them to hold the lands and liquidate the balances but few forfeitures were made, the lands might by six annual instalments, without interest. On command a price which would partially remuneseveral occasions, relief has been granted to other rate him for his improvements; but now, when purchasers, by extending the time of payment, the circulating medium is almost entirely withwhen their claims to indulgence were far less than drawn, nearly all the lands must be forfeited, and at present. But why should we withhold relief there is not one-twentieth part of the money in all
Relief to Land Purchasers.
actually paid for at the original price. The chancellor would say, "as no fraud has been commit'ted by the purchaser; as the means of payment are cut off by the withdrawal of the circulating medium, producing great calamity and distress, beyond both the control and foresight of either 'party; and as the Government, by changing the de-system and reducing the price of lands, has con'tributed much more than the purchaser to his inability to pay, the loss to the purchaser is still sufficiently great; for, had he saved his money till this time, one hundred dollars would have purchased all that he now claims for the pay'ment of 160 dollars; he shall therefore be confirmed in his claim."
The provision for extending the time of payment might be more doubtful in a court of equity, but not less necessary to secure to the honest laborer the reward of his industry, and measure out to him the full cup of justice. The Government will thereby receive a higher price for the lands thus obtained than to suffer them to revert, and at the same time promote the interests of the most deserving class of the community. In many cases injustice will be done to the purchasers, and ruin will fall upon their families without it. The benefit will be almost exclusively in favor of the poor, whom it is a public duty to protect. A person has purchased one hundred and sixty acres, and paid the first instalment, according to law, at the time of purchase. By the sweat of his brow he has since raised forty dollars, with which he has made a partial payment upon the second instalment. The price was two dollars per acre, and he has paid one hundred and twenty. The pressure of the times renders it impossible for him to procure money; and as the sum paid will not cover the purchase of eighty acres, he must lose all that he has paid, unless you extend the time. This, sir, is not an imaginary, but a real case: not a solitary case, for hundreds, and even thousands, of such cases do exist; and tens of thousands of our fellow citizens, of every age and sex, must inevitably be reduced to misery and ruin, if the provision shall be denied them.
the States and territories together, where these lands lie, necessary to pay the balances due upon them.
The Government is bound in justice to grant the relief; and these citizens have a moral right to demand it. It may be classed among the imperfect rights; imperfect, only because they have not the legal nor physical power to enforce the mand; but the right, in its binding efficacy upon the conscience, is perfect and complete; the same as a father's perfect right, in morality and religion, to demand honor and gratitude from his son; but the right is imperfect in law, because he cannot legally enforce it.
In the case of the purchaser of the public land, there is an equity of redemption in his favor. This word is technical in the language of the law, and is referred to a principle established between mortgagers and mortgagees. In the case of a mortgage between citizens, a court of equity will not consider the mortgaged premises vested in the mortgagee, though the party who has given the mortgage fails to pay the money on a day certain, fixed by express contract in writing. So uniform have been the decisions of courts of equity in these cases, that the principle is universally established, even beyond controversy, that whatever number of years may have elapsed, the party has a right to redeem his mortgaged premises, by paying the principal and interest of the sum for which the mortgage was given; and in no case, can the property mortgaged be sold, nor the fee simple vested in the mortgagee, but by a foreclosure of the mortgage, and a decree of the court of chancery. The cases may not be exactly similar; but the resemblance is sufficiently strong to show that the equity of redemption, if we may use the expression, is as great in favor of the purchasers of public lands, and against the right of the Government to deprive them of their domains.
According to the former system of our land laws, the purchaser had the right to purchase by prompt payment, or by instalments; but he could not purchase even the smallest subdivision by prompt payment, so as to procure a patent for his land, and thus secure it to himself and his heirs, for less than $264 40, exclusive of discount. The poor man, then, who could command but a little sum, was under the necessity of purchasing upon the terms of credit which the law provided. Now he can purchase the amount of a legal subdivision, 80 acres, so as to obtain his patent, for $100. Suppose, sir, the poor man, four years since, entered the smallest quantity which could then be purchased, 160 acres, and paid upon it 80 dollars at the time of entry, and two years thereafter he paid the second instalment, 80 dollars more, making together 160 dollars; there is no doubt that, could he have the right of bringing his case into a court of equity, as he might do against an individual, the court would establish this principlethat the failure, being without fraud, and the point being ceded, as in this case, that the division was neither injurious nor inconvenient to the seller, the unfortunate purchaser should be confirmed in his claim to 80 acres, the amount which he had
If their own imprudence had brought these disasters upon them, they would have a slighter claim to consideration; but, unless we ascribe to them angelic foresight, or more sagacity than has ever yet fallen to the lot of man, we cannot justly charge them with imprudence. If no change had taken place in the circulating medium of the country; if our markets had remained the same at home and abroad; if the price of labor had not depreciated; if the same amount of exportation and importation had continued; their ability to meet the instalments would have continued, and the forfeitures would have been in as small a ratio to the purchasers as at any former period. The disorders in our currency, and the consequent depression of all our moneyed concerns, originated in the struggles of the late war-events which no human sagacity could foresee. Before that event, no general pecuniary embarrassments threatened us, and we could anticipate no extraordinary fluctuations. The banks had the confidence of the
Relief to Land Purchasers.
