Among the splendid fooleries which have at time amused a portion of the American people, as well as their representatives in Congress, was that of granting, on most favorable terms to certain emigrants from France, a large tract of land in the Alabama Territory to encourage the cultivation of the vine and olive, passed the 3rd of March 1817.
This tract contains 92,000 acres, and was sold at $2 per acre, payable without interest, in 14 years—in truth, much better than a mere gratuity of so much land considering the license of selection, and which could not, at this time, probably be purchased of the proprietors for less than $2 million. What was honestly intended as a common benefit to a number of unfortunate persons is understood to have immediately entered, like banking, into the benefit of a few; and I am told that one man’s gains by this speculation are estimated at from $500,000 to a million of dollars.
The act of congress by which this grant was made contains many provisions to prevent, the public munificence from being converted into a private monopoly. And one of our objects in referring to it is to excite some member of Congress, to a rigid inquiry to ascertain if the letter of the law has been satisfied, seeing that its spirit has been violated—in order to a reclamation of the immunities granted, if justice requires it.
So much, indeed, has the beneficence of Congress been abused, that two or three of the oldest and most respectable members told me, when at Washington last winter, that there was nothing against which they should hereafter be so much upon their guard as those acts called liberal—and one of them observed he never had voted for any law that was intended by him as an advantage to a class of people which he had not sincerely repented of, because the advantages designed for all had uniformly been perverted to the benefit of a few scheming individuals; and he instanced a series of speculations “too tedious to mention.” It was the abuse of the Alabama grant that caused the rejection of the petition of the Irish emigrant Associations for the laying off of a tract of land in the Illinois, though everybody felt satisfied that their design was an honest one.
By the way, however, I very much question the policy of any act of government that has a tendency to introduce and keep up among us a foreign national language or dialect, manners or character, as every large and compact settlement of emigrants from any particular country must necessarily occasion. Though some have seemed almost ready to quarrel with me for the often-repeated assertion, I still assert and will maintain it, that the people of the United States are yet wretchedly deficient of a national character, though it is rapidly forming, and in a short time will be as the vanguard of the national strength. Its progress, however, is retarded by the influx of foreigners, with manners and prejudices favorable to a state of things repugnant to our rules and notions of right, since few enlightened men may be called citizens of the world; but most men’s ideas are narrowed to the spot or country, with its habits of thinking and of acting, where they received their education, which it requires at least the mixture of a generation to remove.
These prejudices extend as well to the religious as to the political supremacy of certain poor, weak and miserable individuals; and considerably prevent an exercise of the right which man has to worship God after the dictates of his own heart, and are at open war with the power that he has, in its liberal sense, to manage all his own concerns in his own way. To lessen the force of prejudices so hostile to our free institutions, it is important that those subject to them should be cast into the common stock of the people; in which, if they do not get more expanded ideas and fall in with the general habits of the nation of which they are members, their scattered condition will measurably forbid them from retarding the growth of a general feeling—or at least, prevent a powerful action against it.
These remarks might be illustrated by many well-known examples; but the case does not require it at present, and would be to travel from the point that is now aimed at. I am notoriously the friend of all persons seeking happiness in this land of liberty, and designing to lay their bones among us; and would afford to them every facility that they may become Americans, indeed—but it is only upon the condition of their becoming so that I wish the presence of any. I most sincerely despise the creature that, rioting in his ease possessed here, adheres to those institutions which drove him from his country. If any love a king better than freedom, let them lick his feet “at home” as long as his majesty will condescend to suffer it—but it is knavery, or folly, in a man who voluntarily takes up his abode in America, this “despicable country,” to be always telling us of the roast beef and happiness that he left. And it ought to be resented by advising him to go back again as quickly as possible—adding that we will cheerfully part with him.