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Title: State of the Union Addresses
Author: Van Buren, Martin
Language: English
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Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

*** Start of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "State of the Union Addresses" ***

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State of the Union Addresses of Martin van Buren

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Dates of addresses by Martin van Buren in this eBook:

  December 5, 1837
  December 3, 1838
  December 2, 1839
  December 5, 1840


State of the Union Address
Martin van Buren
December 5, 1837

Fellow-Citizens of the Senate and House of Representatives:

We have reason to renew the expression of our devout gratitude to the Giver
of All Good for His benign protection. Our country presents on every side
the evidences of that continued favor under whose auspices it, has
gradually risen from a few feeble and dependent colonies to a prosperous
and powerful confederacy. We are blessed with domestic tranquillity and all
the elements of national prosperity. The pestilence which, invading for a
time some flourishing portions of the Union, interrupted the general
prevalence of unusual health has happily been limited in extent and
arrested in its fatal career. The industry and prudence of our citizens are
gradually relieving them from the pecuniary embarrassments under which
portions of them have labored; judicious legislation and the natural and
boundless resources of the country have afforded wise end timely aid to
private enterprise, and the activity always characteristic of our people
has already in a great degree resumed its usual and profitable channels.

The condition of our foreign relations has not materially changed since the
last annual message of my predecessor. We remain at peace with all nations,
and no efforts on my part consistent with the preservation of our rights
and the honor of the country shall be spared to maintain a position so
consonant to our institutions. We have faithfully sustained the foreign
policy with which the United States, under the guidance of their first
President, took their stand in the family of nations--that of regulating
their intercourse with other powers by the approved principles of private
life; asking and according equal rights and equal privileges; rendering and
demanding justice in all cases; advancing their own and discussing the
pretensions of others with candor, directness, and sincerity; appealing at
all times to reason, but never yielding to force nor seeking to acquire
anything for themselves by its exercise.

A rigid adherence to this policy has left this Government with scarcely a
claim upon its justice for injuries arising from acts committed by its
authority. The most imposing and perplexing of those of the United States
upon foreign governments for aggressions upon our citizens were disposed of
by my predecessor. Independently of the benefits conferred upon our
citizens by restoring to the mercantile community so many millions of which
they had been wrongfully divested, a great service was also rendered to his
country by the satisfactory adjustment of so many ancient and irritating
subjects of contention; and it reflects no ordinary credit on his
successful administration of public affairs that this great object was
accomplished without compromising on any occasion either the honor or the
peace of the nation.

With European powers no new subjects of difficulty have arisen, and those
which were under discussion, although not terminated, do not present a more
unfavorable aspect for the future preservation of that good understanding
which it has ever been our desire to cultivate.

Of pending questions the most important is that which exists with the
Government of Great Britain in respect to our northeastern boundary. It is
with unfeigned regret that the people of the United States must look back
upon the abortive efforts made by the Executive, for a period of more than
half a century, to determine what no nation should suffer long to remain in
dispute--the true line which divides its possessions from those of other
powers. The nature of the settlements on the borders of the United States
and of the neighboring territory was for a season such that this, perhaps,
was not indispensable to a faithful performance of the duties of the
Federal Government. Time has, however, changed this state of things, and
has brought about a condition of affairs in which the true interests of
both countries imperatively require that this question should be put at
rest. It is not to be disguised that, with full confidence, often
expressed, in the desire of the British Government to terminate it, we are
apparently as far from its adjustment as we were at the time of signing the
treaty of peace in 1783. The sole result of long-pending negotiations and a
perplexing arbitration appears to be a conviction on its part that a
conventional line must be adopted, from the impossibility of ascertaining
the true one according to the description contained in that treaty. Without
coinciding in this opinion, which is not thought to be well rounded, my
predecessor gave the strongest proof of the earnest desire of the United
States to terminate satisfactorily this dispute by proposing the
substitution of a conventional line if the consent of the States interested
in the question could be obtained. To this proposition no answer has as yet
been received. The attention of the British Government has, however, been
urgently invited to the subject, and its reply can not, I am confident, be
much longer delayed. The general relations between Great Britain and the
United States are of the most friendly character, and I am well satisfied
of the sincere disposition of that Government to maintain them upon their
present footing. This disposition has also, I am persuaded, become more
general with the people of England than at any previous period. It is
scarcely necessary to say to you how cordially it is reciprocated by the
Government and people of the United States. The conviction, which must be
common to all, of the injurious consequences that result from keeping open
this irritating question, and the certainty that its final settlement can
not be much longer deferred, will, I trust, lead to an early and
satisfactory adjustment. At your last session I laid before you the recent
communications between the two Governments and between this Government and
that of the State of Maine, in whose solicitude concerning a subject in
which she has so deep an interest every portion of the Union participates.

The feelings produced by a temporary interruption of those harmonious
relations between France and the United States which are due as well to the
recollections of former times as to a correct appreciation of existing
interests have been happily succeeded by a cordial disposition on both
sides to cultivate an active friendship in their future intercourse. The
opinion, undoubtedly correct, and steadily entertained by us, that the
commercial relations at present existing between the two countries are
susceptible of great and reciprocally beneficial improvements is obviously
gaining ground in France, and I am assured of the disposition of that
Government to favor the accomplishment of such an object. This disposition
shall be met in a proper spirit on our part. The few and comparatively
unimportant questions that remain to be adjusted between us can, I have no
doubt, be settled with entire satisfaction and without difficulty.

Between Russia and the United States sentiments of good will continue to be
mutually cherished. Our minister recently accredited to that Court has been
received with a frankness and cordiality and with evidences of respect for
his country which leave us no room to doubt the preservation in future of
those amicable and liberal relations which have so long and so
uninterruptedly existed between the two countries. On the few subjects
under discussion between us an early and just decision is confidently

A correspondence has been opened with the Government of Austria for the
establishment of diplomatic relations, in conformity with the wishes of
Congress as indicated by an appropriation act of the session of 1837, and
arrangements made for the purpose, which will be duly carried into effect.

With Austria and Prussia and with the States of the German Empire (now
composing with the latter the Commercial League) our political relations
are of the most friendly character, whilst our commercial intercourse is
gradually extending, with benefit to all who are engaged in it.

Civil war yet rages in Spain, producing intense suffering to its own
people, and to other nations inconvenience and regret. Our citizens who
have claims upon that country will be prejudiced for a time by the
condition of its treasury, the inevitable consequence of long-continued and
exhausting internal wars. The last installment of the interest of the debt
due under the convention with the Queen of Spain has not been paid and
similar failures may be expected to happen until a portion of the resources
of her Kingdom can be devoted to the extinguishment of its foreign debt.

Having received satisfactory evidence that discriminating tonnage duties
were charged upon the vessels of the United States in the ports of
Portugal, a proclamation was issued on the 11th day of October last, in
compliance with the act of May 25, 1832, declaring that fact, and the
duties on foreign tonnage which were levied upon Portuguese vessels in the
United States previously to the passage of that act are accordingly

The act of July 4, 1836, suspending the discriminating duties upon the
produce of Portugal imported into this country in Portuguese vessels, was
passed, upon the application of that Government through its representative
here, under the belief that no similar discrimination existed in Portugal
to the prejudice of the United States. I regret to state that such duties
are now exacted in that country upon the cargoes of American vessels, and
as the act referred to vests no discretion in the Executive, it is for
Congress to determine upon the expediency of further legislation on the
subject. Against these discriminations affecting the vessels of this
country and their cargoes seasonable remonstrance was made, and notice was
given to the Portuguese Government that unless they should be discontinued
the adoption of countervailing measures on the part of the United States
would become necessary; but the reply of that Government, received at the
Department of State through our charge d'affaires at Lisbon in the month of
September last, afforded no ground to hope for the abandonment of a system
so little in harmony with the treatment shown to the vessels of Portugal
and their cargoes in the ports of this country and so contrary to the
expectations we had a right to entertain.

With Holland, Sweden, Denmark, Naples, and Belgium a friendly intercourse
has been uninterruptedly maintained.

With the Government of the Ottoman Porte and its dependencies on the coast
of the Mediterranean peace and good will are carefully cultivated, and have
been fostered by such good offices as the relative distance and the
condition of those countries would permit.

Our commerce with Greece is carried on under the laws of the two
Governments, reciprocally beneficial to the navigating interests of both;
and I have reason to look forward to the adoption of other measures which
will be more extensively and permanently advantageous.

Copies of the treaties concluded with the Governments of Siam and Muscat
are transmitted for the information of Congress, the ratifications having
been received and the treaties made public since the close of the last
annual session. Already have we reason to congratulate ourselves on the
prospect of considerable commercial benefit; and we have, besides, received
from the Sultan of Muscat prompt evidence of his desire to cultivate the
most friendly feelings, by liberal acts toward one of our vessels, bestowed
in a manner so striking as to require on our part a grateful

Our commerce with the islands of Cuba and Porto Rico still labors under
heavy restrictions, the continuance of which is a subject of regret. The
only effect of an adherence to them will be to benefit the navigation of
other countries at the expense of both the United States and Spain.

The independent nations of this continent have ever since they emerged from
the colonial state experienced severe trials in their progress to the
permanent establishment of liberal political institutions. Their unsettled
condition not only interrupts their own advances to prosperity, but has
often seriously injured the other powers of the world. The claims of our
citizens upon Peru, Chili, Brazil, the Argentine Republic, the Governments
formed out of the Republics of Colombia and Mexico, are still pending,
although many of them have been presented for examination more than twenty
years. New Granada, Venezuela, and Ecuador have recently formed a
convention for the purpose of ascertaining and adjusting claims upon the
Republic of Colombia, from which it is earnestly hoped our citizens will
ere long receive full compensation for the injuries inflicted upon them and
for the delay in affording it.

An advantageous treaty of commerce has been concluded by the United States
with the Peru-Bolivian Confederation, which wants only the ratification of
that Government. The progress of a subsequent negotiation for the
settlement of claims upon Peru has been unfavorably affected by the war
between that power and Chili and the Argentine Republic, and the same event
is also likely to produce delays in the settlement of out demands on those

The aggravating circumstances connected with our claims upon Mexico and a
variety of events touching the honor and integrity of our Government led my
predecessor to make at the second session of the last Congress a special
recommendation of the course to be pursued to obtain a speedy and final
satisfaction of the injuries complained of by this Government and by our
citizens. He recommended a final demand of redress, with a contingent
authority to the Executive to make reprisals if that demand should be made
in vain. From the proceedings of Congress on that recommendation it
appeared that the opinion of both branches of the Legislature coincided
with that of the Executive, that any mode of redress known to the law of
nations might justifiably be used. It was obvious, too, that Congress
believed with the President that another demand should be made, in order to
give undeniable and satisfactory proof of our desire to avoid extremities
with a neighboring power, but that there was an indisposition to vest a
discretionary authority in the Executive to take redress should it
unfortunately be either denied or unreasonably delayed by the Mexican

So soon as the necessary documents were prepared, after entering upon the
duties of my office, a special messenger was sent to Mexico to make a final
demand of redress, with the documents required by the provisions of our
treaty. The demand was made on the 20th of July last. The reply, which
bears date the 29th of the same month, contains assurances of a desire on
the part of that Government to give a prompt and explicit answer respecting
each of the complaints, but that the examination of them would necessarily
be deliberate; that in this examination it would be guided by the
principles of public law and the obligation of treaties; that nothing
should be left undone that might lead to the most speedy and equitable
adjustment of our demands, and that its determination in respect to each
case should be communicated through the Mexican minister here.

Since that time an envoy extraordinary and minister plenipotentiary has
been accredited to this Government by that of the Mexican Republic. He
brought with him assurances of a sincere desire that the pending
differences between the two Governments should be terminated in a manner
satisfactory to both. He was received with reciprocal assurances, and a
hope was entertained that his mission would lead to a speedy, satisfactory,
and final adjustment of all existing subjects of complaint. A sincere
believer in the wisdom of the pacific policy by which the United States
have always been governed in their intercourse with foreign nations, it was
my particular desire, from the proximity of the Mexican Republic and
well-known occurrences on our frontier, to be instrumental in obviating all
existing difficulties with that Government and in restoring to the
intercourse between the two Republics that liberal and friendly character
by which they should always be distinguished. I regret, therefore, the more
deeply to have found in the recent communications of that Government so
little reason to hope that any future efforts of mine for the
accomplishment of those desirable objects would be successful.

Although the larger number--and many of them aggravated cases of personal
wrongs--have been now for years before the Mexican Government, and some of
the causes of national complaint, and those of the most offensive
character, admitted of immediate, simple, and satisfactory replies, it is
only within a few days past that any specific communication in answer to
our last demand, made five months ago, has been received from the Mexican
minister. By the report of the Secretary of State herewith presented and
the accompanying documents it will be seen that for not one of our public
complaints has satisfaction been given or offered, that but one of the
cases of personal wrong has been favorably considered, and that but four
cases of both descriptions out of all those formally presented and
earnestly pressed have as yet been decided upon by the Mexican Government.

Not perceiving in what manner any of the powers given to the Executive
alone could be further usefully employed in bringing this unfortunate
controversy to a satisfactory termination, the subject was by my
predecessor referred to Congress as one calling for its interposition. In
accordance with the clearly understood wishes of the Legislature, another
and formal demand for satisfaction has been made upon the Mexican
Government, with what success the documents now communicated will show. On
a careful and deliberate examination of their contents, and considering the
spirit manifested by the Mexican Government, it has become my painful duty
to return the subject as it now stands to Congress, to whom it belongs to
decide upon the time, the mode, and the measure of redress. Whatever may be
your decision, it shall be faithfully executed, confident that it will be
characterized by that moderation and justice which will, I trust, under all
circumstances govern the councils of our country.

The balance in the Treasury on the 1st January, 1837, was $45,968,523. The
receipts during the present year from all sources, including the amount of
Treasury notes issued, are estimated at $23,499,981, constituting an
aggregate of $69,468,504. Of this amount about $35,281,361 will have been
expended at the end of the year on appropriations made by Congress, and the
residue, amounting to $34,187,143, will be the nominal balance in the
Treasury on the 1st of January next; but of that sum only $1,085,498 is
considered as immediately available for and applicable to public purposes.
Those portions of it which will be for some time unavailable consist
chiefly of sums deposited with the States and due from the former deposit
banks. The details upon this subject will be found in the annual report of
the Secretary of the Treasury. The amount of Treasury notes which it will
be necessary to issue during the year on account of those funds being
unavailable will, it is supposed, not exceed four and a half millions. It
seemed proper, in the condition of the country, to have the estimates on
all subjects made as low as practicable without prejudice to any great
public measures. The Departments were therefore desired to prepare their
estimates accordingly, and I am happy to find that they have been able to
graduate them on so economical a scale. In the great and often unexpected
fluctuations to which the revenue is subjected it is not possible to
compute the receipts beforehand with great certainty, but should they not
differ essentially from present anticipations, and should the
appropriations not much exceed the estimates, no difficulty seems likely to
happen in defraying the current expenses with promptitude and fidelity.

Notwithstanding the great embarrassments which have recently occurred in
commercial affairs, and the liberal indulgence which in consequence of
these embarrassments has been extended to both the merchants and the banks,
it is gratifying to be able to anticipate that the Treasury notes which
have been issued during the present year will be redeemed and that the
resources of the Treasury, without any resort to loans or increased taxes,
will prove ample for defraying all charges imposed on it during 1838.

The report of the Secretary of the Treasury will afford you a more minute
exposition of all matters connected with the administration of the finances
during the current year--a period which for the amount of public moneys
disbursed and deposited with the States, as well as the financial
difficulties encountered and overcome, has few parallels in our history.

Your attention was at the last session invited to the necessity of
additional legislative provisions in respect to the collection,
safe-keeping, and transfer of the public money. No law having been then
matured, and not understanding the proceedings of Congress as intended to
be final, it becomes my duty again to bring the subject to your notice.

On that occasion three modes of performing this branch of the public
service were presented for consideration. These were, the creation of a
national bank; the revival, with modifications, of the deposit system
established by the act of the 23d of June, 1836, permitting the use of the
public moneys by the banks; and the discontinuance of the use of such
institutions for the purposes referred to, with suitable provisions for
their accomplishment through the agency of public officers. Considering the
opinions of both Houses of Congress on the first two propositions as
expressed in the negative, in which I entirely concur, it is unnecessary
for me again in to recur to them. In respect to the last, you have had an
opportunity since your adjournment not only to test still further the
expediency of the measure by the continued practical operation of such
parts of it as are now in force, but also to discover what should ever be
sought for and regarded with the utmost deference--the opinions and wishes
of the people.

The national will is the supreme law of the Republic, and on all subjects
within the limits of his constitutional powers should be faithfully obeyed
by the public servant. Since the measure in question was submitted to your
consideration most of you have enjoyed the advantage of personal
communication with your constituents. For one State only has an election
been held for the Federal Government; but the early day at which it took
place deprived the measure under consideration of much of the support it
might otherwise have derived from the result. Local elections for State
officers have, however, been held in several of the States, at which the
expediency of the plan proposed by the Executive has been more or less
discussed. You will, I am confident, yield to their results the respect due
to every expression of the public voice. Desiring, however, to arrive at
truth and a just view of the subject in all its bearings, you will at the
same time remember that questions of far deeper and more immediate local
interest than the fiscal plans of the National Treasury were involved in
those elections. Above all, we can not overlook the striking fact that
there were at the time in those States more than one hundred and sixty
millions of bank capital, of which large portions were subject to actual
forfeiture, other large portions upheld only by special and limited
legislative indulgences, and most of it, if not all, to a greater or less
extent dependent for a continuance of its corporate existence upon the will
of the State legislatures to be then chosen. Apprised of this circumstance,
you will judge whether it is not most probable that the peculiar condition
of that vast interest in these respects, the extent to which it has been
spread through all the ramifications of society, its direct connection with
the then pending elections, and the feelings it was calculated to infuse
into the canvass have exercised a far greater influence over the result
than any which could possibly have been produced by a conflict of opinion
in respect to a question in the administration of the General Government
more remote and far less important in its bearings upon that interest.

I have found no reason to change my own opinion as to the expediency of
adopting the system proposed, being perfectly satisfied that there will be
neither stability nor safety either in the fiscal affairs of the Government
or in the pecuniary transactions of individuals and corporations so long as
a connection exists between them which, like the past, offers such strong
inducements to make them the subjects of political agitation. Indeed, I am
more than ever convinced of the dangers to which the free and unbiased
exercise of political opinion--the only sure foundation and safeguard of
republican government--would be exposed by any further increase of the
already overgrown influence of corporate authorities. I can not, therefore,
consistently with my views of duty, advise a renewal of a connection which
circumstances have dissolved.

The discontinuance of the use of State banks for fiscal purposes ought not
to be regarded as a measure of hostility toward those institutions. Banks
properly established and conducted are highly useful to the business of the
country, and will doubtless continue to exist in the States so long as they
conform to their laws and are found to be safe and beneficial. How they
should be created, what privileges they should enjoy, under what
responsibilities they should act, and to what restrictions they should be
subject are questions which, as I observed on a previous occasion, belong
to the States to decide. Upon their rights or the exercise of them the
General Government can have no motive to encroach. Its duty toward them is
well performed when it refrains from legislating for their special benefit,
because such legislation would violate the spirit of the Constitution and
be unjust to other interests; when it takes no steps to impair their
usefulness, but so manages its own affairs as to make it the interest of
those institutions to strengthen and improve their condition for the
security and welfare of the community at large. They have no right to
insist on a connection with the Federal Government, nor on the use of the
public money for their own benefit. The object of the measure under
consideration is to avoid for the future a compulsory connection of this
kind. It proposes to place the General Government, in regard to the
essential points of the collection, safe-keeping, and transfer of the
public money, in a situation which shall relieve it from all dependence on
the will of irresponsible individuals or corporations; to withdraw those
moneys from the uses of private trade and confide them to agents
constitutionally selected and controlled by law; to abstain from improper
interference with the industry of the people and withhold inducements to
improvident dealings on the part of individuals; to give stability to the
concerns of the Treasury; to preserve the measures of the Government from
the unavoidable reproaches that flow from such a connection, and the banks
themselves from the injurious effects of a supposed participation in the
political conflicts of the day, from which they will otherwise find it
difficult to escape.

These are my views upon this important subject, formed after careful
reflection and with no desire but to arrive at what is most likely to
promote the public interest. They are now, as they were before, submitted
with unfeigned deference for the opinions of others. It was hardly to be
hoped that changes so important on a subject so interesting could be made
without producing a serious diversity of opinion; but so long as those
conflicting views are kept above the influence of individual or local
interests, so long as they pursue only the general good and are discussed
with moderation and candor, such diversity is a benefit, not an injury. If
a majority of Congress see the public welfare in a different light, and
more especially if they should be satisfied that the measure proposed would
not be acceptable to the people, I shall look to their wisdom to substitute
such as may be more conducive to the one and more satisfactory to the
other. In any event, they may confidently rely on my hearty cooperation to
the fullest extent to which my views of the Constitution and my sense of
duty will permit.

It is obviously important to this branch of the public service and to the
business and quiet of the country that the whole subject should in some way
be settled and regulated by law, and, if possible, at your present session.
Besides the plans above referred to, I am not aware that any one has been
suggested except that of keeping the public money in the State banks in
special deposit. This plan is to some extent in accordance with the
practice of the Government and with the present arrangements of the
Treasury Department, which, except, perhaps, during the operation of the
late deposit act, has always been allowed, even during the existence of a
national bank, to make a temporary use of the State banks in particular
places for the safe-keeping of portions of the revenue. This discretionary
power might be continued if Congress deem it desirable, whatever general
system be adopted. So long as the connection is voluntary we need, perhaps,
anticipate few of those difficulties and little of that dependence on the
banks which must attend every such connection when compulsory in its nature
and when so arranged as to make the banks a fixed part of the machinery of
government. It is undoubtedly in the power of Congress so to regulate and
guard it as to prevent the public money from being applied to the use or
intermingled with the affairs of individuals. Thus arranged, although it
would not give to the Government that entire control over its own funds
which I desire to secure to it by the plan I have proposed, it would, it
must be admitted, in a great degree accomplish one of the objects which has
recommended that plan to my judgment--the separation of the fiscal concerns
of the Government from those of individuals or corporations.

With these observations I recommend the whole matter to your dispassionate
reflection, confidently hoping that some conclusion may be reached by your
deliberations which on the one hand shall give safety and stability to the
fiscal operations of the Government, and be consistent, on the other, with
the genius of our institutions and with the interests and wishes of the
great mass of our constituents.

It was my hope that nothing would occur to make necessary on this occasion
any allusion to the late national bank. There are circumstances, however,
connected with the present state of its affairs that bear so directly on
the character of the Government and the welfare of the citizen that I
should not feel myself excused in neglecting to notice them. The charter
which terminated its banking privileges on the 4th of March, 1836,
continued its corporate power two years more for the sole purpose of
closing its affairs, with authority "to use the corporate name, style, and
capacity for the purpose of suits for a final settlement and liquidation of
the affairs and acts of the corporation, and for the sale and disposition
of their estate--real, personal, and mixed--but for no other purpose or in
any other manner whatsoever." Just before the banking privileges ceased,
its effects were transferred by the bank to a new State institution, then
recently incorporated, in trust, for the discharge of its debts and the
settlement of its affairs. With this trustee, by authority of Congress, an
adjustment was subsequently made of the large interest which the Government
had in the stock of the institution. The manner in which a trust
unexpectedly created upon the act granting the charter, and involving such
great public interests, has been executed would under any circumstances be
a fit subject of inquiry; but much more does it deserve your attention when
it embraces the redemption of obligations to which the authority and credit
of the United States have given value. The two years allowed are now nearly
at an end. It is well understood that the trustee has not redeemed and
canceled the outstanding notes of the bank, but has reissued and is
actually reissuing, since the 3d of March, 1836, the notes which have been
received by it to a vast amount. According to its own official statement,
so late as the 1st of October last, nineteen months after the banking
privileges given by the charter had expired, it had under its control
uncanceled notes of the late Bank of the United States to the amount of
$27,561,866, of which $6,175,861 were in actual circulation, $ 1,468,627 at
State bank agencies, and $3,002,390 in transitu, thus showing that upward
of ten millions and a half of the notes of the old bank were then still
kept outstanding.

The impropriety of this procedure is obvious, it being the duty of the
trustee to cancel and not to put forth the notes of an institution whose
concerns it had undertaken to wind up. If the trustee has a right to
reissue these notes now, I can see no reason why it may not continue to do
so after the expiration of the two years. As no one could have anticipated
a course so extraordinary, the prohibitory clause of the charter above
quoted was not accompanied by any penalty or other special provision for
enforcing it, nor have we any general law for the prevention of similar
acts in future.

