1817-1865 Davis Henry Winter.

Speech of Hon. H. Winter Davis, of Maryland online

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Online Library1817-1865 Davis Henry WinterSpeech of Hon. H. Winter Davis, of Maryland → online text (page 1 of 2)
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The House tiaving under consideration the r«601ution offered by Mr. Colfax, proposing the
expulsion of Mr. Lon«, Mr. DAVIS said:

Mr. Speakeu: A singular disposition has been manifested to avoid the ques-
tion before the House, 1 desire to cftil your attention to that question before I
follow the gentlemen on the other Side in the rather irrelevant discussion in
which they have indulged.

It is not whether in the House of Representatives of the United States of
Amei'iea freedom of o]iinion is secured by law, nor whether the freedom of
speech and of the press is the constitutional right of the American citizen, but
whether the gentleman who delivered the speech now in question is a fit and
worthy member of this House; not whether, out of doors, in his private ca-
pacity, he would be entitled to entertain and as an individual to express the
opinions which he has uttered here, but whether as a legislator charged to pro-
tect the interests of the people, sworn to maintain the Constitution of the L'ni-
ted States, he has not avowed a purpose inconsistent with those duties, a reso-
lution not to maintain but to destroy ; a determination not to defend but to
yield up undefended to the enemies of the United States what he was rent here
to protect. That is the question — and that is the only question which has not
been discussed by the defenders of the gentleman from Ohio.

They tell us words cannot be the subject of animadversion under the rules
of this House, nor under the Constitution of the United States ! What becomes
of the resolution declaring the member from Maryland [Mr. Harris] to be an
unworthy member of this House, adopted by their votes on Saturday ? What
becomes of the solemn adjudication as far back as 1842, wlien a n:ajoiity of
this House asserted the right to censure Joshua R. Giddings, not for introduc-
ing a petition to dissolve the Union, but for offering resolutions for the consid-
eration of this House declaring that the mutineers of the Creole were not re-
sponsible for any criminal act under the laws of the United States, interpreted
by the resolution of censure into a justification of mutiny and murder?

It is the judgment of this House, and therefore not necessary to be argued
by me, that words may prove crimiDality when they reveal a criminal purpose;
and, if they are sufficiently criminal, that they may be visited first by censure,
and, if they judge it necessary to the public safety, by expulsion from the
House. I do not envy the gentlemen who refused to expel the gentleman fi om
Marj'land for language uttered in the presence of us all, which they immediately
after voted to declare tended and was designed to give aid and encouragement
to the public enemies of the nation, and therefore he was an unworthy member
of the House. Sir, it would seem to have been the logical conclusion that if
he is an unworthy member of the House he ought not to be suffered to remain
in it, and that gentlemen who so thought would have so said on the first vote

for expulsion. How gentlemen will reconcile that glaring inconsistency to
their constituents, how they who have declared the gentleman from jMaryland
ttn unworthy uiember but that he should remain a member, who asserted the
riglit to punish by inflicting punishment but refused the only adequate jtenalty
for the offense of which they voted him guilty, will justify themselves in the
fete of their own votes, it is for them to consider. It would be cruel to ag-
gravate their embarrassments by any observations. Ab hac scahie teneamus

iiut it remains conceded by the votes of our opponents that in spite of the
Constitution of the United States, in spite of the conceded freedom of opinion,
in spite of the conceded freedom of speech, words are and may be here, not, out
of doors, but here in this House, here upon n subject before the House icr con-
sideration, here where everybody has the right to express his views upon every
measure before the House, words are and have been adjudged by the votes of
our opponents to be criminal, to be punishable, and they have beep punished
witliin two days.

Tiie measure of judgment is a matter of discretion. The Constitution says
thai, with the consent of two-thirds either House may expel a member: that
means not capriciously but for some wrong, for misconduct, for acts, for words,
for purposes, for avowals inconsistent with hia duty on this floor, tending to
gbow that he is not a safe depositary of the great powers of a Representative;
and the only constitutional criterion of what is and what is not adequate cause
of expulsion is the judgment of two thirds of this House.

