MAYSVILLE ROAD BILL. The proposed Maysville Road Bill was legislation pushed by Henry Clay and the National Republicans in 1830, stipulating that the federal government would subscribe $150,000 to the Maysville, Washington, Paris, and Lexington Turnpike Company (see Maysville and Lexington Turnpike) for the macadamizing of the dirt highway from Washington, Ky., to Lexington. The Maysville-to-Washington section of the road, approximately four miles, had been completed already in 1830. The bill passed the U.S. Senate on May 15, 1830, by a vote of 24 to 18, having previously passed the U.S. House of Representatives by a vote of 102 to 84. Senators Daniel Webster and John Rowan were among the bill’s supporters. Other than the congressmen from Kentucky, representatives from the South gave the bill almost no support. President Andrew Jackson (1829–1837) vetoed the bill on May 27, 1830, and efforts to override the veto failed. The Maysville Rd. was already connected through Ohio to the National Rd. at Zanesville, Ohio. It was the stepping-off point for many settlers who came west down the Ohio River and moved from Maysville along the route into the interior of Kentucky. The Maysville Road Bill was part of Clay’s program called the American System, an effort to help the nation prosper from government support of business and internal improvements. For Clay, an improved Maysville Rd. was a bonus since he traveled the route often between Washington, D.C., and his home in Lexington. Support for the road in the areas it would cover n Kentucky was strong. In April more than $30,000 in stock had been sold at Paris, Ky., and more than $30,000 in other communities on the road’s path. In the U.S. Congress, many felt that supporting this project would encourage the development of similar local-interest projects around the country.

 From Jackson’s perspective, there were several reasons to veto the measure. Doing so gave him an opportunity to state his position that the federal government should not fund internal improvements that do not clearly benefit all the people. He also simply stated that the bill was unconstitutional; it was his “conviction that Congress does not possess the power, under the Constitution, to pass such a law.” For example, the federal government was not empowered by the Constitution to take money from the national treasury and give up jurisdiction by turning it over to the states. Jackson proposed instead that, in the event of a surplus, moneys should be proportionally appropriated to the states. Jackson was also able to use the veto to strike a blow against his political enemy Henry Clay. U.S. secretary of state Martin van Buren largely authored the veto message. Public meetings protesting Jackson’s veto were held in Kentucky.

The Maysville Road Bill was the center of a national debate on the power of government and the direction of the federal government. A first-class road between Maysville and Lexington, in Clay’s opinion, would benefit the entire country. It would facilitate commerce, trade, and even national defense and thus deserved the support of the national government. Jackson’s position was the one that prevailed, however. Because the Maysville Rd. was totally within the confines of a single state, he believed it did not deserve federal support. Also, in his strict-constructionist viewpoint, the Constitution did not allow for such support. This view of the role of the national government dominated national thinking up to the Civil War. It left internal improvements in the hands of the states. It also permanently stymied the development of the section of Kentucky that lay along the proposed road’s path. No first-class highway between Maysville and Lexington has ever been completed.

Collins, Richard H. History of Kentucky. Vol. 1.

Covington, Ky: Collins, 1882.

Friend, Craig Thompson. Along the Maysville Road:

The Early Republic in the Trans-Appalachian

West. Knoxville: Univ. of Tennessee Press, 2005.

Kleber, John E., ed. The Kentucky Encyclopedia.

Lexington: Univ. Press of Kentucky, 1992.

Library of Congress. A Century of Lawmaking for a

New Nation: U.S. Congressional Documents

and Debates, 1774–1875. Register of Debates, 21st

Congress, 1st session. (accessed September 23, 2006).

John Klee

Above excerpted from page 624 – 625 of THE ENCYCLOPEDIA OF NORTHERN KENTUCKY THE UNIVERSITY PRESS OF KENTUCKY ISBN 978-0-8131-2565-7


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