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The Act of April 30th, 1824, referred to in the bill, and in the amendment, is in the following words.
"An Act to procure the necessary Surveys, Plans, and Estimates, upon the subject of Roads and Canals.
"Sect. 1. Be it enacted, &c. that the President of the United States is hereby authorised to cause the necessary surveys, plans, and estimates, to be made, of the routes of such Roads and Canals as he may deem of national importance, in a commercial or military point of view, or necessary for the transportation of the Mail; designating, in the case of each canal, what parts may be made capable of sloop navigation. The surveys, plans, and estimates, for each, when completed, to be laid before Congress.
"Sect. 2. And be it further enacted, that, to carry into effect the objects of this act, the President be, and he is hereby authorised, to employ two or more skilful civil engineers, and such officers of the corps of engineers, or who may be detailed to do duty with that corps, as he may think proper; and the sum of thirty thousand dollars be, and the same is hereby appropriated, to be paid out of any moneys in the Treasury not otherwise appropriated."
In the following years, 1825, 1826, and 1827, appropriations had been made, for the further execution of the powers conferred on the President by this law.
At the session of 1827-28, a petition was pending before both Houses of Congress for the erection of a Breakwater at Nantucket, in regard to which a survey had been made, by the Engineer Department, the preceding summer.
The amendment, proposed by the Senate to the bill from the House, was regarded by the friends of internal improvement, as hostile to that whole system. For this reason, and on this ground, as well as others, it was opposed. Mr. WEBSTER's speech, delivered on this occasion, has never been printed, as far as the publishers of this volume can learn. They have obtained, however, the Reporter's notes, from which the following sketch is made. They have felt the more desirous of adding this speech, though in a very imperfect form, to their collection, from the interesting facts which it affords, relative to the Nantucket whale fishery; for which, we are requested to say, the author was chiefly indebted to the Honorable Mr. Burnell, of Nantucket, a member of the Senate of Massachusetts.
MR. WEBSTER said, the true question before the Senate, was, as he had stated before, whether the law of April 1824 should be effectually repealed, and all further proceedings under it stayed. That law would not execute itself. Without appropriations to carry on its purpose and effect, it must be a dead letter. It is now proposed to declare, that nothing shall be appropriated to any surveys, except those already begun. In other words, that the whole system of internal improvements shall be arrested, and stop where it is. I do not, Mr. President, say that this is an unfair object. Those who deny to the government the power of making internal improvements, and we know there are such, naturally wish to restrain the exercise of the power, and prevent it altogether. On this question, public men divide; and the general opinion of the community must ultimately settle it, one way or the other.
The law of 1824 was passed to avoid the necessity of particularizing, by law, every survey which should be made by the authority of the government. It referred the subject of these preliminary surveys, within certain defined limits and restrictions, to the executive. From that time the work has gone on, in at manner, under annual appropriations. This amendment is an act of hostility aimed at the whole system. It goes on grounds which lie against all such measures, under all circumstances. It was not his intention, Mr. Webster said, to go far into the general subject at present.
It was well known that the idea of aiding in works of internal improvement, was seriously brought forward in Mr. Gallatin's Report in 1809. Events, occurring in the five or six following years, withdrew attention from the subject, but it was revived, with new zeal, and under new auspices, after the peace.
He had himself, Mr. Webster said, been in favor of exercising the power, from the first time he came into Congress, and his opinion was not altered. He saw evidently now existing, a spirit of hostility to these undertakings by government, and as he had already said, it must be ultimately decided by the people themselves.