If that be so, the only further question we have to ask is, whether the gen-
tleman from Ohio, res]iectable as he is in his private relations, respectuble as
has been his conduct in this House, honestly as his convictions may be enter-
tained, has not placed himself beyond the pale of thet protection which this
House accords to freedom of speech, not by speaking as he ought not to have
spfiken, but by avowing himself in favor of the destruction of the nation.

Now, what is the charge against him? That his judgment is that there are
but two alternatives — one, the extermination of the enemies of the United
Stales, and the other the destruction of the United States itself, which he puts
in the form of a recognition of the southern States as an independent govern-
uieiit. And not resting on that mere declaration of opinion, and the alierna-
t.ive resting in his own mind, he goes further and says that of the tv^^o lie pre-
fcrii'd the latter. That means, "/, here a Representative, charged and sworn
to the extent of my whole influence in the legislation of this House to protect
and maintain the integrity of the nation, have come to the conclusion, in the
midst of a great war, when the existence of the nation is at stake, that, rather
tl^an exterminate the enemies of the nation, I will exterminate the nation."
He proclaims himself the friend of the enemies of the nation, and an enemy
himself of the United States. He avows it his purpose to destroy it at the first
opi>ortunitj', to the extent of his vote. The rebel chiefs proclaim independence
or extermination the only alternatives. The gentleman from Ohio declares ex-
termination or independence the onlj- alternatives. The rebel chiefs prefer the
recognition of their independence to their extermination. The gentleman from
Ohio avows himself for recognition and against extei inination ; and recognition
of the southern confederacy means the dissolution of the United States. The
OoiiHtitution proclaims the perpetuity of the Union; and that Constitution re-
cognizes no dissolution, no end of its existence. Sworn to maintain that Gon-
BtiMiiion, he now says: "In violation of a solemn oath, in spite of the duty I
am sent here to discharge, rather than maintain it to the extent of exterminating
il€ enemies, I will destroy it."

Now, that is the case stated in plain language. It has not been stated here
before to-day. And the question whieh we are bound as gentlemen and as lei^ia-
Ifitois to determine is, whether a gentleman, acknowledged to be respectuble. be-
lie vr-d to be sincere, entertaining and avowing purposes which do not differ fiom
t hose of the chief of the rebel confederacy, or of the men in armed array beyond
tile Potomac bent on ejecting us from this Hall, is the fit companion of gentle-
men here, a fit depositary of his constituents' vote, a safe person to be intrusted
here with the secrets of the United States, a worthy guardian of the existence
of (.he Republic. Are we to be seriously told that the freedom of speech screens
I', traitor because he puts hia treasonable purposes in words? Does the Conati-


tution secure the right of our avowed enemies to vote in this Hall? May a
mail impndeiitij declare that his purpose here is so to vote as to promote the
success of the rebellion, to eraban-ass and paralize the Government in its sup-
pression, to secure its triumph and our oveithrow, to bring the armed enemy '
to Washington, or arrest our army lest it exterminate that enemy ? Then why
do not. the congress at Richmond adjourn to Washington, push us from our
stools, and by parliamentary tactics, under the Constitution, arrest the wheels of
Goyerumeut? You could not expel them? Sir, that picture is history, recent
history. Ju I860 that side of the House swarmed with the avowed enemies of
the Republic. One after one, as their stars dropped from the firmament of the
Union, they went out; soTne with tears in their eyes over the miseries they
were abjut to inflict ; some of them with exultation over the coming calamities;
some of them with contemptuous lectures to the members in the House; some
stayed behind to do the traitor's business in the disguise of honest legislators in
both Houses iS long as they dared. One disgraced the Senate for one long
session after armed men were soaking their native soil with their blood, and
now he is in the ranks of ourenemies.

