Benjamin Franklin Thomas.

Speeches in the second and third sessions of the Thirty-seventh Congress, and in the vacation (Volume 2) online

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unfading pictures have been frescoed on the ever-endm -
ing walls of the soul ?

' It is, I trust, scarcely necessary to suggest, that though
om- spu'itual powers enlarge by use, and are nurtm-ed
by effort and struggle, there are limits to the law ; that
they do not grow by over- work ; that the bow must not
always be bent, and never strained. I have no faith in
working with jaded powers, or m holdmg up, as exem-




plars to the young, the men who give their nights as well
as days to study.

" And wherefore does the student trim his lamp,
And watch his lonely taper, when the stars
Are holding their high festival in heaven.
And worshipping around the midnight throne ? "

The just and sensible answer to this glo"\ving question
is, Because he don't know any better ; because he don't
understand, or care to recognize and obey, the laws of his
spuitual as well as physical health and life. It were far
better for him to be uifolded in the arms of " Nature's
sweet restorer, gentle sleep."

In a busy life, we cannot measure our daily work by
exact rules. The true rule is, to work much, not many
hours. More work must be done on one day than an-
other : but eight hours of mental labor is enough for the
most vigorous constitution ; more than most men can do
with safety. He who seeks to do more must often bring
to his work a flaggmg brain ; or if he be of the class, who,
when they work, must work with intensity, break, not
indeed his spuit vital in every part, but the material
instruments by which it works.

No better illustration of these truths can be found
than in New England's most accomplished advocate.

Of brilliant powers, emiched by wide and varied cul-
tm^e ; of rapid perceptions ; of retentive and capacious
memory ; of rich, glowmg. Oriental imagination ; of a
quiet and subtle wit, whose deHcate aroma it is in vain to
hope to preserve ; with that projectile force of mind
which is the peculiar trait of a great advocate ; with a
logic keen and vigorous, though, like the dagger of Har-


modius, it was often hidden beneath the myrtles ; with a
heart gentle as a woman's, yet capable of stiffening its
sinews ; with little inclmation to social life, yet the most
delightful of companions, — INIi-. Choate was, at the bar
or in liis own library, the most interesting man it has been
my privilege to know : yet, during the last six years of
his life (and it Avas during those years I saw him most
frequently), I never heard him, even in the most brilliant
of his efforts, without a feelmg of sadness. He not only
worked too much, but he had no just economy of labor.
He did a thousand things which men of narrower capa-
city might have done as well, or well enough. He ex-
pended upon his work a vast amount of superfluous
strength. He brought the whole army of the reserve
uito action, when the victory might have been easily and
gracefully won by the van and corps of battle. If he had
tried half as many causes, worked half as many hoiu's,
he would have been a yet greater man, and his life might
have been spared to the com'ts of which he was the pride
and ornament ; nay, more, those large and generous
powers might have been used upon a broader theatre,
and for nobler and more endurmg service. As it was, we
may write upon his monument the mscription upon the
bust of Erskine at Holland House : —

" Nostrae eloquentia? forensis facile princeps."

Pardon one or two practical suggestions.

We all need this reserved power ; but it comes only
from the miion of contemplation and action. Our hfe is
stu', bustle, everlasting motion ; the whistle of the engine,
the click of the telegraph.


" We pry not into the interior ; but, like the martlet,
Build in the weather, on the outward wall,
Even in the force and road of casualty."

The business of life should be so conducted as to give
us time for quiet study and meditation. The best pro-
cesses of culture must be perfected m oiu* o^vn libraries,
with patient toil and thought.

The mind requkes not only diversity of disciplme, but
generosity of diet. It will not grow to full, well-rounded
proportions and robust strength upon any one aliment.

There is no profession or pursuit in life, which, fol-
lowed with exclusive devotion, will not narrow and con-
tract the mind.

Philanthropy is a good thing ; but, if a man lives upon
it, it sours the milk, and curdles the blood, till the love of
the race becomes the hatred of every man and woman
that compose it.

