Hugh Lawson White.

Letter of the Hon. Hugh L. White, to the legislature of Tennessee, on declining to obey certain of their resoultions of instruction, and resigning the office of senator of the United States (Volume 1) online

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Online LibraryHugh Lawson WhiteLetter of the Hon. Hugh L. White, to the legislature of Tennessee, on declining to obey certain of their resoultions of instruction, and resigning the office of senator of the United States (Volume 1) → online text (page 2 of 2)
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one and all, oondemned it as unconstitutional and unjust, and they were right in

SU tu^i:^ n maintains now, exactly the same doctrines then advanced by
the FederHt They wished to silence the people, that they might retain the r
Sacesand I power" and your resolution seeks to allow the officeholders to , go forth
whh 1 t. P power and influence, to mislead and corrupt^ people-obtain their
rotes in elections, and thus retain their offices with all the.r emoluments.

Does your honorable body intend to affirm that Congress has no power to
rp<nilitp the conduct of this class of officers? '

A e they to be" lowed to go forth on days of election, and with a view to pro-
cure votes y fo : tho President or his favorites, promise money or f^jo^ora^
mr/W which much money mav be made with but little labor? 1 he
X, L ma^Jg Lse prlise's to influence voters, would be using his ^
of sfieeeh which The resolution affirms Congress cannot abridge or lessen it
1^ ron s ion can be maintained, then Congress had better go home and yield
u \ en n to the President and the carps who hold office at his pleasure

P VVe vi art a little reflection, perceive that tins resolution not only uo-
n„- ifiodveon demns vour Senators for their vote, but necessarily the conduct
a d.inions of others whom the country has most delighted to honor
"iff only reason assigned in your resolution why this bill was unconstitutional
is. that it abridged the freedom of 'speech. ' ' : _ „ „ . v-

If you are correct, how dare Mr. Jefferson, "the Apostle of Libe rty in tag
letter to Governor McKean, use the language he did on this subject fe U
nore, when he came into office as President, why did he dare ™"
cular letter, prohibiting this class of officers, on pain ot dismissal, liom inte,leun
in elections farther than to give their own votes? . _

HeWas worn to support .lie Constitution, and if Congress abridges the free-
do n of ",eec securely the Constitution, by the enactments proposed in this
b^it follows 'clearlv thaUhe President in his circular plated the same prov,
sion, by pronouncing the like penalty for the like offence <


I defy any person to condemn the one without condemning the other; unless,
indeed, we suppose there is a class of politicians who believe the Constitution
does not, and ought not to impose any restraint upon the President.

I fear such a sect has lately sprung up, and is increasing. It cannot be too
speedily suppressed.

The late President, General Jackson, in his inaugural address, when (i he
was fresh from the people," inculcated the same doctrine with Mr. Jefferson.
" To prevent the patronage of the Government from being brought into con-
flict with the freedom of elections, was a duty inscribed in characters too legible
to be misunderstoc d," &c. was the strong language he then used. How was
this duty to be discharged ? Did we not, one and all, believe he would discharge
it as Mr. Jefferson had done ? if, then, these Presidents could, without violating
the Constitution, prohibit these officers from interfering in elections, why could not
Congress, by its enactments prohibit them likewise ?
No satisfactoiy answer can be given to this question.

The President already had the power vested in him to dismiss these officers
at his pleasure ; and Congress unquestionably had the power to limit his discre'ion r
by specifying the cases in which he should exercise it. If, then, my colleague
and I erred on this question of power, with great deference I submit that,
the company with which our opinions were associated ought, at least, to have
softened the asperity of the language in which our condemnation was pronounced.
If there was anyone subject above all others, upon which I believed my colleague
and I could not mistake the sentiment of our constituents, it was that embraced
in that. bill.

To prevent the President, through those officers, from interfering in elections,
was a theme upon which the friends of the late President. (Jackson) had dwelt
the most, both in and out of Congress. In 1826, a committee of the Senate, of
which I was a very humble member, through their chairman had made a most
able report, the principles of which were applauded by the whole party, and by
our State in particular. Upon them, mainly, General Jackson came into power;
he gave them his solemn sanction in his inaugural address, in presence of thou-
sands of witnesses. I had been twice elected after my opinions were well known
upon this subject, and now, when I endeavor faithfully to carry them out, to be
unqualifiedly Condemned fbr ; doing so, and that by those who then professed to think
as I sincerely did, was what I did not anticipate. I am sure that, upon this sub-
ject, my practice has corresponded with my professions. Still, I should feel de-
graded if I were to pronounce any old associate a traitor, or liken him to Ben-
edict Arnold, because at this time he disagrees with me in opinion.