Arc we to be told that gentlemen, entertaining not these opinions but these
purposes resolved to the extent of their power to paralize the Government, and
only limited in what they can do by what it may be safe to do, must be allowed
not mere!', to be members of the House, but to rise and insolently iling in our
faces the avowal of their eneraity, and "invoke the Constitution of the United
States in order that they may stab it to the heart ? Shall men rise here and be
allowed to express, whether in one form of phraseology or another, as may best
aid the public enemy, their desire for the triumph of the rebel cause, and that,
being too tender-hearted to wish that the enemies ol the United States may be
exterminated, they prefer our ruin ? An 1 is it to be said that that comes within
the sacred shield of the freedom of public opinion, the right of debate, the
freedom of speech ? Why, sir, it is not opinion that wecomplaiu of. It is not
liberty of sf>eeeh that we wish to restrict. On the contrary, I tliank the
gentleman [Mr. Long] for his speech, for it revealed an euemy^ and an avowed
is a more respectable than a concealed foe. He is more frank than the gentle-
man from New York, [Mr. Fernando Wood,] who, vvitl* similar sentiments,
conceals thera. He is more manly than that gentleman from New York, who
on Saturijay rose before the House with a paper in his hand, declaring it to be
the identical sheet from which the gentleman from Ohio read, read it flauut-
ingly in the face of the House, and declared that he coicuired in every word
of it, and that if the House expelled the gentleman from Ohio it must expel
him also: — but to. day, frightened by the explosion of the indignation of the
House on he head of the gentleman from Maryland, was careful to say that be
did not at all agree with the opinions for which the gentleman from Ohio is
called in question. Commend me, sir, to an open adversary. I can resyjeet
the one ; 1 cannot have so much respect for the other. It is not for the free-
dom of the avowal, it is the entertaining the purpose which he does avow ; it
is not that he violated the order of the House, it is because he violates the law
of the country by his purpose to destroy it, that the gentleman from Ohio is
arraigned. We do not punish him for saying what he did, we punish him for
meaning what he declared he does mean to do.^ And that is what we are called
upon to do by the highest considerations of public policy, the plainest dictates
of patiiotic duty.

Oh ! but we are told that it touches the rights of his constituents. Let his
constituents have an opportunity to pass upon that, after this declaration of
purpose. But we must have mutual consideration for each other ? Why, cer-
tainly, sir. But how far? Is there no end to patience? Is there no avowal
showing criminal intent which wisdom requires we should guard againstbefore-
hand ? What do you suppose wuuld be the fate of a man sitting in the capitol
at Richmond who should arise there and propose to recognize the supremacy
of the United States ? Do you suppose that the freedom of debate which gen-
tlemen have enjoyed on this floor would have been tolerated, even if desired by
anybody ? Is it not certain that he would have been expelled, if he lived long
enough for the vote of expulsion to be taken? Suppose that in the French
Assembly, when the life of France was at stake, as the life of this nation is now
at stake, and when heroic men were struggling to maintain it, some one had

arisen and proposed to call back the Bourbons, and place tlie reins of^orpru"
ment in tlieir hands — how long would he have remained a member of that
.bodv ? Suppose that the day before the battle of Cullodeo, or the day after
the battle of Preston Pans, some Jacobite had arisen in the House os Commons
of England and declared himself of the opinion that the Pretender could not
be expeiled without the extermination of the Jacobites, and that therefore they
should place him on the tiirone of England! Do you think the traditional
liberty of speech in England would have saved him from summary e^spalsion?'
Do you think there is any law iu England that could have stood between hinrs
and!! not expulsion, but death. Would not the act have been considered a
crime, and the declaration of it in Parliement have been considered an aggra-
ration of the crime, demanding his expulsion? "Wou'ld not the vote of that body
have been instantaneous, and his execution swifter than that vote?

Aie we to be told here that men are to rise in this Hall, where the guns of
the impending battle will echo in our ears, when we sit here only because we
have one hundred and fifty thousand bayonets between us and the enemy ;
when Washington is a great camp, the centre of thirty miles of fortifications
stretching around us for our protection ; are we to be told that here, within
this citadel of the nation, an enemy may beckon with his hand to the armed
foe. assuring him of friends within the people's Hall, at the very centre of
power, and we cannot expel him?

Sir, let me say to this House that if it were a constitutional right so to speak,
in my judgment this is one of those cases which so far transeeads the ordinary
rules of law, one of those cases which carries us so near to the, original right
of self defense, one of those cases which appeals so directly to the inalienable
right of self-protection, that without law and in spite of law the safety of the
peo(>ie requires his expulsion, and I would be one to do it. But, sir, I do not
think the Constitution does confer the right so to speak. I think we are within
the limits of written law which the wisdom of our forefathers gave us with
■which to protect ourselves in every emergency, and this among others. And
the onlj- question is whether the patriotism of this House gops to the extent of
the two thirds of its members required to rid it of the presence of an avowed
public enemy. That, and that alone is the question.

