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Speech of the Hon. Daniel Webster at the National Republican convention, in Worcester, Oct. 12, 1832 online

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Online LibraryDaniel WebsterSpeech of the Hon. Daniel Webster at the National Republican convention, in Worcester, Oct. 12, 1832 → online text (page 1 of 4)
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IN WORCESTER, Oct. 12, 1832.




JJ. E. I^tiufelej $c Co., ^fruiters,



Mr. President, — I offer no apology for addressing the
meeting. Holding, by the favor of the people of this Com-
monwealth, an important public situation, I deem it no less
than a part of my duty, at this interesting moment, to make
my own opinions on the state of public affairs known ; and,
however I may have performed other duties, this, at least, it
is my purpose, on the present occasion, fully to discharge.
Not intending to comment, at length, on all the subjects which
now attract public attention, nor to discuss any thing, in de-
tail, I will, nevertheless, before an assembly so large and re-
spectable as the present, and through them to the whole people
of the State, lay open, without reserve, my own sentiments,
hopes, and fears, respecting the state, and the fate, of our com-
mon country.

The Resolutions which have been read from the Chair ex-
press the opinion that the public good requires an effectual
change, in the administration of the General Government,
both of measures, and of men. In this opinion I heartily

Mr. President, — there is no citizen of the State, who, in prin-
ciple and by habitual sentiment, is less disposed than myself
to general opposition to Government, or less desirous of fre-
quent changes in its administration. I entertain this feeling
strongly, and at all times, towards the Government of the
United States ; because I have ever regarded the Federal
Constitution as a frame of Government so peculiar, and so
delicate in its relations to the State Government, that it might
be in danger of overthrow, as well from an indiscriminate and
wanton opposition, as from a weak or a wicked administra-
tion. But a case may arise, in which the Government is
no longer safe in the hands to which it has been entrusted.
It may come to be a question, not so much in what partial-

lar manner, or according to what, particular political opinions,
the Government shall be administered, as whether the Con-
stitution itself shall be preserved and maintained. Now, sir,
in my judgment, just such a case, and just such a question,
are at this moment before the American People. Entertain-
ing this sentiment, and thoroughly and entirely convinced of its
truth, I wish, as far as my humble power extends, to awaken
the People to a more earnest attention to their public concerns.
With the People, and the People alone, lies any remedy for
the past, and any security for the future. No delegated power
is equal to the exigency of the present crisis. No public ser-
vants, however able or faithful, have power to check, or to
stop the fearful tendency of things. It is a case for sovereign
interposition. The rescue, if it come at all, must come from
that power, which no other power on earth can resist. I
earnestly wish, therefore, unimportant as my own opinions
may be, and entitled, as 1 know they are, to no considerable
regard, yet, since they are honest and sincere, and since they
respect nothing less than dangers which appear to me to
threaten the Government and Constitution of the country, 1
fervently wish, that I could now make them known, not only
to this meeting, and to this State, but to every man in the
Union. I take the hazard of the reputation of an alarmist ;
I cheerfully submit to the imputation of over-excited appre-
hension ; I discard all fear of the cry of false prophecy, and I
declare, that, in my judgment, not only the great interests of
the country, but the Constitution itself is in imminent peril,
and that nothing can save, either the one or the other, but
that voice, which has authority to say, to the evils of misrule
and misgovernment, Hitherto shall ye come, but no farther.

It is true, sir, that it is the natural effect of a good consti-
tution to protect the People. But who shall protect the Con-
stitution ? Who shall guard the guardian ? What arm but
the mighty arm of the People itself, is able, in a popular
government, to uphold public institutions ? The Constitution
itself is but the creature of the public will, and in every crisis
which threatens it, it must owe its security to the same power
to which it owes its origin.

The appeal, therefore, is to the People. Not to party, nor to
paitizans ; not to- professed politicians ; not to those who have
an interest in office and place, greater than their stake in the
country ; but to the People, and the whole People ; to those,

■who, in regard to political affairs, have no wish but for a good
government, and who have the power to accomplish their own

Mr. President, — are the principles and leading measures of
the Administration hostile to the great interests of the country?