Theology is a good thing ; but, if a man fed upon that
only, his bones would cleave to his skm. The teacher
of it must, by constant reading and study, replenish the
exhausted fountams of thought. It is the spider only
that weaves from his own entrails, and he weaves in
circles. The writer without such refreshment is the
constant repetition of himself ; the turning of the wheel
upon its own axis ; incessant motion, but no progress ;
the travelling in the same old ruts with the old " one-hoss

The law is a good thing ; but no man can be a great
lawyer who knows nothing else. The study and practice
of the law tend to acumen rather tlian breadth, to sub-
tlety rather than strength. The air is thin among the


apices of the law, as on the granite needles of the Alps.
We must come down for refreshment and strength to the
quiet valleys at their feet.

Pope was wrong. The Ovid was not in Murray lost.
Lord Mansfield was the greater lawyer and judge, be-
cause the Ovid grew and was developed in him. For his
comprehensive grasp of great principles, for those large
constructive powers by which he built up the modern
commercial law of England, for the beauty and crystal
clearness of his style, we are mdebted, m no small de-
gree, to his wide and varied cidture.

The law is not a " jealous mistress : " she is a very
sensible mistress. She does not object to an evening
with the Muses or the Graces, provided we do not remain
into the small hours of the morning. The farewell of
Blackstone to his Muse is unnecessarily pathetic. The
confused air and shufhing gait with which he takes his
leave of her ladyship indicate that the relations were not
very intimate or confidential. He was in no danger.

Commerce is a noble thing. The pioneer of civiliza-
tion, the diplomatist of peace, "her line is gone out
through all the earth, and her words to the end of the
world." But a man cannot live upon the bread of traffic
only. He needs a yet higher commerce (to modify the
thought of Bacon) ; the unfreightuig of those ships that
come down to us through the vast seas of time, laden
with the wisdom of ages.

The country must have its reserved power. It con-
sists, not in wider dominion, in material progress, in
wealth, in luxury, in the subjection of nature to the mind
and will of man. These but enlarg-e the theatre of


human passions and interests : the actors and the drama
remain the same.

Have we no reason to fear, that, in subduing the earth,
the earth has, to some extent, subdued us ; that, while
mind has mastered matter, it has also worshipped it ; that
we have given our hearts to the idols which our cunning
fingers have moulded ; that ours has become the condi-
tion of Faust, when he summoned to his presence the
spirit of the earth, and felt, at fii'st, his energies exalted
and glowing as with new ^vine, but found he could not
mate himself with the spirit he had evoked, and, in his
despair, exclaimed, " If I had the power to draw thee to
me, I have no power to hold thee " ?

Our strength, our reserved power, is in our fidelity to
the principles on which these States were founded, in
which their youth was nurtured, by which they were
ripened together into one national life ; loyalty to free-
dom, obedience to law, then, now, and for ever, one and

The founders of the Republic did not believe that
government was merely moral suasion ; that hberty was
the absence of wholesome restramt ; that laws were to be
obeyed only when obedience was agreeable ; the country
to be defended and saved only when the subject should
volunteer ; that the Constitution was to be supreme only
when it was convenient ; the Union a mere silken string,
from which States might be slipped by secession or
severed by treason. No enduring fabric can rest on such
dogmas. The roots of civil government strike deep, and
find nutriment and support in the depths of the Divine
Will. Law is a sword as well as a shield ; there is no


liberty but within its pale : the defence of the country,
at the cost of treasure or of life, is the fkst of civil
duties ; the Constitution, in war as in peace, is the
supreme law, the bond of equal States, inseparable,
without limit of time, immutable except in the mode
itself points out.

These plain principles, now somewhat old-fashioned,
not to say obsolete, make up for the comitry its moral
army of the reserve.

Brethren, this dear country of ours is m extreme peril.
For her succor and deliverance, she needs all yoiu- wis-
dom and all your strength, the counsels of age, the
vigor of manhood, the flower of youth. God of oiu:
fathers, ghd us for the work : by tribulation and suffer-
ing, by this baptism of fii-e and of blood, purify and gird
us for the work of her salvation. God of our fathers,
we can save her, and we will. Redeemed, purified,
plucked as a brand from the burning, we will give her
once more to thy service, in which alone is perfect



October 31, 1862.

