I intended on my late visit to albemarle, to have communicated freely with you, on the subject of internal improvement, in reference to the power of the genl government, especially as to the appropriation of the public money, but circumstances were unfavorable then, to such a communication. my object has been, rather to state certain facts & considerations, which I was compelled to advert to, in deciding on that great question than to enter on the question itself, for on that, having , I can add nothing .
When I came into this office, rumours were circulated, that I differd in opinion, from Mr Madison respecting the right of Congress, to adopt and execute such a system of improvment. were circulated with greater activity, just before the meeting of Congress, and in consequence I then to the subject , and in my message, brought into view, with the expression of my opinion that Congress did not possess the power. From that period, there was cause to apprehend, at every session, that an act would passd, asserting the right, & thus my attention was continually drawn to it. An act finally pass, which I negatived, for the reasons stated in the message the decision, which you have seen.
In examining the question, I review’d what had been previously done, by Congress, & my predecessors, & the ground on which they acted, My attention was necessarily drawn to the Cumberland road & to several others, which had been constructed. The first mentiond, was provided for, by the compact with Ohio, the expense was to be defrayd by the appropriation of 1/20th part of the net proceeds of lands in state which might be made after the 30th of June 1802. , , the consent of the States through which should pass obtaind. Near 1.500.000 dolrs had been expended, on that road, when I came into this office, a large portion of which, had been advancd from the Treasury, by anticipation of the fund referrd to, which has not yet been reimbursd & probably never will be—I could perceive no difference, between the appropriation of money arising from the sale of land, & of that which arises from imposts or direct taxes, nor in an appropriation, founded on a compact, with a new State, or without such compact. The power to admit new States, into the union, involved none, as I presumed, to give them money or land. That the unsold land, , should still belong to the U States, after such admission , altho’ it should not be provided for, by compact. [. . .] to be admitted into the union on a footing with the original states, the citizens of the new, owning
The idea of deriving a right by compact with a new State to lay out our own land or money in [. . .]
the land which they had bought & paid for, is all that they could claim. To prevent all doubt however on this point, it was proper, to specify in this conditions, on which admitted, that the new state should have no right to unsold land. The US. own land, in most of the original States, as custom house offices, & in some I believe, as post offices. The property is protected by the Laws of the States. The unsold land in the new States would stand on the same ground. To admit them, to the rights of the original States, is an act of great magnanimity, as well as wisdom To them rights not belonging to the new States, wod merit a different character. I concluded therefore that the power to admit new States, granted none, to give to such States. the public lands within them.
The money, under any view which may be taken of the subject, arising from the sale of the public lands, is the property of the UStates. It is not the Gift of a new State, nor can any right be deriv’d, from compact with the new State, as to the mode of disposing of it, and especially in the original States. That right can be derivd from the constitution only, and the same before the compact that it was after it. The question therefore which occur’d was, what had been done by Congress, and sanctiond by Mr Madison & yourself? A road had been laid out from Wheeling; passing through the three states above mentiond, and in the construction of which, the same above mentiond, had been expended & in the mode stated.
perpetual quarrel between states & genl govt in abridgment of the rights of the people.
the Ustates therefore did not derive their right to this unsold land, from the compact—nor could they derive the right to appropriate, either the land or money, arising from its sale, either to the construction of a road or to any other purpose within the State, and much less, within an original State from such compact—
Nor would the compact have been onerous, to prohibit the taxation, tho I applaud the policy pursued—the right to pursue it however is derivd from another source—the power granted over the public money, & the national purpose to which applied.
NN: Papers of James Monroe.