But, Mr. Speaker, we are told that this is a question of opinion. If it be, it
is one of tiiose questions of opinion that nobody in this country has a right to
l->e on more t'lan one side of On oiie side is patriotism, duty, and an oath. On
the other is treason, crime, and perjury. Is it our duty f( r the protection of a
man in his opinion to allow him to destroy the nation we are trying to defend ?"
Where, in the record of nations, do you find an illustration of that position?
By what examples in history do you defend it? By wiiat precedent of states-
manship? The great name of Chatham has often, in this debate, been invoked
and desecrated to cover this avowal of preference for the enemy over the
counti'y. His example is wretchedly misunderstood. Doubtless his voice wae
lifted in warning tones against taxation without onr consent, and still fiercer
against war to enforce it. His example might be pleaded for moderation and
respect for the rights of our southern fellow-citizen-j ; but they have not been
violated. But never, never to sanction a division of the Re| ublic. His ex-
ample is the bitterest reproach to those who claim its protection. After years
of war unjustly begun and weaW}' waged, when exhausted England sank before-
the combined arms of America and France, and the Duke of Richmond rose in
the House of Lords to move for peace with America, the patriotic soul of Chat-
han, wasstiri-ed within him at the thought of the humiliation and division of
that empire whose limits he had expanded and whose name he had decorated;,
and, frail and dying, his legs swathed in fiannel, his crutch in his hand, he was
borne to the House of Lords in the arms of his great son to lift his last voice in
execration of the folly wliich had brought England to such humiliation, and to
enter his dying protest against the recognition of American independence,
already secured in fact by the sword. His English heart had no fear of exter-
minating the enemies of England in the holy work of mainthining the integrity
,of her empire. Sir, I accept the example, and I commend it to the considera-
tion of the patriotic gentlemen on the other side of the House. I beg them to
read a little further than the\ seem to have done, the history of the English
Btalesman. Freedom of opinion I Surely sir, opinion is the breath of our nation.

It 18 the measure of every right, the guarantee of every privilege, the protec-
tion of every blessing. It is opinion which creates our rulers. It is opinion
that nerves or palsies their arm. It is opinion that easts down the proud and
el^'vates tlie humble. Its fluctuations are the rise and fall of parties; its cur-
rents bear the nation on to prosperity or ruin. Its fi'ee play is the condition
of its purity. It is like the ocean, whose tides rise and fall day by day at the
fickle bidding of the moon ; j-et it is the great scientific level from which every
heiglit is measured — tlie horizon to which astronomers refer the motion of the
stars. But, like the ocean, it has depths whose eternal stillness is the condition
of its stability. Those depths of opinion are not free, and it is they tliat are
touched by the words which have so moved the House. Men must not commit
treason and say its guilt is matter of opinion and its punishment a violation of
its freedom. Men cannot swear to maintain the integrity of the nation and
avow their intention to des-troy it, and cover that double crime by the freedom
of speech. T/iat is to break up the fountains ol the great det-p on which all
Government is borne, and to pour its flood in revolutionary ruin over the land.
To punish that is not a violation of the freedom of opinion or its expression.
It is to protect its normal ebb and flow, its free and healthy fluctuaiions, that
we desire to relieve it from the opprobrium of being confounded with the
declaration of treasonable purposes here in the high and solemn assemblage of
tne Nation.