Fellow-Citizens, — An important election is at hand.
No thoughtful man ever casts a vote without inquiry as
to his duty. At a time like this, he is painfully anxious.
He feels he cannot use it to gratify personal or party
predilections ; that it belongs to the country, and must
be so given as best to serve her interests. For eighteen
months we had been engaged in a civil war, whose
extent, whose intense bitterness, whose consumption of
treasure and of most precious blood, have no parallel in
history. The struggle was tasking to the uttermost the
resources of the loyal States. The people believed
the war was just and necessary. They saw no hope
for the country but in its vigorous prosecution. They
had been grievously disappointed by the want of pro-
gress m suppressmg the Rebellion. They were mortified
and chagrined by disasters and defeats, followed by
lame and impotent apologies. They were disgusted
by the frauds of contractors, the jealousies of command-
ers, the selfishness of politicians, the want of unity,
method, and persistent vigor in the public counsels, with
the presence everywhere of politicians and office-hold-
ers, unchastened by the public calamities, obtruding upon
the Executive councils, dictating to Congress, meddling



with the command and direction of the armies, seeking
to control the elections, growing fat upon the public dis-
tresses. Many of them were grieved and alarmed at the
absence of respect, to use no harsh word, manifested
by some of their servants for the ancient and sacred
muniments of personal liberty ; without which, free
government is a mockery, and life itself a burden. Hope
deferred was making the heart sick. In that day of dis-
traction and anxiety and thick gloom, one thing seemed
to be as clear as the sun at mid-day ; and that was, the
necessity of an united North ; that all its wisdom, all its
energy, all its strength, should be combined, converged,
projected into one purpose, one issue, one aim, — the
suppression of armed rebellion by force of arms.

As this was a common cause, infinitely transcending
all party questions, with which Republican, Whig, and
Democrat were alike concerned ; for which, justice com-
pels us to say, they had made equal sacrifices, and must
share equal burdens ; as the peculiar objects for which
the i^arty in power had been organized loere already
attained by the legislation of Congress ; no sound, sub-
stantial reason existed for upholding the old party bar-
riers, or drawing, with any rigor, the old party lines. On
the other hand, patriotism and sound policy seemed to
require that party organizations should, diuing the war
at least, be given up ; for these organizations, though
often the result of difi'erences of opinion, are as often
the cause. When men are working together for a com-
mon end, and with no visible line of separation, they
will converge, assimilate, and cleave together. ^lake a
breach between them which is palpable, and, however


narrow at first, it will constantly widen. Differences,
slight at the start, will enlarge by conflict and repulsion,
till unity of action and efl"ort are no longer practicable.

The Republican party has had, and has now, the as-
cendency in this Commonwealth. It was inclined at first
to pmsue a liberal policy. It would to-day, if its wise
and prudent men controlled its movements. It is made
up of two wings. The fii'st consists of those who are
opposed to slavery ; who desire to see its restriction with-
in its present limits, and its removal from places where
the power of the National Government is supreme ; but
who also hold, " that the maintenance inviolate of the
rights of the States, and especially the right of each
State to order and control its own domestic institutions
accordmg to its own judgment exclusively, is essential to
that balance of powers on which the perfection and en-
durance of^ oiu' political fabric depends " (Chicago Plat-
form) ; and that the war is prosecuted " for the purpose
of practically restoring the constitutional relations be-
tween the United States and each of the States and the
people thereof, in which States that relation is or may be
suspended or disturbed" (President's Proclamation of
Sept. 22) ; and that, when this object is attained, the war
ought to cease. This is the Conservative wmg.