They are greatly mistaken who suppose the object of this bill was to take
from this class of officers any right whatever. Precisely the reverse was the
intention. It was to emancipate them from the slavish, bondage in which they
were held. It was to enable every man of them to vote according to the dic-
tates of his own judgment, and to absolve them from the painful alternative of be-
ing compelled to, not only vote, but to electioneer for candidates not of their
choice, but of the President, on pain of dismissal from office.

The great object w&u, to prevent the President from controlling the people in
the choice of their officers, State and Federal. This class of officers, whose
daily bread for their families, depended on Executive favor, were constrained,
as a part of their official duly. not. only to vote as the President wished, but to en-
deavor to influence others to do so likewise. If they did not perform this duty
they were dismissed, and with their families left t> starve. An enlightened
statesman once called them " the enlisted soldiers of the President." °

A politician, who knows as well as any other man the motives by which men
are influenced in relation to elections, says: — "Whenever he sees an office-hol-
der interfering in eltctions, he concludes lie is thinking of his salary and his bread


and is a very unfit adviser of the people."" By the passage of this bill it was
hoped the instruments for misleading the people would be taken from the Presi-
dent, that these "enlisted soldiers" would be discharged from electioneering duties
and yet receive their pay; and that if they performed the duties of their offices
faithfully, they might safely vote according to the dictates of their own judgment,
and yet be secure in " their salaries and their daily bread."

By your fourth resolution, as one of your Senators, I am instructed to "vote
against the measure heretofore brought before Congress, which had for its ob-
ject the distribution among the States of the proceeds of the sales of the Public

In justice to myself, as well as to my constituents, I must be permitted to state
the manner in which my mind has operated on this subject at different times, and
under different circumstances.

When a bill was first introduced, having such distribution as that spoken of
for its object, I voted against its passage, and in favor of the veto of the Chief
Magistrate, on the ground that no such distribution ought to be made uniii the
public debt was all paid.

Upon looking into the deeds, by which those lands were ceded to the United
States, by the respective States, I found that they were conveyed in tntst t to
pay out of the proceeds of their sales, our public debt then owing by the United
Stales, and that the residue should be for the joint benefit of each of the several
States including those making the cessions.

At that time a portion of the Public debt was unpaid, and I deem it improper
to distribute any part of this fund until the debt was fully discharged, that being
the primary object of the donor.

When a like bill was afterwards introduced, I not only voted for it, but gave it
such support as my feeble abilities enabled me.

By this time the public debt had been fully paid and we had a very large sum
in the Treasury beyond the necessary wants of the Federal Government.

1 could not "doubt the power of Congress to make the distribution, because there
was an express trust that this fund should be for the use of the respective States;
we had a large sum on hand which I thought, in honesty, belonged to the Slates,
and the proportion belonging to Tennessee, I believed, would be highly useful
in enabling her to make internal improvements, and in providing a system for
the education of those who might be unable to bear the expenses of educating
themselves. In addition to these considerations, I perceived if this large sum was
not distributed, it would encourage a system of extravagant expenditure incon-
sistent with the welfare of the country.

I slid believe these views were sound, and that if I committed any error, it. was
not giving my support to the first bill as well as the last. I believe it would be
unwise, perhaps unconstitutional, for the Federal Government to impose taxes for
the purposes of collecting more money than is necessary to carry out its affairs,
to the end that it might have a surplus to distribute among the States: hut this
fund stands on a different ground, it is a trust fund which belongs not to the Fede-
ral but to the, State Governments.

The ordinary duties necessary and proper for the regulation of our commerce
with foreign nations, ought to be sufficient, to bring into the Treasury as much
money as would defray the economic;.! expenses of the Federal Government, and
each of the States ought to receive its fair proportion of the proceeds of the sales
of the public lands.

I consider Tennessee as honestly entitled to her proportion of this fund, as any
of your honorable body is to a tract of land devised to him by his faiher.

It appears to me even at this time, our State very much needs her propor-
tion of this fund, and that in a short time we shall be much more in want of it.

