Daniel Webster.

The Great Speeches and Orations of Daniel Webster With an Essay on Daniel Webster as a Master of English Style online

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course, that no one ever looks to see such a bill first brought forward
in the Senate. It is also well known, Sir, that it has been usual,
heretofore, to make the annual appropriations for the Military Academy
at West Point in the general bill which provides for the pay and support
of the army. But last year the army bill did not contain any
appropriation whatever for the support of West Point. I took notice of
this singular omission when the bill was before the Senate, but
presumed, and indeed understood, that the House would send us a separate
bill for the Military Academy. The army bill, therefore, passed; but no
bill for the Academy at West Point appeared. We waited for it from day
to day, and from week to week, but waited in vain. At length, the time
for sending bills from one house to the other, according to the joint
rules of the two houses, expired, and no bill had made its appearance
for the support of the Military Academy. These joint rules, as is well
known, are sometimes suspended on the application of one house to the
other, in favor of particular bills, whose progress has been
unexpectedly delayed, but which the public interest requires to be
passed. But the House of Representatives sent us no request to suspend
the rules in favor of a bill for the support of the Military Academy,
nor made any other proposition to save the institution from immediate
dissolution. Notwithstanding all the talk about a war, and the necessity
of a vote for the three millions, the Military Academy, an institution
cherished so long, and at so much expense, was on the very point of
being entirely broken up.

Now it so happened, Sir, that at this time there was another
appropriation bill which had come from the House of Representatives, and
was before the Committee on Finance here. This bill was entitled "An Act
making appropriations for the civil and diplomatic expenses of the
government for the year 1835."

In this state of things, several members of the House of Representatives
applied to the committee, and besought us to save the Military Academy
by annexing the necessary appropriations for its support to the bill for
civil and diplomatic service. We spoke to them, in reply, of the
unfitness, the irregularity, the incongruity, of this forced union of
such dissimilar subjects; but they told us it was a case of absolute
necessity, and that, without resorting to this mode, the appropriation
could not get through. We acquiesced, Sir, in these suggestions. We went
out of our way. We agreed to do an extraordinary and an irregular thing,
in order to save the public business from miscarriage. By direction of
the committee, I moved the Senate to add an appropriation for the
Military Academy to the bill for defraying civil and diplomatic
expenses. The bill was so amended; and in this form the appropriation
was finally made.

But this was not all. This bill for the civil and diplomatic service,
being thus amended by tacking the Military Academy to it, was sent back
by us to the House of Representatives, where its length of tail was to
be still much further increased. That house had before it several
subjects for provision, and for appropriation, upon which it had not
passed any bill before the time for passing bills to be sent to the
Senate had elapsed. I was anxious that these things should, in some way,
be provided for; and when the diplomatic bill came back, drawing the
Military Academy after it, it was thought prudent to attach to it
several of these other provisions. There were propositions to pave the
streets in the city of Washington, to repair the Capitol, and various
other things, which it was necessary to provide for; and they,
therefore, were put into the same bill, by way of amendment to an
amendment; that is to say, Mr. President, we had been prevailed on to
amend their bill for defraying the salary of our ministers abroad, by
adding an appropriation for the Military Academy, and they proposed to
amend this our amendment by adding matter as germane to it as it was
itself to the original bill. There was also the President's gardener.
His salary was unprovided for; and there was no way of remedying this
important omission, but by giving him place in the diplomatic service
bill, among _chargés d'affaires_, envoys extraordinary, and ministers
plenipotentiary. In and among these ranks, therefore, he was formally
introduced by the amendment of the House, and there he now stands, as
you will readily see by turning to the law.

Sir, I have not the pleasure to know this useful person; but should I
see him, some morning, overlooking the workmen in the lawns, walks,
copses, and parterres which adorn the grounds around the President's
residence, considering the company into which we have introduced him, I
should expect to see, at least, a small diplomatic button on his working

When these amendments came from the House, and were read at our table,
though they caused a smile, they were yet adopted, and the law passed,
almost with the rapidity of a comet, and with something like the same
length of tail.