But it is not in this view of the subject alone that your interposition is
required. The United States in settling with the trustee for their stock
have withdrawn their funds from their former direct liability to the
creditors of the old bank, yet notes of the institution continue to be sent
forth in its name, and apparently upon the authority of the United States.
The transactions connected with the employment of the bills of the old bank
are of vast extent, and should they result unfortunately the interests of
individuals may be deeply compromised. Without undertaking to decide how
far or in what form, if any, the trustee could be made liable for notes
which contain no obligation on its part, or the old bank for such as are
put in circulation after the expiration of its charter and without its
authority, or the Government for indemnity in case of loss, the question
still presses itself upon your consideration whether it is consistent with
duty and good faith on the part of the Government to witness this
proceeding without a single effort to arrest it.

The report of the Commissioner of the General Land Office, which will be
laid before you by the Secretary of the Treasury, will show how the affairs
of that office have been conducted for the past year. The disposition of
the public lands is one of the most important trusts confided to Congress.
The practicability of retaining the title and control of such extensive
domains in the General Government, and at the same time admitting the
Territories embracing them into the Federal Union as coequals with the
original States, was seriously doubted by many of our wisest statesmen. All
feared that they would become a source of discord, and many carried their
apprehensions so far as to see in them the seeds of a future dissolution of
the Confederacy. But happily our experience has already been sufficient to
quiet in a great degree all such apprehensions. The position at one time
assumed, that the admission of new States into the Union on the same
footing with the original States was incompatible with a right of soil in
the United States and operated as a surrender thereof, notwithstanding the
terms of the compacts by which their admission was designed to be
regulated, has been wisely abandoned. Whether in the new or the old States,
all now agree that the right of soil to the public lands remains in the
Federal Government, and that these lands constitute a common property, to
be disposed of for the common benefit of all the States, old and new.
Acquiescence in this just principle by the people of the new States has
naturally promoted a disposition to adopt the most liberal policy in the
sale of the public lands. A policy which should be limited to the mere
object of selling the lands for the greatest possible sum of money, without
regard to higher considerations, finds but few advocates. On the contrary,
it is generally conceded that whilst the mode of disposition adopted by the
Government should always be a prudent one, yet its leading object ought to
be the early settlement and cultivation of the lands sold, and that it
should discountenance, if it can not prevent, the accumulation of large
tracts in the same hands, which must necessarily retard the growth of the
new States or entail upon them a dependent tenantry and its attendant

A question embracing such important interests and so well calculated to
enlist the feelings of the people in every quarter of the Union has very
naturally given rise to numerous plans for the improvement of the existing
system. The distinctive features of the policy that has hitherto prevailed
are to dispose of the public lands at moderate prices, thus enabling a
greater number to enter into competition for their purchase and
accomplishing a double object--of promoting their rapid settlement by the
purchasers and at the same time increasing the receipts of the Treasury; to
sell for cash, thereby preventing the disturbing influence of a large mass
of private citizens indebted to the Government which they have a voice in
controlling; to bring them into market no faster than good lands are
supposed to be wanted for improvement, thereby preventing the accumulation
of large tracts in few hands; and to apply the proceeds of the sales to the
general purposes of the Government, thus diminishing the amount to be
raised from the people of the States by taxation and giving each State its
portion of the benefits to be derived from this common fund in a manner the
most quiet, and at the same time, perhaps, the most equitable, that can be
devised. These provisions, with occasional enactments in behalf of special
interests deemed entitled to the favor of the Government, have in their
execution produced results as beneficial upon the whole as could reasonably
be expected in a matter so vast, so complicated, and so exciting. Upward of
70,000,000, acres have been sold, the greater part of which is believed to
have been purchased for actual settlement. The population of the new States
and Territories created out of the public domain increased between 1800 and
1830 from less than 60,000 to upward of 2,300,000 souls, constituting at
the latter period about one-fifth of the whole people of the United States.
The increase since can not be accurately known, but the whole may now be
safely estimated at over three and a half millions of souls, composing nine
States, the representatives of which constitute above one-third of the
Senate and over one-sixth of the House of Representatives of the United

Thus has been formed a body of free and independent landholders with a
rapidity unequaled in the history of mankind; and this great result has
been produced without leaving anything for future adjustment between the
Government and its citizens. The system under which so much has been
accomplished can not be intrinsically bad, and with occasional
modifications to correct abuses and adapt it to changes of circumstances
may, I think, be safely trusted for the future. There is in the management
of such extensive interests much virtue in stability; and although great
and obvious improvements should not be declined, changes should never be
made without the fullest examination and the clearest demonstration of
their practical utility. In the history of the past we have an assurance
that this safe rule of action will not be departed from in relation to the
public lands; nor is it believed that any necessity exists for interfering
with the fundamental principles of the system, or that the public mind,
even in the new States, is desirous of any radical alterations. On the
contrary, the general disposition appears to be to make such modifications
and additions only as will the more effectually carry out the original
policy of filling our new States and Territories with an industrious and
independent population.

The modification most perseveringly pressed upon Congress, which has
occupied so much of its time for years past, and will probably do so for a
long time to come, if not sooner satisfactorily adjusted, is a reduction in
the cost of such portions of the public lands as are ascertained to be
unsalable at the rate now established by law, and a graduation according to
their relative value of the prices at which they may hereafter be sold. It
is worthy of consideration whether justice may not be done to every
interest in this matter, and a vexed question set at rest, perhaps forever,
by a reasonable compromise of conflicting opinions. Hitherto, after being
offered at public sale, lands have been disposed of at one uniform price,
whatever difference there might be in their intrinsic value. The leading
considerations urged in favor of the measure referred to are that in almost
all the land districts, and particularly in those in which the lands have
been long surveyed and exposed to sale, there are still remaining numerous
and large tracts of every gradation of value, from the Government price
downward; that these lands will not be purchased at the Government price so
long as better can be conveniently obtained for the same amount; that there
are large tracts which even the improvements of the adjacent lands will
never raise to that price, and that the present uniform price, combined
with their irregular value, operates to prevent a desirable compactness of
settlements in the new States and to retard the full development of that
wise policy on which our land system is founded, to the injury not only of
the several States where the lands lie, but of the United States as a

The remedy proposed has been a reduction of the prices according to the
length of time the lands have been in market, without reference to any
other circumstances. The certainty that the efflux of time would not always
in such cases, and perhaps not even generally, furnish a true criterion of
value, and the probability that persons residing in the vicinity, as the
period for the reduction of prices approached, would postpone purchases
they would otherwise make, for the purpose of availing themselves of the
lower price, with other considerations of a similar character, have
hitherto been successfully urged to defeat the graduation upon time.

May not all reasonable desires upon this subject be satisfied without
encountering any of these objections? All will concede the abstract
principle that the price of the public lands should be proportioned to
their relative value, so far as can be accomplished without departing from
the rule heretofore observed requiring fixed prices in cases of private
entries. The difficulty of the subject seems to lie in the mode of
ascertaining what that value is. Would not the safest plan be that which
has been adopted by many of the States as the basis of taxation--an actual
valuation of lands and classification of them into different rates? Would
it not be practicable and expedient to cause the relative value of the
public lands in the old districts which have been for a certain length of
time in market to be appraised and classed into two or more rates below the
present minimum price by the officers now employed in this branch of the
public service or in any other mode deemed preferable, and to make those
prices permanent if upon the coming in of the report they shall prove
satisfactory to Congress? Could not all the objects of graduation be
accomplished in this way, and the objections which have hitherto been urged
against it avoided? It would seem to me that such a step, with a
restriction of the sales to limited quantities and for actual improvement,
would be free from all just exception.

By the full exposition of the value of the lands thus furnished and
extensively promulgated persons living at a distance would be informed of
their true condition and enabled to enter into competition with those
residing in the vicinity; the means of acquiring an independent home would
be brought within the reach of many who are unable to purchase at present
prices; the population of the new States would be made more compact, and
large tracts would be sold which would otherwise remain on hand. Not only
would the land be brought within the means of a larger number of
purchasers, but many persons possessed of greater means would be content to
settle on a larger quantity of the poorer lands rather than emigrate
farther west in pursuit of a smaller quantity of better lands. Such a
measure would also seem to be more consistent with the policy of the
existing laws--that of converting the public domain into cultivated farms
owned by their occupants. That policy is not best promoted by sending
emigration up the almost interminable streams of the West to occupy in
groups the best spots of land, leaving immense wastes behind them and
enlarging the frontier beyond the means of the Government to afford it
adequate protection, but in encouraging it to occupy with reasonable
denseness the territory over which it advances, and find its best defense
in the compact front which it presents to the Indian tribes. Many of you
will bring to the consideration of the subject the advantages of local
knowledge and greater experience, and all will be desirous of making an
early and final disposition of every disturbing question in regard to this
important interest. If these suggestions shall in any degree contribute to
the accomplishment of so important a result, it will afford me sincere

In some sections of the country most of the public lands have been sold,
and the registers and receivers have very little to do. It is a subject
worthy of inquiry whether in many cases two or more districts may not be
consolidated and the number of persons employed in this business
considerably reduced. Indeed, the time will come when it will be the true
policy of the General Government, as to some of the States, to transfer to
them for a reasonable equivalent all the refuse and unsold lands and to
withdraw the machinery of the Federal land offices altogether. All who take
a comprehensive view of our federal system and believe that one of its
greatest excellencies consists in interfering as little as possible with
the internal concerns of the States look forward with great interest to
this result.

A modification of the existing laws in respect to the prices of the public
lands might also have a favorable influence on the legislation of Congress
in relation to another branch of the subject. Many who have not the ability
to buy at present prices settle on those lands with the hope of acquiring
from their cultivation the means of purchasing under preemption laws from
time to time passed by Congress. For this encroachment on the rights of the
United States they excuse themselves under the plea of their own
necessities; the fact that they dispossess nobody and only enter upon the
waste domain: that they give additional value to the public lands in their
vicinity, and their intention ultimately to pay the Government price. So
much weight has from time to time been attached to these considerations
that Congress have passed laws giving actual settlers on the public lands a
right of preemption to the tracts occupied by them at the minimum price.
These laws have in all instances been retrospective in their operation, but
in a few years after their passage crowds of new settlers have been found
on the public lands for similar reasons and under like expectations, who
have been indulged with the same privilege. This course of legislation
tends to impair public respect for the laws of the country. Either the laws
to prevent intrusion upon the public lands should be executed, or, if that
should be impracticable or inexpedient, they should be modified or
repealed. If the public lands are to be considered as open to be occupied
by any, they should by law be thrown open to all. That which is intended in
all instances to be legalized should at once be made legal, that those who
are disposed to conform to the laws may enjoy at least equal privileges
with those who are not. But it is not believed to be the disposition of
Congress to open the public lands to occupancy without regular entry and
payment of the Government price, as such a course must tend to worse evils
than the credit system, which it was found necessary to abolish.

It would seem, therefore, to be the part of wisdom and sound policy to
remove as far as practicable the causes which produce intrusions upon the
public lands, and then take efficient steps to prevent them in future.
Would any single measure be so effective in removing all plausible grounds
for these intrusions as the graduation of price already suggested? A short
period of industry and economy in any part of our country would enable the
poorest citizen to accumulate the means to buy him a home at the lower
prices, and leave him without apology for settling on lands not his own. If
he did not under such circumstances, he would enlist no sympathy in his
favor, and the laws would be readily executed without doing violence to
public opinion.

A large portion of our citizens have seated themselves on the public lands
without authority since the passage of the last preemption law, and now ask
the enactment of another to enable them to retain the lands occupied upon
payment of the minimum Government price. They ask that which has been
repeatedly granted before. If the future may be judged of by the past,
little harm can be done to the interests of the Treasury by yielding to
their request. Upon a critical examination it is found that the lands sold
at the public sales since the introduction of cash payments, in 1820, have
produced on an average the net revenue of only 6 cents an acre more than
the minimum Government price. There is no reason to suppose that future
sales will be more productive. The Government, therefore, has no adequate
pecuniary interest to induce it to drive these people from the lands they
occupy for the purpose of selling them to others.

Entertaining these views, I recommend the passage of a preemption law for
their benefit in connection with the preparatory steps toward the
graduation of the price of the public lands, and further and more effectual
provisions to prevent intrusions hereafter. Indulgence to those who have
settled on these lands with expectations that past legislation would be
made a rule for the future, and at the same time removing the most
plausible ground on which intrusions are excused and adopting more
efficient means to prevent them hereafter, appears to me the most judicious
disposition which can be made of this difficult subject. The limitations
and restrictions to guard against abuses in the execution of a preemption
law will necessarily attract the careful attention of Congress, but under
no circumstances is it considered expedient to authorize floating claims in
any shape. They have been heretofore, and doubtless would be hereafter,
most prolific sources of fraud and oppression, and instead of operating to
confer the favor of the Government on industrious settlers are often used
only to minister to a spirit of cupidity at the expense of the most
meritorious of that class.

The accompanying report of the Secretary of War will bring to your view the
state of the Army and all the various subjects confided to the
superintendence of that officer.

The principal part of the Army has been concentrated in Florida, with a
view and in the expectation of bringing the war in that Territory to a
speedy close. The necessity of stripping the posts on the maritime and
inland frontiers of their entire garrisons for the purpose of assembling in
the field an army of less than 4,000 men would seem to indicate the
necessity of increasing our regular forces; and the superior efficiency, as
well as greatly diminished expense of that description of troops, recommend
this measure as one of economy as well as of expediency. I refer to the
report for the reasons which have induced the Secretary of War to urge the
reorganization and enlargement of the staff of the Army, and of the
Ordnance Corps, in which I fully concur.

It is not, however, compatible with the interests of the people to maintain
in time of peace a regular force adequate to the defense of our extensive
frontiers. In periods of danger and alarm we must rely principally upon a
well-organized militia, and some general arrangement that will render this
description of force more efficient has long been a subject of anxious
solicitude. It was recommended to the First Congress by General Washington,
and has been since frequently brought to your notice, and recently its
importance strongly urged by my immediate predecessor. The provision in the
Constitution that renders it necessary to adopt a uniform system of
organization for the militia throughout the United States presents an
insurmountable obstacle to an efficient arrangement by the classification
heretofore proposed, and I invite your attention to the plan which will be
submitted by the Secretary of War, for the organization of volunteer corps
and the instruction of militia officers, as more simple and practicable, if
not equally advantageous, as a general arrangement of the whole militia of
the United States.

A moderate increase of the corps both of military and topographical
engineers has been more than once recommended by my predecessor, and my
conviction of the propriety, not to say necessity, of the measure, in order
to enable them to perform the various and important duties imposed upon
them, induces me to repeat the recommendation.

The Military Academy continues to answer all the purposes of its
establishment, and not only furnishes well-educated officers to the Army,
but serves to diffuse throughout the mass of our citizens individuals
possessed of military knowledge and the scientific attainments of civil and
military engineering. At present the cadet is bound, with consent of his
parents or guardians, to remain in service five years from the period of
his enlistment, unless sooner discharged, thus exacting only one year's
service in the Army after his education is completed. This does not appear
to me sufficient. Government ought to command for a longer period the
services of those who are educated at the public expense, and I recommend
that the time of enlistment be extended to seven years, and the terms of
the engagement strictly enforced.

The creation of a national foundry for cannon, to be common to the service
of the Army and Navy of the United States, has been heretofore recommended,
and appears to be required in order to place our ordnance on an equal
footing with that of other countries and to enable that branch of the
service to control the prices of those articles and graduate the supplies
to the wants of the Government, as well as to regulate their quality and
insure their uniformity. The same reasons induce me to recommend the
erection of a manufactory of gunpowder, to be under the direction of the
Ordnance Office. The establishment of a manufactory of small arms west of
the Alleghany Mountains, upon the plan proposed by the Secretary of War,
will contribute to extend throughout that country the improvements which
exist in establishments of a similar description in the Atlantic States,
and tend to a much more economical distribution of the armament required in
the western portion of our Union.

The system of removing the Indians west of the Mississippi, commenced by
Mr. Jefferson in 1804, has been steadily persevered in by every succeeding
President, and may be considered the settled policy of the country.
Unconnected at first with any well-defined system for their improvement,
the inducements held out to the Indians were confined to the greater
abundance of game to be found in the West; but when the beneficial effects
of their removal were made apparent a more philanthropic and enlightened
policy was adopted in purchasing their lands east of the Mississippi.
Liberal prices were given and provisions inserted in all the treaties with
them for the application of the funds they received in exchange to such
purposes as were best calculated to promote their present welfare and
advance their future civilization. These measures have been attended thus
far with the happiest results.

It will be seen by referring to the report of the Commissioner of Indian
Affairs that the most sanguine expectations of the friends and promoters of
this system have been realized. The Choctaws, Cherokees, and other tribes
that first emigrated beyond the Mississippi have for the most part
abandoned the hunter state and become cultivators of the soil. The
improvement in their condition has been rapid, and it is believed that they
are now fitted to enjoy the advantages of a simple form of government,
which has been submitted to them and received their sanction; and I can not
too strongly urge this subject upon the attention of Congress.

Stipulations have been made with all the Indian tribes to remove them
beyond the Mississippi, except with the bands of the Wyandots, the Six
Nations in New York, the Menomonees, Munsees, and Stockbridges in
Wisconsin, and Miamies in Indiana. With all but the Menomonees it is
expected that arrangements for their emigration will be completed the
present year. The resistance which has been opposed to their removal by
some of the tribes even after treaties had been made with them to that
effect has arisen from various causes, operating differently on each of
them. In most instances they have been instigated to resistance by persons
to whom the trade with them and the acquisition of their annuities were
important, and in some by the personal influence of interested chiefs.
These obstacles must be overcome, for the Government can not relinquish the
execution of this policy without sacrificing important interests and
abandoning the tribes remaining east of the Mississippi to certain

The decrease in numbers of the tribes within the limits of the States and
Territories has been most rapid. If they be removed, they can be protected
from those associations and evil practices which exert so pernicious and
destructive an influence over their destinies. They can be induced to labor
and to acquire property, and its acquisition will inspire them with a
feeling of independence. Their minds can be cultivated, and they can be
taught the value of salutary and uniform laws and be made sensible of the
blessings of free government and capable of enjoying its advantages. In the
possession of property, knowledge, and a good government, free to give what
direction they please to their labor, and sharers in the legislation by
which their persons and the profits of their industry are to be protected
and secured, they will have an ever-present conviction of the importance of
union and peace among themselves and of the preservation of amicable
relations with us. The interests of the United States would also be greatly
promoted by freeing the relations between the General and State Governments
from what has proved a most embarrassing incumbrance by a satisfactory
adjustment of conflicting titles to lands caused by the occupation of the
Indians, and by causing the resources of the whole country to be developed
by the power of the State and General Governments and improved by the
enterprise of a white population.

Intimately connected with this subject is the obligation of the Government
to fulfill its treaty stipulations and to protect the Indians thus
assembled "at their new residences from all interruptions and disturbances
from any other tribes or nations of Indians or from any other person or
persons whatsoever," and the equally solemn obligation to guard from Indian
hostility its own border settlements, stretching along a line of more than
1,000 miles. To enable the Government to redeem this pledge to the Indians
and to afford adequate protection to its own citizens will require the
continual presence of a considerable regular force on the frontiers and the
establishment of a chain of permanent posts. Examinations of the country
are now making, with a view to decide on the most suitable points for the
erection of fortresses and other works of defense, the results of which
will be presented to you by the Secretary of War at an early day, together
with a plan for the effectual protection of the friendly Indians and the
permanent defense of the frontier States.

By the report of the Secretary of the Navy herewith communicated it appears
that unremitted exertions have been made at the different navy-yards to
carry into effect all authorized measures for the extension and employment
of our naval force. The launching and preparation of the ship of the line
Pennsylvania and the complete repairs of the ships of the line Ohio,
Delaware, and Columbus may be noticed as forming a respectable addition to
this important arm of our national defense. Our commerce and navigation
have received increased aid and protection during the present year. Our
squadrons in the Pacific and on the Brazilian station have been much
increased, and that in the Mediterranean, although small, is adequate to
the present wants of our commerce in that sea. Additions have been made to
our squadron on the West India station, where the large force under
Commodore Dallas has been most actively and efficiently employed in
protecting our commerce, in preventing the importation of slaves, and in
cooperating with the officers of the Army in carrying on the war in

The satisfactory condition of our naval force abroad leaves at our disposal
the means of conveniently providing for a home squadron for the protection
of commerce upon our extensive coast. The amount of appropriations required
for such a squadron will be found in the general estimates for the naval
service for the year 1838.

The naval officers engaged upon our coast survey have rendered important
service to our navigation. The discovery of a new channel into the harbor
of New York, through which our largest ships may pass without danger, must
afford important commercial advantages to that harbor and add greatly to
its value as a naval station. The accurate survey of Georges Shoals, off
the coast of Massachusetts, lately completed, will render comparatively
safe a navigation hitherto considered dangerous.

Considerable additions have been made to the number of captains,
commanders, lieutenants, surgeons, and assistant surgeons in the Navy.
These additions were rendered necessary by the increased number of vessels
put in commission to answer the exigencies of our growing commerce.

Your attention is respectfully invited to the various suggestions of the
Secretary for the improvement of the naval service.

The report of the Postmaster-General exhibits the progress and condition of
the mail service. The operations of the Post-Office Department constitute
one of the most active elements of our national prosperity, and it is
gratifying to observe with what vigor they are conducted. The mail routes
of the United States cover an extent of about 142,877 miles, having been
increased about 37,103 miles within the last two years. The annual mail
transportation on these routes is about 36,228,962 miles, having been
increased about 10,359,476 miles within the same period. The number of
post-offices has also been increased from 10,770 to 12,099, very few of
which receive the mails less than once a week, and a large portion of them
daily. Contractors and postmasters in general are represented as attending
to their duties with most commendable zeal and fidelity. The revenue of the
Department within the year ending on the 30th of June last was
$4,137,056.59, and its liabilities accruing within the same time were
$3,380,847.75. The increase of revenue over that of the preceding year was

For many interesting details I refer you to the report of the
Postmaster-General, with the accompanying papers, Your particular attention
is invited to the necessity of providing a more safe and convenient
building for the accommodation of that Department.

I lay before Congress copies of reports submitted in pursuance of a call
made by me upon the heads of Departments for such suggestions as their
experience might enable them to make as to what further legislative
provisions may be advantageously adopted to secure the faithful application
of public moneys to the objects for which they are appropriated, to prevent
their misapplication or embezzlement by those intrusted with the
expenditure of them, and generally to increase the security of the
Government against losses in their disbursement. It is needless to dilate
on the importance of providing such new safeguards as are within the power
of legislation to promote these ends, and I have little to add to the
recommendations submitted in the accompanying papers.

By law the terms of service of our most important collecting and disbursing
officers in the civil departments are limited to four years, and when
reappointed their bonds are required to be renewed. The safety of the
public is much increased by this feature of the law, and there can be no
doubt that its application to all officers intrusted with the collection or
disbursement of the public money, whatever may be the tenure of their
offices, would be equally beneficial. I therefore recommend, in addition to
such of the suggestions presented by the heads of Departments as you may
think useful, a general provision that all officers of the Army or Navy, or
in the civil departments, intrusted with the receipt or payment of public
money, and whose term of service is either unlimited or for a longer time
than four years, be required to give new bonds, with good and sufficient
sureties, at the expiration of every such period.

A change in the period of terminating the fiscal year, from the 1st of
October to the 1st of April, has been frequently recommended, and appears
to be desirable.

The distressing casualties in steamboats which have so frequently happened
during the year seem to evince the necessity of attempting to prevent them
by means of severe provisions connected with their customhouse papers. This
subject was submitted to the attention of Congress by the Secretary of the
Treasury in his last annual report, and will be again noticed at the
present session, with additional details. It will doubtless receive that
early and careful consideration which its pressing importance appears to

Your attention has heretofore been frequently called to the affairs of the
District of Columbia, and I should not again ask it did not their entire
dependence on Congress give them a constant claim upon its notice.
Separated by the Constitution from the rest of the Union, limited in
extent, and aided by no legislature of its own, it would seem to be a spot
where a wise and uniform system of local government might have been easily
adopted. This District has, however, unfortunately been left to linger
behind the rest of the Union. Its codes, civil and criminal, are not only
very defective, but full of obsolete or inconvenient provisions. Being
formed of portions of two States, discrepancies in the laws prevail in
different parts of the territory, small as it is; and although it was
selected as the seat of the General Government, the site of its public
edifices, the depository of its archives, and the residence of officers
intrusted with large amounts of public property and the management of
public business, yet it has never been subjected to or received that
special and comprehensive legislation which these circumstances peculiarly
demand. I am well aware of the various subjects of greater magnitude and
immediate interest that press themselves on the consideration of Congress,
but I believe there is not one that appeals more directly to its justice
than a liberal and even generous attention to the interests of the District
of Columbia and a thorough and careful revision of its local government.