Jfour honorable body may be satisfied that a majority of our citizens arc willing


to relinquish their interest in this fund, hut I am not so satisfied, and as a Senator
in Congress, I will not do any act by which such an idea is to he sanctioned

It mav be in the course of a very short time, that, this fund will be indispensa-
bly necessary to save our citizens from heavy taxation, and I should never forgive
myself, if by yielding to your instructions, 1 did an act which produced a serious
injury to the people, who have so long honored me with their confidence.

By the last clauses in your fourth resolution, I am instructed to vote for gradu-
ating the price of the public lands, and for granting pre-emption rights to occu-
pants. ° * v °

These instructions correspond with the opinions I have maintained and
acted on. therefore, I should find no difficulty in conforming to your wishes in
relation to them.

In the fifth resolution, your instructio s are " to vote for and use all fair and
proper exertions to procure the passage o( a law repealing the duties on imported
salt." °

This subject has been before the Senate on several occasions since T have been
a member, and my votes have ever been in favor of removing this duty, and I
should still conform my conduct to my settled conviction, that my past course on
this subject has been correct.

In your sixth resolution you state, that you M henrtily approve the leading mea-
sures and policy of the Administrations of Andrew Jackson and Martin Van
Buren, and" instruct "your Senators to support in good faith, the leading
measures and policy, as brought forward and advocated by the present Presi ent
ol the United States, and to use all fair and proper exertions to carry out, sustaia
and accomplish the same."

The phraseology of this resolution is so general and indefinite, that I am not
sure I comprehend the meaning of your honorable bodv ; but believe you intend
that I shall support all the lending measures of the Chief Magistrate, as well
those hereafter to be brought forward as those heretofore recommended.

To instructions of this description, I could not with propriety, pay any atten-
tion whatever. '

Our fathers and statesmen believed they had done much towards the security
of civil liberty, when, by the Constitution, they divided the great powers conferred
into three Departments, each, in its sphere, independent of the other two. These
we e the Legislative, the Executive, and the Judicial.

If the powers of any two of these Departments should be placed in the same
hands, the whole machinery of the Government is destroyed, and the checks
interposed are removed.

You instruct your Senators to conform their votes on all the leading measures,
to the will of the President, who is at the head of the Executive Department —
I you have a right to give such instructions, and your Senators are bound to
obey, every oth -r Legislature in the Union has the same right, and their Senators
would be equally bound to yield obedience.

Why not let the President at once make the law and then execute it ? If we
are bound to vote as he recommends, it is a solemn mockery to consult us at all.
J he law would not be the will of the Senate, but the will of the President. By
this process the whole legislative power would be yielded up and surrendered to
the Executive.

j I have been educated to believe, that continued watchfulness, and constant
jealousy of those in power, are essential to the preservation of liberty.

Your honorable body would now teach me a different lesson, and instead of
being a sentinel on the watchtower, to guard the liberty ot mv constituents, I am
to betake myself to slumber, examine nothing, but vote on all leading measures
as the President may recommend.

If this be the kind of service to which your Senators are to be applied, I never
can perform it, and feel myself unsuited to a station, which I have heretofore con-
sidered most honorable as well as confidential.


After your Resolutions shall have performed their wonted office and my resigna-
tion shall have been received, before electing my successor, I hope in your wisdom
you will either rescind or expunge this sixth Resolution. Our common consti-
tuents, the free and chivalrous citizens of Tennessee, I hope will ever he
represented in the Senate hy those whose principles and feelings are in accord-
ance, with their own ; and while this Resolution is suffered to remain, no man can
accept that high station but one who is- himself mslavtd and fit only to represent
those in the like condition with himself.

I have now troubled you with all the remarks I deem it necessary to makft
upon your six Resolutions, taken separately, but do not feel that I will have dis-
charged my whole duty until I have shown the deduction to be drawn from them
when connectedly considered. ■

They contain the political creed of the present Chief Magistrate of the Lmted
States, as expressed through his friends in the Tennessee Legislature ; and what
is it?

By the 2d Resolution it is proved he wishes the whole moneyed power of the
United States vested in him and subject to his control.

By the 3d it is proved he will not agree that the patronage and power he now
exercises shall he either lessened or regulated by law.

By the 4th, it is proved that in order to have full coffers, he wishes the States
to surrender their right to the moneys arising from the sales of the public lands, and

By the 6th, it is proved that he wishes Congress compelled to vote for every lead-
ing measure he may recommend, and I am instructed in good faith to give my aid
to maintain this creed.