The free expression of opinion ! I am at a loss to know how the opinions
of Abraham Lincoln, or Horace Greely, or Wendell Philips, or the gentleman
from Ohio, [Mr. Scuenck,] or Mr. Chase, if truly quoted, and equally criminal
with those now aiTaigned, can extenuate their guilt or shield their author
from the indignation of the House. Their guilt is not his innocence. If he
imitated their guilt, let him follow their repentance. The time which they have
devoted to atoning for error by patriotic services he has dedicated to indurating
his error and accomplishing his unpatriotic purposes. But I am not concerned
to vindicate in them what I condenm in him. I execrate the avowal equally in
evei-y mouih ; and if their guilt is beyond my judgement, that of the gentleman
from Ohio is not. I can well understand how such examples may serve to
screen the Democratic party or to delude an ill informed crowd and teach
them that treason is error of opinion and not a crime ; but they cannot be
successfully urged here before the gentlemen of the House of Representatives
to exculpate the gentleman from Ohio; nor even, sir, can it vindicate the Dem-
ocratic party from the charge of more sympathy witlvthe enemies of the coun-
try than with the country itself. The people will laugh at this attempt to im-
peach the loyalt\' of the fiiends of the administration. They will see in this
zealous defense of the gentleman from (.)hio only another proof of Democratic
sympathy with his views and purposes, hitherto invariably manifested whei"-
ever they have been in power. Where have they had power that t'ley have
not exhibited their sympathy with the enemies of the Republic ? I admit the-re
are honorable exceptions. I admit there are cases of honest delusion. I sup-
pose theie are cases of unconscious sympathj\ 1 cannot doubt the prevalence
of a criminal interest in the tiiuniph of the rebels. I shall not discrimate one
from the other. I speak of the party and its conduct. Where, since tlie w&v
broke out, from the time that James Buchanan disgraced the American name
by liis message declaring, as gentlemen on that side of the House declare now,
that this war is waged in violation of the Constituliou, that theie is no power
to coerce a sovereign State, down to this day, is there a Democratic Governor
or Legislaturj which, until warned by the indignant voice of the people, has
not tried to embarrass and discredit the Government and to give aid and en-
couragement to its enemies? The disavowals of individuals cannot extenuate
the conduct of Legislatures and Governors. The prudence or cunning of cau-
cusses or Congressmen, since the chastisement of ]8i3S cannot make the people
forget the conduct which provoked it. Will they ever foiget the Legislature
of Indiana and its votes on the resolutions for armistice and peace, which
swarmed before it; or the Legislature of Illinois and the bill to strip the Gov-
ernor of liis just militar}"^ authority ; and the resolutions for an armistice and
a convention at Louisville of western and rebel States, to dictate terms to the
United States, actually adopted, I think, by one House; or the New Jersey
Legislature, which sent Wall, of Fort Lafayette, to the United States Senate,

amd was ready to adopt peace resolutions, but for an accic3enta1 adjournment
•whioli enablf^d the members to gather the whisperings of their indigMiitit con-
stituents? How have they expressed Iheirsympathios on the side of theUnited
States, unless by attempting to array the State authorities against the United
States, to excite the prejudices of the people against the necessary suspension of
the habeas corpus, to represent the assertion of the supremacy of the United States
courts and officers in the enforcement of the United States laws as invasions of
the rigiits of the States? What Democrat in Pennsylvania did not vote for
Woodward ? What Democrat in New Yoi'k did not vote for Horatio Seymour?
What Democrat in Connecticut did not vote for Seymour of Connecticut?
What Democrat in Ohio did not vote for Vallandigharn ? It is vain to at-
tempt to conceal it. The history of that party during the war proves tlie dec-
laration made on this tloor ihat there is no such thing as a Demticratic party
for the war; its elastic mantle covers equally those who, like the trentleman
from New York, [Mr. Kerman,] have a love for the Union and fail when he
comes to vote on. it, and those who, like the gentleman from Maryland, [Mr.
Harrls,] glory in the failure of the armies of the United States to conquer the
States in rebellion.

The gentleman from New York,"[Mr. Kernan,} who last spoke, and whose
earnest tones all must have felt, declared himself ready to do all in his power
to suppress the insurrection, and yet he failed to vote for the conscription bill,
tile indispensable condition to the prosecution of the war. That is the type
of the war Democrat ! Very earnest in vague geneialities for the war, equally
earnest in descrying the policy of the Administration, but, having exhausted
their earnestness on rhuse topics, are so unable on any practical measure to
tear themselves away from party association, so penetrated with valetudiiiariaa
views or "perverse judgments on the Constitution of the United Slates, that
their aid is more embarrassing than their opposition.

But, Mr. S[)eaker, if it be said that a time may come when the question of
recognizing the southern confederacy will have to be answered, I admit it ; and


Online Library1817-1865 Davis Henry WinterSpeech of Hon. H. Winter Davis, of Maryland → online text (page 1 of 2)