Are they dangerous to the Constitution, and to the Union
of the States ?

Is there any prospect of a beneficial change of principles
and measures, without a change of men ?

Is there reasonable ground to hope for such a change of
men ?

On these several questions, I desire to state my own convic-
tions, fully, though as briefly as possible.

As government is intended to be a practical institution, if
it be wisely formed, the first and most natural (est cf its ad-
ministration is the effect produced by it. Let us look, then, to
the actual state of our affairs. Is it such as should follow
a good administration of a good Constitution?

Sir, we see one State openly threatening to arrest the exe-
cution of the revenue laws of the Union, by acts of her own.
This proceeding is threatened, not by irresponsible persons,
but by those who fill her chief places of power and trust.

In another State, free citizens of the country are imprisoned,
and held in prison, in defiance of a judgment of the Supreme
Court, pronounced for their deliverance. Immured in a dun-
geon, marked and patched as subjects of penitentiary punish-
ment, these free citizens pass their days in counting the slow
revolving hours of their miserable captivity, and their nights
in feverish delusive dreams of their own homes and their own
families ; while the Constitution stands, adjudged to be viola-
ted, a law of Congress is effectually repealed by the act of a
State, and a judgment of deliverance, by the Supreme Court,
is set at nought and contemned.

Treaties, importing the most solemn and sacred obligations,
are denied to have binding force.

A feeling, that there is great insecurity for property, and the
stability of the means of living, extensively prevails.

The whole subject of the Tariff, acted on for the moment,
is, at the same moment, declared, not to be at rest, but liable
to be again moved, and with greater effect, just so soon as
power for that purpose shall be obtained.

The currency of the country, hitherto safe, sound, and uni-


versally satisfactory, is threatened with a violent change, and
an embarrassment in pecuniary affairs, equally distressing and
unnecessary, hangs over all the trading and active classes of

A long-used and long-approved Legislative Instrument for
the collection of revenue, well secured against abuse, and
always responsible to Congress and to the laws, is denied
further existence ; and its place is proposed to be supplied by
a new branch of the Executive Department, with a money
power, controlled and conducted solely by Executive agency.

The power of the Yeto is exercised, not as an extraordi-
nary, but as an ordinary power ; as a common mode of de-
feating Acts of Congress not acceptable to the Executive.
We hear, one day, that the President needs the advice of no
Cabinet ; that a few Secretaries, or Clerks, are enough for
him. The next, we are informed, that the Supreme Court
is but an obstacle to the popular will, and the whole judicial
department but an incumbrance to Government. And while,
on one side, the judicial power is thus derided and denounced,
on the other arises the cry, " cut down the Senate " ; and
over the whole, at the same time, prevails the loud avowal,
shouted with all the lungs of conscious party strength, and
party triumph, that the spoils of the enemy belong to the vic-
tors. This condition of things, sir, this general and obvious
aspect of affairs, is the result of three years' administration,
such as the country has experienced.

But not resting on this general view of results, let me in-
quire what the principles and policy of the Administration
are, on the leading interests of the country, subordinate to the
Constitution itself. And first, w T hat are its principles, and
what its policy, respecting the Tariff? Is this great question
settled, or unsettled ? And is the present Administration for,
or against, the Tariff?

Sir, the question is wholly unsettled, and the principles of
the Administration, according to its most recent avowal of those
principles, is adverse to the protecting policy, decidedly hostile
to the whole system, root and branch ; and this on permanent
and alleged constitutional grounds.

