Maysville Road Bill of 1830


An act of Congress to fund internal improvements in Kentucky and a political battle over the federal financing of internal improvements.

In 1830, Congress approved a bill presented by Henry Clay, Whig Speaker of the House of Representatives, for federal payment of up to $150,000 in the Maysville, Washington, Paris, and Lexington Turnpike Road Company, a turnpike project in central Kentucky. The turnpike would constitute the first part of a planned larger road that would connect New Orleans via the Natchez Trace and Maysville Road with the National Road in Ohio. The bill also served as an expression of Clay’s larger vision of economic nationalism, known as the American System, an aspect of which—the promotion of internal improvements—had strong popular support among westerners.

President Andrew Jackson vetoed the bill in a carefully crafted message designed to appease western Democrats who favored internal improvements. Although he rejected federal funding for transportation projects, he sought to maintain the political approval of westerners. Furthermore, both Jackson and Martin Van Buren, secretary of state, who wrote much of the veto, despised Clay and used the Maysville bill as a way to derail the American System. Thus, the veto remained more politically than economically inspired, an understanding shielded by the language of the veto message, which argued for a strict interpretation of the Constitution regarding federal funding of interstate projects and for fiscal responsibility.

Following the veto, Clay attempted to resurrect the American System by redefining the funding of internal improvements. Trying to circumvent Jackson’s constitutional scruples, Clay turned to the idea of linking internal improvements with the sale of federal land, making the proceeds of land sales solely available for internal improvements. In later years, congressional opposition to this policy of monetary distribution to transportation companies solidified its support in favor of land grants, particularly railroad land grants. The Maysville veto marked the end of federal funding of state transportation projects. Americans had by the 1830s come to rely on state funding for transportation projects and had also lost their enthusiasm for Clay’s American System.

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