He should not have troubled the Senate on this occasion, but for a single occurrence. The honorable member from South Carolina, (Mr. Smith,) in opposing the whole system, had commented on some of the plans and projects, for which the aid of government was now solicited. Among others, he alluded to the improvements contemplated near Nantucket, by a Breakwater. The honorable member seemed to think very lightly of this, both with regard to its practicability and its importance. He (Mr. W.) professed to know no more of the former than the surveys had taught him, but he was well informed by competent judges, that the latter was not likely to be overrated. A vast commerce passes through the sound between the Island of Nantucket and the continent. If an artificial harbour be necessary for the accommodation and safety of this commerce, the estimated expense is not out of proportion to the magnitude of the object. The gentleman from South Carolina had said, at near two millions of dollars had een expended on the Cumberland road. He (Mr W.) did not mean to underrate the value of that great line of communication and transportation, but if we look to the amount of transportation through the sound, we shall find it very far surpassing that of the road. A vast coasting trade plies through this sound, which is a sort of defile, a narrow passage, obstructed with rocks and shoals, and deficient in convenient and safe harbours. The anchoring of a floating light vessel in the sound, had furnished the means of ascertaining the number of vessels which passed through it annually; and perhaps some members will be surprised to hear, that that number does not fall short of 16,000. Nantucket itself, said Mr. W. is a very striking and peculiar portion of the national interest. There is a population of eight or nine thousand persons, living here in the sea, adding largely every year to the amount of national wealth by the boldest and most persevering industry. They have been twice reduced to the very verge of ruin, and yet have recovered by new efforts and untiring toil. In 1775, when Mr. Burke, in his speech in the house of commons, on the resolutions for conciliation with the American Colonies, alluded, in such terms of eulogy, to the Nantucket whale fishery, there were 150 ships engaged in that trade, and spread over every quarter of the ocean. There were employed upwards of two thousand men. They were even then "found among the tumbling mountains of ice, and penetrating into the deepest frozen recesses of Hudson's Bay and Davis's Straits. Again, they pierced into the opposite region of polar cold, and were at the antipodes engaged under the frozen serpent of the South. Places which seemed too remote, and
romantic objects, for the grasp of national ambition, were but stages and resting places in the progress of their victorious industry. Whilst some of them drew the line and struck the harpoon on the coast of Africa, others run the longitude and pursued their gigantic game along the coast of Brazil. No sea but what was vexed by their fisheries. No climate that was not witness to their toils."*
At the end of the war, of the 150 ships but 15 remained, the rest had been taken by the enemy. At present, I believe, they have 65 or 75 ships engaged in the whale fishery, with an aggregate of thirty thousand tons of tonnage, and of the value of two millions of dollars. Their history is interesting. An intelligent friend, a citizen of the Island, has furnished me with a note of the progress of this branch of industry, which is in the highest degree honorable to the spirit of enterprise which has animated the people of that place for more than a century and a half. They are well entitled to public encouragement. Their harbour is bad, and in addition to the accommodation of the coasting trade, and other interests, a breakwater would be of the greatest utility to them. I hope their application will not be prejudged. Gentlemen will find the subject to be one full of interest and importance; and as my colleague intends, ere long, to bring it to the consideration of the Senate, I hope it may have a fair hearing.
The Island of Nantucket was settled from the County of Essex in Massachusetts, about 1660. Thirty years afterwards, the whale fishery commenced, and was, at first, carried on by boats from the shore. This mode of conducting the business reached its height in 1726, in which year eighty or ninety whales were brought to the shore, and of these, thirteen are said to have been taken in one day. Within thirty or forty years after this, the boat fishing fell off as the whales drew off from the shore, and vessels were required to pursue them. Some small sloops, of thirty or forty tons each, had been employed as early as 1715. During the seventy years that the whales were taken in boats, not a single white man lost his life in pursuit of them. The whale taken from the shore was the right whale, as the spermaceti does not visit soundings.
Soon after vessels were employed in this business, a northerly gale drove one of them from the coast, and when it abated, spermaceti whales were discovered, and one was taken and brought into port. This was, probably, the first of the kind ever taken; and being found more valuable than the right whale, the adventurous whalemen were induced to launch into the deep, and a new direction was thereupon given to the business. There were, in 1730, nearly thirty sail, of from 30 to 50 tons, employed, and they obtained annually, about 3,700 barrels of oil, which, until 1745, was shipped to Boston and there sold. In the last mentioned year, a voyage was made to London, and after that a trade was carried on with that port. In 1746 *Burke's Speech, 1775.
the pursuit of the whale had extended to Davis's Straits; and in 1765 to the Western Islands-(Azores.)
