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ment of such a power is never to be assumed,” add, cautiously, that they “will not say that a State may not relinquish it, — that a consideration sufficiently valuable to induce a partial release of it may not exist.” 1
While thus upholding the right of taxation as one of the precious attributes belonging to the States, the Court, under the Constitution of the United States, properly exempt instruments and means of government; but they limit the exemption to these instruments and
Thus it is expressly decided in a celebrated case,2 that, while the Bank of the United States, being one of the necessary instruments and means to execute the sovereign powers of the nation, is not liable to taxation, yet the real property of the Bank is thus liable, in common with other real property in a particular State.
Now the lands held by the United States do not belong to instruments and means necessary and proper to execute the sovereign powers of the nation. In this respect they clearly differ from fortifications, arsenals, and navy-yards. They are strictly in the nature of private property belonging to the nation and situated within the jurisdiction of States. In excusing them from taxation, our fathers acted unquestionably according to the suggestions of prudence, but also under the influence of precedent, derived at that time from the prerogatives of the British Crown. It was an early prerogative, transmitted from feudal days, when all taxes were in the nature of aids and subsidies to the monarch, that the property of the Crown, of every nature, should be exempt from taxation. But mark the change. This ancient
1 Providence Bank v. Billings and Pittman, 4 Peters, 561. 2 McCulloch v. The State of Maryland, 4 Wheaton, 316.
feudal principle is not now the law of England. By the statute of 39 and 40 George III., chap. 88, passed thirteen years after the Ordinance of 1787, the lands and tenements purchased by the Crown out of the privy purse or other moneys not appropriated to any public service, or which came to the King from his ancestors or private persons, - in other words, lands and tenements in the nature of private property, — are subjected to taxation even while they belong to the Crown.
Thus the matter stands. Lands belonging to the nation, which, it seems, even royal prerogative at this day in England cannot save from taxation, are in our country, under express provisions of compact, early established, exempted from this burden. Now, Sir, I make no complaint; I do not suggest any change, nor do I hint any ground of legal title in the States. But I do confidently submit, that in this peculiar, time-honored immunity, originally claimed by the nation, and conceded by the States within which the public lands lie, there is ample ground of equity, under which these States may now appeal to the nation for assistance out of these public lands.
When I listen to comparisons discrediting these States by the side of the old States, when I hear it charged that they are constant recipients of the national bounty, and when I catch those sharper terms of condemnation by which they are characterized as “plunderers” and “ robbers” and “pirates," I am forced to inquire whether the nation has not already received from these States something more than it has ever bestowed, even in its most liberal moods, whether, at this moment, the nation is not equitably debtor to these States, and not these States debtors to the nation.
II. I am now brought to the second head of this inquiry, — that is, the extent and value of the immunity from taxation, after deducting all reservations and grants to the several States. Authentic documents and facts place these beyond question.
From the official returns of the Land Office in January, 1849,1 it appears that the areas of the twelve Land States — Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Missouri, Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana, Michigan, Arkansas, Wisconsin, Iowa, and Florida --embrace 392,579,200 acres. California was not at that time a State of the Union. Of this territory, only 289,961,954 acres had been, in pursuance of the laws of the United States, surveyed, proclaimed, and put into the market. In some of the recent States, more than a moiety of the whole domain had never been brought into this condition. At the date of these official returns it continued still unconscious of the surveyor's chain. Thus, in Wisconsin, out of more than thirty-four millions of acres, only a little more than thirteen millions were proclaimed for sale; and in Iowa, the very State whose interests are now particularly in question, out of more than thirty-two millions of acres, only a little more than twelve millions were proclaimed for sale. I cannot doubt that in fact the aggregate of the public lands within the States at all times much exceeds the amount actually in the market; but since it may be said that lands not yet surveyed, proclaimed, and put into the market, though nominally under the jurisdiction of the State, must lie actually beyond the sphere of its influence, so as not to derive any appreciable advantage from the local government, and as I desire to hold this argument above every imputation of exaggeration, knowing full well that it can afford to be understated, --I forbear to take the larger amount as basis, but found my estimates upon the extent of territory actually proclaimed for sale, from the beginning down to January, 1849, amounting to 289,961,954 acres.
1 Exec. Doc., 30th Cong. 2d Sess., H. R. No. 12, Table 6, p. 255.
All these lands thus proclaimed have been exempt from taxation. But since they were proclaimed at different periods, and also sold at different periods, so far as they are sold, it is necessary, in arriving at the value of this immunity, to ascertain what is the average period during which the lands, after being put into the market, are in the possession of the United States. This we are able to do from official returns of the Land Office. Here is a table now before me, from which it appears, that, of the lands offered for sale during a period of thirty years, large quantities were, at the expiration of the period, still on hand. Of the fourteen millions offered in Ohio during this period, more than two millions remained, while, of the nineteen millions offered in Missouri, more than twelve millions remained. Of all the lands offered during this period of thirty years, more than half were still unsold. And out of the aggregate of 289,961,954 acres proclaimed from the beginning down to January, 1849, notwithstanding the advancing tread of our thick-coming population, only 100,209,656 acres had been sold.? Now, without further pursuing these details, I assume, what cannot be questioned, as it is most clearly within the truth, that lands proclaimed are not all sold till after a period of fifty years. This estimate makes the average period during which the
1 Exec. Doc., 30th Cong. 2d Sess., H. R. No. 12, Table 2, p. 210. 2 Ibid., Table 6, p. 255.
lands, after being surveyed and proclaimed, are actually in the possession of the United States, and free from taxation, twenty-five years.
According to this estimate, 289,961,954 acres, proclaimed for sale, have been absolutely free from taxation during the space of twenty-five years, and yet, during this whole period, they have, without the ordinary consideration, enjoyed the protection of the State, with advantages and increased value from highways, bridges, and school-houses, all of which are supported by the adjoining proprietors, under the laws of the State, without assistance of any kind from the United States.
Such is the extent of this immunity. But, in order to determine its precise value, it is necessary to advance a step farther, and ascertain one other element: that is, the average annual tax on land in these States,- for instance, on the land of other non-residents. There are no official documents within my knowledge by which this can be determined. But, after inquiry of gentlemen, themselves landholders in these States, I have thought it might be placed, without risk of contradiction, at one cent an acre. Probably it is rather two, or even three cents; but, desiring to keep within bounds, I call it only one cent an acre. The annual tax on 289,961,954 acres, at the rate of one cent an acre, would be $ 2,899,619, and the sum-total of this tax for twenty-five years would amount to $ 72,490,475, being the apparent value of this immunity from taxation already enjoyed by the United States; or, if we call the annual tax two cents an acre, instead of one cent, we have nothing less than $ 144,980,950, of which the United States may now be regarded as trustees in equity for the benefit of the Land States.