State of the Union Address
Martin van Buren
December 3, 1838

Fellow-Citizens of the Senate and House of Representatives:

I congratulate you on the favorable circumstances in the condition of our
country under which you reassemble for the performance of your official
duties. Though the anticipations of an abundant harvest have not everywhere
been realized, yet on the whole the labors of the husbandman are rewarded
with a bountiful return; industry prospers in its various channels of
business and enterprise; general health again prevails through our vast
diversity of climate; nothing threatens from abroad the continuance of
external peace; nor has anything at home impaired the strength of those
fraternal and domestic ties which constitute the only guaranty to the
success and permanency of our happy Union, and which, formed in the hour of
peril, have hitherto been honorably sustained through every vicissitude in
our national affairs. These blessings, which evince the care and
beneficence of Providence, call for our devout and fervent gratitude.

We have not less reason to be grateful for other bounties bestowed by the
same munificent hand, and more exclusively our own.

The present year closes the first half century of our Federal institutions,
and our system, differing from all others in the acknowledged practical and
unlimited operation which it has for so long a period given to the
sovereignty of the people, has now been fully tested by experience.

The Constitution devised by our forefathers as the framework and bond of
that system, then untried, has become a settled form of government; not
only preserving and protecting the great principles upon which it was
rounded, but wonderfully promoting individual happiness and private
interests. Though subject to change and entire revocation whenever deemed
inadequate to all these purposes, yet such is the wisdom of its
construction and so stable has been the public sentiment that it remains
unaltered except in matters of detail comparatively unimportant. It has
proved amply sufficient for the various emergencies incident to our
condition as a nation. A formidable foreign war; agitating collisions
between domestic, and in some respects rival, sovereignties; temptations to
interfere in the intestine commotions of neighboring countries; the
dangerous influences that arise in periods of excessive prosperity, and the
antirepublican tendencies of associated wealth--these, with other trials
not less formidable, have all been encountered, and thus far successfully

It was reserved for the American Union to test the advantages of a
government entirely dependent on the continual exercise of the popular
will, and our experience has shown that it is as beneficent in practice as
it is just in theory. Each successive change made in our local institutions
has contributed to extend the right of suffrage, has increased the direct
influence of the mass of the community, given greater freedom to individual
exertion, and restricted more and more the powers of Government; yet the
intelligence, prudence, and patriotism of the people have kept pace with
this augmented responsibility. In no country has education been so widely
diffused. Domestic peace has nowhere so largely reigned. The close bonds of
social intercourse have in no instance prevailed with such harmony over a
space so vast. All forms of religion have united for the first time to
diffuse charity and piety, because for the first time in the history of
nations all have been totally untrammeled and absolutely free. The deepest
recesses of the wilderness have been penetrated; yet instead of the
rudeness in the social condition consequent upon such adventures elsewhere,
numerous communities have sprung up, already unrivaled in prosperity,
general intelligence, internal tranquillity, and the wisdom of their
political institutions. Internal improvement, the fruit of individual
enterprise, fostered by the protection of the States, has added new links
to the Confederation and fresh rewards to provident industry. Doubtful
questions of domestic policy have been quietly settled by mutual
forbearance, and agriculture, commerce, and manufactures minister to each
other. Taxation and public debt, the burdens which bear so heavily upon all
other countries, have pressed with comparative lightness upon us. Without
one entangling alliance, our friendship is prized by every nation, and the
rights of our citizens are everywhere respected, because they are known to
be guarded by a united, sensitive, and watchful people.

To this practical operation of our institutions, so evident and successful,
we owe that increased attachment to them which is among the most cheering
exhibitions of popular sentiment and will prove their best security in time
to come against foreign or domestic assault.

This review of the results of our institutions for half a century, without
exciting a spirit of vain exultation, should serve to impress upon us the
great principles from which they have sprung--constant and direct
supervision by the people over every public measure, strict forbearance on
the part of the Government from exercising any doubtful or disputed powers,
and a cautious abstinence from all interference with concerns which
properly belong and are best left to State regulations and individual

Full information of the state of our foreign affairs having been recently
on different occasions submitted to Congress, I deem it necessary now to
bring to your notice only such events as have subsequently occurred or are
of such importance as to require particular attention.

The most amicable dispositions continue to be exhibited by all the nations
with whom the Government and citizens of the United States have an habitual
intercourse. At the date of my last annual message Mexico was the only
nation which could not be included in so gratifying a reference to our
foreign relations.

I am happy to be now able to inform you that an advance has been made
toward the adjustment of our differences with that Republic and the
restoration of the customary good feeling between the two nations. This
important change has been effected by conciliatory negotiations that have
resulted in the conclusion of a treaty between the two Governments, which,
when ratified, will refer to the arbitrament of a friendly power all the
subjects of controversy between us growing out of injuries to individuals.
There is at present also reason to believe that an equitable settlement of
all disputed points will be attained without further difficulty or
unnecessary delay, and thus authorize the free resumption of diplomatic
intercourse with our sister Republic.

With respect to the northeastern boundary of the United States, no official
correspondence between this Government and that of Great Britain has passed
since that communicated to Congress toward the close of their last session.
The offer to negotiate a convention for the appointment of a joint
commission of survey and exploration I am, however, assured will be met by
Her Majesty's Government in a conciliatory and friendly spirit, and
instructions to enable the British minister here to conclude such an
arrangement will be transmitted to him without needless delay. It is hoped
and expected that these instructions will be of a liberal character, and
that this negotiation, if successful, will prove to be an important step
toward the satisfactory and final adjustment of the controversy.

I had hoped that the respect for the laws and regard for the peace and
honor of their own country which have ever characterized the citizens of
the United States would have prevented any portion of them from using any
means to promote insurrection in the territory of a power with which we are
at peace, and with which the United States are desirous of maintaining the
most friendly relations. I regret deeply, however, to be obliged to inform
you that this has not been the case. Information has been given to me,
derived from official and other sources, that many citizens of the United
States have associated together to make hostile incursions from our
territory into Canada and to aid and abet insurrection there, in violation
of the obligations and laws of the United States and in open disregard of
their own duties as citizens. This information has been in part confirmed
by a hostile invasion actually made by citizens of the United States, in
conjunction with Canadians and others, and accompanied by a forcible
seizure of the property of our citizens and an application thereof to the
prosecution of military operations against the authorities and people of

The results of these criminal assaults upon the peace and order of a
neighboring country have been, as was to be expected, fatally destructive
to the misguided or deluded persons engaged in them and highly injurious to
those in whose behalf they are professed to have been undertaken. The
authorities in Canada, from intelligence received of such intended
movements among our citizens, have felt themselves obliged to take
precautionary measures against them; have actually embodied the militia and
assumed an attitude to repel the invasion to which they believed the
colonies were exposed from the United States. A state of feeling on both
sides of the frontier has thus been produced which called for prompt and
vigorous interference. If an insurrection existed in Canada, the amicable
dispositions of the United States toward Great Britain, as well as their
duty to themselves, would lead them to maintain a strict neutrality and to
restrain their citizens from all violations of the laws which have been
passed for its enforcement. But this Government recognizes a still higher
obligation to repress all attempts on the part of its citizens to disturb
the peace of a country where order prevails or has been reestablished.
Depredations by our citizens upon nations at peace with the United States,
or combinations for committing them, have at all times been regarded by the
American Government and people with the greatest abhorrence. Military
incursions by our citizens into countries so situated, and the commission
of acts of violence on the members thereof, in order to effect a change in
their government, or under any pretext whatever, have from the commencement
of our Government been held equally criminal on the part of those engaged
in them, and as much deserving of punishment as would be the disturbance of
the public peace by the perpetration of similar acts within our own

By no country or persons have these invaluable principles of international
law--principles the strict observance of which is so indispensable to the
preservation of social order in the world--been more earnestly cherished or
sacredly respected than by those great and good men who first declared and
finally established the independence of our own country. They promulgated
and maintained them at an early and critical period in our history; they
were subsequently embodied in legislative enactments of a highly penal
character, the faithful enforcement of which has hitherto been, and will, I
trust, always continue to be, regarded as a duty inseparably associated
with the maintenance of our national honor. That the people of the United
States should feel an interest in the spread of political institutions as
free as they regard their own to be is natural, nor can a sincere
solicitude for the success of all those who are at any time in good faith
struggling for their acquisition be imputed to our citizens as a crime.
With the entire freedom of opinion and an undisguised expression thereof on
their part the Government has neither the right nor, I trust, the
disposition to interfere. But whether the interest or the honor of the
United States requires that they should be made a party to any such
struggle, and by inevitable consequence to the war which is waged in its
support, is a question which by our Constitution is wisely left to Congress
alone to decide. It is by the laws already made criminal in our citizens to
embarrass or anticipate that decision by unauthorized military operations
on their part. Offenses of this character, in addition to their criminality
as violations of the laws of our country, have a direct tendency to draw
down upon our own citizens at large the multiplied evils of a foreign war
and expose to injurious imputations the good faith and honor of the
country. As such they deserve to be put down with promptitude and decision.
I can not be mistaken, I am confident, in counting on the cordial and
general concurrence of our fellow-citizens in this sentiment. A copy of the
proclamation which I have felt it my duty to issue is herewith
communicated. I can not but hope that the good sense and patriotism, the
regard for the honor and reputation of their country, the respect for the
laws which they have themselves enacted for their own government, and the
love of order for which the mass of our people have been so long and so
justly distinguished will deter the comparatively few who are engaged in
them from a further prosecution of such desperate enterprises. In the
meantime the existing laws have been and will continue to be faithfully
executed, and every effort will be made to carry them out in their full
extent. Whether they are sufficient or not to meet the actual state of
things on the Canadian frontier it is for Congress to decide.

It will appear from the correspondence herewith submitted that the
Government of Russia declines a renewal of the fourth article of the
convention of April, 1824, between the United States and His Imperial
Majesty, by the third article of which it is agreed that "hereafter there
shall not be formed by the citizens of the United States or under the
authority of the said States any establishment upon the northwest coast of
America, nor in any of the islands adjacent, to the north of 54° 40' of
north latitude, and that in the same manner there shall be none formed by
Russian subjects or under the authority of Russia south of the same
parallel;" and by the fourth article, "that during a term of ten years,
counting from the signature of the present convention, the ships of both
powers, or which belong to their citizens or subjects, respectively, may
reciprocally frequent, without any hindrance whatever, the interior seas,
gulfs, harbors, and creeks upon the coast mentioned in the preceding
article, for the purpose of fishing and trading with the natives of the
country." The reasons assigned for declining to renew the provisions of
this article are, briefly, that the only use made by our citizens of the
privileges it secures to them has been to supply the Indians with
spirituous liquors, ammunition, and firearms; that this traffic has been
excluded from the Russian trade; and as the supplies furnished from the
United States are injurious to the Russian establishments on the northwest
coast and calculated to produce complaints between the two Governments, His
Imperial Majesty thinks it for the interest of both countries not to accede
to the proposition made by the American Government for the renewal of the
article last referred to.

The correspondence herewith communicated will show the grounds upon which
we contend that the citizens of the United States have, independent of the
provisions of the convention of 1824, a right to trade with the natives
upon the coast in question at unoccupied places, liable, however, it is
admitted, to be at any time extinguished by the creation of Russian
establishments at such points. This right is denied by the Russian
Government, which asserts that by the operation of the treaty of 1824 each
party agreed to waive the general right to land on the vacant coasts on the
respective sides of the degree of latitude referred to, and accepted in
lieu thereof the mutual privileges mentioned in the fourth article. The
capital and tonnage employed by our citizens in their trade with the
northwest coast of America will, perhaps, on adverting to the official
statements of the commerce and navigation of the United States for the last
few years, be deemed too inconsiderable in amount to attract much
attention; yet the subject may in other respects deserve the careful
consideration of Congress.

I regret to state that the blockade of the principal ports on the eastern
coast of Mexico, which, in consequence of differences between that Republic
and France, was instituted in May last, unfortunately still continues,
enforced by a competent French naval armament, and is necessarily
embarrassing to our own trade in the Gulf, in common with that of other
nations. Every disposition, however, is believed to exist on the part of
the French Government to render this measure as little onerous as
practicable to the interests of the citizens of the United States and to
those of neutral commerce, and it is to be hoped that an early settlement
of the difficulties between France and Mexico will soon reestablish the
harmonious relations formerly subsisting between them and again open the
ports of that Republic to the vessels of all friendly nations.

A convention for marking that part of the boundary between the United
States and the Republic of Texas which extends from the mouth of the Sabine
to the Red River was concluded and signed at this city on the 25th of April
last. It has since been ratified by both Governments, and seasonable
measures will be taken to carry it into effect on the part of the United

The application of that Republic for admission into this Union, made in
August, 1837, and which was declined for reasons already made known to you,
has been formally withdrawn, as will appear from the accompanying copy of
the note of the minister plenipotentiary of Texas, which was presented to
the Secretary of State on the occasion of the exchange of the ratifications
of the convention above mentioned.

Copies of the convention with Texas, of a commercial treaty concluded with
the King of Greece, and of a similar treaty with the Peru-Bolivian
Confederation, the ratifications of which have been recently exchanged,
accompany this message, for the information of Congress and for such
legislative enactments as may be found necessary or expedient in relation
to either of them.

To watch over and foster the interests of a gradually increasing and widely
extended commerce, to guard the rights of American citizens whom business
or pleasure or other motives may tempt into distant climes, and at the same
time to cultivate those sentiments of mutual respect and good will which
experience has proved so beneficial in international intercourse, the
Government of the United States has deemed it expedient from time to time
to establish diplomatic connections with different foreign states, by the
appointment of representatives to reside within their respective
territories. I am gratified to be enabled to announce to you that since the
close of your last session these relations have been opened under the
happiest auspices with Austria and the Two Sicilies, that new nominations
have been made in the respective missions of Russia, Brazil, Belgium, and
Sweden and Norway in this country, and that a minister extraordinary has
been received, accredited to this Government, from the Argentine

An exposition of the fiscal affairs of the Government and of their
condition for the past year will be made to you by the Secretary of the

The available balance in the Treasury on the 1st of January next is
estimated at $2,765,342. The receipts of the year from customs and lands
will probably amount to $20,615,598. These usual sources of revenue have
been increased by an issue of Treasury notes, of which less than
$8,000,000, including interest and principal, will be outstanding at the
end of the year, and by the sale of one of the bonds of the Bank of the
United States for $2,254,871. The aggregate of means from these and other
sources, with the balance on hand on the 1st of January last, has been
applied to the payment of appropriations by Congress. The whole expenditure
for the year on their account, including the redemption of more than eight
millions of Treasury notes, constitutes an aggregate of about $40,000,000,
and will still leave in the Treasury the balance before stated.

Nearly $8,000,000 of Treasury notes are to be paid during the coming year
in addition to the ordinary appropriations for the support of Government.
For both these purposes the resources of the Treasury will undoubtedly be
sufficient if the charges upon it are not increased beyond the annual
estimates. No excess, however, is likely to exist. Nor can the postponed
installment of the surplus revenue be deposited with the States nor any
considerable appropriations beyond the estimates be made without causing a
deficiency in the Treasury. The great caution, advisable at all times, of
limiting appropriations to the wants of the public service is rendered
necessary at present by the prospective and rapid reduction of the tariff,
while the vigilant jealousy evidently excited among the people by the
occurrences of the last few years assures us that they expect from their
representatives, and will sustain them in the exercise of, the most rigid
economy. Much can be effected by postponing appropriations not immediately
required for the ordinary public service or for any pressing emergency, and
much by reducing the expenditures where the entire and immediate
accomplishment of the objects in view is not indispensable.

When we call to mind the recent and extreme embarrassments produced by
excessive issues of bank paper, aggravated by the unforeseen withdrawal of
much foreign capital and the inevitable derangement arising from the
distribution of the surplus revenue among the States as required by
Congress, and consider the heavy expenses incurred by the removal of Indian
tribes, by the military operations in Florida, and on account of the
unusually large appropriations made at the last two annual sessions of
Congress for other objects, we have striking evidence in the present
efficient state of our finances of the abundant resources of the country to
fulfill all its obligations. Nor is it less gratifying to find that the
general business of the community, deeply affected as it has been, is
reviving with additional vigor, chastened by the lessons of the past and
animated by the hopes of the future. By the curtailment of paper issues, by
curbing the sanguine and adventurous spirit of speculation, and by the
honorable application of all available means to the fulfillment of
obligations, confidence has been restored both at home and abroad, and ease
and facility secured to all the operations of trade.

The agency of the Government in producing these results has been as
efficient as its powers and means permitted. By withholding from the States
the deposit of the fourth installment, and leaving several millions at long
credits with the banks, principally in one section of the country, and more
immediately beneficial to it, and at the same time aiding the banks and
commercial communities in other sections by postponing the payment of bonds
for duties to the amount of between four and five millions of dollars; by
an issue of Treasury notes as a means to enable the Government to meet the
consequences of their indulgences, but affording at the same time
facilities for remittance and exchange; and by steadily declining to employ
as general depositories of the public revenues, or receive the notes of,
all banks which refused to redeem them with specie--by these measures,
aided by the favorable action of some of the banks and by the support and
cooperation of a large portion of the community, we have witnessed an early
resumption of specie payments in our great commercial capital, promptly
followed in almost every part of the United States. This result has been
alike salutary to the true interests of agriculture, commerce, and
manufactures; to public morals, respect for the laws, and that confidence
between man and man which is so essential in all our social relations.

The contrast between the suspension of 1814 and that of 1837 is most
striking. The short duration of the latter, the prompt restoration of
business, the evident benefits resulting from an adherence by the
Government to the constitutional standard of value instead of sanctioning
the suspension by the receipt of irredeemable paper, and the advantages
derived from the large amount of specie introduced into the country
previous to 1837 afford a valuable illustration of the true policy of the
Government in such a crisis. Nor can the comparison fail to remove the
impression that a national bank is necessary in such emergencies. Not only
were specie payments resumed without its aid, but exchanges have also been
more rapidly restored than when it existed, thereby showing that private
capital, enterprise, and prudence are fully adequate to these ends. On all
these points experience seems to have confirmed the views heretofore
submitted to Congress. We have been saved the mortification of seeing the
distresses of the community for the third time seized on to fasten upon the
country so dangerous an institution, and we may also hope that the business
of individuals will hereafter be relieved from the injurious effects of a
continued agitation of that disturbing subject. The limited influence of a
national bank in averting derangement in the exchanges of the country or in
compelling the resumption of specie payments is now not less apparent than
its tendency to increase inordinate speculation by sudden expansions and
contractions; its disposition to create panic and embarrassment for the
promotion of its own designs; its interference with politics, and its far
greater power for evil than for good, either in regard to the local
institutions or the operations of Government itself. What was in these
respects but apprehension or opinion when a national bank was first
established now stands confirmed by humiliating experience. The scenes
through which we have passed conclusively prove how little our commerce,
agriculture, manufactures, or finances require such an institution, and
what dangers are attendant on its power--a power, I trust, never to be
conferred by the American people upon their Government, and still less upon
individuals not responsible to them for its unavoidable abuses.

My conviction of the necessity of further legislative provisions for the
safe-keeping and disbursement of the public moneys and my opinion in regard
to the measures best adapted to the accomplishment of those objects have
been already submitted to you. These have been strengthened by recent
events, and in the full conviction that time and experience must still
further demonstrate their propriety I feel it my duty, with respectful
deference to the conflicting views of others, again to invite your
attention to them.

With the exception of limited sums deposited in the few banks still
employed under the act of 1836, the amounts received for duties, and, with
very inconsiderable exceptions, those accruing from lands also, have since
the general suspension of specie payments by the deposit banks been kept
and disbursed by the Treasurer under his general legal powers, subject to
the superintendence of the Secretary of the Treasury. The propriety of
defining more specifically and of regulating by law the exercise of this
wide scope of Executive discretion has been already submitted to Congress.

A change in the office of collector at one of our principal ports has
brought to light a defalcation of the gravest character, the particulars of
which will be laid before you in a special report from the Secretary of the
Treasury. By his report and the accompanying documents it will be seen that
the weekly returns of the defaulting officer apparently exhibited
throughout a faithful administration of the affairs intrusted to his
management. It, however, now appears that he commenced abstracting the
public moneys shortly after his appointment and continued to do so,
progressively increasing the amount, for the term of more than seven years,
embracing a portion of the period during which the public moneys were
deposited in the Bank of the United States, the whole of that of the State
bank deposit system, and concluding only on his retirement from office,
after that system had substantially failed in consequence of the suspension
of specie payments.

The way in which this defalcation was so long concealed and the steps taken
to indemnify the United States, as far as practicable, against loss will
also be presented to you. The case is one which imperatively claims the
attention of Congress and furnishes the strongest motive for the
establishment of a more severe and secure system for the safe-keeping and
disbursement of the public moneys than any that has heretofore existed.

It seems proper, at all events, that by an early enactment similar to that
of other countries the application of public money by an officer of
Government to private uses should be made a felony and visited with severe
and ignominious punishment. This is already in effect the law in respect to
the Mint, and has been productive of the most salutary results. Whatever
system is adopted, such an enactment would be wise as an independent
measure, since much of the public moneys must in their collection and
ultimate disbursement pass twice through the hands of public officers, in
whatever manner they are intermediately kept. The Government, it must be
admitted, has been from its commencement comparatively fortunate in this
respect. But the appointing power can not always be well advised in its
selections, and the experience of every country has shown that public
officers are not at all times proof against temptation. It is a duty,
therefore, which the Government owes, as well to the interests committed to
its care as to the officers themselves, to provide every guard against
transgressions of this character that is consistent with reason and
humanity. Congress can not be too jealous of the conduct of those who are
intrusted with the public money, and I shall at all times be disposed to
encourage a watchful discharge of this duty.

If a more direct cooperation on the part of Congress in the supervision of
the conduct of the officers intrusted with the custody and application of
the public money is deemed desirable, it will give me pleasure to assist in
the establishment of any judicious and constitutional plan by which that
object may be accomplished. You will in your wisdom determine upon the
propriety of adopting such a plan and upon the measures necessary to its
effectual execution. When the late Bank of the United States was
incorporated and made the depository of the public moneys, a right was
reserved to Congress to inspect at its pleasure, by a committee of that
body, the books and the proceedings of the bank. In one of the States,
whose banking institutions are supposed to rank amongst the first in point
of stability, they are subjected to constant examination by commissioners
appointed for that purpose, and much of the success of its banking system
is attributed to this watchful supervision.

The same course has also, in view of its beneficial operation, been adopted
by an adjoining State, favorably known for the care it has always bestowed
upon whatever relates to its financial concerns. I submit to your
consideration whether a committee of Congress might not be profitably
employed in inspecting, at such intervals as might be deemed proper, the
affairs and accounts of officers intrusted with the custody of the public
moneys. The frequent performance of this duty might be made obligatory on
the committee in respect to those officers who have large sums in their
possession, and left discretionary in respect to others. They might report
to the Executive such defalcations as were found to exist, with a view to a
prompt removal from office unless the default was satisfactorily accounted
for, and report also to Congress, at the commencement of each session, the
result of their examinations and proceedings. It does appear to me that
with a subjection of this class of public officers to the general
supervision of the Executive, to examinations by a committee of Congress at
periods of which they should have no previous notice, and to prosecution
and punishment as for felony for every breach of trust, the safe-keeping of
the public moneys might under the system proposed be placed on a surer
foundation than it has ever occupied since the establishment of the

The Secretary of the Treasury will lay before you additional information
containing new details on this interesting subject. To these I ask your
early attention. That it should have given rise to great diversity of
opinion can not be a subject of surprise. After the collection and custody
of the public moneys had been for so many years connected with and made
subsidiary to the advancement of private interests, a return to the simple
self-denying ordinances of the Constitution could not but be difficult. But
time and free discussion, eliciting the sentiments of the people, and aided
by that conciliatory spirit which has ever characterized their course on
great emergencies, were relied upon for a satisfactory settlement of the
question. Already has this anticipation, on one important point at
least--the impropriety of diverting public money to private purposes--been
fully realized. There is no reason to suppose that legislation upon that
branch of the subject would now be embarrassed by a difference of opinion,
or fail to receive the cordial support of a large majority of our

The connection which formerly existed between the Government and banks was
in reality injurious to both, as well as to the general interests of the
community at large. It aggravated the disasters of trade and the
derangements of commercial intercourse, and administered new excitements
and additional means to wild and reckless speculations, the disappointment
of which threw the country into convulsions of panic, and all but produced
violence and bloodshed. The imprudent expansion of bank credits, which was
the natural result of the command of the revenues of the State, furnished
the resources for unbounded license in every species of adventure, seduced
industry from its regular and salutary occupations by the hope of abundance
without labor, and deranged the social state by tempting all trades and
professions into the vortex of speculation on remote contingencies.