Between the years 1755 and 1768, ten sail were either lost or taken, by the French. There were, in 1770, 120 sail, of from 75 to 110 tons, engaged in the trade, and 18,000 barrels of oil were obtained annually. And between 1772 and 1775 there were 150 sail, of from 90 to 180 tons, upon the coasts of Guinea, Brazil, West Indies, &c. and 30,000 barrels of oil were annually obtained, which sold, in the London market, for £44 to £45—making an aggregate of £167,000. There were, at this time, 2,200 seamen employed in fishing, and 220 in the London trade. During the Revolutionary War the whale fishery was prostrated, and the inhabitants of the island suffered much in their property; and toward the close of it, great distress began to appear among them. In 1783, of their large fleet, they had remaining, but 7 sail to Brazil of 100 to 150 tons-5 to the Coast of Guinea, and 7 to the West Indies; and they obtained but about three thousand barrels of oil.
The British government availed themselves of the depressed condition of the fishery, and, in 1784, exacted a duty of £18.3 sterling per ton, which almost entirely destroyed the market. Strong inducements were held out to the inhabitants of Nantucket to remove to Halifax, and establish themselves there. In 1786-7 a considerable number removed to that place, but soon abandoned it and returned. After this period, the fishery gradually advanced; and, in those seas where the whale had been taken for ycars, viz. the Western Islands, the coast of Guinea, Brazils, and some less frequented coasts, the business was diligently pursued until, in 1788, stimulated by large bounties, a ship was fitted from London for the Pacific. In that year, the first Spermaceti, which was ever vexed by man in that ocean, yielded to the skill of the only American on board that vessel, a native of Nantucket, now living in that place. The first vessel which ever went from that town into that ocean commenced her voyage in 1791. The Spermaceti whale continued to be taken on the coasts of Chili and Peru, and the fleet to augment, until the war of 1812 put a stop to the pursuit. At that time, there were employed in the business about 40 ships, of 200 to 250 tons each. One half of this number fell into the hands of the enemy; and at the peace of 1815, twenty ships only, from that port, remained to continue the fishery. These were soon fitted, and speedily took their departure for either the coasts of Brazil, Chili, or Peru. The increase of the business soon spread a large fleet on the last mentioned coast, and the whale became exceedingly scarce. They were, in fact, driven by continued pursuit from their accustomed track.
It became necessary to explore regions unfrequented, even to procure cargoes for vessels already in the Pacific. Accordingly, in the year 1819, steering westward to the longitude of 90 to 100, whales were again found, and large quantities of oil procured in a short time. This "off shore ground," as it was called, being quite limited, was soon crowded with ships, and other haunts of the whale must be found. In 1821, therefore, the first ship which ever adventured, to the north, as it is called, to the "Japan Coast," entered those seas; and her great success richly repaid her enterpri
sing owners. She belonged to Nantucket. Since that period, the principal part of the spermaceti oil imported into this country, has been procured northward of the Sandwich Islands, in various degrees of latitude and longitude-in an ocean almost entirely unexplored, and in which there have been already discovered, by these navigators, a large number of most dangerous reefs and shoals.
The history of the whale fishery from New Bedford, is comprehended, in all important respects, in the foregoing statement as to Nantucket. The fishery of the former has always followed that of the latter. Its local advantages are superior, and have enabled it already to maintain a powerful rivalship in the trade.
In 1827, New Bedford had engaged in whale fishing, 68 Ships and 17 Brigs. There were imported of Spermaceti oil 43,533 bbls-of Whale oil, 22,065 bbls-Bone (whale), 169,581 pounds.
Nantucket had engaged in the fishery, 62 Ships and 1 Brig. Spermaceti oil imported 32,190 bbls.-Whaleoil, 2,000 bbls.-Bone, 12,000 lbs.
There were imported into all other ports:-in New York, Connecticut, Rhode Island, &c. of Spermaceti oil 16,467 bbls.-Whaleoil, 25,000 bbls.
The Ships engaged in the Spermaceti fishing in the Pacific, are from 300 to 480 tons each, and are manned with 21 to 30 men. In 1827 the value of oil averaged about 70 cts. for Spermaceti, and 30 cents for whale, and 50 cents for bone.
This little spot is the nucleus of the whale fishing of the world. A business of so much importance, and so rapidly increasing, would seem to deserve attention, and such aid as is consistent with other great branches of national industry and enterprise.