Back to Men's Biographies

*Contributed by Jim Standifer.  Thank you, Jim!

The Gales & Seaton Register of Debates in Congress published the following speech made by James Israel Standifer relating to the Buffalo and New Orleans Road on 30 March 1830.  James K. Polk has already spoken against the proposal saying that State Governments were made for internal and municipal purposes and the Federal Government for external purposes.


“Mr. Standifer said he hoped the committee would not think he was trespassing on its patience, whilst he attempted, in his own way, to give his views on the important subject before the committee.  But, sir, (said Mr. Standifer) you will readily account for the embarrassment under which I labor, when I inform you that I was raised to the plough at a time, and under circumstances, which prevented my getting only but the most limited education.  My embarrassment is increased, also, from the unfortunate difference of opinion which prevails in the delegation from my own State, with all of whom my intercourse has been friendly.  But, whatever may be the difficulties with which I have to meet, I am determine, when I see a subject under discussion which involves the best interests of my constituents, and the nation at large, to represent the views of that generous and enlightened people who sent me here, and with whom, when at home, every thing dear to me is to be found.  I mean to give my full support to this bill, and wish to allow my colleagues and all others the same privilege of acting freely that I take myself.  I know this is not the course of all the members of this House; but I hope I may be allowed to say that my two worthy colleagues (Blair and Isacks) who spoke on the same side of this question with my, and myself, live in the mountain region, where we breathe liberal air.  We do not set ourselves up for little captains to lead others on; we aim at no such unenviable distinction.  We are perfectly willing that they should think and act for themselves, and we will leave it to the proper tribunal to decide between us.  Neither of us will hold up the constitution to shelter ourselves from responsibility, and save us from the people at the ballot boxes.


I will say for the worthy gentleman from Virginia ( Mr. Barbour) that he has, in opposing this bill, which is my favorite one, acted with his usual fairness and candor.  He has argued upon the ground of expediency alone, and I give him credit for it; for who, that would be thought sincere, could oppose this bill on constitutional grounds, when it is pretty well understood here that two-thirds of this House are satisfied of the existence of the power of Congress to make internal improvements.  I know that some of my colleagues will bear me out in saying, that, on my way to Congress in 1823, I expressed myself in favor of the system of internal improvements, and, after taking my seat, voted under the influence of that belief; and I tell my worthy colleague (Mr. Polk) who last spoke that that opinion remains unchanged by any thing that I heard from him in the course of his remarks.


This road is one of the first importance to the Government in three points of view: military purposes, mail transportation, and last, though not least, commercial.


Speaking of it as a military road, I must call in to my aid plain common sense, as I am not possessed of much book information.  My view of the United States in its warlike preparations is, that it may be compared to the encampment of an army in an enemy’s country, when commanded by a skilful general.  That encampment is in a hollow square, keeping in the center a portion of his best troops, in order, if attacked on any side, to throw this reserved force to the place of attack.  Now, the United States has frontiers around all the States except Kentucky and Tennessee; they are in the center of this great encampment, and ready to be thrown to the defense of the line attacked.  Will you, then, refuse to give them a road to go upon to fight, not for their own personal safety, but that of their country?  They are safe if you leave them to defend themselves, for their frontier and seaboard neighbors must be cut down to reach them; but they do not wait for danger to defend themselves – they volunteer, and bare their bosoms to the bayonet of the enemy for their exposed neighbors, and surely it must be important to make them good roads.


The mouth of the Mississippi is very important, and may be said to be the key of the whole Western country.  Suppose that a foreign foe should take possession of it and lock up its mouth, it would strike at the interest of nine of our States and one Territory.  Mobile is still more indefensible than New Orleans, and depends upon East Tennessee for succor.  Georgia will have to look for her own frontier, and will not be able to assist.  It is, therefore, all-important to make this road, which runs three hundred miles through Tennessee, and crosses the Tombigbee, in Alabama, below the mouth of the Black Warrior river, where steamboats run, and troops and provisions could be carried on this road to that point, and then sent down to Mobile.  Sir, the people of the lower country do not raise provisions to support an army - - hardly for themselves; for, like all others, they raise that from which they can make most, and it so happens that that is cotton and sugar.  East Tennessee, through which this road is to run, is the place from whence their supply must come, as well as provisions as men; and I have tilled the lands of that valley long enough to know, experimentally, that if you give us the channel upon which to sent the provisions, we can raise them.