people; and in all their operations they maintained the specie standard. Contracts were sacredly executed, or the remedy was within our own control; and confidence between citizens was unimpaired. But war was proclaimed, and our national expenditures were necessarily increased to an amount beyond the power of taxation to meet. Loans were resorted to, which were confined principally to New York, Philadelphia, Baltimore, and Washington, the greater part of which was drawn from banks disposed to aid the Government in its efforts to sustain the independence and glory of the nation. An excessive issue of notes was the consequence; and as confidence began to be shaken on account of the internal divisions which existed, the circulation of those notes became local, and caused them to return upon the banks. At this moment, as by a kind of inspiration, to sustain their own credit and their country's cause, the banks simultaneously suspended the payment of specie; and the causes which produced this suspension were so identified with the honor, the rights, and the independence of the country, that there was a general and almost universal acquiescence in the measure.
When peace returned, the whole country became impatient for the resumption of specie payments; and, to satisfy the general call which was unfortunately pressed upon the banks, specie payments were resumed at least five years too soon for the general good, unless it had been very gradually introduced, so as to give time for loans to have been collected more leisurely and as the people could meet the calls. At the same moment Europe was laboring to effect the same object. France and the United States were the only specie countries in all our commercial relations. The general peace of Europe had produced a total revolution in the labor and commercial intercourse of the civilized world. Russia was making bonfires of her paper. England was making every exertion to substitute a specie currency for her paper, and inundating this country with her merchandise to supply her coffers with bullion; and the nation was almost drained of specie to supply other countries with which we had intercourse. Such was the state of affairs when the vaults of our banks were opened to sustain their solvency. The thirteen millions of surplus money in the Treasury was soon exhausted in payment of the floating debt. Paper flowed like torrents into the banks, by which the circulating medium was almost entirely withdrawn; and, to meet the demand, the banks called upon their debtors, who were by that very circumstance deprived of the means of payment. Property was sacrificed for want of purchasers, because the means of raising funds were at an end. The banks were crushed, individuals were ruined, and the community has sustained a loss of not less than fifty millions of dollars. In this state of things, there is an utter impossibility of the purchasers of public land meeting claims against them. Coercion will be fruitless; and by tearing from them their lands you will only fill up to them the cup of misery without relieving others.
As their claim is founded in justice; as they are among the most valuable of our citizens; as the relief will not injure the Government, while it will impart happiness to thousands and contribute to increase the wealth and resources of the nation, it is devoutly hoped that the unanimous voice of the Senate will sanction the measure.
Mr. NOBLE followed in a short speech on the same side of the question, and of the same purport. Mr. KING, of Alabama, also opposed the recommitment, at some length, and incidentally defended the object and general provisions of the bill.
Mr. WALKER, of Alabama, addressed the Chair as follows:
Mr. President: I can see no sufficient reason for recommitting this bill, especially at this stage of the discussion. If the Senate concur in opinion with the honorable gentleman from Tennessee, all his objects may be obtained in the usual mode, and in the shape of amendments. At any rate, a recommitment should not take place until some general principles are fixed, until we have agreed on the leading features of that system of relief which we may deem it expedient to grant. That some relief is necessary, seems to be universally conceded; we differ only as to the mode and the degree.
Let us notice the objects for which a recommitment is asked. The first is, to limit the relief proposed by the bill to those purchasers of the pubfic land who have bought since the 30th December, 1816, leaving those who bought lands before that day to abide as they may the terms of their contracts, and the tender mercies of the law of forfeiture. In support of this proposition it is said, that they have had sufficient indulgence already; that they have repeatedly had the advantages of relief; that their years of grace have been many, and that they have no reasonable claim to more. Let us inquire a little into this matter. Why have you given time heretofore? Because these persons were unable to comply with their engagements, and because you did not deem it politic to drive them from the lands which they had improved, and for which they had made partial payment; because, in short, you would not involve them in distress and ruin. But this indulgence was merely an extension of time, and these purchasers paid the price of it. You exacted interest still, and a portion of the principal annually. Those who could not pay this price, reaped not the benefit of your indulgence. On this unfortunate class the law of forfeiture took its course, and was consummated; and those who had the means made final payment, for the purpose of freeing themselves from the increasing load of interest. It would seem then that the purchasers anterier to the year 1817, are not so clearly beyond the pale of an equitable clemency, as the gentleman supposes. They have paid the price of the indulgence which they have received; and it should be shown that they are in a condition now to do what they were confessedly unable to do heretofore. I say nothing of the situation of those who bought only a short time before this golden era of mercy-in the year 1816 for instance, and whose year of grace, even