The same wide-spreading influence impeded also the resources of the
Government, curtailed its useful operations, embarrassed the fulfillment of
its obligations, and seriously interfered with the execution of the laws.
Large appropriations and oppressive taxes are the natural consequences of
such a connection, since they increase the profits of those who are allowed
to use the public funds, and make it their interest that money should be
accumulated and expenditures multiplied. It is thus that a concentrated
money power is tempted to become an active agent in political affairs; and
all past experience has shown on which side that influence will be arrayed.
We deceive ourselves if we suppose that, it will ever be found asserting
and supporting the rights of the community at large in opposition to the
claims of the few.

In a government whose distinguishing characteristic should be a diffusion
and equalization of its benefits and burdens the advantage of individuals
will be augmented at the expense of the community at large. Nor is it the
nature of combinations for the acquisition of legislative influence to
confine their interference to the single object for which they were
originally formed. The temptation to extend it to other matters is, on the
contrary, not unfrequently too strong to be resisted. The rightful
influence in the direction of public affairs of the mass of the people is
therefore in no slight danger of being sensibly and injuriously affected by
giving to a comparatively small but very efficient class a direct and
exclusive personal interest in so important a portion of the legislation of
Congress as that which relates to the custody of the public moneys. If laws
acting upon private interests can not always be avoided, they should be
confined within the narrowest limits, and left wherever possible to the
legislatures of the States. When not thus restricted they lead to
combinations of powerful associations, foster an influence necessarily
selfish, and turn the fair course of legislation to sinister ends rather
than to objects that advance public liberty and promote the general good.

The whole subject now rests with you, and I can not but express a hope that
some definite measure will be adopted at the present session.

It will not, I am sure, be deemed out of place for me here to remark that
the declaration of my views in opposition to the policy of employing banks
as depositories of the Government funds can not justly be construed as
indicative of hostility, official or personal, to those institutions; or to
repeat in this form and in connection with this subject opinions which I
have uniformly entertained and on all proper occasions expressed. Though
always opposed to their creation in the form of exclusive privileges, and,
as a State magistrate, aiming by appropriate legislation to secure the
community against the consequences of their occasional mismanagement, I
have yet ever wished to see them protected in the exercise of rights
conferred by law, and have never doubted their utility when properly
managed in promoting the interests of trade, and through that channel the
other interests of the community. To the General Government they present
themselves merely as State institutions, having no necessary connection
with its legislation or its administration. Like other State
establishments, they may be used or not in conducting the affairs of the
Government, as public policy and the general interests of the Union may
seem to require. The only safe or proper principle upon which their
intercourse with the Government can be regulated is that which regulates
their intercourse with the private citizen--the conferring of mutual
benefits. When the Government can accomplish a financial operation better
with the aid of the banks than without it, it should be at liberty to seek
that aid as it would the services of a private banker or other capitalist
or agent, giving the preference to those who will serve it on the best
terms. Nor can there ever exist an interest in the officers of the General
Government, as such, inducing them to embarrass or annoy the State banks
any more than to incur the hostility of any other class of State
institutions or of private citizens. It is not in the nature of things that
hostility to these institutions can spring from this source, or any
opposition to their course of business, except when they themselves depart
from the objects of their creation and attempt to usurp powers not
conferred upon them or to subvert the standard of value established by the
Constitution. While opposition to their regular operations can not exist in
this quarter, resistance to any attempt to make the Government dependent
upon them for the successful administration of public affairs is a matter
of duty, as I trust it ever will be of inclination, no matter from what
motive or consideration the attempt may originate.

It is no more than just to the banks to say that in the late emergency most
of them firmly resisted the strongest temptations to extend their paper
issues when apparently sustained in a suspension of specie payments by
public opinion, even though in some cases invited by legislative
enactments. To this honorable course, aided by the resistance of the
General Government, acting in obedience to the Constitution and laws of the
United States, to the introduction of an irredeemable paper medium, may be
attributed in a great degree the speedy restoration of our currency to a
sound state and the business of the country to its wonted prosperity.

The banks have but to continue in the same safe course and be content in
their appropriate sphere to avoid all interference from the General
Government and to derive from it all the protection and benefits which it
bestows on other State establishments, on the people of the States, and on
the States themselves. In this, their true position, they can not but
secure the confidence and good will of the people and the Government, which
they can only lose when, leaping from their legitimate sphere, they attempt
to control the legislation of the country and pervert the operations of the
Government to their own purposes.

Our experience under the act, passed at the last session, to grant
preemption rights to settlers on the public lands has as yet been too
limited to enable us to pronounce with safety upon the efficacy of its
provisions to carry out the wise and liberal policy of the Government in
that respect. There is, however, the best reason to anticipate favorable
results from its operation. The recommendations formerly submitted to you
in respect to a graduation of the price of the public lands remain to be
finally acted upon. Having found no reason to change the views then
expressed, your attention to them is again respectfully requested.

Every proper exertion has been made and will be continued to carry out the
wishes of Congress in relation to the tobacco trade, as indicated in the
several resolutions of the House of Representatives and the legislation of
the two branches. A favorable impression has, I trust, been made in the
different foreign countries to which particular attention has been
directed; and although we can not hope for an early change in their policy,
as in many of them a convenient and large revenue is derived from
monopolies in the fabrication and sale of this article, yet, as these
monopolies are really injurious to the people where they are established,
and the revenue derived from them may be less injuriously and with equal
facility obtained from another and a liberal system of administration, we
can not doubt that our efforts will be eventually crowned with, success if
persisted in with temperate firmness and sustained by prudent legislation.

In recommending to Congress the adoption of the necessary provisions at
this session for taking the next census or enumeration of the inhabitants
of the United States, the suggestion presents itself whether the scope of
the measure might not be usefully extended by causing it to embrace
authentic statistical returns of the great interests specially intrusted to
or necessarily affected by the legislation of Congress.

The accompanying report of the Secretary of War presents a satisfactory
account of the state of the Army and of the several branches of the public
service confided to the superintendence of that officer.

The law increasing and organizing the military establishment of the United
States has been nearly carried into effect, and the Army has been
extensively and usefully employed during the past season.

I would again call to your notice the subjects connected with and essential
to the military defenses of the country which were submitted to you at the
last session, but which were not acted upon, as is supposed, for want of
time. The most important of them is the organization of the militia on the
maritime and inland frontiers. This measure is deemed important, as it is
believed that it will furnish an effective volunteer force in aid of the
Regular Army, and may form the basis of a general system of organization
for the entire militia of the United States. The erection of a national
foundry and gunpowder manufactory, and one for making small arms, the
latter to be situated at some point west of the Allegany Mountains, all
appear to be of sufficient importance to be again urged upon your

The plan proposed by the Secretary of War for the distribution of the
forces of the United States in time of peace is well calculated to promote
regularity and economy in the fiscal administration of the service, to
preserve the discipline of the troops, and to render them available for the
maintenance of the peace and tranquillity of the Country. With this view,
likewise, I recommend the adoption of the plan presented by that officer
for the defense of the western frontier. The preservation of the lives and
property of our fellow-citizens who are settled upon that border country,
as well as the existence of the Indian population, which might be tempted
by our want of preparation to rush on their own destruction and attack the
white settlements, all seem to require that this subject should be acted
upon without delay, and the War Department authorized to place that country
in a state of complete defense against any assault from the numerous and
warlike tribes which are congregated on that border.

It affords me sincere pleasure to be able to apprise you of the entire
removal of the Cherokee Nation of Indians to their new homes west of the
Mississippi. The measures authorized by Congress at its last session, with
a view to the long-standing controversy with them, have had the happiest
effects. By an agreement concluded with them by the commanding general in
that country, who has performed the duties assigned to him on the occasion
with commendable energy and humanity, their removal has been principally
under the conduct of their own chiefs, and they have emigrated without any
apparent reluctance.

The successful accomplishment of this important object, the removal also of
the entire Creek Nation with the exception of a small number of fugitives
amongst the Seminoles in Florida, the progress already made toward a speedy
completion of the removal of the Chickasaws, the Choctaws, the
Pottawatamies, the Ottawas, and the Chippewas, with the extensive purchases
of Indian lands during the present year, have rendered the speedy and
successful result of the long-established policy of the Government upon the
subject of Indian affairs entirely certain. The occasion is therefore
deemed a proper one to place this policy in such a point of view as will
exonerate the Government of the United States from the undeserved reproach
which has been cast upon it through several successive Administrations.
That a mixed occupancy of the same territory by the white and red man is
incompatible with the safety or happiness of either is a position in
respect to which there has long since ceased to be room for a difference of
opinion. Reason and experience have alike demonstrated its
impracticability. The bitter fruits of every attempt heretofore to overcome
the barriers interposed by nature have only been destruction, both physical
and moral, to the Indian, dangerous conflicts of authority between the
Federal and State Governments, and detriment to the individual prosperity
of the citizen as well as to the general improvement of the country. The
remedial policy, the principles of which were settled more than thirty
years ago under the Administration of Mr. Jefferson, consists in an
extinction, for a fair consideration, of the title to all the lands still
occupied by the Indians within the States and Territories of the United
States; their removal to a country west of the Mississippi much more
extensive and better adapted to their condition than that on which they
then resided; the guarantee to them by the United States of their exclusive
possession of that country forever, exempt from all intrusions by white
men, with ample provisions for their security against external violence and
internal dissensions, and the extension to them of suitable facilities for
their advancement in civilization. This has not been the policy of
particular Administrations only, but of each in succession since the first
attempt to carry it out under that of Mr. Monroe. All have labored for its
accomplishment, only with different degrees of success. The manner of its
execution has, it is true, from time to time given rise to conflicts of
opinion and unjust imputations; but in respect to the wisdom and necessity
of the policy itself there has not from the beginning existed a doubt in
the mind of any calm, judicious, disinterested friend of the Indian race
accustomed to reflection and enlightened by experience.

Occupying the double character of contractor on its own account and
guardian for the parties contracted with, it was hardly to be expected that
the dealings of the Federal Government with the Indian tribes would escape
misrepresentation. That there occurred ill the early settlement of this
country, as in all others where the civilized race has succeeded to the
possessions of the savage, instances of oppression and fraud on the part of
the former there is too much reason to believe. No such offenses can,
however, be justly charged upon this Government since it became free to
pursue its own course. Its dealings with the Indian tribes have been just
and friendly throughout; its efforts for their civilization constant, and
directed by the best feelings of humanity; its watchfulness in protecting
them from individual frauds unremitting; its forbearance under the keenest
provocations, the deepest injuries, and the most flagrant outrages may
challenge at least a comparison with any nation, ancient or modern, in
similar circumstances; and if in future times a powerful, civilized, and
happy nation of Indians shall be found to exist within the limits of this
northern continent it will be owing to the consummation of that policy
which has been so unjustly assailed. Only a very brief reference to facts
in confirmation of this assertion can in this form be given, and you are
therefore necessarily referred to the report of the Secretary of War for
further details. To the Cherokees, whose case has perhaps excited the
greatest share of attention and sympathy, the United States have granted in
fee, with a perpetual guaranty of exclusive and peaceable possession,
13,554,135 acres of land on the west side of the Mississippi, eligibly
situated, in a healthy climate, and in all respects better suited to their
condition than the country they have left, in exchange for only 9,492, 160
acres on the east side of the same river. The United States have in
addition stipulated to pay them $5,600,000 for their interest in and
improvements on the lands thus relinquished, and $1,160,000 for subsistence
and other beneficial purposes, thereby putting it in their power to become
one of the most wealthy and independent separate communities of the same
extent in the world.

By the treaties made and ratified with the Miamies, the Chippewas, the
Sioux, the Sacs and Foxes, and the Winnebagoes during the last year the
Indian title to 18,458,000 acres has been extinguished. These purchases
have been much more extensive than those of any previous year, and have,
with other Indian expenses, borne very heavily upon the Treasury. They
leave, however, but a small quantity of unbought Indian lands within the
States and Territories, and the Legislature and Executive were equally
sensible of the propriety of a final and more speedy extinction of Indian
titles within those limits. The treaties, which were with a single
exception made in pursuance of previous appropriations for defraying the
expenses, have subsequently been ratified by the Senate, and received the
sanction of Congress by the appropriations necessary to carry them into
effect. Of the terms upon which these important negotiations were concluded
I can speak from direct knowledge, and I feel no difficulty in affirming
that the interest of the Indians in the extensive territory embraced by
them is to be paid for at its fair value, and that no more favorable terms
have been granted to the United States than would have been reasonably
expected in a negotiation with civilized men fully capable of appreciating
and protecting their own rights. For the Indian title to 116,349,897 acres
acquired since the 4th of March, 1829, the United States have paid
$72,560,056 in permanent annuities, lands, reservations for Indians,
expenses of removal and subsistence, merchandise, mechanical and
agricultural establishments and implements. When the heavy expenses
incurred by the United States and the circumstance that so large a portion
of the entire territory will be forever unsalable are considered, and this
price is compared with that for which the United States sell their own
lands, no one can doubt that justice has been done to the Indians in these
purchases also. Certain it is that the transactions of the Federal
Government with the Indians have been uniformly characterized by a sincere
and paramount desire to promote their welfare; and it must be a source of
the highest gratification to every friend to justice and humanity to learn
that not withstanding the obstructions from time to time thrown in its way
and the difficulties which have arisen from the peculiar and impracticable
nature of the Indian character, the wise, humane, and undeviating policy of
the Government in this the most difficult of all our relations, foreign or
domestic, has at length been justified to the world in its near approach to
a happy and certain consummation.

The condition of the tribes which occupy the country set apart for them in
the West is highly prosperous, and encourages the hope of their early
civilization. They have for the most part abandoned the hunter state and
turned their attention to agricultural pursuits. All those who have been
established for any length of time in that fertile region maintain
themselves by their own industry. There are among them traders of no
inconsiderable capital, and planters exporting cotton to some extent, but
the greater number are small agriculturists, living in comfort upon the
produce of their farms. The recent emigrants, although they have in some
instances removed reluctantly, have readily acquiesced in their unavoidable
destiny. They have found at once a recompense for past sufferings and an
incentive to industrious habits in the abundance and comforts around them.
There is reason to believe that all these tribes are friendly in their
feelings toward the United States; and it is to be hoped that the
acquisition of individual wealth, the pursuits of agriculture, and habits
of industry will gradually subdue their warlike propensities and incline
them to maintain peace among themselves. To effect this desirable object
the attention of Congress is solicited to the measures recommended by the
Secretary of War for their future government and protection, as well from
each other as from the hostility of the warlike tribes around them and the
intrusions of the whites. The policy of the Government has given them a
permanent home and guaranteed to them its peaceful and undisturbed
possession. It only remains to give them a government and laws which will
encourage industry and secure to them the rewards of their exertions. The
importance of some form of government can not be too much insisted upon.
The earliest effects will be to diminish the causes and occasions for
hostilities among the tribes, to inspire an interest in the observance of
laws to which they will have themselves assented, and to multiply the
securities of property and the motives for self-improvement. Intimately
connected with this subject is the establishment of the military defenses
recommended by the Secretary of War, which have been already referred to.
Without them the Government will be powerless to redeem its pledge of
protection to the emigrating Indians against the numerous warlike tribes
that surround them and to provide for the safety of the frontier settlers
of the bordering States.

The case of the Seminoles constitutes at present the only exception to the
successful efforts of the Government to remove the Indians to the homes
assigned them west of the Mississippi. Four hundred of this tribe emigrated
in 1836 and 1,500 in 1837 and 1838, leaving in the country, it is supposed,
about 2,000 Indians. The continued treacherous conduct of these people; the
savage and unprovoked murders they have lately committed, butchering whole
families of the settlers of the Territory without distinction of age or
sex, and making their way into the very center and heart of the country, so
that no part of it is free from their ravages; their frequent attacks on
the light-houses along that dangerous coast, and the barbarity with which
they have murdered the passengers and crews of such vessels as have been
wrecked upon the reefs and keys which border the Gulf, leave the Government
no alternative but to continue the military operations against them until
they are totally expelled from Florida. There are other motives which would
urge the Government to pursue this course toward the Seminoles. The United
States have fulfilled in good faith all their treaty stipulations with the
Indian tribes, and have in every other instance insisted upon a like
performance of their obligations. To relax from this salutary rule because
the Seminoles have maintained themselves so long in the territory they had
relinquished, and in defiance of their frequent and solemn engagements
still continue to wage a ruthless war against the United States, would not
only evince a want of constancy on our part, but be of evil example in our
intercourse with other tribes. Experience has shown that but little is to
be gained by the march of armies through a country so intersected with
inaccessible swamps and marshes, and which, from the fatal character of the
climate, must be abandoned at the end of the winter. I recommend,
therefore, to your attention the plan submitted by the Secretary of War in
the accompanying report, for the permanent occupation of the portion of the
Territory freed from the Indians and the more efficient protection of the
people of Florida from their inhuman warfare.

From the report of the Secretary of the Navy herewith transmitted it will
appear that a large portion of the disposable naval force is either
actively employed or in a state of preparation for the purposes of
experience and discipline and the protection of our commerce. So effectual
has been this protection that so far as the information of Government
extends not a single outrage has been attempted on a vessel carrying the
flag of the United States within the present year, in any quarter, however
distant or exposed.

The exploring expedition sailed from Norfolk on the 19th of August last,
and information has been received of its safe arrival at the island of
Madeira. The best spirit animates the officers and crews, and there is
every reason to anticipate from its efforts results beneficial to commerce
and honorable to the nation.

It will also be seen that no reduction of the force now in commission is
contemplated. The unsettled state of a portion of South America renders it
indispensable that our commerce should receive protection in that quarter;
the vast and increasing interests embarked in the trade of the Indian and
China seas, in the whale fisheries of the Pacific Ocean, and in the Gulf of
Mexico require equal attention to their safety, and a small squadron may be
employed to great advantage on our Atlantic coast in meeting sudden demands
for the reenforcement of other stations, in aiding merchant vessels in
distress, in affording active service to an additional number of officers,
and in visiting the different ports of the United States, an accurate
knowledge of which is obviously of the highest importance.

The attention of Congress is respectfully called to that portion of the
report recommending an increase in the number of smaller vessels, and to
other suggestions contained in that document. The rapid increase and wide
expansion of our commerce, which is every day seeking new avenues of
profitable adventure; the absolute necessity of a naval force for its
protection precisely in the degree of its extension; a due regard to the
national rights and honor; the recollection of its former exploits, and the
anticipation of its future triumphs whenever opportunity presents itself,
which we may rightfully indulge from the experience of the past--all seem
to point to the Navy as a most efficient arm of our national defense and a
proper object of legislative encouragement.

The progress and condition of the Post-Office Department will be seen by
reference to the report of the Postmaster-General. The extent of post-roads
covered by mail contracts is stated to be 134,818 miles, and the annual
transportation upon them 34,580,202 miles. The number of post-offices in
the United States is 12,553, and rapidly increasing. The gross revenue for
the year ending on the 30th day of June last was $4,262,145; the accruing
expenditures, $4,680,068; excess of expenditures, $417,923. This has been
made up out of the surplus previously on hand. The cash on hand on the 1st
instant was $314,068. The revenue for the year ending June 30, 1838, was
$161,540 more than that for the year ending June 30, 1837. The expenditures
of the Department had been graduated upon the anticipation of a largely
increased revenue. A moderate curtailment of mail service consequently
became necessary, and has been effected, to shield the Department against
the danger of embarrassment. Its revenue is now improving, and it will soon
resume its onward course in the march of improvement.

Your particular attention is requested to so much of the
Postmaster-Generals report as relates to the transportation of the mails
upon railroads. The laws on that subject do not seem adequate to secure
that service, now become almost essential to the public interests, and at
the same time protect the Department from combinations and unreasonable

Nor can I too earnestly request your attention to the necessity of
providing a more secure building for this Department. The danger of
destruction to which its important books and papers are continually
exposed, as well from the highly combustible character of the building
occupied as from that of others in the vicinity, calls loudly for prompt

Your attention is again earnestly invited to the suggestions and
recommendations submitted at the last session in respect to the District of

I feel it my duty also to bring to your notice certain proceedings at law
which have recently been prosecuted in this District in the name of the
United States, on the relation of Messrs. Stockton & Stokes, of the State
of Maryland, against the Postmaster-General, and which have resulted in the
payment of money out of the National Treasury, for the first time since the
establishment of the Government, by judicial compulsion exercised by the
common-law writ of mandamus issued by the circuit court of this District.

The facts of the case and the grounds of the proceedings will be found
fully stated in the report of the decision, and any additional information
which you may desire will be supplied by the proper Department. No
interference in the particular case is contemplated. The money has been
paid, the claims of the prosecutors have been satisfied, and the whole
subject, so far as they are concerned, is finally disposed of; but it is on
the supposition that the case may be regarded as an authoritative
exposition of the law as it now stands that I have thought it necessary to
present it to your consideration.

The object of the application to the circuit court was to compel the
Postmaster-General to carry into effect an award made by the Solicitor of
the Treasury, under a special act of Congress for the settlement of certain
claims of the relators on the Post-Office Department, which award the
Postmaster-General declined to execute in full until he should receive
further legislative direction on the subject. If the duty imposed on the
Postmaster-General by that law was to be regarded as one of an official
nature, belonging to his office as a branch of the executive, then it is
obvious that the constitutional competency of the judiciary to direct and
control him in its discharge was necessarily drawn in question; and if the
duty so imposed on the Postmaster-General was to be considered as merely
ministerial, and not executive, it yet remained to be shown that the
circuit court of this District had authority to interfere by mandamus, such
a power having never before been asserted or claimed by that court. With a
view to the settlement of these important questions, the judgment of the
circuit court was carried by a writ of error to the Supreme Court of the
United States. In the opinion of that tribunal the duty imposed on the
Postmaster-General was not an official executive duty, but one of a merely
ministerial nature. The grave constitutional questions which had been
discussed were therefore excluded from the decision of the case, the court,
indeed, expressly admitting that with powers and duties properly belonging
to the executive no other department can interfere by the writ of
mandamus; and the question therefore resolved itself into this: Has
Congress conferred upon the circuit court of this District the power to
issue such a writ to an officer of the General Government commanding him to
perform a ministerial act? A majority of the court have decided that it
has, but have rounded their decision upon a process of reasoning which in
my judgment renders further legislative provision indispensable to the
public interests and the equal administration of justice.

It has long since been decided by the Supreme Court that neither that
tribunal nor the circuit courts of the United States, held within the
respective States, possess the power in question; but it is now held that
this power, denied to both of these high tribunals (to the former by the
Constitution and to the latter by Congress), has been by its legislation
vested in the circuit court of this District. No such direct grant of power
to the circuit court of this District is claimed, but it has been held to
result by necessary implication from several sections of the law
establishing the court. One of these sections declares that the laws of
Maryland, as they existed at the time of the cession, should be in force in
that part of the District ceded by that State, and by this provision the
common law in civil and criminal cases, as it prevailed in Maryland in
1801, was established in that part of the District.

In England the court of king's bench--because the Sovereign, who, according
to the theory of the constitution, is the fountain of justice originally
sat there in person, and is still deemed to be present in construction of
law--alone possesses the high power of issuing the writ of mandamus, not
only to inferior jurisdictions and corporations, but also to magistrates
and others, commanding them in the King's name to do what their duty
requires in cases where there is a vested right and no other specific
remedy. It has been held in the case referred to that as the Supreme Court
of the United States is by the Constitution rendered incompetent to
exercise this power, and as the circuit court of this District is a court
of general jurisdiction in cases at common law, and the highest court of
original jurisdiction in the District, the right to issue the writ of
mandamus is incident to its common-law powers. Another ground relied upon
to maintain the power in question is that it was included by fair
construction in the powers granted to the circuit courts of the United
States by the act "to provide for the more convenient organization of the
courts of the United States," passed 13th February, 1801; that the act
establishing the circuit court of this District, passed the 27th day of
February, 1801, conferred upon that court and the judges thereof the same
powers as were by law vested in the circuit courts of the United States and
in the judges of the said courts; that the repeal of the first-mentioned
act, which took place in the next year, did not divest the circuit court of
this District of the authority in dispute, but left it still clothed with
the powers over the subject which, it is conceded, were taken away from the
circuit courts of the United States by the repeal of the act of 13th
February, 1801.