This road, if made, passes through the county which was the scene of suffering during the late war.  Perhaps, from my participation in those times, I feel more on the subject that I otherwise would.  I cannot, whatever others may do, forget the difficulties and troubles of that day, and much of it arose from the want of such a road as the bill now proposes to make.   I saw, on the line of this road, your sick and diseased soldiers, who were fighting for your country, wading through mud and water, whilst the measles and other diseases were fastened upon them.  On our return from the Horseshoe to Fort Williams, we had to carry our sick and wounded, some on horseback, and others on biers, by their brother soldiers.   From Fort Jackson to Fort Williams it fell my lot to be one of the officers of the rear guard; our duty was to keep the men before us, and leave none behind.  From hunger, sickness, and fatigue, they kept falling back, until they far exceeded the number of the guard; some had eat nothing for four or five days, and they literally gave up to die, and sought every opportunity to dodge the guard and hide behind logs and brush, and risk the savages in preference to the fatigue of travel, under the prospect of starvation.  I am confident in the opinion that no man living, save the very distinguished general who had the command, could have kept in subjection men in their condition.  He was kind and tender to them, and treated them as a parent would his children; he gave his own horses to the sick soldiers, and took to the mud and water with the rest, but those who were inclined to be disobedient he forced into obedience.  Who, sir, were these soldiers that endured all this suffering?  They were neither enlisted nor hired men; they were the respectable freemen of Tennessee, many from my own district, who volunteered, and left their wives and children as widows and orphans, to defend the liberties of the country.  But you starved them in war for the want of a road, and now your country’s flag is floating in peace, and you are willing, if you reject this bill, to let them again endure the like afflictions.  Let me tell you, this road is more needed than many of your other preparations for defense.


It has been my happy lot to live among the mountain boys, as they are sometimes called.  I have been with them in the field of battle in one war, and I can assure you, if the servants of the people will do their duty, and give to us roads so that we can travel to the points of danger, you never will again see the smoke of an enemy’s fire upon the walls of this Capitol.  The people to be benefited by this road are in a situation to ask little from the Government, but they ask you to prepare the means of defense before another war may undertake you, and they, for the want of them, be again exposed to suffer sickness and famine.  The utility of this road for mail purposes does not seem very clear to some of its opponents.  The gentleman from North Carolina (Mr. Carson) says, that upon this road to Nashville we now have six mails a week, and on his but one, therefore, there is no need for this road for mail purposes.  If the gentleman means that going and returning should each be counted, then we have six mails to that place; but, counting in this same way, I could make twice a week upon his route.  The growing importance of all that new and advancing country, and its increase of population, renders it probable that the time is close at hand, when the necessity for a daily mail on that route will arise.  The gentleman from Virginia (Mr. Barbour) admitted as I thought all would, the importance of this road in that point of view.  When the cost of mail transportation is now looked at upon that route, can it be possible that there is any one who would not agree to the benefits to flow from making this road as a mere post road, and the advantages to the citizens who live upon it?  But I will now pass to the benefit which can be felt, and properly weighed, by the farmers of our country.  I mean that of aiding trade and intercourse.  Take a view of this road and the country through which it passes:  It falls into the valley of Virginia, west of the mountains, and traverses that valley until it intersects the ridges at the head of the Roanoke, thence to the head of Holston, through one of the best grazing countries in the Union, and passing through the whole extent of East Tennessee.  For several hundred miles on that way the lands are rich, and present the most inviting prospects to the farmer and grazier, but unfortunately must depend upon land transportation for the means of interchange of their products with other more favored quarters.  I said that I was a farmer, yes, a practical farmer, and I know how to sympathize with that class.  I know what it is to labor throughout the summer in the burning sun, and have on hand throughout the fall and winter the product of your labor, if not spoiling on your hand, lying uncalled for, for the want of outlets to market.  The farmer is the class for whom your legislation should mainly provide; they till the earth and feed the country, yes, we who are now the great men of the nation, legislating in this splendid hall, were sent here by them, and they are now feeding us by the sweat of their brows.  They have been oppressed and borne down in the country from which I come, on account of the channel in which their money has heretofore been appropriated by this body.  I do not understand gentlemen when they talk about the revenue and my constituents pay their proportion; and how has it gone since the establishment of the Government?  Upon tide water.  Has anything gone to the quarter through which this road is asked to be made? No, not the first dollar. 


My colleague (Mr. Polk) cautions us against this system of internal improvements, because it is unequal and unjust.  I tell him that which has been pursued is the unequal and unjust system; and this is the only one that our people, who live off tide water, can ever expect to be benefited from.  I tell my colleague that the farmers of Tennessee will inquire more strictly into the correctness of our votes, than our fine speeches; they will rise in their majesty, and put down those politicians who will not represent their interests truly; and whilst he is giving cautions, he must pardon me for taking the liberty of giving him mine, take care that he represents the class of which I have just spoken.