In the first place, nothing has been done to settle the Tariff
question. The Anti-Tariff gentlemen who voted for the late
law have, none of them, said they would adhere to it. On
the contrary, they supported it, because, as far as it went, it

was reduction, and that was what they wished ; and if they
obtained this degree of reduction now, it would be easier to
obtain a greater degree hereafter ; and they frankly declared
that their intent and purpose was to insist on reduction, and
to pursue reduction, unremittingly, till all duties on imports
were brought down to one general and equal "per centage, and
that regulated by the mere wants of the revenue ; or that if
different rates of duty should remain on different articles,
still, that the whole should be laid for revenue, and revenue
only ; and that they would, to the utmost of their power,
push this course of policy, till Protection, by duties, as a spe-
cial object of National policy, should be abandoned, altogether,
in the National Councils. It is a delusion, therefore, sir, to
imagine that the present Tariff stands, safely, on conceded
ground. It covers not an inch, that has not been fought for,
and must not be again fought for. It stands, while its friends
can protect it, and not an hour longer.

In the next place, in the compend of Executive opinions
contained in the Veto Message, the whole principle of the
protecting policy is plainly and pointedly denounced.

Having gone through its argument against the Bank
Charter, as it now exists, and as it has existed either under
the present or a former law for near forty years, and having
added to the well-doubted logic of that argument the still more
doubtful aid of a large array of opprobrious epithets, the Mes-
sage, in unveiled allusion to the protecting policy of the coun-
try, holds this language, —

" Most of the difficulties our Government now encounters, and
most of the dangers which impend over our Union, have sprung
from an abandonment of the legitimate objects of Government
by our National legislation, and the adoption of such principles
as are embodied in this act. Many of our rich men have not
been content with equal protection and equal benefits, but have
besought us to make them richer by act of Congress. By at-
tempting to gratify their desires, we have, in the results of our
legislation, arrayed section against section, interest against in-
terest, and man against man, in a fearful commotion which
threatens to shake the foundations of our Union. It is time to
pause in our career, to review our principles, and, if possible, re-
vive that devoted patriotism and spirit of compromise which dis-
tinguished the sages of the revolution, and the fathers of our
Union. If we cannot at once, in justice to interests vested under
improvident legislation, make our Government what it ought to


be, we can at least take a stand against all new grants of mono-
polies and exclusive privileges, against any prostitution of our
Government to the advancement of the few at the expense of the
many, and in favor of compromise and gradual reform in our
code of laws and system of political economy."

Here, then, we have the whole creed. Our National Legis-
lature has abandoned the legitimate objects of Government.
It has adopted such principles as are embodied in the Bank
Charter, and these principles are elsewhere called objectionable,
odious, and unconstitutional. And all this has been done, be-
cause rich men have besought the Government to render them
richer by acts of Congress. It is time to pause in our career.
It is time to review these principles. And, if we cannot, at
once, make our Government what it ought to be, we
can, at least, take a stand against new grants of power and

The plain meaning of all this, is, that our protecting laws
are founded in an abandonment of the legitimate objects of
government ; that this is the great source of our difficulties ;
that it is time to stop our career, to review the principles of
these laws, and, as soon as we can, make our Government


No one can question, Mr. President, that these paragraphs,
from the last official publication of the President, show, that
in his opinion, the Tariff, as a system designed for pro-
tection, is not only impolitic but unconstitutional also.
They are quite incapable of any other version or interpretation.
They defy all explanation, and all glosses.

Sir, however we may differ from the principles or the policy
of the Administration, it would, nevertheless, somewhat satisfy
our pride of country, if we could ascribe to it the character of
consistency. It would be grateful if we could contemplate the
President of the United States as an identical idea. But even
this secondary pleasure is denied to us. In looking to the
published records of Executive opinions, sentiments favorable
to protection, and sentiments against protection, either come
confusedly before us, at the same moment, or else follow each
other in rapid succession, like the shadows of a phantas-

Having read an extract from the Veto Message, containing
the statement of present opinions, allow me to read another
extract from the Annual Message of 1830. It will be per-


ceived, that in that Message, both the clear constitutionality
of the Tariff laws, and their indispensable policy are main-
tained in the fullest and strongest manner. The argument,
on the constitutional point, is stated with more than common
ability ; and the policy of the laws is affirmed, in terms im-
porting the deepest and most settled conviction. We hear in
this Message nothing of improvident legislation ; nothing of
the abandonment of the legitimate objects of government;
nothing of the necessity of pausing in our career, and review-
ing our principles ; nothing of the necessity of changing our
Government, till it shall be made what it ought to be : —
But let the Message speak for itself.