Now, Sir, not one of these irregularities or incongruities, no part of
this jumbling together of distinct and different subjects, was in the
slightest degree occasioned by any thing done, or omitted to be done, on
the part of the Senate. Their proceedings were all regular; their
decision was prompt, their despatch of the public business correct and
reasonable. There was nothing of disorganization, nothing of
procrastination, nothing evincive of a temper to embarrass or obstruct
the public business. If the history which I have now truly given shows
that one thing was amended by another, which had no sort of connection
with it; that unusual expedients were resorted to; and that the laws,
instead of arrangement and symmetry, exhibit anomaly, confusion, and the
most grotesque associations, it is nevertheless true, that no part of
all this was made necessary by us. We deviated from the accustomed modes
of legislation only when we were supplicated to do so, in order to
supply bald and glaring deficiencies in measures which were before us.

But now, Mr. President, let me come to the fortification bill, the lost
bill, which not only now, but on a graver occasion, has been lamented
like the lost Pleiad.

This bill, Sir, came from the House of Representatives to the Senate in
the usual way, and was referred to the Committee on Finance. Its
appropriations were not large. Indeed, they appeared to the committee to
be quite too small. It struck a majority of the committee at once, that
there were several fortifications on the coast, either not provided for
at all, or not adequately provided for, by this bill. The whole amount
of its appropriations was four hundred or four hundred and thirty
thousand dollars. It contained no grant of three millions, and if the
Senate had passed it the very day it came from the House, not only would
there have been no appropriation of the three millions, but, Sir, none
of these other sums which the Senate did insert in the bill. Others
besides ourselves saw the deficiencies of this bill. We had
communications with and from the departments, and we inserted in the
bill every thing which any department recommended to us. We took care to
be sure that nothing else was coming. And we then reported the bill to
the Senate with our proposed amendments. Among these amendments, there
was a sum of $75,000 for Castle Island in Boston harbor, $100,000 for
defences in Maryland, and so forth. These amendments were agreed to by
the Senate, and one or two others added, on the motion of members; and
the bill, as thus amended, was returned to the House.

And now, Sir, it becomes important to ask, When was this bill, thus
amended, returned to the House of Representatives? Was it unduly
detained here, so that the House was obliged afterwards to act upon it
suddenly? This question is material to be asked, and material to be
answered, too, and the journal does satisfactorily answer it; for it
appears by the journal that the bill was returned to the House of
Representatives on Tuesday, the 24th of February, _one whole week before
the close of the session_. And from Tuesday, the 24th of February, to
Tuesday, the 3d day of March, we heard not one word from this bill.
Tuesday, the 3d day of March, was, of course, the last day of the
session. We assembled here at ten or eleven o'clock in the morning of
that day, and sat until three in the afternoon, and still we were not
informed whether the House had finally passed the bill. As it was an
important matter, and belonged to that part of the public business which
usually receives particular attention from the Committee on Finance, I
bore the subject in my mind, and felt some solicitude about it, seeing
that the session was drawing so near to a close. I took it for granted,
however, as I had not heard any thing to the contrary, that the
amendments of the Senate would not be objected to, and that, when a
convenient time should arrive for taking up the bill in the House, it
would be passed at once into a law, and we should hear no more about it.
Not the slightest intimation was given, either that the executive wished
for any larger appropriation, or that it was intended in the House to
insert such larger appropriation. Not a syllable escaped from anybody,
and came to our knowledge, that any further alteration whatever was
intended in the bill.

At three o'clock in the afternoon of the 3d of March, the Senate took
its recess, as is usual in that period of the session, until five
o'clock. At five o'clock we again assembled, and proceeded with the
business of the Senate until eight o'clock in the evening; and at eight
o'clock in the evening, and not before, the clerk of the House appeared
at our door, and announced that the House of Representatives had
_disagreed_ to one of the Senate's amendments, _agreed_ to others; and
to two of those amendments, namely, the fourth and fifth, it had agreed,
_with an amendment of its own_.

