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THURSDAY FEBRUARY 7, 1838.
Mr. Earle, of Philadelphia county, presented a paper concerning himself.
The CHIAR said this was not in order.
Mr. EARLE then moved for the reading of the paper, and that it be entered on the journals ; and, leave having been given, the paper was read as follows, viz:
PHILADELPHIA, February 8, 1838 To the convention to amend the Constitution : GENTLEMEN :-I was not present at the reading of the journal of the sixth instant. I have seen an entry therein,, perhaps not strictly necessary to have been made, that I was called to order for using the expression "untrue," in relation to statements made by Mr. Fuller. In justice to myself, I wish to say that the statement so characterized by me were of a personal character, bearing on myself, and supposed to impugn my motives. And, in justice to Mr. Fuller, I wish to state that I neither thought, nor intended to intimate that he had knowingly made an incorrect statement. I request the insertion of this on the journal.
THOMAS EARLE. Some discussion took place on the question whether it might not be better to correct the journal, but objections being made to any alteration of the record, the motion of Mr. EARLE was agreed to; and the paper was received and laid on the table.
Mr. Hiester renewed the motion submitted by him last evening,
That the convention do now proceed to the second reading of the report of the committee to whom was referred the subject of the public improvement, public loans and state debt?
and nays were required by Mr. PurviANCE and Mr. HIESTER, and are as follows, viz:
YEAS—Messrs. Ayres, Banks, Barndollar, Barnitz, Bonham, Chambers, Clapp, Clarke, of Beaver, Clarke, of Dauphin, Clarke, of Indiana, Cline, Coates, Cochran, Cox, Craig, Crawford, Crum, Curll, Darrah Denny, Dickey, Dillinger, Donagan, Earle, Fry, Fuller, Gamble, Gilmore, Harris, Hays, Henderson, of Dauphin, Hiester, High, Hyde, Jenks, Kerr, Konigmacher, Krebs, Long, Maclay, Magee, Mann, Martin, M'Dowell
, M'Sherry, Meredith, Merkel, Miller, Montgomery, Myers, Nevin, Payne, Pennypacker, Porter, of Lancaster, Ritter, Russell, Scheetz, Scott, Sellers, Seltzer, Smyth, of Centre, Snively, Sterigere, Stickel, Taggart, Todd, Young, Sergeant, President-68.
Nars-Messrs. Agnew, Baldwin, Barclay, Bedford, Bell, Brown, of Northampton, Chandler, of Philadelphia, Cope, Crain, Cummin, Dickerson, Doran, Dunlop, Fleming, Forwerd, Gearhart, Grenell, Hastings, Hayhurst, Hopkinson, Houpt, Ingersoll, Keim, Kennedy, Lyons, Merrill, Overfield, Porter, of Northampton, Purviance, Road, Riter, Saeger, Serrill
, Shellito, Smith, of Columbia, Sturdevant, Weaver, Woodward-38.
So the question was determined in the affirmative.
"ARTICLE. The public debt of this commonwealth shall never esceed the sum of thirty millions of dollars."
Mr. Hiester rose and said
That at this late period of the session, and when the convention was 80 much pressed with business, he was not disposed to consume much of its precious time. For he was as anxious to get through at the earliest possible period, as any other gentleman could be. He should therefore ask the atiention of the convention but for a very few minutes.
This subject had received the deliberate consideration of a committee of nine members of this body, and they appeared to have been unanimous in their report, for there was no minority report, which he presumed would have been the case had they not been so. The able and efficient chairman of that committee (Mr. Stevens) was now attendiug to the duties assigned him as a member of the house of representatives. And, as in his absence, no other member of the committee evinced a desire to urge the consideration of the report, and as he (Mr. H.) considered the subject matter of it, of vital interest to the citizens of the commonwealth, he had thought it a duty to call it up, with the view of getting a vote on it.
What sir, (said Mr. H.) is the situation of our public debt at the present time? It has already accumulated to the enormous amount of twentyfive millions of dollars. The annual interest of which, at five
per centum per annum, amounts to twelve hundred and fifty thousand dollars. And if apportioned among all the taxable inhabitants in the state, agreeably to the last enumeration would make about eighty-eight dollars to each one. Is it not, therefore, time to pause and reflect on the propriety of putting some limit to its indefinite increase ?