" The power to impose duties on imports originally belonged
to the several States. The right to adjust those duties with a
view to the encouragement of domestic branches of industry is
so completely incidental to that power, that it is difficult to
suppose the existence of the one without the other. The States
have delegated their whole authority over imports to the Gene-
ral Government, without limitation or restriction, saving the very
inconsiderable reservation relating to their inspection laws.
This authority having thus. entirely passed from the States, the
right to exercise it for the purpose of protection does not exist in
them ; and, consequently, if it be not possessed by the General
Government, it must be extinct. Our political system would
thus present the anomaly of a people stripped of the right to
foster their own industry, and to counteract the most selfish and
destructive policy which might he adopted by foreign nations.
This surely cannot be the case : this indispensable power, thus
surrendered by the States, must be within the scope of the au-
thority on the subject expressly delegated to Congress.

" In this conclusion, I am confirmed as well by the opinions
of Presidents Washington, Jefferson, Madison, and Monroe,
who have each repeatedly recommended the exercise of this right
under the Constitution, as by the uniform practice of Congress,
the continued acquiescence of the States, and the general un-
derstanding of the people.

" I am well aware that this is a subject of so much delicacy, on
account of the extended interests it involves, as to require that
it should be touched with the utmost caution ; and that, while
an abandonment of the policy in which it originated — a policy
coeval with our Government, pursued through successive admin-
istrations, is neither to be expected or desired, the people have a
right to demand, and have demanded, that it be so modified as to
correct abuses and obviate injustice."


Mr. President, — no one needs to point out inconsistencies,
plain and striking like these. The Message of 1830 is a well
written paper ; it proceeded, probably, from the Cabinet proper.
Whence the Veto Message of 1832, proceeded, I know not ;
perhaps from the Cabinet improper.

But, sir, there is an important record of an earlier date than
1830. If, as the President avers, we have been guilty of im-
provident legislation, what act of Congress is the most strik-
ing instance of that improvidence ? — Certainly, it is the act
of 1824. ^The principle of protection, repeatedly recognized
before that time, was, by that act carried to a new and great
extent ; so new, and so great, that the act was considered as
the foundation of the system. That law it was, which con-
ferred on the distinguished citizen, whose nomination for Pres-
ident this meeting has received with so much enthusiasm,
the appellation of " Author of the American System." Ac-
cordingly, the act of 1824 has been the particular object of
attack, in all the warfare waged against the protective policy.
If Congress ever abandoned legitimate objects of legislation,
in favor of protection, it did it by that law. If any laws, now
on the statute book, or which ever, were there, show, by their
character, as laws of protection, that our Government is not
what it ought to be, and that it ought to be altered, and, in
the language of the Veto Message, made what it ought to
be, the law of 1824 is the very law, which more than any,
and more than all others, shows that. And yet, sir, the
President of the United States, then a Senator in Congress,
voted for that law ! And, though 1 have not recurred to the
journal, my recollection is, that as to some of its provisions,
his support was essential to their success. It will be found, I
think, that some of its enactments, and those now most loud-
ly complained of, would have failed, but for his own personal
support of them, by his own vote.

