Page images

tural surplus, furnished by the abundant harvest, will go far toward supplying the deficiency.

I submit a communication from the superintendent, showing that the manufacture of salt, seriously embarrassed by the present ruinous revenue system of the United States, co-operating with the commercial pressure, must probably be altogether relinquished before the expiration of the year, and I not only invoke your direct action, but solicit your influence with Congress to avert a disaster which would increase the embarrassments of the treasury, and be deeply injurious to a large and important portion of the community. Our salines have hitherto constituted an essential element of our fiscal strength, and have always been regarded as among the most valuable and permanent possessions of the state. The possible sacrifice, therefore, by the general government, of so important an interest can not but excite anxiety and alarm.

An agent was appointed to receive the portion of the proceeds of the sales of the public lands, which, by a law of Congress, was payable to this state on the 1st of July last, and proceeded to Washington for that purpose, but was informed at the treasury that the apportionment had not been completed, and the money has not yet been received. The real importance of this revenue is not at all affected by the amount which it yields at this time, since the national domain remains undiminished except by sales. Whether the stream of revenue be temporarily obstructed, as at present, or flow onward with a strong and increasing current, as at more prosperous periods, its ultimate benefits must be substantially the same.

This state having long and uniformly expressed opinions in favor of protecting national industry, by an adequate tariff, it must be an occasion of general regret that the president perseveringly opposes and defeats the passage of laws designed to accomplish that object. And our regret is mingled with surprise, when we consider that it is at least doubtful whether there is any legal authority for the imposts now levied. The president, moreover, unequivocally indicates a determination to defeat any tariff law which can be passed, except it be accompanied by a relinquishment by Congress of the right to protect agricultural and manufacturing industry otherwise than incidentally, and also by a diversion

from the states of the revenues arising from the public domain. The right to adjust the pecuniary burdens imposed by the gov ernment upon its citizens would seem, of all others, to belong properly to the legislature. It can not for a moment be supposed that the founders of the constitution intended that the executive should dictate to the national Congress, laws regulating revenue and finance.

The fourth day of July last completed a quarter of a century since the system of internal improvements was undertaken by this state. Within that period, artificial navigation has been opened throughout distances equal to eight hundred and three miles; and animal power in transportation has given place to the steam-engine, on routes seven hundred and fifty-seven miles in length. Navigation has been established from tidewater to Lake Champlain, Lake Oneida, Lake Ontario, Cayuga lake, Seneca lake, Crooked lake, and Lake Erie, and to the Mohawk and the Oswego, to the Seneca and the Genesee, the St. Lawrence, the Delaware, and the Susquehannah rivers. Not only has our frontier trade, which sought distant markets, been incalculably increased, and concentrated at the city of New York, but the shores of Lake Huron, Lake Michigan, and Lake Superior, and the banks of the Ohio, the Miami, and the Wabash, have been reached by our vessels, and the once inconsiderable traffic of that vast central region, which stretches from the summit of the Alleganies to the banks of the Mississippi, has grown into an immense trade and become largely tributary to the same fortunate metropolis. Meanwhile our canals and railroads have been connected with similar systems, a thousand miles in length, in the eastern states, and with still more extended artificial channels in the communities beyond our southern borders. Our revenues have been increased from $419,900 in 1817, to $1,952,000 in 1841; our school and literature funds have been doubled; the remote districts of the state have become the homes of an intelligent and industrious population; four flourishing cities and upward of a hundred incorporated villages have been called into existence; our commercial emporium has trebled in population and added one hundred and seventy millions to its wealth; the revenues, commerce, and physical strength of the whole commonwealth have been augmented in almost an equal proportion; and the states are bound together with bands stronger than those

of merely political compact, and the danger of dismemberment is happily averted. New York was the projector of the system which, though yet incomplete, has produced these wonderful results; and she may point to it as a column, designed and shaped by herself, to strengthen and perpetuate the national structure.