Now, Sir, these fourth and fifth amendments of ours were, one, a vote of
$75,000 for Castle Island in Boston harbor, and the other, a vote of
$100,000 for certain defences in Maryland. And what, Sir, was the
addition which the House of Representatives proposed to make, by way of
"_amendment_" to a vote of $75,000 for repairing the works in Boston
harbor? Here, Sir, it is: -

"_And be it further enacted_, That the sum of three millions of
dollars be, and the same is hereby, appropriated, out of any money
in the treasury not otherwise appropriated, to be expended, in
whole or in part, under the direction of the President of the
United States, for the military and naval service, including
fortifications and ordnance, and the increase of the navy:
_Provided_, such expenditures shall be rendered necessary for the
defence of the country prior to the next meeting of Congress."

This proposition, Sir, was thus unexpectedly and suddenly put to us, at
eight o'clock in the evening of the last day of the session. Unusual,
unprecedented, extraordinary, as it obviously is, on the face of it, the
manner of presenting it was still more extraordinary. The President had
asked for no such grant of money; no department had recommended it; no
estimate had suggested it; no reason whatever was given for it. No
emergency had happened, and nothing new had occurred; every thing known
to the administration, at that hour, respecting our foreign relations,
had certainly been known to it for days and weeks.

With what propriety, then, could the Senate be called on to sanction a
proceeding so entirely irregular and anomalous? Sir, I recollect the
occurrences of the moment very well, and I remember the impression which
this vote of the House seemed to make all round the Senate. We had just
come out of executive session; the doors were but just opened; and I
hardly remember that there was a single spectator in the hall or the
galleries. I had been at the clerk's table, and had not reached my seat,
when the message was read. All the Senators were in the chamber. I heard
the message, certainly with great surprise and astonishment; and I
immediately moved the Senate to _disagree_ to this vote of the House. My
relation to the subject, in consequence of my connection with the
Committee on Finance, made it my duty to propose some course, and I had
not a moment's doubt or hesitation what that course ought to be. I took
upon myself, then, Sir, the responsibility of moving that the Senate
should disagree to this vote, and I now acknowledge that responsibility.
It might be presumptuous to say that I took a leading part, but I
certainly took an early part, a decided part, and an earnest part, in
rejecting this broad grant of three millions of dollars, without
limitation of purpose or specification of object, called for by no
recommendation, founded on no estimate, made necessary by no state of
things which was known to us. Certainly, Sir, I took a part in its
rejection; and I stand here, in my place in the Senate, to-day, ready
to defend the part so taken by me; or, rather, Sir, I disclaim all
defence, and all occasion of defence, and I assert it as meritorious to
have been among those who arrested, at the earliest moment, this
extraordinary departure from all settled usage, and, as I think, from
plain constitutional injunction, - this indefinite voting of a vast sum
of money to mere executive discretion, without limit assigned, without
object specified, without reason given, and without the least control.

Sir, I am told, that, in opposing this grant, I spoke with warmth, and I
suppose I may have done so. If I did, it was a warmth springing from as
honest a conviction of duty as ever influenced a public man. It was
spontaneous, unaffected, sincere. There had been among us, Sir, no
consultation, no concert. There could have been none. Between the
reading of the message and my motion to disagree, there was not time
enough for any two members of the Senate to exchange five words on the
subject. The proposition was sudden and perfectly unexpected. I resisted
it, as irregular, as dangerous in itself, and dangerous in its
precedent; as wholly unnecessary, and as violating the plain intention,
if not the express words, of the Constitution. Before the Senate, then,
I avowed, and before the country I now avow, my part in this opposition.
Whatsoever is to fall on those who sanctioned it, of that let me have my
full share.