After jail this, it might have been hoped, that there would
be, in 1832, some tolerance of opinion toward those, who
cannot think, that improvidence, abandonment qf all the
legitimate objects of legislation, a desire to gratify the rich,
who have besought Congress to make them still richer, and
the adoption of principles, unequal, oppressive, and odious, are
the true characteristics to be ascribed to the system of pro-

But, sir, it is but a small part of my object to show incon-


sistencies in Executive opinions. My main purpose is differ-
ent, and tends to more practical ends. It is, to call the atten-
tion of the meeting, and of the People, to the principles; avow-
ed in the late Message, as being the President's present opin-
ions, and proofs of his present purposes, and to the conse-
quences, if they shall be maintained by the country. These
principles are there expressed, in language which needs no
commentary. They go, with a point blank aim, against the
fundamental stone of the Protecting System ; that is to say,
against the constitutional power of Congress to establish and
maintain it, in whole or in part. The question, therefore, of
the Tariff — the ' question of every Tariff — the question be-
tween maintaining our agricultural and manufacturing interests
where they now are, and breaking up the entire system, and
erasing every vestige of it from the Statute Book, is a question
materially to be affected by the pending election.

The President has exercised his negative power, on the
law for continuing the Bank Charter. Here, too, he denies
both the constitutionality and the policy of an existing law of
Congress. It is true, that the law, or a similar one, has been
in operation near forty years. Previous Presidents and pre-
vious Congresses have, all along, sanctioned and upheld it.
The highest Courts, and, indeed, all the Courts, have pro-
nounced it constitutional. A majority of the people, greater
than exists on almost any other question, agrees with all the
Presidents, all the Congresses, and all the Courts of law. Yet,
against all this weight of authority, the President puts forth
his own individual opinion, and has negatived the Bill for con-
tinuing the law. Which of the members of his administra-
tion, or whether either of them, concurs in his sentiments, we
know not. Some of them, we know, have recently advanced
precisely the opposite opinions, and in the strongest- manner
recommended to Congress the continuation of the Bank Char-
ter. Having, himself, urgently and repeatedly called the at
tention of Congress to the subject, and his Secretary of the
Treasury, who, and all the other Secretaries, as the Presi-
dent's friends say, are but so many pens in his hand, having,
at the very session, insisted, in his communication to Congress,
both on the constitutionality and necessity of the Bank, the
President, nevertheless, saw fit to negative the Bill, passed, as
it had been ; by strong majorities in both Houses, and passed,
without doubt or question, in compliance with the wishes of a
vast majority of the American People,


The question respecting the constitutional power of Con-
gress to establish a Bank, I shall not here discuss. On that,
as well as on the general expediency of renewing the Charter,
my sentiments have been elsewhere expressed. They are
before the public ; and the experience of every day confirms
me in their truth. All that has been said of the embarrass-
ment and distress, which will be felt from discontinuing the
Bank, falls far short of an adequate representation. What
was prophecy only two months ago, is already history.

In this part of the country, indeed, we experience this dis-
tress and embarrassment only in a mitigated degree. The
loans of the Bank are not so highly important, or at least not
so absolutely necessary, to the present operations of our com-
merce ; yet we ourselves have a deep interest in the subject, as
it is connected with the general currency of the country, and
with the cheapness and facility of exchange.

The country, generally speaking, was well satisfied with
the Bank. Why not let it alone ? No evil had been felt
from it in thirty-six years. Why conjure up a troop of fan-
cied mischiefs, as a pretence to put it down ? The Message
struggles to excite prejudices, from the circumstance that for-
eigners are stockholders, and on this ground it raises a loud
cry against a monied aristocracy. Can any thing, sir, be con-
ceived, more inconsistent than this? Any thing more remote
from sound policy, and good statesmanship ? In the United
States, the rate of interest is high, compared with the rates
abroad. In Holland and England, the actual value of money,
is no more than three, or perhaps three and a half, per cent.
In our Atlantic States it is as high as five or six, taking the
whole length of the sea-board ; in the North-western States,
it is eight or ten, and in the South-western ten or twelve. If
the introduction, then, of foreign capital be discountenanced
and discouraged, the American money lender may fix his own
rate, any where from five to twelve per cent, per annum. On

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Online LibraryDaniel WebsterSpeech of the Hon. Daniel Webster at the National Republican convention, in Worcester, Oct. 12, 1832 → online text (page 1 of 4)