I am not (said Mr. H.) unfriendly or opposed to internal improvement, for the advancement of which almost the whole of our state debt has been created. On the contrary, I am, and always have been, friendly to a proper and judicious system of internal improvement, through the aid of which the riches and great resources of this cominonwealth can alone be fully developed. But, sir, I have, from its con mencement, deprecated the manner in which it was gone into. Instead of concentrating and applying all the energies and resources of the state, to the completion of the main line of improvement between this city and Pittsburg—and by which course it might have been finished years ago, and before now have produced a revenue in aid of further improvements—and they then might have commenced and completed the next most important work, and 80 on successively from one to another, according to their reletive magnitude and importance, thus securing an accumulation of income, the course has been, to begin works in all parts of the state simultaneously, which has retarded the completion of any of them, until a very recent period. Such was not the course pursued by our sister state of New York. She .completed her great western canal form Albany to Buffalo first, before she began other branches, and when that was done, she went on to that which was deemed next in importance, and so successively from one to another. Thus accomplishing much more with an equal amount of money than we have done. 'Ohio has done the same, first completing her great chain of
canal through the state, connecting the Ohio river with lake Erie, and then undertaking other works of lesser magnitude.
We appear, however, in this particular, not to profit by experience. The legislature from year to year seem to follow in the beaten track of their predecessors, if they do not actually exceed them, in making prodigal appropriations. For it is no longer ago than at their last session, that they passed what was familiarly known as the “mammoth improvement bill,” making extravagant appropriations to incorporated companies, and for the coinmencement of new projects. Which, had it not been arrested by the patriotism and firmness of the executive, in the exercise of the veto power, would have laid the foundation for an additional expenditure of eight or ten millions of dollars.
We have already had to pay a direct tax for several years to meet the interest becoming due on the public debt. And every one acquainted with the finances of the state knows, that had it not been for the judicious arrangement with the United States Bank, in securing so large a bonus for the charter, which was granted to it, that it would not only have been necessary to have continued that, tax, but to have much increased its amount. And should the amount of the public debt not be limited, direct laxation will inevitably follow as a necessary consequence.
The limitation proposed, may be objected to as being unprecedented and impolitic. When the public debt of the state of New York was not one-third of the present amount of our debi, she provided in her amended constitution of 1821, that the tolls accruing from her public improvements, the duties on the manufacture of salt, and on auction sales, as they were then established by law, should be inviolably set apart for the liquidation, and final redemption of that debt. Here then, we have at least one exam. ple of a sinking fund being created by the organic law of a state, for the purpose of discharging the public debt.
But suppose it be unprecedented. Is not the amount of our public debt also without an example in any of the other states of this Vuion? I am not one of those who think a public debt a blessing to the commonwealth, and believe therefore that the limitation proposed, is right and proper in itself, I, for one, do not require a precedent to govern my vole in relation to it.
Then, as to the policy of the proposed limitation, should it be adopted, our debt might be enlarged five millions more before it reaches the maxi
Then we have nearly three millions of dollars, received from the general government, as our quota of the surplus revenue, which is now loaned to some of our banks, and unappropriated. And although this money was received with the contingent reservation that it should be refunded if required; yet it is morally certain that neither this state, nor any other, will ever be called on 10 refund any part of it. I assume, therefore, that it belongs to the state absolutely. In addition to this, we have over two millions of bank stock, which may at any time be converted to improvement pirposes. Here then, we have at least ten millions of dollars, which may be applied towards completing the public improve. ments now commenced, and in progress, before the contemplated limitation can operate as a barrier. And it is hoped that the nett proceeds from the present improvements, and from those that will be brought into use during
the time that that sum will be expending, will afford an accumulation of funds to be applied to the same purpose. This then, in my apprehen: sion, would afford a fund sufficient to enable the system to be carried on as speedily as the true interests of the commonwealth require.
I do not, sir, think it incuinbent on the present generation to make all the improvements that may be necessary now, and hereafter. I would, therefore, go on with more economy and prudence, and leave something for the succeeding generations to do, more than merely to raise the ways and means to pay the public debt, which our lavish and improvident course is about to saddle on them And should the real interests of the citizen's of the commonwealth in process of time, require a greater expenditure of money, and a swelling of the debt beyond the maximum proposed, it will be no very difficult matter for them, under the amendatory clause, adop. ted by the convention,-if ratified by the people—to give that authority to the legislature.