The Senate, Sir, rejected this grant by a vote of TWENTY-NINE against
nineteen. Those twenty-nine names are on the journal; and whensoever the
EXPUNGING process may commence, or how far soever it may be carried, I
pray it, in mercy, not to erase mine from that record. I beseech it, in
its sparing goodness, to leave me that proof of attachment to duty and
to principle. It may draw around it, over it, or through it, black
lines, or red lines, or any lines; it may mark it in any way which
either the most prostrate and fantastical spirit of _man-worship_, or
the most ingenious and elaborate study of self-degradation, may devise,
if only it will leave it so that those who inherit my blood, or who may
hereafter care for my reputation, shall be able to behold it where it
now stands.

The House, Sir, insisted on this amendment. The Senate adhered to its
disagreement; the House asked a conference, to which request the Senate
immediately acceded. The committee of conference met, and in a very
short time came to an agreement. They agreed to recommend to their
respective houses, as a substitute for the vote proposed by the House,
the following: -

"As an additional appropriation for arming the fortifications of the
United States, three hundred thousand dollars."

"As an additional appropriation for the repairs and equipment of ships
of war of the United States, five hundred thousand dollars."

I immediately reported this agreement of the committee of conference to
the Senate; but, inasmuch as the bill was in the House of
Representatives, the Senate could not act further on the matter until
the House should first have considered the report of the committee,
decided thereon, and sent us the bill. I did not myself take any note of
the particular hour of this part of the transaction. The honorable
member from Virginia[1] says he looked at his watch at the time, and he
knows that I had come from the conference, and was in my seat, at a
quarter past eleven. I have no reason to think that he is under any
mistake on this particular. He says it so happened that he had occasion
to take notice of the hour, and well remembers it. It could not well
have been later than this, as any one will be satisfied who will look at
our journals, public and executive, and see what a mass of business was
despatched after I came from the committee, and before the adjournment
of the Senate. Having made the report, Sir, I had no doubt that both
houses would concur in the result of the conference, and looked every
moment for the officer of the House bringing the bill. He did not come,
however, and I pretty soon learned that there was doubt whether the
committee on the part of the House would report to the House the
agreement of the conferees. At first, I did not at all credit this; but
was confirmed by one communication after another, until I was obliged to
think it true. Seeing that the bill was thus in danger of being lost,
and intending at any rate that no blame should justly attach to the
Senate, I immediately moved the following resolution: -

"_Resolved_, That a message be sent to the honorable the House of
Representatives, respectfully to remind the House of the report of the
committee of conference appointed on the disagreeing votes of the two
houses on the amendment of the House to the amendment of the Senate to
the bill respecting the fortifications of the United States."

You recollect this resolution, Sir, having, as I well remember, taken
some part on the occasion.[2]

This resolution was promptly passed; the secretary carried it to the
House, and delivered it. What was done in the House on the receipt of
this message now appears from the printed journal. I have no wish to
comment on the proceedings there recorded; all may read them, and each
be able to form his own opinion. Suffice it to say, that the House of
Representatives, having then possession of the bill, chose to retain
that possession, and never acted on the report of the committee of
conference. The bill, therefore, was lost. It was lost in the House of
Representatives. It died there, and there its remains are to be found.
No opportunity was given to the members of the House to decide whether
they would agree to the report of the committee or not. From a quarter
past eleven, when the report was agreed to, until two or three o'clock
in the morning, the House remained in session. If at any time there was
not a quorum of members present, the attendance of a quorum, we are to
presume, might have been commanded, as there was undoubtedly a great
majority of members still in the city.

But, Sir, there is one other transaction of the evening which I now feel
bound to state, because I think it quite important on several accounts,
that it should be known.