But the high career of prosperous and well-directed enterprise has been brought to a sudden and humiliating close. For the first time in the quarter of a century which has elapsed since the ground was broken for the Erie canal, a governor of the state of New York, in meeting the legislature, finds himself unable to announce the continued progress of improvement. The officers charged with the care of the public works, have arrested all proceedings in the enlargement of the Erie canal, and the construction of the auxiliary works. The New York and Erie railroad, with the exception of forty-six miles from the eastern termination lies in unfinished fragments throughout the long line of southern counties, stretching for four hundred miles, from the Walkill to Lake Erie. The Genesee Valley canal, excepting the portion between Dansville and Rochester, also lies in a state of hopeless abandonment. The Black River canal, which was more than two thirds completed during the last year, has been left wholly unavailable. As if this were not enough, two railroads, toward the construction of which the state had contributed half a million of dollars, and public-spirited citizens large sums in addition, have been brought to a forced sale and sacrificed at an almost total loss to the treasury, without yielding any indemnity to the stockholders, and without even securing a guaranty that the people would be permitted to enjoy the use of the improvements. the same time, the jealousies, alike unjust and unwise, which have so long delayed the construction of the New York and Erie railroad, are fostered with expectations authorized by official announcement of a similar sacrifice of that work as soon as the sale can be compelled by law-a sacrifice which must result in a loss to the treasury of three millions of dollars, and to beneficent contributors of nearly two millions in addition, and a final overthrow of all the long-cherished and highly-excited hopes depending on the accomplishment of that enterprise.


The painful emotions excited by the condition to which the public works are thus reduced, might be somewhat relieved, if there were any well-grounded hope that their prosecution would

be resumed within any reasonable period. But the provisions of the law suspending those works, as well as the contemporaneous expositions of the grounds on which it was enacted, with every rational view which can be taken of its tendency, forbid any such expectation. The policy of the act plainly is, that the debt of the state shall in no event be increased for the prosecution of improvements; nay, further, that the whole of the existing debts shall be extinguished before any additional sum shall be borrowed, and that the accruing revenues, instead of being appropriated, as heretofore, to the prosecution of the works, shall be henceforth applied exclusively to the establishment of a fund for the extinguishment of the existing debts, although, with small exceptions, those debts are redeemable only at distant periods. It is but too apparent that these provisions render any further progress in our public works wholly impracticable. The present generation, if this law continue, must abandon all hopes of seeing the system resumed, and it will only remain for them to pay the whole cost of works, in a great degree useless, because left unfinished, and hastening rapidly to dilapidation and ruin.

The objects which the legislature had in view, in directing the suspension of the public works, were declared to be to pay the debts of the state and preserve its credit. The means of paying the debts are derived from revenues and taxes. But the state, so far from diminishing, has increased its indebtedness, by becoming liable to contractors for heavy damages which might have been avoided by prosecuting the works; while, by discontinuing the necessary enlargement of the Erie canal, the increase of revenues hitherto so constant, aud so confidently relied upon for the reimbursement of the debts, is checked, and must ultimately cease. Simultaneously with the commencement of this policy, a new mode of stating the public accounts was adopted. Debts due from the state to itself, and debts for the payment of which funds had been invested and set apart, were added to the aggregate of debts for which no provision had been made; the conditional guaranty of the credit of the New York and Erie Railroad company was converted into a fixed debt, by withholding the aid necessary to complete their road and render it productive; and other similar guaranties in regard to which there had been no default, nor indications of default, by the principals first liable, were made to swell the aggregate indebtedness with which it

was represented that the treasury was oppressed. The principle that our improvements were to be made exclusively on the credit of their revenues, and without burdening the people, was abandoned by levying a tax exceeding six hundred thousand dollars, bearing alike on the districts the least, as well as those the most, benefited by the construction of the works. Nor has the expectation of restoring the stocks of the state to their former high valuation been adequately realized, and certainly not to any extent commensurate with the sacrifices which have been made. The fiscal officers of the state are not now able to negotiate loans even at seven per cent., except occasionally for small amounts. Under these circumstances, the inquiry arises whether the policy thus attempted ought to be continued. An imperative sense of duty compels me again to declare my conviction that it is radically wrong, and that erroneous views have been taken of the causes of our embarrassment.

Previously to the present session of Congress, when as yet only one state had omitted to pay the interest on its debt, and that, too, not without a pretext that betrayed a desire to avert the consequences of so great an error, I called the attention of the federal government to alarming indications of a general failure by the indebted states, and invoked the constitutional efforts which that government might effectually make to avert such a catastrophe. Afterward, when the legislature of this state assembled at the beginning of the present year, the same apprehensions were imparted to them, with a view of the deep interest which we had at stake in the maintenance of the credit of our sisterstates. I urged that their failure would produce effects disastrous to the national industry and enterprise, and that it would necessarily result in diminishing the revenues from our canals and all other sources. I submitted, also, that although we had ample resources and revenues, our credit must unavoidably receive some injury from our intimate political connection with insolvent states, and that if it should become materially impaired, serious embarrassment would be experienced in prosecuting the public works. Adverting to erroneous opinions then somewhat prevalent, I showed that the revenues from the canals, steadily increasing at the rate of fifteen per cent. every two years, notwithstanding temporary fluctuations, together with the revenues VOL. II.-22

« PreviousContinue »