These instructions I cannot and will not obey. So far from it, my creed
upon these points is :

1st. That the power over the public, purse ought to be constantly kept under
the control of the legislature.

2d. That the patronage as well as the expenditures of the Executive are
already too large, and ought to be reduced.

3d. That instead of surrendering the rights of the States to any portion of the
public moneys, they ought to adhere to those rights, and m due season provide
t'oi a fair di.->tributio.i of the land funds ; and

Lastly, for no consideration ought we to agree that any other portion of the
Legislative power shall be vested, either directly or indirectly, id the President,
save that which is already vested in him by the Constitution of the United States.

At last, no person can help seeing that the difference between your honorable
body and myself is, that you wish to add to the power and patronage of the
Executive, I wish to lessen his power and patronage.

On the decision of this contest by the American people, in my opinion, the liberty
of the country depends. Should your creed prevail, ere long the whole Legislative
power, vested in Congress by the Constitution, will be. transferred, substantially, to
the President, and the only use of Congress will be to stand between the President
and Public Odium, when laws are enacted which are disapproved by the people.

In addition to this, the election of State officers, and State legislation, will be
regulated according to the will of the Executive of the Union. Should mine
prevail, the States will retain the powers they now possess— the powers of the
Federal Government will remain divided into different departments in substance as
well as form. .

Which of these creeds will best secure the liberty, the happiness and pros-
perity of the people, 1 cheerfully submit, for decision to the Freemen of Tennessee.

Ill England, this would be the common contest between the prerogative of the
crown and the privileges of the people. Those maintaining your side would be
called Tortus, those maintaining mine would be called Whigs'.

Here it is a contest between the patronage of the President and the right of
suffrage of the people. I will not at present give those who maintain your creed
any name— you may give those who maintain mine any one you choose.


" Names are nothing with me." My motto is, " Principles in preference to
men ;" while I sometimes think that of some of my opponents ought to be, " Men
without principles;" though [ would be sorry to intimate that such a molto would
suit your honorable body.

I shall trouble you with no further observations on these important topics. It
has been my aim to state my opinions with candor, and to maintain them with
firmness ; but, at the same time, to treat your honorable body with the most
perfect respect.

I was called to the service of my State, fifteen years ago, without any solicita-
tion on my part. With reluctance I accepted the high station [ now occupy. I
have been, continued in it, perhaps, too long for the interest of the country. I
have been thrice elected, by the unanimous vote of your predecessors. My
services have been rendered in times of high party excitement — sometimes
threatening to hurst asunder the bonds of this Union — and your resolutions con-
tain the high compliment that bitter political opponents can find only a solitary
vole worthy, in their judgment, of " unqualified condemnation."

I hope it will be in your power to select a successor who car; bring into the
service of the State more talents — I feel a proud consciousness, more purity of
intention, or more unremitting industry, he nevei can.

F-ir the sake of place, 1 will never cringe to power. You have instructed me to
do those things which, entertaining the opinions I do, I fear I would not be
forgiven for, either in this world or in the next ; and practising upon the creed I
have long professed, I hereby tender to you my resignation of the trust confided
to me, as one of the Senators from the State of Tennessee to the Congress of
the United States.

Allow me to add my sincere prayer that the Governor of the Universe may so
over-rule our dissensions as to secure the liberty and promote the prosperity of our
common constituents.

I have the honor to be, gentlemen,

Your obedient servant,

Senate Chamber, Jan. 11, 1839.
After which he proceeded and said,

Mr. President — I iiave now finished my task; henceforth, T am to cease being a member
of this body. I cannot share with former associates, the honors, the privileges, or the emol-
uments of a Senator in the Congress of the Uniiect States. At the same tune, I will be re-
lieved from my portion of the labors, and from sharing with you the High responsibilities which
necessarily pertain to the station.

In taking my leave of yoa, in the utmost sincerity my prayers are, that collectively and
individually you miv b: enabled to pursue a course, which will afford yon the highest com-
forts in this life; and that your labors may be so blessed as to secure you the grateful remem-
brance of the present and all succeeding generations.


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Jan • feb 1989 H A> , ^


Online LibraryHugh Lawson WhiteLetter of the Hon. Hugh L. White, to the legislature of Tennessee, on declining to obey certain of their resoultions of instruction, and resigning the office of senator of the United States (Volume 1) → online text (page 2 of 2)