A nomination was pending before the Senate for a judge of the Supreme
Court. In the course of the sitting, that nomination was called up, and,
on motion, was indefinitely postponed. In other words, it was rejected;
for an indefinite postponement is a rejection. The office, of course,
remained vacant, and the nomination of another person to fill it became
necessary. The President of the United States was then in the Capitol,
as is usual on the evening of the last day of the session, in the
chamber assigned to him, and with the heads of departments around him.
When nominations are rejected under these circumstances, it has been
usual for the President immediately to transmit a new nomination to the
Senate; otherwise the office must remain vacant till the next session,
as the vacancy in such case has not happened in the recess of Congress.
The vote of the Senate, indefinitely postponing this nomination, was
carried to the President's room by the secretary of the Senate. The
President told the secretary that it was more than an hour past twelve
o'clock, and that he could receive no further communications from the
Senate, and immediately after, as I have understood, left the Capitol.
The secretary brought back the paper containing the certified copy of
the vote of the Senate, and indorsed thereon the substance of the
President's answer, and also added, that, according to his own watch, it
was quarter past one o'clock.

There are two views, Sir, in which this occurrence may well deserve to
be noticed. One is as to the connection which it may perhaps have had
with the loss of the fortification bill; the other is as to its general
importance, as introducing a new rule, or a new practice, respecting the
intercourse between the President and the two houses of Congress on the
last day of the session.

On the first point, I shall only observe that the fact of the
President's having declined to receive this communication from the
Senate, and of his having left the Capitol, was immediately known in the
House of Representatives. It was quite obvious, that, if he could not
receive a communication from the Senate, neither could he receive a bill
from the House of Representatives for his signature. It was equally
obvious, that, if, under these circumstances, the House of
Representatives should agree to the report of the committee of
conference, so that the bill should pass, it must, nevertheless, fail to
become a law for want of the President's signature; and that, in that
case, the blame of losing the bill, on whomsoever else it might fall,
could not be laid upon the Senate.

On the more general point, I must say, Sir, that this decision of the
President, not to hold communication with the houses of Congress after
twelve o'clock at night, on the 3d of March, is quite new. No such
objection has ever been made before by any President. No one of them has
ever declined communicating with either house at any time during the
continuance of its session on that day. All Presidents heretofore have
left with the houses themselves to fix their hour of adjournment, and to
bring their session for the day to a close, whenever they saw fit.

It is notorious, in point of fact, that nothing is more common than for
both houses to sit later than twelve o'clock, for the purpose of
completing measures which are in the last stages of their progress.
Amendments are proposed and agreed to, bills passed, enrolled bills
signed by the presiding officers, and other important legislative acts
performed, often at two or three o'clock in the morning. All this is
very well known to gentlemen who have been for any considerable time
members of Congress. And all Presidents have signed bills, and have also
made nominations to the Senate, without objection as to time, whenever
bills have been presented for signature, or whenever it became necessary
to make nominations to the Senate, at any time during the session of the
respective houses on that day.

And all this, Sir, I suppose to be perfectly right, correct, and legal.
There is no clause of the Constitution, nor is there any law, which
declares that the term of office of members of the House of
Representatives shall expire at twelve o'clock at night on the 3d of
March. They are to hold for two years, but the precise hour for the
commencement of that term of two years is nowhere fixed by
constitutional or legal provision. It has been established by usage and
by inference, and very properly established, that, since the first
Congress commenced its existence on the first Wednesday in March, 1789,
which happened to be the fourth day of the month, therefore the 4th of
March is the day of the commencement of each successive term; but no
hour is fixed by law or practice. The true rule is, as I think, most
undoubtedly, that the session held on the last day constitutes the last
day for all legislative and legal purposes. While the session begun on
that day continues, the day itself continues, according to the
established practice both of legislative and judicial bodies. This could
not well be otherwise. If the precise moment of actual time were to
settle such a matter, it would be material to ask, Who shall settle the
time? Shall it be done by public authority, or shall every man observe
the tick of his own watch? If absolute time is to furnish a precise

Online LibraryDaniel WebsterThe Great Speeches and Orations of Daniel Webster With an Essay on Daniel Webster as a Master of English Style → online text (page 74 of 122)