Library Collections: Document: Full Text
Senate Debates On The Land-Grant Bill For Indigent Insane Persons, February 21, 1854
Dorothea Dix’s Land-Grant Bill for Indigent Insane Persons was a frequent topic of debate in Congress between 1848 and 1854. Here a proponent of the bill and major ally of Dix, Senator Solomon Foot of Vermont, outlines his argument for passage of the bill. Foot, an antislavery Republican, was in the Senate until his death in 1866. Foot maintains that care for the indigent insane is an especially appropriate use for the federal lands.
If it be said that Government receives a consideration for these land grants, in the enhanced value of its remaining lands, by the increased settlements and improvements, the argument applies with equal force in the present case. You are furnishing another means, an additional agency to encourage and promote settlements, and thereby to Create an increased demand, and to give a greater value and more ready sale for your other lands. The exercise of the power claimed in this case comes within the rule of the most strict construction, that the Federal Government, as the trustee of the public lands, may dispose of them only in such manner as a proprietor would do in the exercise of it sound discretion.
Mr. President, if I may be allowed to express the opinion, this is the only measure which is likely to command the favorable action of Congress, by which the old States will receive directly any share or benefit from the public domain. which is the common property of all the States. I am not complaining of injustice to the non-landholding States; but with the record of its acts before me, I feel authorized to say that Congress has dealt liberally, to say the least, with the land States in the way of grants to them. The grants to the new States and Territories, for various purposes, amounted in the aggregate, on the 30th of June last, to a fraction short of one hundred and thirty millions of acres. I hope the policy of the Government will always be characterized by a spirit of liberality towards them; but, at the same time, that it will not be forgetful of a proper regard to what is just and due to the old States of this Union.
Now, when the new States are asking the votes of the representatives of the old States, for grants of other millions of acres of this common domain, to aid them in the construction of various lines of railroad and for other purposes, is it a vain or unreasonable expectation on our part, that the representatives from the new States will characterize their action by a spirit of justice and liberality, in cheerfully according to us the small portion of this common fund which is called for by the provisions of this bill, for an object so commendable and worthy, and in which they themselves are to enjoy an equal participation? "They who ask justice must do justice," is a maxim of policy as well as of morality, even in legislation. I am not prepared to believe that honorable Senators from the new States will assume the position of demanding all for themselves and denying everything to us. It gives me pleasure, indeed, to bear my testimony to the very kindly and generous disposition of those Senators from the new States upon the Committee on Public Lands, towards this beneficent measure.
Mr. President, if it were needful, or if it were possible, to invest the proposition before us with any additional interest aside from its intrinsic merit, it is found in the consideration of its origin. It comes commended to our attention and our regard in the memorial of an accomplished and gifted lady, the prime and energy of whose years have been devoted to the study and amelioration of the condition of this most unfortunate and neglected class of people. She has visited in person nearly every State in this Union, and made herself acquainted with the condition and personal history of more than twenty-five thousand of this class of persons, most of whom were found in a lamentable state of destitution and neglect. Fitted by rare endowments to have attained popular eminence and applause in the higher and more inviting departments of life; to have moved among the more attractive and admired scenes of its proudest and gayest circles, her days and years, and an ample private fortune have been expended in seeking out and alleviating the condition of those whom the world beside had forsaken. With the vigilance and devotion of a patron saint, she has sought out the stricken maniac in jail, and in poor-houses; in private cells, in garrets, and in dark dens; often in rags and in chains, and administered to their physical wants, and poured the accents of inspiring hope and consolation into their dark and troubled spirits. Like an angel of mercy, her visitation by day and by night have been among the abodes where poverty and wretchedness and wild delirium dwell. This, sir, is but a feeble tribute to the purity and disinterestedness of motive, to the excellence and energy of purpose, to the moral heroism and true nobility of character of her whose prayer is before you in her memorial for the aid of the Government in behalf of suffering humanity. Look at the picture which that memorial presents; look at your abundant means; look at what you have done, and are daily doing, for others; then let those who can, reject the prayer of that petition.
A word or two now, Mr. President, in reference to the amendment offered by the Senator from Indiana, -Mr. PETTIT- which proposes to limit the appropriation exclusively to the States in which the public lands lie. The proposed amendment is incompatible with the main object of the bill, and inconsistent with all its provisions. It is an adversary proposition, and as such, it may be considered as coming within the parliamentary rules of legitimate opposition to the bill, with a view to defeat its passage. If the Senate agree to the amendment, it defeats the bill; if they reject it, the vote may be taken as an indication of the judgment of the Senate in favor of the bill. I am quite willing, therefore, that the issue should be made upon the proposed amendment, and that the fate of the bill be tested by that vote.