Admitting that the adoption of the laws of Maryland for a portion of this
District confers on the circuit court thereof, in that portion, the
transcendent extrajudicial prerogative powers of the court of king's bench
in England, or that either of the acts of Congress by necessary implication
authorizes the former court to issue a writ of mandamus to an officer of
the United States to compel him to perform a ministerial duty, the
consequences are in one respect the same. The result in either case is that
the officers of the United States stationed in different parts of the
United States are, in respect to the performance of their official duties,
subject to different laws and a different supervision--those in the States
to one rule, and those in the District of Columbia to another and a very
different one. In the District their official conduct is subject to a
judicial control from which in the States they are exempt.

Whatever difference of opinion may exist as to the expediency of vesting
such a power in the judiciary in a system of government constituted like
that of the United States, all must agree that these disparaging
discrepancies in the law and in the administration of justice ought not to
he permitted to continue; and as Congress alone can provide the remedy, the
subject is unavoidably presented to your consideration.



State of the Union Address
Martin van Buren
December 2, 1839

Fellow-Citizens of the Senate and House of Representatives:

I regret that I can not on this occasion congratulate you that the past
year has been one of unalloyed prosperity. The ravages of fire and disease
have painfully afflicted otherwise flourishing portions of our country, and
serious embarrassments yet derange the trade of many of our cities. But
notwithstanding these adverse circumstances, that general prosperity which
has been heretofore so bountifully bestowed upon us by the Author of All
Good still continues to call for our warmest gratitude. Especially have we
reason to rejoice in the exuberant harvests which have lavishly recompensed
well-directed industry and given to it that sure reward which is vainly
sought in visionary speculations. I cannot, indeed, view without peculiar
satisfaction the evidences afforded by the past season of the benefits that
spring from the steady devotion of the husbandman to his honorable pursuit.
No means of individual comfort is more certain and no source of national
prosperity is so sure. Nothing can compensate a people for a dependence
upon others for the bread they eat, and that cheerful abundance on which
the happiness of everyone so much depends is to be looked for nowhere with
such sure reliance as in the industry of the agriculturist and the bounties
of the earth.

With foreign countries our relations exhibit the same favorable aspect
which was presented in my last annual message, and afford continued proof
of the wisdom of the pacific, just, and forbearing policy adopted by the
first Administration of the Federal Government and pursued by its
successors. The extraordinary powers vested in me by an act of Congress for
the defense of the country in an emergency, considered so far probable as
to require that the Executive should possess ample means to meet it, have
not been exerted. They have therefore been attended with no other result
than to increase, by the confidence thus reposed in me, my obligations to
maintain with religious exactness the cardinal principles that govern our
intercourse with other nations. Happily, in our pending questions with
Great Britain, out of which this unusual grant of authority arose, nothing
has occurred to require its exertion, and as it is about to return to the
Legislature I trust that no future necessity may call for its exercise by
them or its delegation to another Department of the Government.

For the settlement of our northeastern boundary the proposition promised by
Great Britain for a commission of exploration and survey has been received,
and a counter project, including also a provision for the certain and final
adjustment of the limits in dispute, is now before the British Government
for its consideration. A just regard to the delicate state of this question
and a proper respect for the natural impatience of the State of Maine, not
less than a conviction that the negotiation has been already protracted
longer than is prudent on the part of either Government, have led me to
believe that the present favorable moment should on no account be suffered
to pass without putting the question forever at rest. I feel confident that
the Government of Her Britannic Majesty will take the same view of this
subject, as I am persuaded it is governed by desires equally strong and
sincere for the amicable termination of the controversy.

To the intrinsic difficulties of questions of boundary lines, especially
those described in regions unoccupied and but partially known, is to be
added in our country the embarrassment necessarily arising out of our
Constitution by which the General Government is made the organ of
negotiating and deciding upon the particular interests of the States on
whose frontiers these lines are to be traced. To avoid another controversy
in which a State government might rightfully claim to have her wishes
consulted previously to the conclusion of conventional arrangements
concerning her rights of jurisdiction or territory, I have thought it
necessary to call the attention of the Government of Great Britain to
another portion of our conterminous dominion of which the division still
remains to be adjusted I refer to the line from the entrance of Lake
Superior to the most northwestern point of the Lake of the Woods,
stipulations for the settlement of which are to be found in the seventh
article of the treaty of Ghent. The commissioners appointed under that
article by the two Governments having differed in their opinions, made
separate reports, according to its stipulations, upon the points of
disagreement, and these differences are now to be submitted to the
arbitration of some friendly sovereign or state. The disputed points should
be settled and the line designated before the Territorial government of
which it is one of the boundaries takes its place in the Union as a State,
and I rely upon the cordial cooperation of the British Government to effect
that object.

There is every reason to believe that disturbances like those which lately
agitated the neighboring British Provinces will not again prove the sources
of border contentions or interpose obstacles to the continuance of that
good understanding which it is the mutual interest of Great Britain and the
United States to preserve and maintain.

Within the Provinces themselves tranquillity is restored, and on our
frontier that misguided sympathy in favor of what was presumed to be a
general effort in behalf of popular rights, and which in some instances
misled a few of our more inexperienced citizens, has subsided into a
rational conviction strongly opposed to all intermeddling with the internal
affairs of our neighbors. The people of the United States feel, as it is
hoped they always will, a warm solicitude for the success of all who are
sincerely endeavoring to improve the political condition of mankind. This
generous feeling they cherish toward the most distant nations, and it was
natural, therefore, that it should be awakened with more than common warmth
in behalf of their immediate neighbors; but it does not belong to their
character as a community to seek the gratification of those feelings in
acts which violate their duty as citizens, endanger the peace of their
country, and tend to bring upon it the stain of a violated faith toward
foreign nations. If, zealous to confer benefits on others, they appear for
a moment to lose sight of the permanent obligations imposed upon them as
citizens, they are seldom long misled. From all the information I receive,
confirmed to some extent by personal observation, I am satisfied that no
one can now hope to engage in such enterprises without encountering public
indignation, in addition to the severest penalties of the law.

Recent information also leads me to hope that the emigrants from Her
Majesty's Provinces who have sought refuge within our boundaries are
disposed to become peaceable residents and to abstain from all attempts to
endanger the peace of that country which has afforded them an asylum. On a
review of the occurrences on both sides of the line it is satisfactory to
reflect that in almost every complaint against our country the offense may
be traced to emigrants from the Provinces who have sought refuge here. In
the few instances in which they were aided by citizens of the United States
the acts of these misguided men were not only in direct contravention of
the laws and well-known wishes of their own Government, but met with the
decided disapprobation of the people of the United States.

I regret to state the appearance of a different spirit among Her Majesty's
subjects in the Canadas. The sentiments of hostility to our people and
institutions which have been so frequently expressed there, and the
disregard of our rights which has been manifested on some occasions, have,
I am sorry to say, been applauded and encouraged by the people, and even by
some of the subordinate local authorities, of the Provinces. The chief
officers in Canada, fortunately, have not entertained the same feeling, and
have probably prevented excesses that must have been fatal to the peace of
the two countries.

I look forward anxiously to a period when all the transactions which have
grown out of this condition of our affairs, and which have been made the
subjects of complaint and remonstrance by the two Governments,
respectively, shall be fully examined, and the proper satisfaction given
where it is due from either side.

Nothing has occurred to disturb the harmony of our intercourse with
Austria, Belgium, Denmark, France, Naples, Portugal, Prussia, Russia, or
Sweden. The internal state of Spain has sensibly improved, and a
well-grounded hope exists that the return of peace will restore to the
people of that country their former prosperity and enable the Government to
fulfill all its obligations at home and abroad. The Government of Portugal,
I have the satisfaction to state, has paid in full the eleventh and last
installment due to our citizens for the claims embraced in the settlement
made with it on the 3d of March, 1837.

I lay before you treaties of commerce negotiated with the Kings of Sardinia
and of the Netherlands, the ratifications of which have been exchanged
since the adjournment of Congress. The liberal principles of these treaties
will recommend them to your approbation. That with Sardinia is the first
treaty of commerce formed by that Kingdom, and it will, I trust, answer the
expectations of the present Sovereign by aiding the development of the
resources of his country and stimulating the enterprise of his people. That
with the Netherlands happily terminates a long-existing subject of dispute
and removes from our future commercial intercourse all apprehension of
embarrassment. The King of the Netherlands has also, in further
illustration of his character for justice and of his desire to remove every
cause of dissatisfaction, made compensation for an American vessel captured
in 1800 by a French privateer, and carried into Curacoa, where the proceeds
were appropriated to the use of the colony, then, and for a short time
after, under the dominion of Holland.

The death of the late Sultan has produced no alteration in our relations
with Turkey. Our newly appointed minister resident has reached
Constantinople, and I have received assurances from the present ruler that
the obligations of our treaty and those of friendship will be fulfilled by
himself in the same spirit that actuated his illustrious father.

I regret to be obliged to inform you that no convention for the settlement
of the claims of our citizens upon Mexico has yet been ratified by the
Government of that country. The first convention formed for that purpose
was not presented by the President of Mexico for the approbation of its
Congress, from a belief that the King of Prussia, the arbitrator in case of
disagreement in the joint commission to be appointed by the United States
and Mexico, would not consent to take upon himself that friendly office.
Although not entirely satisfied with the course pursued by Mexico, I felt
no hesitation in receiving in the most conciliatory spirit the explanation
offered, and also cheerfully consented to a new convention, in order to
arrange the payments proposed to be made to our citizens in a manner which,
while equally just to them, was deemed less onerous and inconvenient to the
Mexican Government. Relying confidently upon the intentions of that
Government, Mr. Ellis was directed to repair to Mexico, and diplomatic
intercourse has been resumed between the two countries. The new convention
has, he informs us, been recently submitted by the President of that
Republic to its Congress under circumstances which promise a speedy
ratification, a result which I can not allow myself to doubt.

Instructions have been given to the commissioner of the United States under
our convention with Texas for the demarcation of the line which separates
us from that Republic. The commissioners of both Governments met in New
Orleans in August last. The joint commission was organized, and adjourned
to convene at the same place on the 12th of October. It is presumed to be
now in the performance of its duties.

The new Government of Texas has shown its desire to cultivate friendly
relations with us by a prompt reparation for injuries complained of in the
cases of two vessels of the United States.

With Central America a convention has been concluded for the renewal of its
former treaty with the United States. This was not ratified before the
departure of our late charge d'affaires from that country, and the copy of
it brought by him was not received before the adjournment of the Senate at
the last session. In the meanwhile, the period limited for the exchange of
ratifications having expired, I deemed it expedient, in consequence of the
death of the charge d'affaires, to send a special agent to Central America
to close the affairs of our mission there and to arrange with the
Government an extension of the time for the exchange of ratifications.

The commission created by the States which formerly composed the Republic
of Colombia for adjusting the claims against that Government has by a very
unexpected construction of the treaty under which it acts decided that no
provision was made for those claims of citizens of the United States which
arose from captures by Colombian privateers and were adjudged against the
claimants in the judicial tribunals. This decision will compel the United
States to apply to the several Governments formerly united for redress.
With all these--New Granada, Venezuela, and Ecuador--a perfectly good
understanding exists. Our treaty with Venezuela is faithfully carried into
execution, and that country, in the enjoyment of tranquillity, is gradually
advancing in prosperity under the guidance of its present distinguished
President, General Paez. With Ecuador a liberal commercial convention has
lately been concluded, which will be transmitted to the Senate at an early

With the great American Empire of Brazil our relations continue unchanged,
as does our friendly intercourse with the other Governments of South
America--the Argentine Republic and the Republics of Uruguay, Chili, Peru,
and Bolivia. The dissolution of the Peru-Bolivian Confederation may
occasion some temporary inconvenience to our citizens in that quarter, but
the obligations on the new Governments which have arisen out of that
Confederation to observe its treaty stipulations will no doubt be soon
understood, and it is presumed that no indisposition will exist to fulfill
those which it contracted with the United States.

The financial operations of the Government during the present year have, I
am happy to say, been very successful. The difficulties under which the
Treasury Department has labored, from known defects in the existing laws
relative to the safe-keeping of the public moneys, aggravated by the
suspension of specie payments by several of the banks holding public
deposits or indebted to public officers for notes received in payment of
public dues, have been surmounted to a very gratifying extent. The large
current expenditures have been punctually met, and the faith of the
Government in all its pecuniary concerns has been scrupulously maintained.

The nineteen millions of Treasury notes authorized by the act of Congress
of 1837, and the modifications thereof with a view to the indulgence of
merchants on their duty bonds and of the deposit banks in the payment of
public moneys held by them, have been so punctually redeemed as to leave
less than the original ten millions outstanding at any one time, and the
whole amount unredeemed now falls short of three millions. Of these the
chief portion is not due till next year, and the whole would have been
already extinguished could the Treasury have realized the payments due to
it from the banks. If those due from them during the next year shall be
punctually made, and if Congress shall keep the appropriations within the
estimates, there is every reason to believe that all the outstanding
Treasury notes can be redeemed and the ordinary expenses defrayed without
imposing on the people any additional burden, either of loans or increased

To avoid this and to keep the expenditures within reasonable bounds is a
duty second only in importance to the preservation of our national
character and the protection of our citizens in their civil and political
rights. The creation in time of peace of a debt likely to become permanent
is an evil for which there is no equivalent. The rapidity with which many
of the States are apparently approaching to this condition admonishes us of
our own duties in a manner too impressive to be disregarded. One, not the
least important, is to keep the Federal Government always in a condition to
discharge with ease and vigor its highest functions should their exercise
be required by any sudden conjuncture of public affairs--a condition to
which we are always exposed and which may occur when it is least expected.
To this end it is indispensable that its finances should be untrammeled and
its resources as far as practicable unencumbered. No circumstance could
present greater obstacles to the accomplishment of these vitally important
objects than the creation of an onerous national debt. Our own experience
and also that of other nations have demonstrated the unavoidable and
fearful rapidity with which a public debt is increased when the Government
has once surrendered itself to the ruinous practice of supplying its
supposed necessities by new loans. The struggle, therefore, on our part to
be successful must be made at the threshold. To make our efforts effective,
severe economy is necessary. This is the surest provision for the national
welfare, and it is at the same time the best preservative of the principles
on which our institutions rest. Simplicity and economy in the affairs of
state have never failed to chasten and invigorate republican principles,
while these have been as surely subverted by national prodigality, under
whatever specious pretexts it may have been introduced or fostered.

These considerations can not be lost upon a people who have never been
inattentive to the effect of their policy upon the institutions they have
created for themselves, but at the present moment their force is augmented
by the necessity which a decreasing revenue must impose. The check lately
given to importations of articles subject to duties, the derangements in
the operations of internal trade, and especially the reduction gradually
taking place in our tariff of duties, all tend materially to lessen our
receipts; indeed, it is probable that the diminution resulting from the
last cause alone will not fall short of $5,000,000 in the year 1842, as the
final reduction of all duties to 20 per cent then takes effect. The whole
revenue then accruing from the customs and from the sales of public lands,
if not more, will undoubtedly be wanted to defray the necessary expenses of
the Government under the most prudent administration of its affairs. These
are circumstances that impose the necessity of rigid economy and require
its prompt and constant exercise. With the Legislature rest the power and
duty of so adjusting the public expenditure as to promote this end. By the
provisions of the Constitution it is only in consequence of appropriations
made by law that money can be drawn from the Treasury. No instance has
occurred since the establishment of the Government in which the Executive,
though a component part of the legislative power, has interposed an
objection to an appropriation bill on the sole ground of its extravagance.
His duty in this respect has been considered fulfilled by requesting such
appropriations only as the public service may be reasonably expected to
require. In the present earnest direction of the public mind toward this
subject both the Executive and the Legislature have evidence of the strict
responsibility to which they will be held; and while I am conscious of my
own anxious efforts to perform with fidelity this portion of my public
functions, it is a satisfaction to me to be able to count on a cordial
cooperation from you.

At the time I entered upon my present duties our ordinary disbursements,
without including those on account of the public debt, the Post-Office, and
the trust funds in charge of the Government, had been largely increased by
appropriations for the removal of the Indians, for repelling Indian
hostilities, and for other less urgent expenses which grew out of an
overflowing Treasury. Independent of the redemption of the public debt and
trusts, the gross expenditures of seventeen and eighteen millions in 1834
and 1835 had by these causes swelled to twenty-nine millions in 1836, and
the appropriations for 1837, made previously to the 4th of March, caused
the expenditure to rise to the very large amount of thirty-three millions.
We were enabled during the year 1838, notwithstanding the continuance of
our Indian embarrassments, somewhat to reduce this amount, and that for the
present year (1839) will not in all probability exceed twenty-six millions,
or six millions less than it was last year. With a determination, so far as
depends on me, to continue this reduction, I have directed the estimates
for 1840 to be subjected to the severest scrutiny and to be limited to the
absolute requirements of the public service. They will be found less than
the expenditures of 1839 by over $5,000,000.

The precautionary measures which will be recommended by the Secretary of
the Treasury to protect faithfully the public credit under the fluctuations
and contingencies to which our receipts and expenditures are exposed, and
especially in a commercial crisis like the present, are commended to your
early attention.

On a former occasion your attention was invited to various considerations
in support of a preemption law in behalf of the settlers on the public
lands, and also of a law graduating the prices for such lands as had long
been in the market unsold in consequence of their inferior quality. The
execution of the act which was passed on the first subject has been
attended with the happiest consequences in quieting titles and securing
improvements to the industrious, and it has also to a very gratifying
extent been exempt from the frauds which were practiced under previous
preemption laws. It has at the same time, as was anticipated, contributed
liberally during the present year to the receipts of the Treasury.

The passage of a graduation law, with the guards before recommended, would
also, I am persuaded, add considerably to the revenue for several years,
and prove in other respects just and beneficial. Your early consideration
of the subject is therefore once more earnestly requested.

The present condition of the defenses of our principal seaports and
navy-yards, as represented by the accompanying report of the Secretary of
War, calls for the early and serious attention of Congress; and, as
connecting itself intimately with this subject, I can not recommend too
strongly to your consideration the plan submitted by that officer for the
organization of the militia of the United States.

In conformity with the expressed wishes of Congress, an attempt was made in
the spring to terminate the Florida war by negotiation. It is to be
regretted that these humane intentions should have been frustrated and that
the effort to bring these unhappy difficulties to a satisfactory conclusion
should have failed; but after entering into solemn engagements with the
commanding general, the Indians, without any provocation, recommenced their
acts of treachery and murder. The renewal of hostilities in that Territory
renders it necessary that I should recommend to your favorable
consideration the plan which will be submitted to you by the Secretary of
War, in order to enable that Department to conduct them to a successful

Having had an opportunity of personally inspecting a portion of the troops
during the last summer, it gives me pleasure to bear testimony to the
success of the effort to improve their discipline by keeping them together
in as large bodies as the nature of our service will permit. I recommend,
therefore, that commodious and permanent barracks be constructed at the
several posts designated by the Secretary of War. Notwithstanding the high
state of their discipline and excellent police, the evils resulting to the
service from the deficiency of company officers were very apparent, and I
recommend that the staff officers be permanently separated from the line.

The Navy has been usefully and honorably employed in protecting the rights
and property of our citizens wherever the condition of affairs seemed to
require its presence. With the exception of one instance, where an outrage,
accompanied by murder, was committed on a vessel of the United States while
engaged in a lawful commerce, nothing is known to have occurred to impede
or molest the enterprise of our citizens on that element, where it is so
signally displayed. On learning this daring act of piracy, Commodore Reed
proceeded immediately to the spot, and receiving no satisfaction, either in
the surrender of the murderers or the restoration of the plundered
property, inflicted severe and merited chastisement on the barbarians.

It will be seen by the report of the Secretary of the Navy respecting the
disposition of our ships of war that it has been deemed necessary to
station a competent force on the coast of Africa to prevent a fraudulent
use of our flag by foreigners.

Recent experience has shown that the provisions in our existing laws which
relate to the sale and transfer of American vessels while abroad are
extremely defective. Advantage has been taken of these defects to give to
vessels wholly belonging to foreigners and navigating the ocean an apparent
American ownership. This character has been so well simulated as to afford
them comparative security in prosecuting the slave trade--a traffic
emphatically denounced in our statutes, regarded with abhorrence by our
citizens, and of which the effectual suppression is nowhere more sincerely
desired than in the United States. These circumstances make it proper to
recommend to your early attention a careful revision of these laws, so that
without impeding the freedom and facilities of our navigation or impairing
an important branch of our industry connected with it the integrity and
honor of our flag may be carefully preserved. Information derived from our
consul at Havana showing the necessity of this was communicated to a
committee of the Senate near the close of the last session, but too late,
as it appeared, to be acted upon. It will be brought to your notice by the
proper Department, with additional communications from other sources.

The latest accounts from the exploring expedition represent it as
proceeding successfully in its objects and promising results no less useful
to trade and navigation than to science.

The extent of post-roads covered by mail service on the 1st of July last
was about 133,999 miles and the rate of annual transportation upon them
34,496,878 miles. The number of post-offices on that day was 12,780 and on
the 30th ultimo 13,028.

The revenue of the Post-Office Department for the year ending with the 30th
of June last was $4,476,638, exhibiting an increase over the preceding year
of $241,560. The engagements and liabilities of the Department for the same
period are $4,624,117.

The excess of liabilities over the revenue for the last two years has been
met out of the surplus which had previously accumulated. The cash on hand
on the 30th ultimo was about $206,701.95 and the current income of the
Department varies very little from the rate of current expenditures. Most
of the service suspended last year has been restored, and most of the new
routes established by the act of 7th July, 1838, have been set in
operation, at an annual cost of $136,963. Notwithstanding the pecuniary
difficulties of the country, the revenue of the Department appears to be
increasing, and unless it shall be seriously checked by the recent
suspension of payment by so many of the banks it will be able not only to
maintain the present mail service, but in a short time to extend it. It is
gratifying to witness the promptitude and fidelity with which the agents of
this Department in general perform their public duties.

Some difficulties have arisen in relation to contracts for the
transportation of the mails by railroad and steamboat companies. It appears
that the maximum of compensation provided by Congress for the
transportation of the mails upon railroads is not sufficient to induce some
of the companies to convey them at such hours as are required for the
accommodation of the public. It is one of the most important duties of the
General Government to provide and maintain for the use of the people of the
States the best practicable mail establishment. To arrive at that end it is
indispensable that the Post-Office Department shall be enabled to control
the hours at which the mails shall be carried over railroads, as it now
does over all other roads. Should serious inconveniences arise from the
inadequacy of the compensation now provided by law, or from unreasonable
demands by any of the railroad companies, the subject is of such general
importance as to require the prompt attention of Congress.

In relation to steamboat lines, the most efficient remedy is obvious and
has been suggested by the Postmaster-General. The War and Navy Departments
already employ steamboats in their service; and although it is by no means
desirable that the Government should undertake the transportation of
passengers or freight as a business, there can be no reasonable objection
to running boats, temporarily, whenever it may be necessary to put down
attempts at extortion, to be discontinued as soon as reasonable contracts
can be obtained.

The suggestions of the Postmaster-General relative to the inadequacy of the
legal allowance to witnesses in cases of prosecutions for mail depredations
merit your serious consideration. The safety of the mails requires that
such prosecutions shall be efficient, and justice to the citizen whose time
is required to be given to the public demands not only that his expenses
shall be paid, but that he shall receive a reasonable compensation.

The reports from the War, Navy, and Post-Office Departments will accompany
this communication, and one from the Treasury Department will be presented
to Congress in a few days.

For various details in respect to the matters in charge of these
Departments I would refer you to those important documents, satisfied that
you will find in them many valuable suggestions which will be found well
deserving the attention of the Legislature.

From a report made in December of last year by the Secretary of State to
the Senate, showing the trial docket of each of the circuit courts and the
number of miles each judge has to travel in the performance of his duties,
a great inequality appears in the amount of labor assigned to each judge.
The number of terms to be held in each of the courts composing the ninth
circuit, the distances between the places at which they sit and from thence
to the seat of Government, are represented to be such as to render it
impossible for the judge of that circuit to perform in a manner
corresponding with the public exigencies his term and circuit duties. A
revision, therefore, of the present arrangement of the circuit seems to be
called for and is recommended to your notice.

