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Doc. 127. the Coast defences. Gov. Curtin's reply to Secretary Seward.

The following is a copy of the letter addressed by Gov. Curtin to Secretary Seward, in reply to his circular on coast defences:

Pennsylvania Executive Chamber, Harrisburg, November 2, 1861.
Hon. William H. Seward, Secretary of State, Washington, D. C.:
sir: I received, a few days since, an envelope, apparently from the Department of State, at Washington, enclosing a slip from a newspaper, purporting to be a copy of a letter from you to the Governor of New York. This mode of communicating advice by the Government of the United States to the State authorities is so unusual, that I am, perhaps, not quite justified in assuming, as I do, that the communication is authentic.

I am glad to learn that the prospect of a disturbance of our amicable relations with foreign countries is now less serious than it has been at any period during the course of the insurrection. The duty of taking precaution against such disturbance is appropriate to the Government of the United States; and as, when the prospect was more serious, it was not thought fit to invite to the subject the attention of Congress, which had authority to make suitable provision, I do not understand how the fact that it is now less serious can afford a reason for calling on individual States, which have no such authority.

What Congress has done or omitted you of course must know, but it seems strange that general appropriations for military purposes should render lawful the expense of fortifying Washington, Cincinnati, St. Louis, and other places, and yet that the Government should falter under an apprehension of want of authority when the question is of fortifying seaboard and lake ports.

The regular session of the Legislature of Pennsylvania, as you may be aware, will not commence until more than a month after the next meeting of Congress. When you assure me that the prospect of disturbance is now less serious than it has been at any period since the insurrection began, I feel that your letter would not justify me in calling a special session, and, without action by the Legislature, I have less authority to act than the Executive of the United States, since the subject itself is within [271] the scope of the General Government, and is not within that of a State Government.

State Governments have recently (in conformity with the spirit of the constitutional provisions in regard to the militia) acted as agents of the General Government, in raising volunteers for the general defence, and in clothing, arming, equipping, and supplying them; but even in this matter, not, it is believed, beyond their own people and territory.

Some of the points important for the maritime defence of Pennsylvania are situated in other States. It could not, of course, be expected that the authorities of this Commonwealth should go into New Jersey or Delaware to erect fortifications.

If they are to be erected by the concurrent action of the several States immediately concerned, an agreement among them would be necessary to determine what should be done, and what proportion of the expense of doing it should be borne by each.

No such agreement could be lawfully made without the action of the several State Legislatures, and the Constitution expressly prohibits its being made at all without the assent of Congress.

To pay the expenses of the proposed fortifications, the States must, of course, resort to loans.

The effect produced by the competition of a principal with his own agents has already been illustrated by the embarrassments attending that system in the raising of volunteers, and in the procuring of clothing and other supplies for them.

To throw several of the States on the money market, in direct competition with the large loans necessary to be made by the General Government, especially under the discouraging influence which the publication of your letter may have on public credit, is an experiment which must lead to embarrassments of a similar kind, but probably more injurious.

It is not doubted that provision for reimbursement would be made by law, for Congress, at its last session, promptly passed an act providing for the reimbursement of expenses incurred by the States in raising, &c., volunteers for the defence of the United States.

For that defence Pennsylvania has, in proportion to her population, furnished a larger and more effective force, and at a greatly less expense, than any other State, and her people are now freely contributing their money to the loans of the United States.

Under the above-mentioned act of Congress, the Government of the United States, through its proper department, agreed to pay at once to the several States forty per cent. of their expenditures, as stated by their respective authorities, but this payment has thus far been with-held from Pennsylvania for the reasons, as given, that she is so wealthy a State, and has expended so little money in proportion to the large material aid which she has furnished, that she can wait till a more convenient season; in other words, that the economy of her Government and the liberality of her people afford grounds for refusing to her the prompt, though partial reimbursement which is made to other States, and which she would seem to have deserved not less, but rather more than they.

In regard to the final settlement of these accounts, I observe that a communication has already been received, (backed by a certificate of a person holding a high official position at Washington,) setting forth the necessity that the agent for settling them should possess an intimate knowledge of all the laws and precedents applicable to such cases to be found in the past history of the Government, and adding that this knowledge and proper consultations with the accounting officers will be necessary to enable him to advise as to the best mode of making up and proving the accounts, many of which must otherwise be rejected by the accounting officers.

These circumstances lead me to express the hope that the next provision by Congress for the reimbursement of the States may be so arranged that some faith may be reposed in the accounting departments of the several States, and that (at least in cases where the amount claimed is so small, in comparison with the services rendered, and with what they would have cost the United States directly, as to exclude the possibility of extravagance or prodigality) the actual expenditures made by the States may be refunded to them, without the necessity of resettling and revouching the accounts under such formidable conditions.

On the whole, I suggest that the best mode of attaining the end which you propose, would be for the General Government itself to immediately undertake the fulfilment of its own duties in this regard, in which it will prove, if necessary, the prompt, earnest, and zealous aid of the Government and people of this Commonwealth.

If, however, this course should not be assented to, then I have to say that Pennsylvania, in any way that may be required, will give her last man and her last dollar to quell domestic treason or drive back foreign invasion, and will leave to a more quiet season the discussion and decision of the various questions that may arise from steps that have been taken during the existing crisis.

In case, therefore, the General Government should persist in the plan which you suggest, I beg that the President will, as you propose, forthwith send proper agents of that Government to Harrisburg, to confer with me on the position and character of the necessary fortifications, so that no delay may occur in adopting proper measures for their construction.

Very respectfully, your obedient servant,

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