I know that most of the people in the section of country from whence I come, are aware of the importance to them of connecting, by canal or railroad, the waters of the Tennessee with the Coosa, and in that manner gain an important outlet for their produce, and in my opinion, that would be of more local benefit than this road; but, sir the interest of the country requires that both should be done – make good roads, open your rivers; then your farmers will be stimulated to industry; all men need something to stimulate them, even the members on this floor – I do not mean, to try for places on this floor, that is already sufficiently strong; I mean to do their duty when they get here.  I confess that I have sometimes thought that some of the people’s servants forgot that they had masters; indeed, I very much fear that the result of this vote will tend to confirm that belief.  I have this measure much at heart.  Sir, it comes home in its benefits to the poor and needy; the very day-laborer is to find a place to reap the reward of his industry.  I am, therefore, the more importunate.  I never could see the reason why improvements could be constitutionally made on tide water; and the moment you left it, the constitution was too narrow to cover such work.  This seems to be the modern doctrine, and thought it suits some learned and wise men, it will neither suit me nor the people I represent; and I think some other gentlemen of this House will find, also, that those who swing the mall and axe will not be so well pleased with speeches filled with constitutional law as common sense voting, bringing home to them benefits and blessings which they can feel and realize.  I trust in God that they will rise, and force their servants so to read the constitution as to include the neglected parts of this Union, for which we now ask this reasonable measure.


I have not had much experience in legislation, but I have been here long enough to know that tide water has been the spoiled child of this Government.  I see on your table, and on passage, bills to open mouths of rivers, build sea-walls, improve harbors, and various other things, to which I hear no man object; but when we from the other side of the ridge ask for something to be done to benefit the Union at large, and our constituents in particular, then the constitution adopted for the whole United States is too narrow to reach us, and some of our folk join in saying, if we stretch it from tide water it will tear.  Indeed, it does seem to one that some gentlemen think that constitution, commerce, and every thing stops with tide water.  They might as well try to convince me that a goose, swimming in tide water, turns to a terrapin when it gets above, as that commerce ceases to be commerce when it is put into a boat or wagon.  Sir, this may be sound argument with hair-splitting politicians, but it would be laughed at by our common ploughboys.  If the good people of Tennessee can be blinded by reasoning which tends to license the expenditure of their moneys for all sea-coast projects, and nothing for defensive means amongst them, I shall confess that my colleague (Mr. Polk) is representing their interests. 


I have but little knowledge of the constitutional law, but I can understand plain English, and the constitution reads thus: Congress shall have power “to regulate commerce with foreign nations, among the several States, and with the Indian tribes.”  This means commerce carried on between different States, just like commerce with foreign nations, and the same can be done for both, unless the modern notion shall prevail, that there is no commerce off the tide water to regulate.


On the plan which I have adopted, the neglected portions of our country would be improved, and life and spirit given to the husbandman.  The farmer could find a ready marker for the products of his industry, life and energy would take the place of indolence and sloth; the farmer would then whistle after his plough, and the benefits would be felt throughout society; the cheerful wife, with her prattling infants, the pride and ornament of our country, would join their husbands and fathers, and would pronounce a blessing upon the politicians who were instrumental in conferring this good.


I have heard the sufferings and sorrows of our revolutionary worthies pathetically described by gentlemen on this floor, with which I have been edified and charmed; but, sir, when I am about to get the information on that subject from the most impressive source, I will go to the actor himself.  I have heard that tale of their sufferings from themselves; how they marked with their bloody feet the frozen earth, and endured all that could be imposed upon them to purchase for use this Government, which is certainly the best upon the earth.  They enriched it for us with their own blood; and shall we, like drones, misimprove the means which have been put in our power to benefit ourselves and posterity?  Shall we skim the surface of this delightful country, and render it barren and waste?  No, we would be unworthy of being called the descendant of ancestors so brace and noble.  Let us put forth our hands and improve it, and give to its high-minded inhabitants all the facilities in our power, by constructing for them roads and canals, and improving their rivers; then shall we merit the name of representatives of a free and enlightened people.  Pursuing this system, you would bind together the North and the South, and prevent jealousy and distrust, which is now but too apparent.  Then you would hear nothing said about States flying off from their sisters, and rebelling against the Union.  All would be bound together in bonds of harmony and peace; and when our posterity came into our places, they would have the pleasing reflection that they too had cause for holding in affectionate remembrance those who had preserved, in health and vigor, their beloved country.”

After James Standifer’s speech, David Crockett submitted an “amendment providing that the road should run from Washington in a direct route to Memphis, on the Mississippi, in the Western District of Tennessee.”  (This would result in the road going through the district that David Crockett represented.)  After saying that he was “truly sorry because a considerable time had been spent by four other Gentlemen from Tennessee (Messrs. Blair, Polk, Isacks and Standifer), all of whom are much better qualified to give light on this subject than myself,” Crockett began his speech in a manner similar to Standifer by saying:

 “I am one of those who are called self-taught men by the kindness of my neighbors and some exertion of my own.  I have been raised from obscurity without an education.  I am therefore compelled to address the committee in the language of a farmer which, I hope, will be understood.” 

Back to Men's Biographies