I think it proper to call your attention to the power assumed by
Territorial legislatures to authorize the issue of bonds by corporate
companies on the guaranty of the Territory. Congress passed a law in 1836
providing that no act of a Territorial legislature incorporating banks
should have the force of law until approved by Congress, but acts of a very
exceptionable character previously passed by the legislature of Florida
were suffered to remain in force, by virtue of which bonds may be issued to
a very large amount by those institutions upon the faith of the Territory.
A resolution, intending to be a joint one, passed the Senate at the same
session, expressing the sense of Congress that the laws in question ought
not to be permitted to remain in force unless amended in many material
respects; but it failed in the House of Representatives for want of time,
and the desired amendments have not been made. The interests involved are
of great importance, and the subject deserves your early and careful

The continued agitation of the question relative to the best mode of
keeping and disbursing the public money still injuriously affects the
business of the country. The suspension of specie payments in 1837 rendered
the use of deposit banks as prescribed by the act of 1836 a source rather
of embarrassment than aid, and of necessity placed the custody of most of
the public money afterwards collected in charge of the public officers. The
new securities for its safety which this required were a principal cause of
my convening an extra session of Congress, but in consequence of a
disagreement between the two Houses neither then nor at any subsequent
period has there been any legislation on the subject. The effort made at
the last session to obtain the authority of Congress to punish the use of
public money for private purposes as a crime a measure attended under other
governments with signal advantage--was also unsuccessful, from diversities
of opinion in that body, notwithstanding the anxiety doubtless felt by it
to afford every practicable security. The result of this is still to leave
the custody of the public money without those safeguards which have been
for several years earnestly desired by the Executive, and as the remedy is
only to be found in the action of the Legislature it imposes on me the duty
of again submitting to you the propriety of passing a law providing for the
safe-keeping of the public moneys, and especially to ask that its use for
private purposes by any officers intrusted with it may be declared to be a
felony, punishable with penalties proportioned to the magnitude of the

These circumstances, added to known defects in the existing laws and
unusual derangement in the general operations of trade, have during the
last three years much increased the difficulties attendant on the
collection, keeping, and disbursement of the revenue, and called forth
corresponding exertions from those having them in charge. Happily these
have been successful beyond expectation. Vast sums have been collected and
disbursed by the several Departments with unexpected cheapness and ease,
transfers have been readily made to every part of the Union, however
distant, and defalcations have been far less than might have been
anticipated from the absence of adequate legal restraints. Since the
officers of the Treasury and Post-Office Departments were charged with the
custody of most of the public moneys received by them there have been
collected $66,000,000, and, excluding the case of the late collector at New
York, the aggregate amount of losses sustained in the collection can not,
it is believed, exceed $60,000. The defalcation of the late collector at
that city, of the extent and circumstances of which Congress have been
fully informed, ran through all the modes of keeping the public money that
have been hitherto in use, and was distinguished by an aggravated disregard
of duty that broke through the restraints of every system, and can not,
therefore, be usefully referred to as a test of the comparative safety of
either. Additional information will also be furnished by the report of the
Secretary of the Treasury, in reply to a call made upon that officer by the
House of Representatives at the last session requiring detailed information
on the subject of defaults by public officers or agents under each
Administration from 1789 to 1837. This document will be submitted to you in
a few days. The general results (independent of the Post-Office, which is
kept separately and will be stated by itself), so far as they bear upon
this subject, are that the losses which have been and are likely to be
sustained by any class of agents have been the greatest by banks,
including, as required in the resolution, their depreciated paper received
for public dues; that the next largest have been by disbursing officers,
and the least by collectors and receivers. If the losses on duty bonds are
included, they alone will be threefold those by both collectors and
receivers. Our whole experience, therefore, furnishes the strongest
evidence that the desired legislation of Congress is alone wanting to
insure in those operations the highest degree of security and facility.
Such also appears to have been the experience of other nations. From the
results of inquiries made by the Secretary of the Treasury in regard to the
practice among them I am enabled to state that in twenty-two out of
twenty-seven foreign governments from which undoubted information has been
obtained the public moneys are kept in charge of public officers. This
concurrence of opinion in favor of that system is perhaps as great as
exists on any question of internal administration.

In the modes of business and official restraints on disbursing officers no
legal change was produced by the suspension of specie payments. The report
last referred to will be found to contain also much useful information in
relation to this subject.

I have heretofore assigned to Congress my reasons for believing that the
establishment of an independent National Treasury, as contemplated by the
Constitution, is necessary to the safe action of the Federal Government.
The suspension of specie payments in 1837 by the banks having the custody
of the public money showed in so alarming a degree our dependence on those
institutions for the performance of duties required by law that I then
recommended the entire dissolution of that connection. This recommendation
has been subjected, as I desired it should be, to severe scrutiny and
animated discussion, and I allow myself to believe that notwithstanding the
natural diversities of opinion which may be anticipated on all subjects
involving such important considerations, it has secured in its favor as
general a concurrence of public sentiment as could be expected on one of
such magnitude.

Recent events have also continued to develop new objections to such a
connection. Seldom is any bank, under the existing system and practice,
able to meet on demand all its liabilities for deposits and notes in
circulation. It maintains specie payments and transacts a profitable
business only by the confidence of the public in its solvency, and whenever
this is destroyed the demands of its depositors and note holders, pressed
more rapidly than it can make collections from its debtors, force it to
stop payment. This loss of confidence, with its consequences, occurred in
1837, and afforded the apology of the banks for their suspension. The
public then acquiesced in the validity of the excuse, and while the State
legislatures did not exact from them their forfeited charters, Congress, in
accordance with the recommendation of the Executive, allowed them time to
pay over the public money they held, although compelled to issue Treasury
notes to supply the deficiency thus created.

It now appears that there are other motives than a want of public
confidence under which the banks seek to justify themselves in a refusal to
meet their obligations. Scarcely were the country and Government relieved
in a degree from the difficulties occasioned by the general suspension of
1837 when a partial one, occurring within thirty months of the former,
produced new and serious embarrassments, though it had no palliation in
such circumstances as were alleged in justification of that which had
previously taken place. There was nothing in the condition of the country
to endanger a well-managed banking institution; commerce was deranged by no
foreign war; every branch of manufacturing industry was crowned with rich
rewards, and the more than usual abundance of our harvests, after supplying
our domestic wants, had left our granaries and storehouses filled with a
surplus for exportation. It is in the midst of this that an irredeemable
and depreciated paper currency is entailed upon the people by a large
portion of the banks. They are not driven to it by the exhibition of a loss
of public confidence or of a sudden pressure from their depositors or note
holders, but they excuse themselves by alleging that the current of
business and exchange with foreign countries, which draws the precious
metals from their vaults, would require in order to meet it a larger
curtailment of their loans to a comparatively small portion of the
community than it will be convenient for them to bear or perhaps safe for
the banks to exact. The plea has ceased to be one of necessity. Convenience
and policy are now deemed sufficient to warrant these institutions in
disregarding their solemn obligations. Such conduct is not merely an injury
to individual creditors, but it is a wrong to the whole community, from
whose liberality they hold most valuable privileges, whose rights they
violate, whose business they derange, and the value of whose property they
render unstable and insecure. It must be evident that this new ground for
bank suspensions, in reference to which their action is not only
disconnected with, but wholly independent of, that of the public, gives a
character to their suspensions more alarming than any which they exhibited
before, and greatly increases the impropriety of relying on the banks in
the transactions of the Government.

A large and highly respectable portion of our banking institutions are, it
affords me unfeigned pleasure to state, exempted from all blame on account
of this second delinquency. They have, to their great credit, not only
continued to meet their engagements, but have even repudiated the grounds
of suspension now resorted to. It is only by such a course that the
confidence and good will of the community can be preserved, and in the
sequel the best interests of the institutions themselves promoted.

New dangers to the banks are also daily disclosed from the extension of
that system of extravagant credit of which they are the pillars. Formerly
our foreign commerce was principally rounded on an exchange of commodities,
including the precious metals, and leaving in its transactions but little
foreign debt. Such is not now the case. Aided by the facilities afforded by
the banks, mere credit has become too commonly the basis of trade. Many of
the banks themselves, not content with largely stimulating this system
among others, have usurped the business, while they impair the stability,
of the mercantile community; they have become borrowers instead of lenders;
they establish their agencies abroad; they deal largely in stocks and
merchandise; they encourage the issue of State securities until the foreign
market is glutted with them; and, unsatisfied with the legitimate use of
their own capital and the exercise of their lawful privileges, they raise
by large loans additional means for every variety of speculation. The
disasters attendant on this deviation from the former course of business in
this country are now shared alike by banks and individuals to an extent of
which there is perhaps no previous example in the annals of our country. So
long as a willingness of the foreign lender and a sufficient export of our
productions to meet any necessary partial payments leave the flow of credit
undisturbed all appears to be prosperous, but as soon as it is checked by
any hesitation abroad or by an inability to make payment there in our
productions the evils of the system are disclosed. The paper currency,
which might serve for domestic purposes, is useless to pay the debt due in
Europe. Gold and silver are therefore drawn in exchange for their notes
from the banks. To keep up their supply of coin these institutions are
obliged to call upon their own debtors, who pay them principally in their
own notes, which are as unavailable to them as they are to the merchants to
meet the foreign demand. The calls of the banks, therefore, in such
emergencies of necessity exceed that demand, and produce a corresponding
curtailment of their accommodations and of the currency at the very moment
when the state of trade renders it most inconvenient to be borne. The
intensity of this pressure on the community is in proportion to the
previous liberality of credit and consequent expansion of the currency.
Forced sales of property are made at the time when the means of purchasing
are most reduced, and the worst calamities to individuals are only at last
arrested by an open violation of their obligations by the banks--a refusal
to pay specie for their notes and an imposition upon the community of a
fluctuating and depreciated currency.

These consequences are inherent in the present system. They are not
influenced by the banks being large or small, created by National or State
Governments. They are the results of the irresistible laws of trade or
credit. In the recent events, which have so strikingly illustrated the
certain effects of these laws, we have seen the bank of the largest capital
in the Union, established under a national charter, and lately
strengthened, as we were authoritatively informed, by exchanging that for a
State charter with new and unusual privileges--in a condition, too, as it
was said, of entire soundness and great prosperity--not merely unable to
resist these effects, but the first to yield to them.

Nor is it to be overlooked that there exists a chain of necessary
dependence among these institutions which obliges them to a great extent to
follow the course of others, notwithstanding its injustice to their own
immediate creditors or injury to the particular community in which they are
placed. This dependence of a bank, which is in proportion to the extent of
its debts for circulation and deposits, is not merely on others in its own
vicinity, but on all those which connect it with the center of trade.
Distant banks may fail without seriously affecting those in our principal
commercial cities, but the failure of the latter is felt at the extremities
of the Union. The suspension at New York in 1837 was everywhere, with very
few exceptions, followed as soon as it was known. That recently at
Philadelphia immediately affected the banks of the South and West in a
similar manner. This dependence of our whole banking system on the
institutions in a few large cities is not found in the laws of their
organization, but in those of trade and exchange. The banks at that center,
to which currency flows and where it is required in payments for
merchandise, hold the power of controlling those in regions whence it
comes, while the latter possess no means of restraining them; so that the
value of individual property and the prosperity of trade through the whole
interior of the country are made to depend on the good or bad management of
the banking institutions in the great seats of trade on the seaboard.

But this chain of dependence does not stop here. It does not terminate at
Philadelphia or New York. It reaches across the ocean and ends in London,
the center of the credit system. The same laws of trade which give to the
banks in our principal cities power over the whole banking system of the
United States subject the former, in their turn, to the money power in
Great Britain. It is not denied that the suspension of the New York banks
in 1837, which was followed in quick succession throughout the Union, was
produced by an application of that power, and it is now alleged, in
extenuation of the present condition of so large a portion of our banks,
that their embarrassments have arisen from the same cause.

From this influence they can not now entirely escape, for it has its origin
in the credit currencies of the two countries; it is strengthened by the
current of trade and exchange which centers in London, and is rendered
almost irresistible by the large debts contracted there by our merchants,
our banks, and our States. It is thus that an introduction of a new bank
into the most distant of our villages places the business of that village
within the influence of the money power in England; it is thus that every
new debt which we contract in that country seriously affects our own
currency and extends over the pursuits of our citizens its powerful
influence. We can not escape from this by making new banks, great or small,
State or national. The same chains which bind those now existing to the
center of this system of paper credit must equally fetter every similar
institution we create. It is only by the extent to which this system has
been pushed of late that we have been made fully aware of its irresistible
tendency to subject our own banks and currency to a vast controlling power
in a foreign lad, and it adds a new argument to those which illustrate
their precarious situation.. Endangered in the first place by their own
mismanagement and again by the conduct of every institution which connects
them with the center of trade in our own country, they are yet subjected
beyond all this to the effect of whatever measures policy, necessity, or
caprice may induce those who control the credits of England to resort to. I
mean not to comment upon these measures, present or past, and much less to
discourage the prosecution of fair commercial dealing between the two
countries, based on reciprocal benefits; but it having now been made
manifest that the power of inflicting these and similar injuries is by the
resistless law of a credit currency and credit trade equally capable of
extending their consequences through all the ramifications of our banking
system, and by that means indirectly obtaining, particularly when our banks
are used as depositories of the public moneys, a dangerous political
influence in the United States, I have deemed it my duty to bring the
subject to your notice and ask for it your serious consideration.

Is an argument required beyond the exposition of these facts to show the
impropriety of using our banking institutions as depositories of the public
money? Can we venture not only to encounter the risk of their individual
and mutual mismanagement, but at the same time to place our foreign and
domestic policy entirely under the control of a foreign moneyed interest?
To do so is to impair the independence of our Government, as the present
credit system has already impaired the independence of our banks; it is to
submit all its important operations, whether of peace or war, to be
controlled or thwarted, at first by our own banks and then by a power
abroad greater than themselves. I can not bring myself to depict the
humiliation to which this Government and people might be sooner or later
reduced if the means for defending their rights are to be made dependent
upon those who may have the most powerful of motives to impair them.

Nor is it only in reference to the effect of this state of things on the
independence of our Government or of our banks that the subject presents
itself for consideration; it is to be viewed also in its relations to the
general trade of our country. The time is not long passed when a deficiency
of foreign crops was thought to afford a profitable market for the surplus
of our industry, but now we await with feverish anxiety the news of the
English harvest, not so much from motives of commendable sympathy, but
fearful lest its anticipated failure should narrow the field of credit
there. Does not this speak volumes to the patriot? Can a system be
beneficent, wise, or just which creates greater anxiety for interests
dependent on foreign credit than for the general prosperity of our own
country and the profitable exportation of the surplus produce of our

The circumstances to which I have thus adverted appear to me to afford
weighty reasons, developed by late events, to be added to those which I
have on former occasions offered when submitting to your better knowledge
and discernment the propriety of separating the custody of the public money
from banking institutions. Nor has anything occurred to lessen, in my
opinion, the force of what has been heretofore urged. The only ground on
which that custody can be desired by the banks is the profitable use which
they may make of the money. Such use would be regarded in individuals as a
breach of trust or a crime of great magnitude, and yet it may be reasonably
doubted whether, first and last, it is not attended with more mischievous
consequences when permitted to the former than to the latter. The practice
of permitting the public money to be used by its keepers, as here, is
believed to be peculiar to this country and to exist scarcely anywhere
else. To procure it here improper influences are appealed to, unwise
connections are established between the Government and vast numbers of
powerful State institutions, other motives than the public good are brought
to bear both on the executive and legislative departments, and selfish
combinations leading to special legislation are formed. It is made the
interest of banking institutions and their stockholders throughout the
Union to use their exertions for the increase of taxation and the
accumulation of a surplus revenue, and while an excuse is afforded the
means are furnished for those excessive issues which lead to extravagant
trading and speculation and are the forerunners of a vast debt abroad and a
suspension of the banks at home.

Impressed, therefore, as I am with the propriety of the funds of the
Government being withdrawn from the private use of either banks or
individuals, and the public money kept by duly appointed public agents, and
believing as I do that such also is the judgment which discussion,
reflection, and experience have produced on the public mind, I leave the
subject with you. It is, at all events, essential to the interests of the
community and the business of the Government that a decision should be

Most of the arguments that dissuade us from employing banks in the custody
and disbursement of the public money apply with equal force to the receipt
of their notes for public dues. The difference is only in form. In one
instance the Government is a creditor for its deposits, and in the other
for the notes it holds. They afford the same opportunity for using the
public moneys, and equally lead to all the evils attendant upon it, since a
bank can as safely extend its discounts on a deposit of its notes in the
hands of a public officer as on one made in its own vaults. On the other
hand, it would give to the Government no greater security, for in case of
failure the claim of the note holder would be no better than that of a

I am aware that the danger of inconvenience to the public and unreasonable
pressure upon sound banks have been urged as objections to requiring the
payment of the revenue in gold and silver. These objections have been
greatly exaggerated. From the best estimates we may safely fix the amount
of specie in the country at $85,000,000, and the portion of that which
would be employed at any one time in the receipts and disbursements of the
Government, even if the proposed change were made at once, would not, it is
now, after fuller investigation, believed exceed four or five millions. If
the change were gradual, several years would elapse before that sum would
be required, with annual opportunities in the meantime to alter the law
should experience prove it to be oppressive or inconvenient. The portions
of the community on whose business the change would immediately operate are
comparatively small, nor is it believed that its effect would be in the
least unjust or injurious to them.

In the payment of duties, which constitute by far the greater portion of
the revenue, a very large proportion is derived from foreign commission
houses and agents of foreign manufacturers, who sell the goods consigned to
them generally at auction, and after paying the duties out of the avails
remit the rest abroad in specie or its equivalent. That the amount of
duties should in such cases be also retained in specie can hardly be made a
matter of complaint. Our own importing merchants, by whom the residue of
the duties is paid, are not only peculiarly interested in maintaining a
sound currency, which the measure in question will especially promote, but
are from the nature of their dealings best able to know when specie will be
needed and to procure it with the least difficulty or sacrifice. Residing,
too, almost universally in places where the revenue is received and where
the drafts used by the Government for its disbursements must concentrate,
they have every opportunity to obtain and use them in place of specie
should it be for their interest or convenience. Of the number of these
drafts and the facilities they may afford, as well as of the rapidity with
which the public funds are drawn and disbursed, an idea may be formed from
the fact that of nearly $20,000,000 paid to collectors and receivers during
the present year the average amount in their hands at any one time has not
exceeded a million and a half, and of the fifteen millions received by the
collector of New York alone during the present year the average amount held
by him subject to draft during each week has been less than half a

The ease and safety of the operations of the Treasury in keeping the public
money are promoted by the application of its own drafts to the public dues.
The objection arising from having them too long outstanding might be
obviated and they yet made to afford to merchants and banks holding them an
equivalent for specie, and in that way greatly lessen the amount actually
required. Still less inconvenience will attend the requirement of specie in
purchases of public lands. Such purchases, except when made on speculation,
are in general but single transactions, rarely repeated by the same person;
and it is a fact that for the last year and a half, during which the notes
of sound banks have been received, more than a moiety of these payments has
been voluntarily made in specie, being a larger proportion than would have
been required in three years under the graduation proposed.

It is, moreover, a principle than which none is better settled by
experience that the supply of the precious metals will always be found
adequate to the uses for which they are required. They abound in countries
where no other currency is allowed. In our own States, where small notes
are excluded, gold and silver supply their place. When driven to their
hiding places by bank suspensions, a little firmness in the community soon
restores them in a sufficient quantity for ordinary purposes. Postage and
other public dues have been collected in coin without serious inconvenience
even in States where a depreciated paper currency has existed for years,
and this, with the aid of Treasury notes for a part of the time, was done
without interruption during the suspension of 1837. At the present moment
the receipts and disbursements of the Government are made in legal currency
in the largest portion of the Union. No one suggests a departure from this
rule, and if it can now be successfully carried out it will be surely
attended with even less difficulty when bank notes are again redeemed in

Indeed, I can not think that a serious objection would anywhere be raised
to the receipt and payment of gold and silver in all public transactions
were it not from an apprehension that a surplus in the Treasury might
withdraw a large portion of it from circulation and lock it up unprofitably
in the public vaults. It would not, in my opinion, be difficult to prevent
such an inconvenience from occurring; but the authentic statements which I
have already submitted to you in regard to the actual amount in the public
Treasury at any one time during the period embraced in them and the little
probability of a different state of the Treasury for at least some years to
come seem to render it unnecessary to dwell upon it. Congress, moreover, as
I have before observed, will in every year have an opportunity to guard
against it should the occurrence of any circumstances lead us to apprehend
injury from this source. Viewing the subject in all its aspects, I can not
believe that any period will be more auspicious than the present for the
adoption of all measures necessary to maintain the sanctity of our own
engagements and to aid in securing to the community that abundant supply of
the precious metals which adds so much to their prosperity and gives such
increased stability to all their dealings.

In a country so commercial as ours banks in some form will probably always
exist, but this serves only to render it the more incumbent on us,
notwithstanding the discouragements of the past, to strive in our
respective stations to mitigate the evils they produce; to take from them
as rapidly as the obligations of public faith and a careful consideration
of the immediate interests of the community will permit the unjust
character of monopolies; to check, so far as may be practicable, by prudent
legislation those temptations of interest and those opportunities for their
dangerous indulgence which beset them on every side, and to confine them
strictly to the performance of their paramount duty--that of aiding the
operations of commerce rather than consulting their own exclusive
advantage. These and other salutary reforms may, it is believed, be
accomplished without the violation of any of the great principles of the
social compact, the observance of which is indispensable to its existence,
or interfering in any way with the useful and profitable employment of real

Institutions so framed have existed and still exist elsewhere, giving to
commercial intercourse all necessary facilities without inflating or
depreciating the currency or stimulating speculation. Thus accomplishing
their legitimate ends, they have gained the surest guaranty for their
protection and encouragement in the good will of the community. Among a
people so just as ours the same results could not fail to attend a similar
course. The direct supervision of the banks belongs, from the nature of our
Government, to the States who authorize them. It is to their legislatures
that the people must mainly look for action on that subject. But as the
conduct of the Federal Government in the management of its revenue has also
a powerful, though less immediate, influence upon them, it becomes our duty
to see that a proper direction is given to it. While the keeping of the
public revenue in a separate and independent treasury and of collecting it
in gold and silver will have a salutary influence on the system of paper
credit with which all banks are connected, and thus aid those that are
sound and well managed, it will at the same time sensibly check such as are
otherwise by at once withholding the means of extravagance afforded by the
public funds and restraining them from excessive issues of notes which they
would be constantly called upon to redeem.

I am aware it has been urged that this control may be best attained and
exerted by means of a national bank. The constitutional objections which I
am well known to entertain would prevent me in any event from proposing or
assenting to that remedy; but in addition to this, I can not after past
experience bring myself to think that it can any longer be extensively
regarded as effective for such a purpose. The history of the late national
bank, through all its mutations, shows that it was not so. On the contrary,
it may, after a careful consideration of the subject, be, I think, safely
stated that at every period of banking excess it took the lead; that in
1817 and 1818, in 1823, in 1831, and in 1834 its vast expansions, followed
by distressing contractions, led to those of the State institutions. It
swelled and maddened the tides of the banking system, but seldom allayed or
safely directed them. At a few periods only was a salutary control
exercised, but an eager desire, on the contrary, exhibited for profit in
the first place; and if afterwards its measures were severe toward other
institutions, it was because its own safety compelled it to adopt them. It
did not differ from them in principle or in form; its measures emanated
from the same spirit of gain; it felt the same temptation to overissues; it
suffered from and was totally unable to avert those inevitable laws of
trade by which it was itself affected equally with them; and at least on
one occasion, at an early day, it was saved only by extraordinary exertions
from the same fate that attended the weakest institution it professed to
supervise. In 1837 it failed equally with others in redeeming its notes
(though the two years allowed by its charter for that purpose had not
expired), a large amount of which remains to the present time outstanding.
It is true that, having so vast a capital and strengthened by the use of
all the revenues of the Government, it possessed more power; but while it
was itself by that circumstance freed from the control which all banks
require, its paramount object and inducement were left the same--to make
the most for its stockholders, not to regulate the currency of the country.
Nor has it, as far as we are advised, been found to be greatly otherwise
elsewhere. The national character given to the Bank of England has not
prevented excessive fluctuations in their currency, and it proved unable to
keep off a suspension of specie payments, which lasted for nearly a quarter
of a century. And why should we expect it to be otherwise? A national
institution, though deriving its charter from a different source than the
State banks, is yet constituted upon the same principles, is conducted by
men equally exposed to temptation, and is liable to the same disasters,
with the additional disadvantage that its magnitude occasions an extent of
confusion and distress which the mismanagement of smaller institutions
could not produce. It can scarcely be doubted that the recent suspension of
the United State Bank of Pennsylvania, of which the effects are felt not in
that State alone, but over half the Union, had its origin in a course of
business commenced while it was a national institution, and there is no
good reason for supposing that the same consequences would not have
followed had it still derived its powers from the General Government. It is
in vain, when the influences and impulses are the same, to look for a
difference in conduct or results. By such creations we do, therefore, but
increase the mass of paper credit and paper currency, without checking
their attendant evils and fluctuations. The extent of power and the
efficiency of organization which we give, so far from being beneficial, are
in practice positively injurious. They strengthen the chain of dependence
throughout the Union, subject all parts more certainly to common disaster,
and bind every bank more effectually in the first instance to those of our
commercial cities, and in the end to a foreign power. In a word, I can not
but believe that, with the full understanding of the operations of our
banking system which experience has produced, public sentiment is not less
opposed to the creation of a national bank for purposes connected with
currency and commerce than for those connected with the fiscal operations
of the Government.