The other wing consists of those, who, for want of a
better word, may be called Abolitionists ; men who, with
more or less indirection, circuitous navigation of thought
and word, come at last to the point, that Constitution or
no Constitution, Union or no Union, endure the war as
long as it may, be the cost and carnage and exhaustion
what they may, slavery shall be abolished. This wing


of the party is now in the ascendant, and rules the party
with a rod of iron. They arranged and controlled the
Annual Convention. They saw to it that no man was
nominated who did not embrace their extreme views,
though they were kind enough to include some very
recent converts. They covered their leaders with adula-
tion thicker than a man's loins, and snubbed the Presi-
dent of the United States because thek platform was too
narrow for him to stand upon. They made the test of
loyalty, fidelity to men, instead of devotion to the country.
This wing of the party arranges and controls all the pre-
liminary meetings, sets in motion all the party machinery,
and makes aU the party nominations. So far as its power
extends, not a man, holding what are usually termed
conservative views, Avill be elected to any place, state or
national. Never was proscription so rigid, so bitter, so
universal. They go noAV one step further. Assummg
that the President has at last yielded to then- pressure,
and has adopted their policy, they denounce as a traitor
every man who hesitates as to the wisdom of the pro-
clamation, or who fails to give it their interpretation.
Without stopping to murmur or complain, one may be
permitted to say, that such charges come with little
grace from men, who, but a few weeks ago, felt the
defence of the country, under the then policy, to be a
heavy draft upon their patriotism ; with still less grace
from those of them who have for years been labormg to
destroy the blessed Union of our fathers, and who even
now repudiate it with hissing and scorn.

In this condition of things, the severance of political
associations is natural, is perhaps inevitable. The differ-


ences of principle and of policy are too great to be
reconciled. The Radicals, upon their own showing,
neither want nor need our aid. We, the Conservatives,
must be true to oiu' convictions of duty, and stand to the
last by the Union and Constitution. But, while these dif-
ferences of opmion and policy exist, we can unite m the
vigorous prosecution of this war till the rebels lay down
their arms, whoever shall constitute the National and
State administrations. We can give them a vigorous
and unhesitating supjJort in the discharge of this great
and imperative duty. We can and should avoid all cap-
tious opposition or criticism ; but we may not and will
not surrender our judgments or our consciences. We
will not forget who are the servants, and who the mas-
ters. We will elect, if we can, to places of power, men
who reflect our opinions. We will send men to Con-
gress who will sustain the Admmistration in all constitu-
tional and just measures, and hold them back, if possible,
from a radical and destructive policy. We don't propose
to rehabilitate the doctrine of passive obedience, or of an
infallible political church. In ivar, as in peace, freedo7n
of thought and utterance is to the body politic what
vital air is to the human system. It cannot live with-
out it.

I am one of those who are content with the Constitu-
tion as it is, and the Union as it was ; the Constitution
fairly interpreted in the spirit of its founders. I have
felt no misgivings, and had no mental reservations, in
swearing to support it. To me the oath was the pledge,
not of duty merely, but of love and devotion. I mean
to keep that oath ; and, with such strength as may be


given me, to uphold and defend that Constitution, be-
cause the life of the nation is bound up in it ; because
the preservation of the Constitution, and the preservation
of the Union, are not two questions, but one question ;
are not two issues, but one and the same issue. I have
lived half a century without discovering or suspecting
that the " Constitution was a failure." On the other
hand, I have ever regarded it as the noblest product of
the human mind ; the work of men chastened by adver-
sity, disciplined by trial ; in theii' conscious weakness,
seeking the Divine Strength ; believing that God governs
in the atfaii's of men ; assui-ed that, " except the Lord
build the house, they labor in vain who build it." That
Constitution has given us a Government felt only in its
blessings ; under whose benign and quickenmg influences
the nation sprung up to greatness, her commerce whiten-
ing every sea, the stars on her banner kindled by the
light of a never-setting sun ; a model Republic, which
won for itself the homage and admiration of mankind, —
the fear of kings, to struggling humanity, inspiration
and hope. It is very easy to say the Constitution is not
perfect. I am not wise enough to build a better, and do
not know the men who are. It is easy to express regret
at what are called its compromises. You may as well
regret it was ever made. All government is compromise,
save as it is rooted in the Divine Will. Social order is
mutual concession. The Constitution was the best com-
promise that could be made ; and the experience of more
than seventy years has not taught us how to make a
wiser one.