Before I sit down, Mr. President, I propose to amend the repori of the committee by adding thereto the words following, viz: “Unless in time of war, insurrection or invasion, provision for the public safety should require it to be increased beyond that amouni." The reasons for this amendment are obvious. If the public debt should be at its maximum and any or all the calamities mentioned in the amendment should occur, the hands of the legislature and executive would be bound. And however great the emergency, provision could not be made to prevent or arrest such calamity, excepting by first amending the constitution. While therefore I would not permit the public debt in time of peace to be increased beyond the amount proposed by the committee in their report, I should deem it impolitic and unwise to make the limitation so absoluie that it could not in times of great public calamity or danger be increased.
Mr. Hiester concluded with moving to amend the report, by adding to the end thereof the following, viz: "unless in time of war, insurrection or invasion, provision for the public safety may require it io be increased beyond that amount.
And the amendment being under consideration,
I was opposed, Mr. President, 10 proceeding to the consideration of this report, and I am opposed to the adoption of any provision in the constitution of Pennsylvania in reference to the limitation of the public debt.
My own peculiar situation in relation to the system of internal inprovements in our commonwealth, renders it necessary that I should recur to a scene which took place so long as thirteen years ago.
I was a member of that convention, held at Harris burg, which recommended to the people the adoption of that system of internal improvement which we now have. The convention was held in the early part of the month of August, in the year 1825. I was one of the number of twenty-seven delegates who opposed the system. At that time the great object of the citizens of Philadelphia and of the west, was to make a shorough communication from the east to the west. On the occasion alluded 10, I observed that if we went into a system, we ought to go into a general one; that I was for developing the resources of the common
wealth under the guidance and advice of experienced and competent engineers, and that when the various parts of the various public improvements should have been reported on by competent men, the reports thereon should be laid before the legislature and the people, that they might exercise their judgment in relation to them. I was opposed to plunging headlong into a system without the necessary knowledge arising from explorations and surveys ; and I well remember saying at that time and for saying which an attempt was made by the friends of internal improvement to throw ridicule upon me--that you could not get the line to Pittsburg completed without running the state in debt to the amount of fourteen or fifteen millions of dollars. Sir, that which was then mere 'assertion has now become history. On that occasion, however, I was overruled. The state determined to embark at once in a system of internal improvements, and what has been the consequence ? Well indeed may the rich and powerful county of Lancaster be opposed to a state debt. She has had her rail road from Philadelphia to Columbia at an expense to the commonwealth of three millions of dollars and upwards, she has had her canal from Middletown to Columbia, costing nearly a million more ; and now because she will undoubtedly have to pay her portion of the state debt, after receiving all these advantages, she does not wish that the debt should be increased for the purpose of improving other parts of the state. I have no doubt that the same reasoning would apply to the gentleman from Adams, (Mr. Stevens) who is not now in his seat. Internal improvements are going on in his rich and fertile county. You have your main communication from the city of Philadelphia to Pittsburg, and I have now in my eye a delegate on this floor, who, as a representative of the people of Pennsylvania in the state legislature, desirous of carrying out this system, and considering that the faith of the state was pledged to carry it out, voted to appropriate money to the amount of twenty millions of dollars, not one single cent of which was expended in the county in which he resided. Now, I will ask the members of this convention, is it acting with good faith to those counties which have stood by the system of internal improvements through evil report and good report—is it fair, is it just, is it right that the legislature should be bound down by such a constitutional provision as is here pro. posed, at least until every county in the state shall have reaped a share of the advantages to be derived from the system?
What is the amouut of your state debt at the present time? It is about twenty-eight millions of dollars. For what has that debt been incurred ? For internal improvements that are worth the money. I grant that there has been much money expended uselessly by those who have had the disbursement of it: but still your public works are worth all the money which has been expended upon them. What then is your debt? It is nothing, absolutely nothing. You have a communication from Philadelphia to Pilisburg. You have an unfinished line from Columbia to the Maryland line. Your Union canal locks are only eight and a half feet wide, while others are seventeen feet. If the Union canal is to be the only chain of communication by water from Susquehanna to Philadelphia it must be enlarged. There is another great avenue which is of vast importance. I mean the communication by water between Lehigh and the Susquehanna. Nor is that all. The faith of your state is