Yet the commerce and currency of the country are suffering evils from the
operations of the State banks which can not and ought not to be overlooked.
By their means we have been flooded with a depreciated paper, which it was
evidently the design of the framers of the Constitution to prevent when
they required Congress to "Coin money and regulate the value of foreign
coins," and when they forbade the States "to coin money, emit bills of
credit, make anything but gold and silver a tender in payment of debts," or
"pass any law impairing the obligation of contracts." If they did not guard
more explicitly against the present state of things, it was because they
could not have anticipated that the few banks then existing were to swell
to an extent which would expel to so great a degree the gold and silver for
which they had provided from the channels of circulation, and fill them
with a currency that defeats the objects they had in view. The remedy for
this must chiefly rest with the States from whose legislation it has
sprung. No good that might accrue in a particular case front the exercise
of powers not obviously conferred on the General Government would authorize
its interference or justify a course that might in the slightest degree
increase at the expense of the States the power of the Federal authorities;
nor do I doubt that the States will apply the remedy. Within the last few
years events have appealed to them too strongly to be disregarded. They
have seen that the Constitution, though theoretically adhered to, is
subverted in practice; that while on the statute books there is no legal
tender but gold and silver, no law impairing the obligations of contracts,
yet that in point of fact the privileges conferred on banking corporations
have made their notes the currency of the country; that the obligations
imposed by these notes are violated under the impulses of interest or
convenience, and that the number and power of the persons connected with
these corporations or placed under their influence give them a fearful
weight when their interest is in opposition to the spirit of the
Constitution and laws. To the people it is immaterial whether these results
are produced by open violations of the latter or by the workings of a
system of which the result is the same. An inflexible execution even of the
existing statutes of most of the States would redress many evils now
endured, would effectually show the banks the dangers of mismanagement
which impunity encourages them to repeat, and would teach all corporations
the useful lesson that they are the subjects of the law and the servants of
the people. What is still wanting to effect these objects must be sought in
additional legislation, or, if that be inadequate, in such further
constitutional grants or restrictions as may bring us back into the path
from which we have so widely wandered.

In the meantime it is the duty of the General Government to cooperate with
the States by a wise exercise of its constitutional powers and the
enforcement of its existing laws. The extent to which it may do so by
further enactments I have already adverted to, and the wisdom of Congress
may yet enlarge them. But above all, it is incumbent upon us to hold erect
the principles of morality and law, constantly executing our own contracts
in accordance with the provisions of the Constitution, and thus serving as
a rallying point by which our whole country may be brought back to that
safe and honored standard.

Our people will not long be insensible to the extent of the burdens
entailed upon them by the false system that has been operating on their
sanguine, energetic, and industrious character, nor to the means necessary
to extricate themselves from these embarrassments. The weight which presses
upon a large portion of the people and the States is an enormous debt,
foreign and domestic. The foreign debt of our States, corporations, and men
of business can scarcely be less than $200,000,000, requiring more than
$10,000,000 a year to pay the interest. This sum has to be paid out of the
exports of the country, and must of necessity cut off imports to that
extent or plunge the country more deeply in debt from year to year. It is
easy to see that the increase of this foreign debt must augment the annual
demand on the exports to pay the interest, and to the same extent diminish
the imports, and in proportion to the enlargement of the foreign debt and
the consequent increase of interest must be the decrease of the import
trade. In lieu of the comforts which it now brings us we might have our.
gigantic banking institutions and splendid, but in many instances
profitless, railroads and canals absorbing to a great extent in interest
upon the capital borrowed to construct them the surplus fruits of national
industry for years to come, and securing to posterity no adequate return
for the comforts which the labors of their hands might otherwise have
secured. It is not by the increase of this debt that relief is to be
sought, but in its diminution. Upon this point there is, I am happy to say,
hope before us; not so much in the return of confidence abroad, which will
enable the States to borrow more money, as in a change of public feeling at
home, which prompts our people to pause in their career and think of the
means by which debts are to be paid before they are contracted. If we would
escape embarrassment, public and private, we must cease to run in debt
except for objects of necessity or such as will yield a certain return. Let
the faith of the States, corporations, and individuals already pledged be
kept with the most punctilious regard. It is due to our national character
as well as to justice that this should on the part of each be a fixed
principle of conduct. But it behooves us all to be more chary in pledging
it hereafter. By ceasing to run in debt and applying the surplus of our
crops and incomes to the discharge of existing obligations, buying less and
selling more, and managing all affairs, public and private, with strict
economy and frugality, we shall see our country soon recover from a
temporary depression, arising not from natural and permanent causes, but
from those I have enumerated, and advance with renewed vigor in her career
of prosperity.

Fortunately for us at this moment, when the balance of trade is greatly
against us and the difficulty of meeting it enhanced by the disturbed state
of our money affairs, the bounties of Providence have come to relieve us
from the consequences of past errors. A faithful application of the immense
results of the labors of the last season will afford partial relief for the
present, and perseverance in the same course will in due season accomplish
the rest. We have had full experience in times past of the extraordinary
results which can in this respect be brought about in a short period by the
united and well-directed efforts of a community like ours. Our surplus
profits, the energy and industry of our population, and the wonderful
advantages which Providence has bestowed upon our country in its climate,
its various productions, indispensable to other nations, will in due time
afford abundant means to perfect the most useful of those objects for which
the States have been plunging themselves of late in embarrassment and debt,
without imposing on ourselves or our children such fearful burdens.

But let it be indelibly engraved on our minds that relief is not to be
found in expedients. Indebtedness can not be lessened by borrowing more
money or by changing the form of the debt. The balance of trade is not to
be turned in our favor by creating new demands upon us abroad. Our currency
can not be improved by the creation of new banks or more issues from those
which now exist. Although these devices sometimes appear to give temporary
relief, they almost invariably aggravate the evil in the end. It is only by
retrenchment and reform--by curtailing public and private expenditures, by
paying our debts, and by reforming our banking system--that we are to
expect effectual relief, security for the future, and an enduring
prosperity. In shaping the institutions and policy of the General
Government so as to promote as far as it can with its limited powers these
important ends, you may rely on my most cordial cooperation.

That there should have been in the progress of recent events doubts in many
quarters and in some a heated opposition to every change can not surprise
us. Doubts are properly attendant on all reform, and it is peculiarly in
the nature of such abuses as we are now encountering to seek to perpetuate
their power by means of the influence they have been permitted to acquire.
It is their result, if not their object, to gain for the few an ascendency
over the many by securing to them a monopoly of the currency, the medium
through which most of the wants of mankind are supplied; to produce
throughout society a chain of dependence which leads all classes to look to
privileged associations for the means of speculation and extravagance; to
nourish, in preference to the manly virtues that give dignity to human
nature, a craving desire for luxurious enjoyment and sudden wealth, which
renders those who seek them dependent on those who supply them; to
substitute for republican simplicity and economical habits a sickly
appetite for effeminate indulgence and an imitation of that reckless
extravagance which impoverished and enslaved the industrious people of
foreign lands, and at last to fix upon us, instead of those equal political
rights the acquisition of which was alike the object and supposed reward of
our Revolutionary struggle, a system of exclusive privileges conferred by
partial legislation. To remove the influences which had thus gradually
grown up among us, to deprive them of their deceptive advantages, to test
them by the light of wisdom and truth, to oppose the force which they
concentrate in their sup-port--all this was necessarily the work of time,
even among a people so enlightened and pure as that of the United States.
In most other countries, perhaps, it could only be accomplished through
that series of revolutionary movements which are too often found necessary
to effect any great and radical reform; but it is the crowning merit of our
institutions that they create and nourish in the vast majority of our
people a disposition and a power peaceably to remedy abuses which have
elsewhere caused the effusion of rivers of blood and the sacrifice of
thousands of the human race. The result thus far is most honorable to the
self-denial, the intelligence, and the patriotism of our citizens; it
justifies the confident hope that they will carry through the reform which
has been so well begun, and that they will go still further than they have
yet gone in illustrating the important truth that a people as free and
enlightened as ours will, whenever it becomes necessary, show themselves to
be indeed capable of self-government by voluntarily adopting appropriate
remedies for every abuse, and submitting to temporary sacrifices, however
great, to insure their permanent welfare.

My own exertions for the furtherance of these desirable objects have been
bestowed throughout my official career with a zeal that is nourished by
ardent wishes for the welfare of my country, and by an unlimited reliance
on the wisdom that marks its ultimate decision on all great and
controverted questions. Impressed with the solemn obligations imposed upon
me by the Constitution, desirous also of laying before my fellow-citizens,
with whose confidence and support I have been so highly honored, such
measures as appear to me conducive to their prosperity, and anxious to
submit to their fullest consideration the grounds upon which my opinions
are formed, I have on this as on preceding occasions freely offered my
views on those points of domestic policy that seem at the present time most
prominently to require the action of the Government. I know that they will
receive from Congress that full and able consideration which the importance
of the subjects merits, and I can repeat the assurance heretofore made that
I shall cheerfully and readily cooperate with you in every measure that
will tend to promote the welfare of the Union.



State of the Union Address
Martin van Buren
December 5, 1840

Fellow-Citizens of the Senate and House of Representatives:

Our devout gratitude is due to the Supreme Being for having graciously
continued to our beloved country through the vicissitudes of another year
the invaluable blessings of health, plenty, and peace. Seldom has this
favored land been so generally exempted from the ravages of disease or the
labor of the husbandman more amply rewarded, and never before have our
relations with other countries been placed on a more favorable basis than
that which they so happily occupy at this critical conjuncture in the
affairs of the world. A rigid and persevering abstinence from all
interference with the domestic and political relations of other States,
alike due to the genius and distinctive character of our Government and to
the principles by which it is directed; a faithful observance in the
management of our foreign relations of the practice of speaking plainly,
dealing justly, and requiring truth and justice in return as the best
conservatives of the peace of nations; a strict impartiality in our
manifestations of friendship in the commercial privileges we concede and
those we require from others--these, accompanied by a disposition as prompt
to maintain in every emergency our own rights as we are from principle
averse to the invasion of those of others, have given to our country and
Government a standing in the great family of nations of which we have just
cause to be proud and the advantages of which are experienced by our
citizens throughout every portion of the earth to which their enterprising
and adventurous spirit may carry them. Few, if any, remain insensible to
the value of our friendship or ignorant of the terms on which it can be
acquired and by which it can alone be preserved.

A series of questions of long standing, difficult in their adjustment and
important in their consequences, in which the rights of our citizens and
the honor of the country were deeply involved, have in the course of a few
years (the most of them during the successful Administration of my
immediate predecessor) been brought to a satisfactory conclusion; and the
most important of those remaining are, I am happy to believe, in a fair way
of being speedily and satisfactorily adjusted.

With all the powers of the world our relations are those of honorable
peace. Since your adjournment nothing serious has occurred to interrupt or
threaten this desirable harmony. If clouds have lowered above the other
hemisphere, they have not cast their portentous shadows upon our happy
shores. Bound by no entangling alliances, yet linked by a common nature and
interest with the other nations of mankind, our aspirations are for the
preservation of peace, in whose solid and civilizing triumphs all may
participate with a generous emulation. Yet it behooves us to be prepared
for any event and to be always ready to maintain those just and enlightened
principles of national intercourse for which this Government has ever
contended. In the shock of contending empires it is only by assuming a
resolute bearing and clothing themselves with defensive armor that neutral
nations can maintain their independent rights.

The excitement which grew out of the territorial controversy between the
United States and Great Britain having in a great measure subsided, it is
hoped that a favorable period is approaching for its final settlement. Both
Governments must now be convinced of the dangers with which the question is
fraught, and it must be their desire, as it is their interest, that this
perpetual cause of irritation should be removed as speedily as practicable.
In my last annual message you were informed that the proposition for a
commission of exploration and survey promised by Great Britain had been
received, and that a counter project, including also a provision for the
certain and final adjustment of the limits in dispute, was then before the
British Government for its consideration. The answer of that Government,
accompanied by additional propositions of its own, was received through its
minister here since your separation. These were promptly considered, such
as were deemed correct in principle and consistent with a due regard to the
just rights of the United States and of the State of Maine concurred in,
and the reasons for dissenting from the residue, with an additional
suggestion on our part, communicated by the Secretary of State to Mr. Fox.
That minister, not feeling himself sufficiently instructed upon some of the
points raised in the discussion, felt it to be his duty to refer the matter
to his own Government for its further decision. Having now been for some
time under its advisement, a speedy answer may be confidently expected.
From the character of the points still in difference and the undoubted
disposition of both parties to bring the matter to an early conclusion, I
look with entire confidence to a prompt and satisfactory termination of the
negotiation. Three commissioners were appointed shortly after the
adjournment of Congress under the act of the last session providing for the
exploration and survey of the line which separates the States of Maine and
New Hampshire from the British Provinces. They have been actively employed
until their progress was interrupted by the inclemency of the season, and
will resume their labors as soon as practicable in the ensuing year.

It is understood that their respective examinations will throw new light
upon the subject in controversy and serve to remove any erroneous
impressions which may have been made elsewhere prejudicial to the rights of
the United States. It was, among other reasons, with a view of preventing
the embarrassments which in our peculiar system of government impede and
complicate negotiations involving the territorial rights of a State that I
thought it my duty, as you have been informed on a previous occasion, to
propose to the British Government, through its minister at Washington, that
early steps should be taken to adjust the points of difference on the line
of boundary from the entrance of Lake Superior to the most northwestern
point of the Lake of the Woods by the arbitration of a friendly power in
conformity with the seventh article of the treaty of Ghent. No answer has
yet been returned by the British Government to this proposition.

With Austria, France, Prussia, Russia, and the remaining powers of Europe I
am happy to inform you our relations continue to be of the most friendly
character. With Belgium a treaty of commerce and navigation, based upon
liberal principles of reciprocity and equality, was concluded in March
last, and, having been ratified by the Belgian Government, will be duly
laid before the Senate. It is a subject of congratulation that it provides
for the satisfactory adjustment of a long-standing question of controversy,
thus removing the only obstacle which could obstruct the friendly and
mutually advantageous intercourse between the two nations. A messenger has
been dispatched with the Hanoverian treaty to Berlin, where, according to
stipulation, the ratifications are to be exchanged. I am happy to announce
to you that after many delays and difficulties a treaty of commerce and
navigation between the United States and Portugal was concluded and signed
at Lisbon on the 26th of August last by the plenipotentiaries of the two
Governments. Its stipulations are founded upon those principles of mutual
liberality and advantage which the United States have always sought to make
the basis of their intercourse with foreign powers, and it is hoped they
will tend to foster and strengthen the commercial intercourse of the two

Under the appropriation of the last session of Congress an agent has been
sent to Germany for the purpose of promoting the interests of our tobacco

The commissioners appointed under the convention for the adjustment of
claims of citizens of the United States upon Mexico having met and
organized at Washington in August last, the papers in the possession of the
Government relating to those claims were communicated to the board. The
claims not embraced by that convention are now the subject of negotiation
between the two Governments through the medium of our minister at Mexico.

Nothing has occurred to disturb the harmony of our relations with the
different Governments of South America. I regret, however, to be obliged to
inform you that the claims of our citizens upon the late Republic of
Colombia have not yet been satisfied by the separate Governments into which
it has been resolved.

The charge d'affaires of Brazil having expressed the intention of his
Government not to prolong the treaty of 1828, it will cease to be
obligatory upon either party on the 12th day of December, 1841, when the
extensive commercial intercourse between the United States and that vast
Empire will no longer be regulated by express stipulations.

It affords me pleasure to communicate to you that the Government of Chili
has entered into an agreement to indemnify the claimants in the case of the
Macectonian for American property seized in 1819, and to add that
information has also been received which justifies the hope of an early
adjustment of the remaining claims upon that Government.

The commissioners appointed in pursuance of the convention between the
United States and Texas for marking the boundary between them have,
according to the last report received from our commissioner, surveyed and
established the whole extent of the boundary north along the western bank
of the Sabine River from its entrance into the Gulf of Mexico to the
thirty-second degree of north latitude. The commission adjourned on the
16th of June last, to reassemble on the 1st of November for the purpose of
establishing accurately the intersection of the thirty-second degree of
latitude with the western bank of the Sabine and the meridian line thence
to Red River. It is presumed that the work will be concluded in the present

The present sound condition of their finances and the success with which
embarrassments in regard to them, at times apparently insurmountable, have
been overcome are matters upon which the people and Government of the
United States may well congratulate themselves. An overflowing Treasury,
however it may be regarded as an evidence of public prosperity, is seldom
conducive to the permanent welfare of any people, and experience has
demonstrated its incompatibility with the salutary action of political
institutions like those of the United States. Our safest reliance for
financial efficiency and independence has, on the contrary, been found to
consist in ample resources unencumbered with debt, and in this respect the
Federal Government occupies a singularly fortunate and truly enviable

When I entered upon the discharge of my official duties in March, 1837, the
act for the distribution of the surplus revenue was in a course of rapid
execution. Nearly $28,000,000 of the public moneys were, in pursuance of
its provisions, deposited with the States in the months of January, April,
and July of that year. In May there occurred a general suspension of specie
payments by the banks, including, with very few exceptions, those in which
the public moneys were deposited and upon whose fidelity the Government had
unfortunately made itself dependent for the revenues which had been
collected from the people and were indispensable to the public service.

This suspension and the excesses in banking and commerce out of which it
arose, and which were greatly aggravated by its occurrence, made to a great
extent unavailable the principal part of the public money then on hand,
suspended the collection of many millions accruing on merchants' bonds, and
greatly reduced the revenue arising from customs and the public lands.
These effects have continued to operate in various degrees to the present
period, and in addition to the decrease in the revenue thus produced two
and a half millions of duties have been relinquished by two biennial
reductions under the act of 1833, and probably as much more upon the
importation of iron for railroads by special legislation.

Whilst such has been our condition for the last four years in relation to
revenue, we have during the same period been subjected to an unavoidable
continuance of large extraordinary expenses necessarily growing out of past
transactions, and which could not be immediately arrested without great
prejudice to the public interest. Of these, the charge upon the Treasurer
in consequence of the Cherokee treaty alone, without adverting to others
arising out of Indian treaties, has already exceeded $5,000,000; that for
the prosecution of measures for the removal of the Seminole Indians, which
were found in progress, has been nearly fourteen millions, and the public
buildings have required the unusual sum of nearly three millions.

It affords me, however, great pleasure to be able to say that from the
commencement of this period to the present day every demand upon the
Government, at home or abroad, has been promptly met. This has been done
not only without creating a permanent debt or a resort to additional
taxation in any form, but in the midst of a steadily progressive reduction
of existing burdens upon the people, leaving still a considerable balance
of available funds which will remain in the Treasury at the end of the
year. The small amount of Treasury notes, not exceeding $4,500,000, still
outstanding, and less by twenty-three millions than the United States have
in deposit with the States, is composed of such only as are not yet due or
have not been presented for payment. They may be redeemed out of the
accruing revenue if the expenditures do not exceed the amount within which
they may, it is thought, be kept without prejudice to the public interest,
and the revenue shall prove to be as large as may justly be anticipated.

Among the reflections arising from the contemplation of these
circumstances, one, not the least gratifying, is the consciousness that the
Government had the resolution and the ability to adhere in every emergency
to the sacred obligations of law, to execute all its contracts according to
the requirements of the Constitution, and thus to present when most needed
a rallying point by which the business of the whole country might be
brought back to a safe and unvarying standard--a result vitally important
as well to the interests as to the morals of the people. There can surely
now be no difference of opinion in regard to the incalculable evils that
would have arisen if the Government at that critical moment had suffered
itself to be deterred from upholding the only true standard of value,
either by the pressure of adverse circumstances or the violence of
unmerited denunciation. The manner in which the people sustained the
performance of this duty was highly honorable to their fortitude and
patriotism. It can not fail to stimulate their agents to adhere under all
circumstances to the line of duty and to satisfy them of the safety with
which a course really right and demanded by a financial crisis may in a
community like ours be pursued, however apparently severe its immediate

The policy of the Federal Government in extinguishing as rapidly as
possible the national debt, and subsequently in resisting every temptation
to create a new one, deserves to be regarded in the same favorable light.
Among the many objections to a national debt, the certain tendency of
public securities to concentrate ultimately in the coffers of foreign
stockholders is one which is every day gathering strength. Already have the
resources of many of the States and the future industry of their citizens
been indefinitely mortgaged to the subjects of European Governments to the
amount of twelve millions annually to pay the constantly accruing interest
on borrowed money--a sum exceeding half the ordinary revenues of the whole
United States. The pretext which this relation affords to foreigners to
scrutinize the management of our domestic affairs, if not actually to
intermeddle with them, presents a subject for earnest attention, not to say
of serious alarm. Fortunately, the Federal Government, with the exception
of an obligation entered into in behalf of the District of Columbia, which
must soon be discharged, is wholly exempt from any such embarrassment. It
is also, as is believed, the only Government which, having fully and
faithfully paid all its creditors, has also relieved itself entirely from
debt. To maintain a distinction so desirable and so honorable to our
national character should be an object of earnest solicitude. Never should
a free people, if it be possible to avoid it, expose themselves to the
necessity of having to treat of the peace, the honor, or the safety of the
Republic with the governments of foreign creditors, who, however well
disposed they may be to cultivate with us in general friendly relations,
are nevertheless by the law of their own condition made hostile to the
success and permanency of political institutions like ours. Most
humiliating may be the embarrassments consequent upon such a condition.
Another objection, scarcely less formidable, to the commencement of a new
debt is its inevitable tendency to increase in magnitude and to foster
national extravagance. He has been an unprofitable observer of events who
needs at this day to be admonished of the difficulties which a government
habitually dependent on loans to sustain its ordinary expenditures has to
encounter in resisting the influences constantly exerted in favor of
additional loans; by capitalists, who enrich themselves by government
securities for amounts much exceeding the money they actually advance--a
prolific source of individual aggrandizement in all borrowing countries; by
stockholders, who seek their gains in the rise and fall of public stocks;
and by the selfish importunities of applicants for appropriations for works
avowedly for the accommodation of the public, but the real objects of which
are too frequently the advancement of private interests. The known
necessity which so many of the States will be under to impose taxes for the
payment of the interest on their debts furnishes an additional and very
cogent reason why the Federal Governments should refrain from creating a
national debt, by which the people would be exposed to double taxation for
a similar object. We possess within ourselves ample resources for every
emergency, and we may be quite sure that our citizens in no future exigency
will be unwilling to supply the Government with all the means asked for the
defense of the country. In time of peace there can, at all events, be no
justification for the creation of a permanent debt by the Federal
Government. Its limited range of constitutional duties may certainly under
such circumstances be performed without such a resort. It has, it is seen,
been avoided during four years of greater fiscal difficulties than have
existed in a similar period since the adoption of the Constitution, and one
also remarkable for the occurrence of extraordinary causes of

But to accomplish so desirable an object two things are indispensable:
First, that the action of the Federal Government be kept within the
boundaries prescribed by its founders, and, secondly, that all
appropriations for objects admitted to be constitutional, and the
expenditure of them also, be subjected to a standard of rigid but
well-considered and practical economy. The first depends chiefly on the
people themselves--the opinions they form of the true construction of the
Constitution and the confidence they repose in the political sentiments of
those they select as their representatives in the Federal Legislature; the
second rests upon the fidelity with which their more immediate
representatives and other public functionaries discharge the trusts
committed to them. The duty of economizing the expenses of the public
service is admitted on all hands; yet there are few subjects upon which
there exists a wider difference of opinion than is constantly manifested in
regard to the fidelity with which that duty is discharged. Neither
diversity of sentiment nor even mutual recriminations upon a point in
respect to which the public mind is so justly sensitive can well be
entirely avoided, and least so at periods of great political excitement. An
intelligent people, however, seldom fail to arrive in the end at correct
conclusions in such a matter. Practical economy in the management of public
affairs can have no adverse influence to contend with more powerful than a
large surplus revenue, and the unusually large appropriations for 1837 may
without doubt, independently of the extraordinary requisitions for the
public service growing out of the state of our Indian relations, be in no
inconsiderable degree traced to this source. The sudden and rapid
distribution of the large surplus then in the Treasury and the equally
sudden and unprecedentedly severe revulsion in the commerce and business of
the country, pointing with unerring certainty to a great and protracted
reduction of the revenue, strengthened the propriety of the earliest
practicable reduction of the public expenditures.