That Constitution is the bond of national unity. Re-


bellion, under the guise of Secession, sought to sever
the bond, to cut the thread of the national life. We
grasped the sword to vindicate the Constitution, to save
the national unity. Never was the sword drawn in a
holier cause. Never was a war '}nore just or more
strictly defensive. It was not only the sacred right and
duty of government to wage it, but the necessity of its
being. That right, in its length and its breadth, is the
right to enforce the laws. Withi?i the pale of the Con-
stitution, States and people may he held to obedience.
Outside of that pale, the whole struggle is revolutionary.
I put the plain question to every honest conscience, How
can I, by force of arms, by fu-e, and the sword, compel
obedience to a law I do not respect myself ? How can I
vmdicate the law with the sword m my right hand, and
break it with the hammer in my left I No subtlety of
logic, no refinement of casuistry, can evade or conceal
the answer. The right of revolution remains intact;
but this Government has never pretended that it was
waging a war of revolution. Its claim, thus far, has
been to wage a war under the Constitution for the Con-
stitution. This plain view of the struggle I have taken
from the beginning. The progress of events has served
to deepen my conviction of its soundness. I never
doubted that the Constitution clothed the Government
with all powers necessary to the efficient prosecution of
the war. I never doubted that fidelity to that Constitu-
tion was our safety and strength, and that every way that
diverged from it was the way to death.

The common mode of argument is to assume that a
certain policy is necessary, and then to mfer that it is


within the Constitution. Take, for example, the policy
of confiscating the property of non-combatants, outside of
the conflict of arms, and without conviction of the owner.
The measure is, in my judgment, in direct conflict with
the Constitution ; but it is also m conflict with the law of
nations, and with every principle of justice and human-
ity. The judgment and conscience of every Christian
nation condemn it. Such a law is not a source of
strength, but of weakness. With all deference to the
judgment of others, I feel it my duty to say, that the un-
constitutional measures passed or proposed by the Radical
party m Congress have done as much to protract the war
as all the treasure that has been spent, and all the blood
that has been shed, have done to end it. They shook
the public faith and confidence. Men cannot be taught
to understand, that, in enforcing the law, it is necessary to
break it ; or, in upholding the Constitution, it is necessary
to violate it. These measures weakened our cause in the
Border States, which every practical man has seen, from
the beginning, to be the battle-ground of this contest ;
retauiing which, our ultimate triumph was almost cer-
tain ; losing which, there was no solid ground of hope
for the Union. The pohcy, moreover, cost us the few
friends we had in the rebel States. It kindled into
greater intensity the hatred of the foe, and nerved him
to a yet more desperate and bitter struggle. It divided
the public sentiment of the North, and wounded the
Government in the house of its friends. My policy in
this struggle is the Adgorous prosecution of the war, with
careful adherence to the Constitution, and the maxims of
moderation and humanity with which civilization and


Christianity have tempered the ancient ii'on rules of war.
"Whenever decisive victories are achieved, I would issue
a general proclamation of amnesty and pardon, except-
ing only a few of the leaders most deeply steeped in
guilt. Under all chcumstances, I would cling to the
Constitution, as the bond of unity in the past, as the only
practical bond of Union in the future ; the only land
lifted above the waters on which the ark of Union can
be moored. From that ark alone will go out the Dove
blessed of the Spirit, which shall return brmging in its
mouth the olive branch of peace.

The policy of the Abolitionists is expressed in the
phrase, the Union as it should be, or the Union with-
out slavery. No policy could be more attractive. But
let us probe the words, and get at the depth of their
meaning. An Union without slavery implies not merely
that the slaves in rebel States shall be emancipated,
and m the Border loyal States ; but that the States shall
be deprived of the power of upholding slavery, now or
in the future. The emancipation of slaves now in the
rebel States would be but one step m the process. To
abolish slavery by the power of the National Govern-
ment involves a fundamental change in the Constitution
of the United States, by force of which " the right of each
State to order and control its own domestic institutions,
according to its own judgment," is taken away ; a right
which the Eepublican party has declared " was essential
to that balance of powers on which the 2)erfection and
endurance of our j^olitical fabric depends." This power

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Online LibraryBenjamin Franklin ThomasSpeeches in the second and third sessions of the Thirty-seventh Congress, and in the vacation (Volume 2) → online text (page 9 of 15)