But to change a system operating upon so large a surface and applicable to
such numerous and diversified interests and objects was more than the work
of a day. The attention of every department of the Government was
immediately and in good faith directed to that end, and has been so
continued to the present moment. The estimates and appropriations for the
year 1838 (the first over which I had any control) were somewhat
diminished. The expenditures of 1839 were reduced $6,000,000. Those of
1840, exclusive of disbursements for public debt and trust claims, will
probably not exceed twenty-two and a half millions, being between two and
three millions less than those of the preceding year and nine or ten
millions less than those of 1837. Nor has it been found necessary in order
to produce this result to resort to the power conferred by Congress of
postponing certain classes of the public works, except by deferring
expenditures for a short period upon a limited portion of them, and which
postponement terminated some time since--at the moment the Treasury
Department by further receipts from the indebted banks became fully assured
of its ability to meet them without prejudice to the public service in
other respects. Causes are in operation which will, it is believed, justify
a still further reduction without injury to any important national
interest. The expenses of sustaining the troops employed in Florida have
been gradually and greatly reduced through the persevering efforts of the
War Department, and a reasonable hope may be entertained that the necessity
for military operations in that quarter will soon cease. The removal of the
Indians from within our settled borders is nearly completed. The pension
list, one of the heaviest charges upon the Treasury, is rapidly diminishing
by death. The most costly of our public buildings are either finished or
nearly so, and we may, I think, safely promise ourselves a continued
exemption from border difficulties.

The available balance in the Treasury on the 1st of January next is
estimated at $ 1,500,000. This sum, with the expected receipts from all
sources during the next year, will, it is believed, be sufficient to enable
the Government to meet every engagement and have a suitable balance, in the
Treasury at the end of the year, if the remedial measures connected with
the customs and the public lands heretofore recommended are adopted and the
new appropriations by Congress shall not carry the expenditures beyond the
official estimates.

The new system established by Congress for the safe-keeping of the public
money, prescribing the kind of currency to be received for the public
revenue and providing additional guards and securities against losses, has
now been several mouths in operation. Although it might be premature upon
an experience of such limited duration to form a definite opinion in regard
to the extent of its influences in correcting many evils under which the
Federal Government and the country have hitherto suffered, especially those
that have grown out of banking expansions, a depreciated currency, and
official defalcations, yet it is but right to say that nothing has occurred
in the practical operation of the system to weaken in the slightest degree,
but much to strengthen, the confident anticipations of its friends. The
grounds of these have been heretofore so fully explained as to require no
recapitulation. In respect to the facility and convenience it affords in
conducting the public service, and the ability of the Government to
discharge through its agency every duty attendant on the collection,
transfer, and disbursement of the public money with promptitude and
success, I can say with confidence that the apprehensions of those who felt
it to be their duty to oppose its adoption have proved to be unfounded. On
the contrary, this branch of the fiscal affairs of the Government has been,
and it is believed may always be, thus carried on with every desirable
facility and security. A few changes and improvements in the details of the
system, without affecting any principles involved in it, will be submitted
to you by the Secretary of the Treasury, and will, I am sure, receive at
your hands that attention to which they may on examination be found to be

I have deemed this brief summary of our fiscal affairs necessary to the due
performance of a duty specially enjoined upon me by the Constitution. It
will serve also to illustrate more fully the principles by which I have
been guided in reference to two contested points in our public policy which
were earliest in their development and have been more important in their
consequences than any that have arisen under our complicated and difficult,
yet admirable, system of government. I allude to a national debt and a
national bank. It was in these that the political contests by which the
country has been agitated ever since the adoption of the Constitution in a
great measure originated, and there is too much reason to apprehend that
the conflicting interests and opposing principles thus marshaled will
continue as heretofore to produce similar if not aggravated consequences.
Coming into office the declared enemy of both, I have earnestly endeavored
to prevent a resort to either.

The consideration that a large public debt affords an apology, and produces
in some degree a necessity also, for resorting to a system and extent of
taxation which is not only oppressive throughout, but is likewise so apt to
lead in the end to the commission of that most odious of all offenses
against the principles of republican government, the prostitution of
political power, conferred for the general benefit, to the aggrandizement
of particular classes and the gratification of individual cupidity, is
alone sufficient, independently of the weighty objections which have
already been urged, to render its creation and existence the sources of
bitter and unappeasable discord. If we add to this its inevitable tendency
to produce and foster extravagant expenditures of the public moneys, by
which a necessity is created for new loans and new burdens on the people,
and, finally, refer to the examples of every government which has existed
for proof, how seldom it is that the system, when once adopted and
implanted in the policy of a country, has failed to expand itself until
public credit was exhausted and the people were no longer able to endure
its increasing weight, it seems impossible to resist the conclusion that no
benefits resulting from its career, no extent of conquest, no accession of
wealth to particular classes, nor any nor all its combined advantages, can
counterbalance its ultimate but certain results--a splendid government and
an impoverished people.

If a national bank was, as is undeniable, repudiated by the framers of the
Constitution as incompatible with the rights of the States and the
liberties of the people; if from the beginning it has been regarded by
large portions of our citizens as coming in direct collision with that
great and vital amendment of the Constitution which declares that all
powers not conferred by that instrument on the General Government are
reserved to the States and to the people; if it has been viewed by them as
the first great step in the march of latitudinous construction, which
unchecked would render that sacred instrument of as little value as an
unwritten constitution, dependent, as it would alone be, for its meaning on
the interested interpretation of a dominant party, and affording no
security to the rights of the minority--if such is undeniably the case,
what rational grounds could have been conceived for anticipating aught but
determined opposition to such an institution at the present day.

Could a different result have been expected when the consequences which
have flowed from its creation, and particularly from its struggles to
perpetuate its existence, had confirmed in so striking a manner the
apprehensions of its earliest opponents; when it had been so clearly
demonstrated that a concentrated money power, wielding so vast a capital
and combining such incalculable means of influence, may in those peculiar
conjunctures to which this Government is unavoidably exposed prove an
overmatch for the political power of the people themselves; when the true
character of its capacity to regulate according to its will and its
interests and the interests of its favorites the value and production of
the labor and property of every man in this extended country had been so
fully and fearfully developed; when it was notorious that all classes of
this great community had, by means of the power and influence it thus
possesses, been infected to madness with a spirit of heedless speculation;
when it had been seen that, secure in the support of the combination of
influences by which it was surrounded, it could violate its charter and set
the laws at defiance with impunity; and when, too, it had become most
apparent that to believe that such an accumulation of powers can ever be
granted without the certainty of being abused was to indulge in a fatal

To avoid the necessity of a permanent debt and its inevitable consequences
I have advocated and endeavored to carry into effect the policy of
confining the appropriations for the public service to such objects only as
are clearly within the constitutional authority of the Federal Government;
of excluding from its expenses those improvident and unauthorized grants of
public money for works of internal improvement which were so wisely
arrested by the constitutional interposition of my predecessor, and which,
if they had not been so checked, would long before this time have involved
the finances of the General Government in embarrassments far greater than
those which are now experienced by any of the States; of limiting all our
expenditures to that simple, unostentatious, and economical administration
of public affairs which is alone consistent with the character of our
institutions; of collecting annually from the customs, and the sales of
public lands a revenue fully adequate to defray all the expenses thus
incurred; but under no pretense whatsoever to impose taxes upon the people
to a greater amount than was actually necessary to the public service
conducted upon the principles I have stated.

In lieu of a national bank or a dependence upon banks of any description
for the management of our fiscal affairs, I recommended the adoption of the
system which is now in successful operation. That system affords every
requisite facility for the transaction of the pecuniary concerns of the
Government; will, it is confidently anticipated, produce in other respects
many of the benefits which have been from time to time expected from the
creation of a national bank, but which have never been realized; avoid the
manifold evils inseparable from such an institution; diminish to a greater
extent than could be accomplished by any other measure of reform the
patronage of the Federal Government--a wise policy in all governments, but
more especially so in one like ours, which works well only in proportion as
it is made to rely for its support upon the unbiased and unadulterated
opinions of its constituents; do away forever all dependence on corporate
bodies either in the raising, collecting, safekeeping, or disbursing the
public revenues, and place the Government equally above the temptation of
fostering a dangerous and unconstitutional institution at home or the
necessity of adapting its policy to the views and interests of a still more
formidable money power abroad.

It is by adopting and carrying out these principles under circumstances the
most arduous and discouraging that the attempt has been made, thus far
successfully, to demonstrate to the people of the United States that a
national bank at all times, and a national debt except it be incurred at a
period when the honor and safety of the nation demand the temporary
sacrifice of a policy which should only be abandoned in such exigencies,
are not merely unnecessary, but in direct and deadly hostility to the
principles of their Government and to their own permanent welfare.

The progress made in the development of these positions appears in the
preceding sketch of the past history and present state of the financial
concerns of the Federal Government. The facts there stated fully authorize
the assertion that all the purposes for which this Government was
instituted have been accomplished during four years of greater pecuniary
embarrassment than were ever before experienced in time of peace, and in
the face of opposition as formidable as any that was ever before arrayed
against the policy of an Administration; that this has been done when the
ordinary revenues of the Government were generally decreasing as well from
the operation of the laws as the condition of the country, without the
creation of a permanent public debt or incurring any liability other than
such as the ordinary resources of the Government will speedily discharge,
and without the agency of a national bank.

If this view of the proceedings of the Government for the period it
embraces be warranted by the facts as they are known to exist; if the Army
and Navy have been sustained to the full extent authorized by law, and
which Congress deemed sufficient for the defense of the country and the
protection of its rights and its honor; if its civil and diplomatic service
has been equally sustained; if ample provision has been made for the
administration of justice and the execution of the laws; if the claims upon
public gratitude in behalf of the soldiers of the Revolution have been
promptly met and faithfully discharged; if there have been no failures in
defraying the very large expenditures growing out of that long-continued
and salutary policy of peacefully removing the Indians to regions of
comparative safety and prosperity; if the public faith has at all times and
everywhere been most scrupulously maintained by a prompt discharge of the
numerous, extended, and diversified claims on the Treasury--if all these
great and permanent objects, with many others that might be stated, have
for a series of years, marked by peculiar obstacles and difficulties, been
successfully accomplished without a resort to a permanent debt or the aid
of a national bank, have we not a right to expect that a policy the object
of which has been to sustain the public service independently of either of
these fruitful sources of discord will receive the final sanction of a
people whose unbiased and fairly elicited judgment upon public affairs is
never ultimately wrong?

That embarrassments in the pecuniary concerns of individuals of unexampled
extent and duration have recently existed in this as in other commercial
nations is undoubtedly true. To suppose it necessary now to trace these
reverses to their sources would be a reflection on the intelligence of my
fellow-citizens. Whatever may have been the obscurity in which the subject
was involved during the earlier stages of the revulsion, there can not now
be many by whom the whole question is not fully understood.

Not deeming it within the constitutional powers of the General Government
to repair private losses sustained by reverses in business having no
connection with the public service, either by direct appropriations from
the Treasury or by special legislation designed to secure exclusive
privileges and immunities to individuals or classes in preference to or at
the expense of the great majority necessarily debarred from any
participation in them, no attempt to do so has been either made,
recommended, or encouraged by the present Executive.

It is believed, however, that the great purposes for the attainment of
which the Federal Government was instituted have not been lost sight of.
Intrusted only with certain limited powers, cautiously enumerated,
distinctly specified, and defined with a precision and clearness which
would seem to defy misconstruction, it has been my constant aim to confine
myself within the limits so clearly marked out and so carefully guarded.
Having always been of opinion that the best preservative of the union of
the States is to be found in a total abstinence from the exercise of all
doubtful powers on the part of the Federal Government rather than in
attempts to assume them by a loose construction of the Constitution or an
ingenious perversion of its words, I have endeavored to avoid recommending
any measure which I had reason to apprehend would, in the opinion even of a
considerable minority of my fellow-citizens, be regarded as trenching on
the rights of the States or the provisions of the hallowed instrument of
our Union. Viewing the aggregate powers of the Federal Government as a
voluntary concession of the States, it seemed to me that such only should
be exercised as were at the time intended to be given.

I have been strengthened, too, in the propriety of this course by the
conviction that all efforts to go beyond this tend only to produce
dissatisfaction and distrust, to excite jealousies, and to provoke
resistance. Instead of adding strength to the Federal Government, even when
successful they must ever prove a source of incurable weakness by
alienating a portion of those whose adhesion is indispensable to the great
aggregate of united strength and whose voluntary attachment is in my
estimation far more essential to the efficiency of a government strong in
the best of all possible strength--the confidence and attachment of all
those who make up its constituent elements.

Thus believing, it has been my purpose to secure to the whole people and to
every member of the Confederacy, by general, salutary, and equal laws
alone, the benefit of those republican institutions which it was the end
and aim of the Constitution to establish, and the impartial influence of
which is in my judgment indispensable to their preservation. I can not
bring myself to believe that the lasting happiness of the people, the
prosperity of the States, or the permanency of their Union can be
maintained by giving preference or priority to any class of citizens in the
distribution of benefits or privileges, or by the adoption of measures
which enrich one portion of the Union at the expense of another; nor can I
see in the interference of the Federal Government with the local
legislation and reserved rights of the States a remedy for present or a
security against future dangers.

The first, and assuredly not the least, important step toward relieving the
country from the condition into which it had been plunged by excesses in
trade, banking, and credits of all kinds was to place the business
transactions of the Government itself on a solid basis, giving and
receiving in all cases value for value, and neither countenancing nor
encouraging in others that delusive system of credits from which it has
been found so difficult to escape, and which has left nothing behind it but
the wrecks that mark its fatal career.

That the financial affairs of the Government are now and have been during
the whole period of these wide-spreading difficulties conducted with a
strict and invariable regard to this great fundamental principle, and that
by the assumption and maintenance of the stand thus taken on the very
threshold of the approaching crisis more than by any other cause or causes
whatever the community at large has been shielded from the incalculable
evils of a general and indefinite suspension of specie payments, and a
consequent annihilation for the whole period it might have lasted of a just
and invariable standard of value, will, it is believed, at this period
scarcely be questioned.

A steady adherence on the part of the Government to the policy which has
produced such salutary results, aided by judicious State legislation and,
what is not less .important, by the industry, enterprise, perseverance, and
economy of the American people, can not fail to raise the whole country at
an early period to a state of solid and enduring prosperity, not subject to
be again overthrown by the suspension of banks or the explosion of a
bloated credit system. It is for the people and their representatives to
decide whether or not the permanent welfare of the country (which all good
citizens equally desire, however widely they may differ as to the means of
its accomplishment) shall be in this way secured, or whether the management
of the pecuniary concerns of the Government, and by consequence to a great
extent those of individuals also, shall be carried back to a condition of
things which fostered those contractions and expansions of the currency and
those reckless abuses of credit from the baleful effects of which the
country has so deeply suffered--a return that can promise in the end no
better results than to reproduce the embarrassments the Government has
experienced, and to remove from the shoulders of the present to those of
fresh victims the bitter fruits of that spirit of speculative enterprise to
which our countrymen are so liable and upon which the lessons of experience
are so unavailing. The choice is an important one, and I sincerely hope
that it may be wisely made.

A report from the Secretary of War, presenting a detailed view of the
affairs of that Department, accompanies this communication.

The desultory duties connected with the removal of the Indians, in which
the Army has been constantly engaged on the northern and western frontiers
and in Florida, have rendered it impracticable to carry into full effect
the plan recommended by the Secretary for improving its discipline. In
every instance where the regiments have been concentrated they have made
great progress, and the best results may be anticipated from a continuance
of this system. During the last season a part of the troops have been
employed in removing Indians from the interior to the territory assigned
them in the West--a duty which they have performed efficiently and with
praiseworthy humanity--and that portion of them which has been stationed in
Florida continued active operations there throughout the heats of summer.

The policy of the United States in regard to the Indians, of which a
succinct account is given in my message of 1838, and of the wisdom and
expediency of which I am fully satisfied, has been continued in active
operation throughout the whole period of my Administration. Since the
spring of 1837 more than 40,000 Indians have been removed to their new
homes west of the Mississippi, and I am happy to add that all accounts
concur in representing the result of this measure as eminently beneficial
to that people.

The emigration of the Seminoles alone has been attended with serious
difficulty and occasioned bloodshed, hostilities having been commenced by
the Indians in Florida under the apprehension that they would be compelled
by force to comply with their treaty stipulations. The execution of the
treaty of Paynes Landing, signed in 1832, but not ratified until 1834, was
postponed at the solicitation of the Indians until 1836, when they again
renewed their agreement to remove peaceably to their new homes in the West.
In the face of this solemn and renewed compact they broke their faith and
commenced hostilities by the massacre of Major Dade's command, the murder
of their agent, General Thompson, and other acts of cruel treachery. When
this alarming and unexpected intelligence reached the seat of Government,
every effort appears to have been made to reenforce General Clinch, who
commanded the troops then in Florida. General Eustis was dispatched with
reenforcements from Charleston, troops were called out from Alabama,
Tennessee, and Georgia, and General Scott was sent to take the command,
with ample powers and ample means. At the first alarm General Gaines
organized a force at New Orleans, and without waiting for orders landed in
Florida, where he delivered over the troops he had brought with him to
General Scott.

Governor Call was subsequently appointed to conduct a summer campaign, and
at the close of it was replaced by General Jesup. These events and changes
took place under the Administration of my predecessor. Notwithstanding the
exertions of the experienced officers who had command there for eighteen
months, on entering upon the administration of the Government I found the
Territory of Florida a prey to Indian atrocities. A strenuous effort was
immediately made to bring those hostilities to a close, and the army under
General Jesup was reenforced until it amounted to 10,000 men, and furnished
with abundant supplies of every description. In this campaign a great
number of the enemy were captured and destroyed, but the character of the
contest only was changed. The Indians, having been defeated in every
engagement, dispersed in small bands throughout the country and became an
enterprising, formidable, and ruthless banditti. General Taylor, who
succeeded General Jesup, used his best exertions to subdue them, and was
seconded in his efforts by the officers under his command; but he too
failed to protect the Territory from their depredations. By an act of
signal and cruel treachery they broke the truce made with them by General
MacGrab, who was sent from Washington for the purpose of carrying into
effect the expressed wishes of Congress, and have continued their
devastations ever since. General Armistead, who was in Florida when General
Taylor left the army by permission, assumed the command, and after active
summer operations was met by propositions for peace, and from the fortunate
coincidence of the arrival in Florida at the same period of a delegation
from the Seminoles who are happily settled west of the Mississippi and are
now anxious to persuade their countrymen to join them there hopes were for
some time entertained that the Indians might be induced to leave the
Territory without further difficulty. These hopes have proved fallacious
and hostilities have been renewed throughout the whole of the Territory.
That this contest has endured so long is to be attributed to causes beyond
the control of the Government. Experienced generals have had the command of
the troops, officers and soldiers have alike distinguished themselves for
their activity, patience, and enduring courage, the army has been
constantly furnished with supplies of every description, and we must look
for the causes which have so long procrastinated the issue of the contest
in the vast extent of the theater of hostilities, the almost insurmountable
obstacles presented by the nature of the country, the climate, and the wily
character of the savages.

The sites for marine hospitals on the rivers and lakes which I was
authorized to select and cause to be purchased have all been designated,
but the appropriation not proving sufficient, conditional arrangements only
have been made for their acquisition. It is for Congress to decide whether
these Conditional purchases shall be sanctioned and the humane intentions
of the law carried into full effect.

The Navy, as will appear from the accompanying report of the Secretary, has
been usefully and honorably employed in the protection of our commerce and
citizens in the Mediterranean, the Pacific, on the coast of Brazil, and in
the Gulf of Mexico. A small squadron, consisting of the frigate
Constellation and the sloop of war Boston, under Commodore Kearney, is now
on its way to the China and Indian seas for the purpose of attending to our
interests in that quarter, and Commander Aulick, in the sloop of war
Yorktown, has been instructed to visit the Sandwich and Society islands,
the coasts of New Zealand and Japan, together with other ports and islands
frequented by our whale ships, for the purpose of giving them countenance
and protection should they be required. Other smaller vessels have been and
still are employed in prosecuting the surveys of the coast of the United
States directed by various acts of Congress, and those which have been
completed will shortly be laid before you.

The exploring expedition at the latest date was preparing to leave the Bay
of Islands, New Zealand, in further prosecution of objects which have thus
far been successfully accomplished. The discovery of a new continent, which
was first seen in latitude 66° 2' south, longitude 154° 27' east,
and afterwards in latitude 66° 31' south, longitude 153° 40' east,
by Lieutenants Wilkes and Hudson, for an extent of 1,800 miles, but on
which they were prevented from landing by vast bodies of ice which
encompassed it, is one of the honorable results of the enterprise.
Lieutenant Wilkes bears testimony to the zeal and good conduct of his
officers and men, and it is but justice to that officer to state that he
appears to have performed the duties assigned him with an ardor, ability,
and perseverance which give every assurance of an honorable issue to the

The report of the Postmaster-General herewith transmitted will exhibit the
service of that Department the past year and its present condition. The
transportation has been maintained during the year to the full extent
authorized by the existing laws; some improvements have been effected which
the public interest seemed urgently to demand, but not involving any
material additional expenditure; the contractors have generally performed
their engagements with fidelity; the postmasters, with few exceptions, have
rendered their accounts and paid their quarterly balances with promptitude,
and the whole service of the Department has maintained the efficiency for
which it has for several years been distinguished.

The acts of Congress establishing new mail routes and requiring more
expensive services on others and the increasing wants of the country have
for three years past carried the expenditures something beyond the accruing
revenues, the excess having been met until the past year by the surplus
which had previously accumulated. That surplus having been exhausted and
the anticipated increase in the revenue not having been realized owing to
the depression in the commercial business of the country, the finances of
the Department exhibit a small deficiency at the close of the last fiscal
year. Its resources, however, are ample, and the reduced rates of
compensation for the transportation service which may be expected on the
future lettings from the general reduction of prices, with the increase of
revenue that may reasonably be anticipated from the revival of commercial
activity, must soon place the finances of the Department in a prosperous

Considering the unfavorable circumstances which have existed during the
past year, it is a gratifying result that the revenue has not declined as
compared with the preceding year, but, on the contrary, exhibits a small
increase, the circumstances referred to having had no other effect than to
check the expected income.

It will be seen that the Postmaster-General suggests certain improvements
in the establishment designed to reduce the weight of the mails, cheapen
the transportation, insure greater regularity in the service, and secure a
considerable reduction in the rates of letter postage--an object highly
desirable. The subject is one of general interest to the community, and is
respectfully recommended to your consideration.

The suppression of the African slave trade has received the continued
attention of the Government. The brig Dolphin and schooner Grampus have
been employed during the last season on the coast of Africa for the purpose
of preventing such portions of that trade as were said to be prosecuted
under the American flag. After cruising off those parts of the coast most
usually resorted to by slavers until the commencement of the rainy season,
these vessels returned to the United States for supplies, and have since
been dispatched on a similar service.

From the reports of the commanding officers it appears that the trade is
now principally carried on under Portuguese colors, and they express the
opinion that the apprehension of their presence on the slave coast has in a
great degree arrested the prostitution of the American flag to this inhuman
purpose. It is hoped that by continuing to maintain this force in that
quarter and by the exertions of the officers in command much will be done
to put a stop to whatever portion of this traffic may have been carried on
under the American flag and to prevent its use in a trade which, while it
violates the laws, is equally an outrage on the rights of others and the
feelings of humanity. The efforts of the several Governments who are
anxiously seeking to suppress this traffic must, however, be directed
against the facilities afforded by what are now recognized as legitimate
commercial pursuits before that object can be fully accomplished.

Supplies of provisions, water casks, merchandise, and articles connected
with the prosecution of the slave trade are, it is understood, freely
carried by vessels of different nations to the slave factories, and the
effects of the factors are transported openly from one slave station to
another without interruption or punishment by either of the nations to
which they belong engaged in the commerce of that region. I submit to your
judgments whether this Government, having been the first to prohibit by
adequate penalties the slave trade, the first to declare it piracy, should
not be the first also to forbid to its citizens all trade with the slave
factories on the coast of Africa, giving an example to all nations in this
respect which if fairly followed can not fail to produce the most effective
results in breaking up those dens of iniquity.


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